Christianity 201

October 16, 2018

The Evils and Mistakes of the Past

Once again, we’re featuring Joe Waller who writes at As I Learn to Walk and is a PhD candidate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read this at the original page.

Ghosts and Gospel

People love ghost stories. People hate ghost stories. But no matter the response, ghost stories have crept into our lives and our cultures, and they don’t appear to be leaving.

I live in New Orleans, a city full of history and culture and, according to some, ghosts. You can take tours of buildings with haunted pasts, visit multiple haunting cemeteries, and hear stories of the haunted people (or their ghosts) who live on in legend. And the more I learn about the world, the more I find that most places have similar tales of hauntings. The world, it seems, is filled with ghosts.

To some extent, an abundance of ghost stories makes sense. Ghost stories speak to our fears of the past. We hear stories of tortured souls that still walk the grounds where they were lost years before, stories of homes where tragic deaths still stain the walls, stories of abandoned hospitals or asylums where unspeakable acts still echo in the hallways, and we feel a chill, a tinge of dread that the past might still affect the present. More specifically, our fear of haunted places may stem from our fear of the evils and mistakes of the past, from fear that we can’t truly escape what’s gone before us. And I know few who are immune to such fear. As we learn about history and discover the depths of human depravity, we rightfully fear what humans can become – nay, what humans are. Paul, stringing together a number of Old Testament texts to describe the state of sinful humanity, pointedly writes,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:10-18

Elsewhere, after describing the unrighteousness that keeps people from God, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that such words describe their own state before they came to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). No matter the greatness of our present faith, we each share the same past record: unrighteous, unworthy, and unable to right our wrongs.

Yet Paul does not stop with a description of sin in either passage referenced above. In 1 Corinthians, he reminds the believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Similarly, in Romans, Paul transitions from the hopeless state of sinful humanity to the hope found in Jesus Christ, writing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23-25). Note that last part especially. God, in his patience and mercy, graciously gave time for us to turn back to him through the redemption found in his Son. Though we had earned his wrath, through Christ he shows us his love.

As Paul so eloquently explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And now, by grace, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). To quote Paul again, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Ghost stories remind us of the past. They employ the evils of history to threaten the present. And those who walk in the way of this world may rightfully fear, for, as the past has been, so the present and future may be. Thankfully, God has provided a rescue from the evils of sin. In Christ, the past turns from a haunting record of wrongs to a testimony of what God can do. Paul knew this well, his life in Christ serving as a shining example of the power of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16-17 and 1 Timothy 1:15-17). Christian, do not fear the ghosts of the past. Walk in the newness of life, freed for the glory of God and for the good of the world. And let hope fill your every step.

 

December 12, 2015

Isaiah’s Commission

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I want to look at the opening verses to Isaiah 6, but I do this knowing that so many have covered this passage online.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

In particular, I want to consider verse 5, underlined above. Here is how some translations render the first part of it:

  • Woe is me! for I am undone (KJV)
  • Woe is me! For I am ruined, Because I am a man of [ceremonially] unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips (AMP)
  • I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. (CEV)
  • I will be destroyed. I am not pure enough to speak to God, and I live among people who are not pure enough to speak to him. (ERV)
  • It’s Doomsday! I’m as good as dead! Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted— blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way, using words that corrupt and desecrate. (MSG)
  • It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.  (NLT)
  • I am in so much trouble! I’m ruined! I’m just a human being—fallible and stammering. My lips are encrusted with filth; and I live among people just like me. (VOICE)

I think you see the pattern. What brings this self-condemnation?

  • I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful. (ESV)
  • I’ve seen with my very own eyes none other than the King, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies. (VOICE)
  • I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces! (CEB)

What is to be seen here is the great contrast between the power of God and the sinfulness of Isaiah. Now we might think the contrast should between man’s sin and God’s holiness, but there is a sense in which I believe his power emanates from who he is. To say that a different way, if we were to meet another human who had a level of righteousness that approached that of our holy God, that person would command great power and authority simply as a natural consequence of who they were and the type of stuff they were made of. While there is mention later in the passage of God’s rule, the contrast in verse 5 is to tremendous power.

The Reformation Study Bible notes a parallel between Isaiah 6:5 and Luke 5:8:

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” (NLT)

and also Job 42:

I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (NLT)

But why does Isaiah’s sinful state get reflected in what is on his lips? J. Parsons writes:

Not because the depravity, is merely superficial, or resting on the surface; but because the depravity of the heart rends and rages without, and finds vent in the tongue.

The mouth is a barometer of what is taking place in the heart. Luke 6:45 states:

The good man brings good things out of the good treasure of his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil treasure of his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (BSB*)

Isaiah’s speech is his reference point for the contrast being presented here. I wonder how he would phrase this in our world, where more is expressed through our keyboards and smartphones than through our voices? Somehow ‘I am a man of unclean fingers’ or ‘Everything I’ve ever typed is tainted’ sounds awkward, but the things that occupy our media expression are also a reflection of the state of our hearts.

How would what we blog, post to Facebook, Tweet, text, etc. look to us if we found ourselves standing in the presence of Almighty God? And what about our speech?

 


*We’ve never cited BSB here before, it refers to the Berean Study Bible available at BibleHub.com


 

 

June 24, 2015

Hoping to Let Ourselves Off The Hook

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Time for our always-appreciated midweek post from Clarke Dixon.

You Are Only Human

We have all heard it. Some of us have even said it: “We are only human.” Typically, what we mean by that is “cut me some slack, I’m not perfect.” I must confess that I used to be a perfectionist but gave it up because I found it too depressing. I needed to cut myself some slack. Now I am only a perfectionist while working on home renovations. The weather has to be perfect and I have to be perfectly in the mood otherwise renovations are put off for another day!

There are none of us perfect. None of us were perfect students in school. Those of us who are parents know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect prime ministers. Sometimes we need to cut each other some slack. But do we maintain this attitude toward people like the leaders of ISIS and Boko Harum who are also not perfect? After all, they along with Hitler and Stalin are only human. Do we cut some slack to the people involved in things like human trafficking? Or is there not a place for higher expectations, for saying enough is enough?

The Psalmist writes “they are only human” but it means something quite different to what we normally mean:

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalms 9:19-20 NRSV)

In Psalm 9 there are some people who could say “I am only human, cut me some slack.” They are less than perfect. In fact they are oppressive, they are murderous. They are destructive and wreak havoc in the lives around them:

9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death.
(Psalms 9:9-13 NRSV emphasis mine)

The theme of rescue from evil men runs through Psalm 9 and also Psalm 10 which many scholars believe were once one Psalm. We may not be as bad as the oppressors spoken of in these Psalms, we may never bring another person to “the gates of death.” But we may, like them, wreak havoc in the lives of those around us. This Psalm has something to say to us also. Let us look especially to verses 19 and 20:

“Do not let mortals prevail”

This prayer of the Psalmist is very much like a prayer that our Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Not the oppressors’ empire come, but God’s kingdom. Not the oppressors’ will be done, do not let them prevail, but the Lord’s will. How often do we pray “Thy kingdom come” then strive to build our own empires and to have our wills prevail. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal, do not let my way prevail, may Your kingdom and Your purposes prevail in my life.

“Let the nations be judged before you”

We do not like to hear about judgement. But we do like justice. Justice does not happen without judgement. God’s sense of justice is impeccable:

4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment. . .
8 He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
(Psalms 9:4,8 NRSV)

God’s judgement is right and good. In fact it should not escape our notice that this Psalm calling for God to act in judgement is actually a Psalm of praise:

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalms 9:1-2 NRSV)

That God will bring judgement to evil men is something that should inspire praise. Oh Lord I am mere mortal, while I depend on Your grace, may I be aware of those things you would judge in my life.

“Put them, in fear, Oh Lord.”

A better translation of fear is ‘terror’. Things would be better for the oppressed of the world if the oppressors of the world were terrified by the thought of the judgement that is looming over them. People do not have an appetite for hellfire and brimstone sermons any more. Yet we still need them for people think they can get away with murder. Many people need to be very afraid. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal. May I never think I can get away with murder, but may Your Holy Spirit convict and unsettle my heart.

“Let the nations know that they are only human.”

Now that we know the context we can see that “Let the nations know they are only human” is no “cut them some slack Lord” kind of prayer. Rather this is ”let them know they are only human and that therefore they need to seek You in repentance.” Since we are only human we should be turning to God. We should be turning to God for ethics, our sense of right and wrong. We cannot come up with that on our own. After all we are only human. We should be turning to God for salvation, for redemption from our sin. That is something we can not attain on our own. We are only human. God brings His perfect justice and grace together through Jesus at the cross. Since we are only human we ought to turn to God in repentance, going our own way will not get us very far. Oh Lord, I’m only human. So I turn to You and turn my life over to You.

When we say “I’m only human” we are usually trying to get off the hook. But knowing we are only human, we should be getting onto God.


Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 1, 2014

The Depravity of Humankind

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  (KJV)

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.” (same passage, from The Message, w/ vs.10)

Job 5:7 Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.  (KJV)

But man is born to trouble as the sparks and the flames fly upward.  (same verse, Amplified)

This weekend we were talking about the theological idea of the depravity of man, and my youngest son, who has been studying these things this year, pointed out that while man is totally depraved he is never utterly depraved. This came out in a discussion as the proposition that some of the worst people history has offered were still made in God’s image, while some of the best people the world has ever seen still need a savior.

My son defined it this way:

Total depravity means every single part of you is affected by sin.
Utter depravity means every single part of you is destroyed by sin.

Man is born with a sin nature that must be dealt with. It permeates body, mind, emotions, and spirit; but is never beyond the redemptive grace of God. But man is also born with an innate capacity to respond to God’s offer of salvation. (Whether you believe this is a matter of election or free-will choice is immaterial here, what matters is the capacity to say yes to God.)

So, you’re probably thinking of some of the examples that came up in our discussion…

Could Judas or Adolph Hitler asked for and received the grace of God toward the end of life? Yes. It’s important when remembering the “last minute” salvation given to the one crucified with Jesus that day was a criminal. That’s the only identification we have of him.

Could Mother Teresa or Billy Graham rest on their own virtue and righteousness and miss somehow the need to be covered by the atoning blood of Calvary? Yes. Anyone could try to get their own their own merits and not be resting in what Christ has done for us.

We live in the tension between being born in sin and depravity yet not being so utterly depraved that we cannot respond to the grace and goodness of God.

May 27, 2014

Where We’d Be Without Christ

Yielding To God BlogToday’s reading is from the blog Yielding to God, written by Reuel Dawal in The Philippines.  This is actually the second post on Psalm 14, if you want to read part one first, click here. To read part two (below) at source, click the title below. If you’re on Facebook, use the drop-down menu labeled “Christian Quotes” for some excellent graphics. You can also follow Reuel on Twitter by clicking here.

What We are Without Christ…

Psalm 14:2-3 “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

David continues to describe the depravity of mankind before God. Thankfully, he is not applying his description to all men. For in verses 4 and 5, he speaks of God’s people and the righteous generation. So what David talks about are those who do not belong to God’s righteous people (those who are chosen by Him). Nevertheless, to the Christian, this description of David is what we were before coming to Christ. David could also point to himself as one of these people were it not for the mercy of God upon him. For we were also not a people once, until the Lord granted us His grace. Just as Peter exhorted, “But you are 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; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (emphasis added, 1 Peter 2:9-10). This description of David is what we are without Christ.

  • No Understanding

When a person is not in Christ, he lacks understanding. He cannot see the truth; he cannot comprehend the reality of God. As 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “[A] natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The wicked men, David says, cannot understand God and His word. Likewise, David could not as well unless God discloses Himself to him. We also were not able to understand God until Christ manifested Himself to us. For by Christ alone can we truly see God and come to Him (cf. Heb. 1:2-3).

  • No Taste for Heaven

When a person is not saved, he does not seek God. When I was still an unbeliever, I do not care about God at all. I may know the name ‘God,’ and that He exists, but the desire for Him is not in my heart. That is what we are without Christ. For only by Christ can one have a new heart and mind. Unless God Himself quickens a person, he cannot come to God.

  • A Rebel in the Universe

When a person is not saved, he is a rebel against God. Although God’s word is presented to Him, he resists and despises God (cf. Rom. 1:18-21). Without God’s regenerating power upon us, we won’t seek after Him. Rather, we will still continue going on our own way, seeking our own lusts, and getting farther from Him.

  • Spiritually Dead

When a person is not saved, he is spiritually dead. When I was still an unbeliever, all my human works are nothing before God (cf. Isa. 64:6). My [humanly good] works are but full of pride and wrong motives. All our works are works of unrighteousness before God’s perfect righteousness. Only by Christ can one gain favor in the sight of God. Only in Christ can our works be counted as righteous before God.

For Reflection

  1. Have you ever thought, “What would I be without God’s grace,” “What would I be without Christ?”
  2. If what is written above is what we are without Christ, how should it move us to humility and worship before Him? How should it make us filled with great joy for such a great salvation we have in Christ? How should it stir up our desire to know Him and serve Him more?

LET’S PRAY ABOUT THESE THINGS

December 7, 2011

Deconstructing Depravity, Totally

Oh Oh! We’ve used up our three wishes. Apparently Jim Greer’s writing has already graced the pages of Christianity 201 three times, including some rather recently.  But how could I let this one pass? It’s just too good not to have you all consider this topic. So you can do the polite thing and click over to Not For Itching Ears, or you can simply keep reading the post here which I have stolen borrowed. Jim, I promise, one more and we’ll put you on the payroll.  For the rest of us, I guess instead of reading at the newsstand, we should just buy a subscription…  (Click now!  This means you! Yes, you!)

Could the Doctrine of Total Depravity be Totally Depraved?

Over here at Not For Itching Ears we like to discuss issues that challenge our view of Christianity and the Church.   It is healthy to consider what one believes about the Christian faith and how we express that faith in our corporate church life.  If all we ever do is listen to ourselves, we can inadvertently become the kind of people Paul warned Timothy about:  People who surround themselves with “teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Today’s post is an attempt to counter that tendency among us as we discuss the Doctrine of  Total Depravity.  To do this, we turn to a passage from  “Reconsidering Tulip”by Alexander J. Renault.  It is written from an Orthodox perspective.

Like many of you, I have always assumed that Total Depravity was a doctrine universally accepted by the church of all ages.  But I was wrong.  It is a rather new concept.  In fact the early church fathers, categorically rejected the idea.  That troubles me a lot.  If Paul understood humanity to be totally depraved or to have a total inability, why did his disciples and the disciples after him flat-out deny it?  Calvinism doesn’t work without this idea, so I can see why we would hesitate to even discuss it.  It wasn’t until Calvin that this idea became the unquestionable doctrine it has become.

I don’t think this article settles the question, but the author does bring out some interesting things that most of probably have not considered.

So, let the Discussion begin…

“The immediate concomitant of the first sin was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul.” Louis Berkhof

The ontological problem with Total depravity is with the word “nature.” According to Total depravity, our very nature has changed. But what is a nature? In technical terms, “nature” refers to the essence of something—that which makes a thing a thing at its deepest level.

The early church Fathers used the term ousia for nature or essence. God is one nature (ousia) and three persons. Christ and the Father are of the same ousia. The incarnate Christ has two natures—human and divine.

So, if humans are intrinsically sinful in their essence (i.e. “sinful nature”), then God created sin. The Reformed will of course argue, “No, man was created with a good nature, but that nature changed.” But how can a nature change? A nature is the definition of a thing, and can only be defined by the one who creates the thing. What is the nature of a brick, for example? It’s a small, rectangular, hand-held fire-baked building block. If a single brick is broken, it doesn’t change the definition of brick nature. even if someone destroys every brick in the world, that still doesn’t change the definition of what a brick is. It doesn’t change brick nature. A man cannot change his nature any more than a brick could change its nature. Only God can change the nature/definition/essence of a thing. But to do so would make God the author of sin. . . . . . .

To take it to a more personal level, did God make you personally? Did He knit you together in your mother’s womb? If not, then God is not your creator, and I suppose it doesn’t matter what He thinks. But if He did create you, then what kind of nature did He create you with? A good nature, or a sinful nature? The answer that the church has historically given is that you are created with a good nature. You are created in the image of God. You are created to be an icon of God—a picture of God, here on earth.

But like a gold ring in a pile of manure, we are glorious creatures bound by sin and corruption. The nature or value of the gold ring doesn’t change, even if the environment does. Likewise, it is difficult for our true nature to be seen when we’re buried in a stinking pile of death and rot.

. . . . . Again, if sin is intrinsic to humanity, then Adam wasn’t human before he fell, nor will we be human when we’re in heaven, where there will be no sin. But if sin is foreign to our true nature, foreign to the image of god, then it makes little sense to say that we have a “sinful nature” . . . .

. . . . Another major problem is encountered when we confuse person with nature. What is a person? We might say that it is a unique manifestation of a nature. The early greeks used the term hypostasis for person and ousia for nature. Christ is one person (hypostasis) with two natures (ousia). The Trinity is one in essence, but with three persons (hypostases). There is only one human nature (or “humanity”) expressed uniquely in six billion different human persons. . . .

. . . The doctrine of Total depravity states that we are “utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.” This is because, as Berkhof says, we have depraved natures, and we only choose what our nature dictates. In other words, we cannot help but to choose sin, because we have a sinful nature. But is choice a function of person or of nature?  Do people choose to do things or do natures choose to do things? I believe it’s a function of person, not nature.

Think about this idea of person vs. nature with the Trinity: God is one divine nature (ousia) and three persons (hypostases). can “holiness” be separated from God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit? No, because holiness is an aspect of God’s nature. It is a natural attribute. Can “incarnation” be separated from God the Father? Yes. God the Father was not incarnate, but the Son was. Thus, incarnation is a personal attribute of the second person of the Trinity, not a natural attribute shared by all three persons of the godhead. . . .

. . . . Likewise, sin is a personal attribute and not a natural/essential one. If our choice to act sinfully was from our nature, then that would imply that all of our actions are simply the result of what our nature dictates. But the problem with that line of reasoning is that God Himself couldn’t help but to create, redeem, etc., because it’s His nature and not His personal free choice. This would mean that God created the world not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. He saved us not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. I’m inclined rather to agree with St. Patrick of Ireland, who said that the lord “gladly and of His own free will pardoned me.”

We can begin to see how a confusion of person and nature leads to a very limited God with no free choice. . . .

. . . . of vital importance to the discussion on Total depravity, and unfortunately all but neglected by most Reformed in my experience, is the doctrine of the incarnation. This brings the discussion of human nature out of the simply anthropological realm and into the christological realm.

The crux of the matter is this: if Christ did not have a human nature, then He cannot save us. If Christ was fully human, but not fully God, then He cannot bring us up to God. If He is fully God but not fully human, then He cannot come completely down to us and bridge the gap between us and God. The first several ecumenical councils of the church all dealt with this issue.

It is generally agreed among the Reformed that Christ was fully God and fully human. Unfortunately, the implications of this are not always understood by the Reformed. For if Christ is fully human, then He must have a human soul, a human will, a human mind—in short, a human nature. And yet He was without sin. This tells us that sin is not an integral part of human nature, and that one is still human apart from sin. Otherwise, either 1) christ was just as sinful as we are, or else 2) christ wasn’t fully human and can’t really save us.

John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Heb 2:11, 17 – For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren … Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High priest in things pertaining to God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.

This Hebrews passage is especially significant regarding Christ’s  human nature. It says that “in all things” He had to be made human.   And yet He was without sin. This would suggest that “sin nature” is in  fact foreign to true “human nature.

For Another interesting discussion on a topic you may have always assumed could not be challenged, see our series of articles called “A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) or our series called “A Strong Argument Against Calvinism?”

~Jim Greer

For today, I’m closing comments here in order to encourage you to generate discussion at the source blog, where Jim is, I’m sure, more prepared to deal with issues arising from today’s discussion than I would be !!  I’m sure that for some of you this strikes at the heart of all you hold dear, but remember that ‘holding dear’ shouldn’t be the basis of establishing a personal, systematic theology for any of us.

October 23, 2010

Coming to the Realization of Your Guilt Before God

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the CFB Trenton , one of the largest bases, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes. The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession. (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established. There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape; his guilt is a foregone conclusion. The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women. One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt the danger of devices just a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, everyone can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.

May 17, 2010

Partial Depravity

Nobody likes to think of themselves as “depraved” but one of the things Calvinism has brought us is the phrase “total depravity;” it’s actually the “T” in the “TULIP” acronym.

Catholics say that we are born with “original sin;” though to see to widespread nature of different types of sinful acts is to know there’s nothing original about it.

The “Four Spiritual Laws” begin with premise that “Man is sinful and separated from God…”

But what happens after conversion?

Much of the Apostle Paul’s writings discuss the dual nature; the fight put up by the desires of the flesh.   James talks about “double mindedness.”   In the epistles at least, we get a picture of the spiritual warfare raging all around us; the accompanying tension between where we are positionally in Christ, and where we find ourselves pragmatically in the world.

But on Sunday mornings, nobody wants to admit this.  That’s probably why in surveys of “crazy hymn and chorus lyrics” people always vote for:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.

I mean seriously, what terrible advertising for the Christian life.   Nobody wants to admit to that propensity to sin.   And as for depravity, Dictionary.com defines it as “moral corruption” and there are people I know who don’t know Christ that I would regard as “upstanding morally;” so I don’t think too many Christ-followers would even want to say they were depraved before they made Him lord of their lives.

This past week I was driving my car and my mind wandered into less than stellar territory.   (More about thoughts in tomorrow’s post.)   Please don’t try to guess or read too much into this, but after the thought had flashed through my brain — okay, it actually parked there for about five minutes — I thought about how people are, and how I am, always just a few mis-steps away from conceding to my human nature and its way of thinking.

But we are also possessed of a divine nature.   I want to end this the way the song quoted above ends; with a prayer for redemption;  this was my prayer for the beginning of this week, and it’s not such a crazy hymn lyric, either:

Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.