Christianity 201

August 23, 2017

Unsettling Times

Today I picked up a Christian periodical and discovered that Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — had a blog titled Finishing Well. I read several articles, but this one from June jumped out at me as still being quite timely. Click the title to read it at source.

Unshaken?

It is hard to remember a time in world affairs more unsettling than this present one.  When the greatest economic and military power seethes with division, indecision, hateful accusations, political stagnation, worrisome threats, and moral decay,  then international angst soars.  It is possible that some foolish enemy might take advantage of the situation , when respect and confidence in authority are so confused, and leadership is so consistently distracted and defensive.

We are living in times Scripture describes as follows: See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.  For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, (Noah, Moses, the prophets) much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.  And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (God’s truth and righteousness)   Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

I repeat what I have often said… the Church, its leadership and followers, must speak, live and demonstrate with awe and reverence, not just the love of a gracious God, but the wrath of a holy God, who is a consuming fire.  Yes, the Lord our God, Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Creator, Saviour, Healer, Sanctifier and coming King, is patient, loving, gracious and forgiving.  But, He hates sin and judges it.  Eventually, He withholds blessing from the disobedient and indifferent. That great and awesome God insists that we proclaim both His cursing and His blessing, whether they listen or not.

If the proverbial house on fire requires a daring saviour to disregard self in order to rescue the perishing, why, in heaven’s name, are we pampering the saints, watering
down prophetic truth, and coddling sin and sinners?  Do we not understand our times?  Do we not realize that the popular parading of evil, running rampant in our day, and generally approved, left unmentioned, unchallenged and un-rebuked will hasten the exercise of God’s wrath?   Is sin so obscure in Scripture that we can be ambivalent about it from our pulpits?  Are we not to hold governments, educational and religious institutions and the general population accountable for degenerate behaviour?  Is the applause and approval of men so important, or the fear of their response so great, we dare to please men rather than God?

These are sobering, heart-searching thoughts for which we who own His name shall stand accountable.   Surely, for those who know God and His Word, finishing well demands a bold, fearless acknowledgement and response to these things.  Those of us who are older have been given the perspective of time, duty and experience to see a bigger picture.   We know the value of love, prayer, lifestyle and sensitivity necessary to an acceptable presentation of truth and warning.   We also know what evil can do!   In a shaken world an unshakeable faith in a gracious, forgiving God will enable us to speak lovingly, wisely and clearly.

Rev. Arnold Reimer


You may also enjoy: Righteousness

July 20, 2017

Finding Hope in the Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:09 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. (Ezekiel 25:7 NRSV)

Thus says the Lord with regards to the people of Ammon in Ezekiel chapter 25. Messages of judgement like this carry on for seven chapters to various nations. I suspect these chapters are rarely preached upon, nor mined for a fitting verse to quote in a “Thinking of You” card. Perhaps we tend to skip over these doom and gloom judgement kinds of chapters because we fail to find any hope in them. However, they are full of hope! How so? Somewhere close to the middle we find these verses:

Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob.  They shall live in safety in it, and shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall live in safety, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God. Ezekiel 28:25-26 (NRSV)

Do you notice what is so important that it is repeated? “They shall live in safety.” We have difficulty reading the Old Testament without visualizing what we know, such as our peaceable neighbours in our day. The peoples of the Old Testament, however, could be brutal and barbaric. The rise of the so-called Islamic State has given us a glimpse of what the Old Testament peoples were capable of. God’s messages of judgement to the nations in Ezekiel chapters 25-32 were the flip side of the message of safety for the people of God. God’s people could only be safe if the nasty neighbours were subdued. Thus the judgement of God is part and parcel of the love of God. Consider a father who removes an untrainable and vicious dog from a home for the sake of the safety of his infant child. The judgement and removal of the dog is an expression of love for the child.

These messages of judgement against the nations conclude with the interesting passage of Ezekiel 32:17-32. I encourage you to read it in full. In this passage Egypt and Pharaoh are to go down to the place of the dead. Notice what it is that gets repeated again and again, the thing that all the peoples who are there have in common (see verses 23,24,25,26,27,30,& 32); they “spread terror in the land of the living.”

We can all think of people who in our day spread terror in the land of the living. For example, a recent news article suggested that the leader of Boko Haram, previously thought killed, is still alive and is vowing to kill Christians and bomb every church in Nigeria. Does such anti-Christian sentiment remind you of anyone?

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (NRSV)

This man who was bent on destroying the Christian movement was Saul, better known to us the apostle Paul who confessed he was “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1st Corinthians 15:8 NRSV). From Paul’s experience we learn a valuable lesson about those who would spread terror in the land of the living. They have the opportunity to repent. Upon learning of the atrocities of Boko Haram we might cry out for the destruction of the key leaders. However, consider the greater impact if they turned from their sin to Christ. Dead leaders are easily replaced by people equally fanatical about spreading terror in the land of the living. On the other hand, transformed leaders can be the start of a transformed society. Those who remain unrepentant may think they are getting away with it, but they will not. They will stand before the judgement seat of Christ whose justice is perfect, and whose judgements are well informed.

Let us choose three specific areas to bring this into focus:

Women: Around the world women are not given equal opportunities for education. Female babies are more likely to be aborted than male babies. Too many widows have shared with me how they stood by their men while their men stood by the bottle. We could say much more, but suffice it to say here that women and girls are suffering around the world because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who are unrepentant and continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

The LGBTQ+ community: When our hearts broke for Christians who were suffering the violence of the Islamic State, did our hearts also break for gay men who were thrown to their deaths from towers? No one has the right to tell God what marriage is supposed to look like, but all peaceable people should have the right to live free from harassment and threat of violence. While debate rages in churches as to whether or not homosexuality is sinful, there ought to be no debate or doubt that homosexuals are suffering around the word because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

Refugees: We have tended to focus our prayers on our Western response to the refugee crisis and the refugees themselves. Do we pray for the people refugees are fleeing from? Leaders who would rather use violence to take or keep power, than seek peace? We have a refugee crisis because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

One question remains: Are we sometimes the ones who spread terror in the land of the living? If so, opportunity knocks.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:20-21 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 19, 2017

The Wrath of God

by Russell Young

Even though it is not popular, consideration needs to be given to the issue of the wrath of God. The Word presents it as being a reality and the experience that some must face. The church needs to be more forthright in dealing with the consequences of disobedience and defiance, and of the rejection of God, both of which have consequences.

The redeemed belong to Christ; they are his servants and he is their sovereign. He has purchased them with his blood. Consequently, he cannot be accepted as savior without being accepted as their sovereign and lord. Believers are not permitted to live under their own rule. A condition of salvation is the declaration that Christ is Lord. (Rom 10: 9) Christ queried some of his followers, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) Paul wrote: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 NIV) Being saved from God’s wrath is a process undertaken following a person’s “reconciliation” to God and it comes through “the life” of Christ. Christ in the believer is his or her hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Contrary to some modern theological teaching, reconciliation to God does not prevent God’s wrath. Paul wrote that the manner of a person’s living was important. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

Contemporary Christian music along with much teaching has emphasized and exaggerated the “freedom” and “unconditional love” that exists for the confessor. (There is a distinction between a believer and a confessor. A believer recognizes God’s sovereignty in his or her life and obediently responds to his calls.) Reconciliation to God is for gaining forgiveness for past sins, those that had separated the sinner from God and from certain death, allowing him or her the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) It is living through the Spirit that prevents the visitation of God’s wrath.

Many proclaim that the Lord in his mercy and grace has released confessors from both judgment and negative consequences. After all, they would say, all sins have been forgiven so there is nothing to be judged. Careful reading of God’s Word makes it clear that it is all sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first or old covenant from which they have been released, not the sins that follow, unless they are confessed. “[H]e has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV; 2 Peter 1:9) The Lord has given all confessors everything they need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and it will only be through neglect or rebellion that sinning will be continued, prompting his wrath.

As servants, all of those who have pledged his lordship will one day be rewarded for their obedience or suffer wrath for their disobedience. Not only will confessors be judged by Christ, so will all of humankind. (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 4:17) Those who have honoured his calls upon their lives will be rewarded while all others will suffer destruction from his presence, either outside the walls of the New Jerusalem or in the lake of burning sulphur. Many will quote John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) Of course, this is true but the promise belongs to those who believe (are believing).

Belief is revealed by adherence to that which a person claims to believe. In the case of eternal salvation, the avoidance of God’s wrath is revealed as coming through obedience. The writer of Hebrews stated, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed. So you see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) It is through lack of obedience that judgment will come, failure to honor Christ as lord. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know (understand) God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:7─8 KJV)

The church has failed to ring the alarm concerning the visitation of the Lord’s wrath through the judgment to come, and its avoidance through the practice of personal righteousness. The admonition has been given for believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure. Fear is a great motivator, just as is love. When John wrote that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18 NIV), he was talking about perfect obedience since those who love God obey him. Paul cautioned the Ephesians not to be deceived by empty words for because of immorality, impurity, and greed God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)

Despite modern theological presentations, God’s wrath will be visited upon those who have pledged Christ’s lordship and have not lived it. God’s grace is evidenced in his workmanship (Eph 2:10) as the Lord transforms the obedient into his likeness; his wrath will be based on a person’s ‘doing’ (Jn 5:28─29), on the rebellious and disobedient who resist his transforming work.


Russell Young is a Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

March 28, 2016

The Crucifixion of Christ (Part Two)

If you haven’t already, begin with Part One, which appeared yesterday.

•••by Russell Young

(The writer of Hebrews revealed God’s condemnation of the Israelites on the Exodus because they had disobeyed Him and He related that they could not enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief or lack of faith.1 He said that their disobedience showed that they had not combined (obedience to) the message that they had heard with faith. Obedience is faith in practice.)

The sacrifice of Christ provided the means by which the whole world might find atonement, provided they are persuaded that His blood can accomplish it. “Eternal” salvation is not achieved by the single act of faith that existed at the time of one’s confession of faith but must be constant over time and must be demonstrated through obedience. “Christ became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.2

The crucifixion of Christ was the price that had to be paid for disobeying God and for failing to achieve His righteous requirements as revealed in the law and by the Prophets. The command and permission for this provision and allowance came from the Father. “The reason the Son of Man appeared was to destroy the devil’s works.3 By taking on the sin of the world, Christ removed the power of the devil, which was the law, to bring separation and death between man and his Creator. The mandate of Christ was very purposeful; it was to defeat not only the power of Satan, but the “work” of Satan. When the Lord is finished He will “hand over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.4

The Father has given His Son the mandate of destroying the devil’s work and has given Him the authority and power to accomplish that mandate. The crucifixion of Christ gave Him victory of death and Hades. It did not give mankind victory apart from through Christ. Some talk as if the victory has been won for them. It is Christ who possesses the keys for death and Hades. “I [Christ] am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades.5 It is Christ who will determine who will be confined to death and Hades. He has the keys and the authority. He will determine through His judgment the final destiny of each man. In the end the Father’s Kingdom will be holy.6He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.7 The crucifixion of Christ gave Him victory over death and Hades and He will identify those who have had sufficient faith to walk in obedience…He has the keys.

The crucifixion of Christ did not provide “victory” for all those who profess faith in Him but does so for all of those who have also demonstrated faith in Christ through the practice of obedience to the one they have called their Lord/lord. “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony8; they did not love their live so much as to shrink from death.”9 Victory cannot be proclaimed until the end and until the battle has been fought.

The sacrifice of Christ on the cross made available through the Divine Power (the Holy Spirit) of Jesus all that is needed for life and godliness.10 This too, was provided by the crucifixion of Christ and through the redemption11 that He made available to believers. His crucifixion removed the wrath of God ONLY for those who have allowed the “life of Christ” to be lived through them.12

Provision to avoid the wrath of God was made available through the crucifixion and death of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, but victory must still be accomplished as the believer lives in obedience to the Spirit. It is still the obligation of the believer to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling;13 however, he has Christ to accomplish that victory in his own flesh just as the Lord accomplished in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary.

 


1 Hebrews 3:18-19

2 Hebrews 5:9, NIV

3 1 John 3:8, NIV

4 1 Corinthians 15:24, NIV

5 Revelation 1:18, NIV

6 Hebrews 12:14

7 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9, NIV

8 “The word of their testimony” does not necessarily mean by their words, but the testimony that their life speaks to Christ and others.

9 Revelation 12:11, NIV

10 2 Peter 1:3

11 Galatians 3:13-14

12 Romans 5:9-10. See also Romans 8:3-4: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.(NIV)

13 Philippians 2:12

October 28, 2015

Shall We Condemn God for Bad Behavior?

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

I was planning on preaching on Deuteronomy 7:7-11, but verse 2 kept getting in my way. It is the kind of verse we Christians love to gloss over but the super-sceptics love to dwell upon. God’s people are almost ready to enter the Promised Land following their desert wanderings, but the question arises as to what should happen to the peoples who are already living in that land. Verse 2 tells us:

. . . and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:2)

Ouch, that does not sound much like the “Jesus loves you” that we are used to. In fact it sounds like the kind of thing that would get a nation into deep trouble at the United Nations. It has caused many people to wonder if this God is credible. Can we believe in a God who commands destruction without mercy? Shall we love the LORD or shall we condemn Him as unjust and unworthy of devotion?

First off, let me recommend Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Some of what follows here is written there but with greater depth and clarity. Let us consider the following points:

Strong language is used to make a strong point. Overstatement was a common practice in Biblical times and is found in the Bible. We still do it today, such as when I state that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to destroy every team that stands between them and the Stanley Cup this year. Obviously I am overconfident, but more obvious is that there really will be no “destroying” going on. The language of destruction is used to make a point about winning. Here in Deuteronomy 7:2 there is a strong point being made: The best chance God’s people have of staying in a close relationship with the LORD is to have nothing to do with the people already living in the land. It would be too easy to write up treaties and be assimilated into those peoples. But then how well could God’s people keep the Law, especially the ten commandments which begin with the call for the people to have no other gods beside the LORD? Indeed the point is not so much the elimination of people, but the utter destruction of an abhorrent religion:

But this is how you must deal with them:break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7:5-6)

If “destruction” is used to make a strong point, “driven out” better reflects the reality. The Bible itself sometimes asserts that the Canaanites will not be destroyed but rather “driven out.”

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations–(Deuteronomy 7:1 NIV emphasis mine)

When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land” (Deuteronomy 9:4 emphasis mine)

Additionally, not having aircraft or motorized vehicles, ancient wars did not rely on the lightning quick shock and awe attacks of today. There was time for people to flee. In fact the inhabitants of Canaan show up in the Bible after the days of conquest, so they were not utterly destroyed in a genocidal way we might have expected from the command of verse 2. Indeed our passage assumes that God’s people will be rubbing shoulders with the Canaanites in the days to come:

3 Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

There is no need for commandments about intermarriage if the people are utterly destroyed.

The command to destroy the Canaanites must be read in the context of the entire Bible. There is the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. There are the laws God had already given that were designed to protect foreigners who may be poor and vulnerable. There is the book of Ruth where a foreigner is welcomed into God’s people and even becomes the great-grandmother of King David. There is the book of Jonah which challenges God’s people to allow or even expect God to love their enemies. There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

God had been very patient with the Canaanites, but his patience had run out allowing justice to be rolled out. When we hear about God’s people being told to destroy the Canaanites we might be under the impression that it would be like the nice people of Prince Edward Island being called to wipe out the nice people of New Brunswick. But ancient peoples were not that nice. In fact the rise of ISIS today gives us a glimpse of the kind of evil ancient tribal peoples could be capable of. Not too many of us would be sad to see ISIS destroyed. Actually ISIS displays better morals than the Canaanites for they know better than to sacrifice children in religious rites. The Canaanites had hundreds of years of descent into darkness, now it was time for God to express His justice through judgement. It is: “because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4)

God’s command to destroy the Canaanites should be read with this important truth in mind: God owes no person another minute of life. This is something we learn from the flood in Noah’s day which was not genocide, but the just judgement of God. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death, and in the flood the payment of those wages were brought forward. More accurately, those wages were no longer held back. God is holy. We are not. That anyone should live to see another day, another hour, another minute, is a sign of God’s grace and mercy. God would be just if even Noah and his family were not spared. They did not deserve life. None of us do. That we experience life at all is a sign of the grace of God.

That God’s people stood ready to enter the Promised Land was a sign of the grace of God. They did not show themselves worthy of the honor:

6 Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people. 7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the Lord from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place. (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

So why was God being kind to Israelites? It was because of love:

7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.8 It was because the Lord loved you . . . (Deuteronomy 7:7,8a emphasis mine)

Salvation begins, not with people and their righteousness, but with God and His love. Your salvation, and mine, begins not with our righteousness, but with God’s love.

And God was kind to the Israelites because of promise:

8 It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8 emphasis mine)

God had promised Abraham a blessing and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. This wee bit of justice poured out on the peoples of Canaan was part of a plan that would lead to a whole load of grace being poured out and made available to the whole world. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the single greatest focus of God’s blessing. But it is a long journey from the promise of blessing to Abraham to the fulfillment in Jesus. The destruction of the Canaanites is part and parcel of that journey to blessing.

What kind of God is it that calls for the destruction of people? The same God that was ensuring that we need not face destruction: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) God’s nurture of His people through dark and dangerous places and times is part of the unfolding of His grace so that we will not face condemnation when we turn to Him in repentance.

Shall we condemn God for working out His purposes of salvation? We have no right to condemn God. He has every right to condemn us. But out of love He has made reconciliation possible.

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

Unless noted otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

September 30, 2014

The Challenge of Romans 9:22

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Although he took off in a different direction after this, Zach Hunt began a blog post at American Jesus this way…

My last year at Yale I was able to take Systematic Theology with Miroslav Volf.

It goes without saying that there are many things I will always remember from that class, but one that especially stuck out to me was the time Prof. Volf shared his least favorite verse in the Bible.

To be honest, the cynic in me was excepting to witness the cynic in Prof. Volf. I figured he would rattle off a string of cliché/misunderstood passages like Jeremiah 29:11 or that maybe he’d go old school and rant about the prayer of Jabez.

But he didn’t.

Being the great theologian he is, he took the issue seriously.

So what was Miroslav Volf’s least favorite verse in the Bible?

Romans 9:22.

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction?

By least favorite, he didn’t mean he just doesn’t like that verse, so he dismisses it out of hand. He doesn’t like Romans 9:22 because as a confessing Christian he has to deal with it no matter how loathsome he may be to do so or how clearly it seems to stand in stark contradiction to the gospel because, well, it’s in the Bible. So, he must wrestle with it…

We went searching some commentary on this online and found this one by Juli Camarin at JCBlog.  Click the title below to read at source:

Objects of His Wrath and Objects of His Mercy—Romans 9:22-23

“What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:22-23)

Mankind has free will and God will not override our choices in life. Throughout our entire life time we are presented with the opportunity to accept the gospel message, which has the power to save us, or we can reject it. The outcome of this choice is based solely upon us. God does not choose for us, nor does he predestine some to be saved and some to be damned. Predestination rests solely upon His foreknowledge of our acceptance of His grace ( Romans 8:29, I Peter 1:2 ). He knew who would accept his message and so he also chose them based upon that foreknowledge. In the same way, He knew who would reject him and so they were prepared for destruction based upon that foreknowledge of their free will and choice.

In today’s passage Paul writes to us that God endured with exceeding patience the objects of his wrath. These are the individuals that have rejected his salvation message and the payment for their sin. These individuals are destined for destruction of their own volition because they have chosen this path for their life and have rejected Jesus. It is easy to struggle over a statement such as this and focus on the wrath of God towards them, but what about his enduring patience concerning them? They are clearly enemies of cross and yet God is patient with them. He tolerates and endures those who have rejected his salvation and forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” ( Hebrews 10:26-27 ). Once we have heard the truth and know that the only way to be reconciled to God is through faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we have to make a decision whether or not we accept this payment for our sins. If we do not, there is no other sacrifice or payment option left to us, only judgment. Hebrews goes on to say, “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. ( Hebrews 10:28-31 ).

It is severe to reject Jesus and his incredible gift of salvation. God’s wrath was fully satisfied through his redemptive work on the cross. However, if we do not accept this payment for our sins, then eventually those accounts will be called overdue. Payment will have to be rendered and how do you thing that God will respond to someone who has blatantly rejected his very own Son. There will be no acceptable alternative payment and it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God when it is God’s very own precious Son that has been trampled and rejected in the process.

The amazing thing about a passage such as this, is that it shows an incredible facet of God’s nature when you fully understand it. God is not dealing unfairly with mankind, the opposite is actually true, He is showing incredible mercy and grace in tolerating their rejection of Jesus. He does this to demonstrate to believers His incredible wealth of mercy. It shows us the depth of his love and grace that has no bounds. It is important to get revelation of the this truth because this will change the way we look at life. If we can understand how patient and loving God is towards even those who reject him we will know how accepted and loved we are in Christ Jesus. God even uses his enemies to show his incredible love towards us. When we stand before Christ and see his majesty and splendor we will fully understand how offensive and awful it is to reject such a gift. We will understand the severity of it and the depths of the mercy displayed in patiently enduring His enemies.

Understanding this truth is pivotal in understanding the nature of God. He grace and mercy knows no end and his loving kindness extends to the ends of the earth. Today, it is my prayer that you recognize the awesomeness of Jesus and how he can saved you from destruction and hell. The good news for today is that he also saves us from so much more, he has come to give us eternal life which starts the moment you come to Him and accept his free gift of grace. May you understand how blessed you are in Christ Jesus, amen!

Go Deeper: Morgan Guyton has a commentary on this passage at the blog Mercy Not Sacrifice that is also a response to Greg Boyd’s teaching on it. This article was too long to run here but in the second last paragraph there’s an observation that I missed:

Regardless of how satisfactory this answer is, the two most important words in Romans 9:22-23 that almost everyone ignores are “What if.” Paul gives a very different level of force to what he is saying by framing it as two “What if” questions rather than making very direct, unequivocal statements which he does in plenty of other places. It is remarkable how many double-predestinarians have completely ignored these two critical words.

The bottom line is Paul was grieved that so many of his people are rejecting the gospel and persecuting him. He’s grappling for an answer and throwing out possible explanations. It seems like certain Christians want the Bible to be more distasteful than it is in order to give them an excuse to flex their theological muscles and show how tough they are. Paul didn’t write what he did to give us muscle-flexing opportunities. In fact, he would probably say that the reason people who do that haven’t been struck by lightning yet is because “God bears with great patience the objects of his wrath.”

January 15, 2013

The Ever-Present Problem of Evil

Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will.
~J.B. Phillips as cited in today’s reading.

Issues dealing with the Bible’s view of issues involving gender and sexuality are on the top of the list of issues the uncommitted have with Christianity, and also up there among their objections is the problem of why there is suffering and evil in the world. In his classic work, Know Why You Believe, the late Paul E. Little discusses this.

…We must also recognize that God could stamp out evil if he chose. Jeremiah reminds us, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. (Lamentations 3:22 KJ) A time is coming when he will stamp out evil in the world. In the meantime, God’s love and grace prevail and his offer of mercy and pardon is still open.

If God were to stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. His action would have to include our lies and personal impurities, our lack of love and our failure to do good. Suppose God were to decree that at midnight tonight all evil would be removed from the universe — who of us would still be here after midnight?

…To speculate about the origin of evil is endless. No one has the full answer.  It belongs in the category of “the secret things [that] belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29)…

…[quoting Hugh Evans Hopkins] “The problem arises largely from the belief that a ‘good’ God would reward each man according to his deserts and that an ‘almighty’ God would have no difficulty in carrying this out. The fact that rewards and punishments, in the way of happiness and discomfort, appear to be haphazardly distributed in this life drives many to question either the goodness of God or his power.”

But would God be good if he were to deal with each person exactly according to his behavior? Consider what this would mean in your own life! The whole of the gospel as previewed in the Old and New Testaments is that God’s goodness consists not only in his justice, but also in his love, mercy and kindness. How thankful all men should be that “He does not deal with us according to our sins, or requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps. 103:10, 11).

The concept of the goodness of God in which he deals with a person on the basis of “just deserts” is also based on the faulty assumption that happiness is the greatest good in life… Sometimes in his infinite wisdom, God knows there are things to be accomplished in our character that can be brought only through suffering. To shield us from this suffering would be to rob us of a greater good. Peter refers to this when he says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish and strengthen you” (I Pet. 5:10).

…That there may be a connection between suffering and sin is evident, but that it is not always so is abundantly clear. There is the unambiguous word of Jesus himself on the subject. The disciples apparently adhered to the direct retribution theory of suffering. One day when they say a man who had been blind from birth, they wanted to know who had sinned to cause this blindness — the man or his parents. Jesus made it clear that neither was responsible for his condition, “but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9: 1-3).

…[O]ne of the profound truths of the whole of scripture is that the judgment of God is preceded by warning. Throughout the Old Testament we have the repeated pleading of God and warning of judgment. Only after warning is persistently ignored and rejected does judgment come. God’s poignant words are an example: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ez 33:11).

From there, Little goes on to discuss the issue of judgment, justice and God’s wrath in general, and the issue of hell in particular. With over a million copies in print, this book continues to be helpful to many, and I would recommend making a print copy part of your library.

I want to end with the first two scriptures in updated translations:

AMP – Lam. 3:22 It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not.

CEB – Lam. 3:22 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!

NLT – Deut. 29:29 “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.

MSG – Deut. 29:29 God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

January 28, 2012

The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached – Part One

“On Wednesday, July 8, 1741, [Jonathan] Edwards went with other ministers to help the church in Enfield (on the MASS-CT border). There he preached his famous (and in some circles “infamous”) sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” As best we can tell, the response to Edwards’ sermon was electrifying…. He meditated on the inevitability of the fall of the wicked, the suddenness of that fall—that is, it will be unexpected—and what they fall into—Hell. He talked at some length of people being held out of hell only by God’s mere grace, or as Edwards put it, ‘pleasure’. He assumed that motivating his hearers by fear was legitimate, if the fears were well-founded, and the motivation charitable.” ~ Dr. Mark Dever

So begins the introduction to a page devoted to Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God on Dane Gardow’s website, TruthSource.  This sermon occupies such a high place in modern Christian history that I wanted to also archive it here for C201 readers, but it will appear here in two parts; the second dealing with the application to Edwards’ audience and us.  The language is different, so take it slowly.


“Their foot shall slide in due time.” Deut. 32:35

In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as vers 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text. — The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

  1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Ps. 73:18. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction.”
  2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Ps. 73:18-19. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”
  3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
  4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. — “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. — The truth of this observation may appear by the following consideration.

  1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. — He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?
  2. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” Luke 13:7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.
  3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is, John 8:23. “Ye are from beneath:” And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.
  4. They are now the objects of that very same angerand wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.
  5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The scripture represents them as his goods, Luke 11:12. The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
  6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them. The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea, Isa. 57:20. For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;” but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.
  7. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case.
  8. Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence and universal experience do also bear testimony. There is this clear evidence that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact? Eccl. 2:16. “How dieth the wise man? even as the fool.”
  9. All wicked men’s pains and contrivancewhich they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself — I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief — Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me.”
  10. God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.

So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

January 5, 2012

What’s Wrong with our Modern Gospel

This is actually the second half of the first part of a two-part article by the late Keith Green.  Since many of you might want to start at the beginning, here are the links to the articles at Last Days Ministries:

Part One – The Missing Parts (complete text of which what is below is only the final 1/3rd)

Part Two – The Added Parts

What’s Specifically Wrong With Our Modern Gospel?

It’s Me-Centered Instead of Christ-Centered. First and foremost, it is the gospel that appeals to the selfish. Instead of honoring God, it places the sinner at the center of God’s love and plan. But the Bible places Jesus at the center of God’s plan, not the sinner.

One of the most well-known phrases of modern evangelism is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” But the sober, biblical truth that needs to be presented to the sinner’s mind is “You have made yourself an enemy of God, and in your present state of rebellion there is absolutely no hope for you.” In fact, God’s “plan” for the sinner at this point in his life is to separate him from His presence forever, in hell. However unpopular or unlovely that may sound, it is the only truth and reality about anyone who is an enemy of God through sin.

The whole line of reasoning in our modern gospel continues on and on in this mistaken way. “Sin has separated you from God, ‘and His wonderful plan for your life.’ Jesus came and died on the cross, so that you may experience ‘His wonderful plan for your life.’ You must accept Jesus now, so that you will not miss out on ‘His wonderful plan for your life!'” You, you, you, you!!! It’s all for YOU! I’m not sorry to say this, but Jesus did it all in obedience, for His Father’s glory. (Phil. 2:8-12) Of course, it infinitely benefits those who love, serve, and honor Him, but that was a secondary consideration, not the primary one. (Please read Ezek. 36:22-32.) If people come to Jesus mainly to get a blessing, or only to get forgiveness, they will ultimately be disappointed. But if they come to give Him their lives in honor and worship, then they will truly have forgiveness and joy – more than they could ever imagine! (I Cor. 2:9)

It’s Shallow, Cheap, and Offered as a “Bargain.” Our gospel reduces the good news to a “come and get it while you can” sale. We make every effort to take all the bones out – everything that might offend someone, might make them hesitate or put off their decision. Jesus didn’t do this. He never lowered the requirements for anyone. One had to be completely sincere, totally humbled, having counted the cost, willing to leave everything, family and property, “count all things loss” so that they might “gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8) When that same rich young ruler “went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Matt. 19:22), Jesus didn’t go running after him shouting, “Hey, wait a minute! Let’s talk this thing over, it isn’t as bad as it might sound. Maybe I was a little too harsh!”

Maybe we’re so eager to “see the converts,” to publish “how many got saved at our last concert” in the bulletins to our supporters, that we’ll do anything to rush someone into a “decision” before he’s had a chance to really make one. The problem is, if you have to rush him into it, he probably will change his mind later anyway. For as a friend of mine says, “If somebody can talk them into it, somebody can talk them out of it!” (I Cor. 1:17)

Salvation is Shown as a Barter or Trade, Instead of the Result of Obedience by Faith. We offer forgiveness of sin like Monty Hall [that would be Wayne Brady today] on “Let’s Make a Deal.” I’ve even heard, “You give Jesus your sin, and He’ll give you salvation in return!” No one in the Bible ever thought so low of the grace of God to talk about the gift of eternal life like it was for trade. It is a gift! You can’t earn it, or buy it, or give anything in return for it. How it must offend the Holy Spirit to hear people talk of His Jesus so. (Acts 8:18-23)

It Produces Selfish, “Blessed,” and Feelings-Oriented “Converts.” Anyone who is made to believe he becomes a Christian under such preaching will seldom bring forth the true fruits of a real convert. He will remain just as selfish as he always was, only now his selfishness will take on a religious form. If he wants something for himself, he will say he “has a burden” for something, or he will say, “It is the desire of my heart,” or some other religious-sounding phrase like that. He will pray selfishly, desiring blessings for himself, and even if he does pray for others, it usually will be for selfish reasons. After all, when he “accepted the Lord,” he was told how much Jesus wanted to bless him and how much God had stored up for his account, and how the Bible was like “a checkbook full of promises, just waiting to be cashed!”

Such a person always seeks to “feel” good about himself, his own church, his own pastor, etc. His whole world is built on feeling blessed. He was never shown how he was created to bless God… God was not created to bless him. (Psalm 149:4; Phil. 2:13)

As you can see, the “converts” described above are not like those pictured in the book of Acts, when the Church was new and the fire was hot. Take a look at Acts 2:41-47 and 4:31-35, and you will see the tender spirit of love, and the mighty spirit of power that prevailed among the brethren in those early days. I believe that one of the great reasons that “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (Acts 2:43), was because “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to prayer. “(vs. 42) I believe that Peter and the others made every effort to convey the whole message of the Gospel when they preached and taught, and that is why the Spirit of God could anoint and bless the new converts so powerfully- God always anoints the truth! (Isaiah 55:11)

~Keith Green

November 4, 2011

From the Depths of Sin to the Joy of Forgiveness

There are times I truly believe that those of us who “grew up in church” or attended since were “minus nine months old” actually miss out on the fullness of forgiveness.  Unless we’ve wandered off into the depths of depravity and then returned, we forget that our testimony of what we were saved from has equal merit to those who have a testimony of what they were saved out of.

And we worship corporately, unaware of  how the lyrics of the same song, or the words of the same sermon are being processed by our fellow worshipers.  It is so easy to sit in church and sing worship songs because we understand intellectually the concepts of grace, mercy, atonement, forgiveness, etc., and yet forget the context in which other people might be sitting a few rows away from us, hearing those same words sung but taking an entirely different mental picture away from what we’re singing.

Unless someone takes the contrast and puts it right in our faces.  This video by Reformed Praise founder David L. Ward tries to present the contrasting worlds that some might be experiencing when hearing some of the songs we use in worship; and perhaps, because there isn’t necessarily a ‘scale’ of sins, it applies to the rest of us more than we care to admit…

There is no sin that I have done
That has such height and breadth
It can’t be washed in Jesus’ blood
Or covered by His death.
There is no spot that still remains,
No cause to hide my face,
For He has stooped to wash me clean
And covered me with grace.

There is no wrath that I will know,
No wormwood and no gall;
For though such wounds and grief I earned
My Savior bore them all.
There is no work that I must add
To stand before His throne.
I only plead His life and death
Sufficient on their own.

There is no love that I desire
But Jesus’ warm embrace.
While now I know His love by faith
I long to see His face.
There is no song that I will sing,
No melody but this,
That my Beloved, He is mine,
For He has made me His.

September 4, 2011

4 Things Christ Accomplished on the Cross

From Philadelphia pastor Brian Jones:

Theologians use various words to describe what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished.  Each of these words illuminates a unique aspect of what happened on the cross at Calvary…

Redemption

The term conveys the idea of being “bought back.” If a thief steals an expensive watch, sells it to a pawn shop, and then the original goes and pays a large sum of money to buy it back — that’s an example of redemption. Jesus’ death served as God’s payment to “buy us back from sin, darkness, the devil, and hell.

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Col 1:(13 added) – 14

Reconciliation

The term conveys the idea of two people whose relationship was damaged, and they they became enemies before later coming back together.  Jesus’ death restores humanity’s broken relationship with God.

  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. -Romans 5: 11

Substitute Atonement

The term conveys the idea of someone stepping up to take upon him or herself the punishment due another person. Jesus, in His death, stepped up to take the punishment we deserved because of our sins.

 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed. -Isaiah 53:5

…Like looking at a diamond from various angles, the death of Jesus has multiple meanings and many layers, but there is one aspect of Jesus’ death that is more central than all others combined, and that’s the idea of propitiation. It’s what theologian J. I. Packer calls “the heart of the gospel.”

Propitiation

…”an offering that turns away wrath.”* Jesus’ death on the cross served as a sacrificial offering which appeased God’s wrath and opened up the possibility for people to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25 (& 26 added)

~Brian Jones in Hell is Real But I Hate To Admit It (David C. Cook) pp. 141-143

*Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All (College Press)

Scriptures used for this blog post: New Living Translation (NLT)