Christianity 201

February 6, 2020

“Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Should We Be Worried?

by Clarke Dixon

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Should we be worried? Is it even possible that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Keep in mind how meticulous they were at keeping the Old Testament laws. Jesus’ words here can stress us out. Are we good enough?

Let’s leave aside whether we are good enough for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were certain, that Jesus was not good enough:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. . . . Matthew 5:17 (NRSV)

That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking! Jesus often seemed to be very un-Jewish in not keeping the laws and customs as expected. Healing on the Sabbath was considered work and so Jesus was obviously a lawbreaker! Further, for his first miracle, Jesus used jars that had been set apart for religious purposes to turn water into wine at a party. Not only did Jesus seem to be un-Jewish, he even seemed to be irreligious. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were obviously exceedingly more righteous than Jesus. Or so they thought.

Jesus set the record straight:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Though the actions of Jesus seemed to indicate that he didn’t care about the law, he declares that it is very important. The law and the prophets, a short-hand way of referring to all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, reveal the heart of God, and point to Jesus himself. Far from ditching the Old Testament, Jesus was the focus of the Old Testament!

In setting the record straight, it turns out the the scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who were not good enough:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 (NRSV)

Ironically, despite how meticulous the scribes and Pharisees were at keeping the rules, Jesus, in what he would go on to say, insinuated that they were the ones breaking the commandments and teaching others to do the same. They kept the letter of the law, but they missed the intent of the law, the purpose of the law. They might have been meticulous with regards to the rules, but they were heartless. It is possible to keep all the rules and yet be an awful person. In calling the people of Israel into existence, God was looking to establish a good people, not an awful people who kept the rules. If “love the Lord” and “love your neighbour” sum up the law, then the scribes and Pharisees were not keeping it well at all. They needed to have a better kind of righteousness if they wanted to impress God. They needed a deeper righteousness, a heart righteousness, a righteousness expressed through good character.

We can now ask, is anyone righteous enough?

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul spends some time in chapters one and two establishing the fact that non-Jews have no right to a relationship with God. They are not righteous enough. Then he spends some time in chapters two and three establishing the fact that Jews also should have no right to a relationship with God. Though they have the law and the prophets, they also are not righteous enough. In conclusion,

. . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, there is good news:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

Though the Scribes & Pharisees were thinking Jesus was not righteous, actually Jesus is the only righteous one. Are any of us righteous enough? No, but God is good, and offers to make us good. God makes this offer because of His love for us, not because we make a good impression on Him.

God came to us in Jesus so that we could be forgiven of all sin. We will stand before the judgement seat of God with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s righteousness placed on us. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit to change our hearts for the better. We grow into a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That transformation of character is Holy Spirit work. Though we might not feel good enough for God, and really, we are not good enough, God is good and wants to do good for us, and in us.

Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Should we be worried? Should we be concerned that we will not “make the cut?” Without Jesus, if you want to impress God, then surpassing righteousness is an obligation. Good luck with that. Even the scribes and Pharisees, with all their meticulous law-keeping, failed to make a good impression. However, with Jesus, and with the gift of the Spirit, surpassing righteousness is an opportunity, through which God will make an impression on the world. Changed hearts, hearts in tune with God’s heart, lead to a changed world. “Surpassing righteousness” should not be a source of stress, but a source of great hope, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 5, 2019

God’s Word Will Be Twisted

by Russell Young

I have spent many years trying to get people to understand that more than the sacrificial offering of Christ is needed to enter God’s eternal kingdom. Unfortunately, many teachers enjoy presenting the cross as the full gospel message, and those listening like to hear that message. Such understanding takes all responsibility from the confessor and avoids the necessity to teach the less pleasant issues of God’s righteous requirements, sanctification through obedience, and judgment for disregarding the holiness and majesty of God.

The God of the Old Testament, who was to be “feared” (Deut 19:12) has been turned into a beneficent grandfather. The God who brought nations to destruction because of their idolatrous practices and their failure to humble themselves before him and to obey his commands seems to have abandoned the need for obedience and of separation from the world. The God who demanded righteous living has made provision for his grace to cover all ungodly practices, many would say.

Isaiah has recorded, “The earth will be completely emptied and looted. The LORD has spoken! The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left.” (Isa 24:4−6 NLT) When the end comes, the earth’s destruction will have been caused by twisting or altering God’s Word.

Isaiah’s revelation should alarm many who have neglected the fullness of the gospel or who have altered its teachings. The world will not end because of the evil that pervades it; it will be ended because those entrusted with the Word will have distorted it and made it ineffective and unable to transform lives. God has not changed. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. He is sovereign and will establish his holy kingdom.

The end will come when God’s Word has been so twisted that truth, and with it hope, no longer exists. The Lord asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Faith may be found, but according to Isaiah’s prophesy, it will not be established in truth.

Where are we left concerning these words? A prophecy is a prophecy and it is absolute truth. That is, the Word will have been twisted beyond the Lord’s recognition by the end. Can this be stopped? No! It will not! The false “gospel” being promoted will have lost its power to save. God must be appreciated for his holiness and majesty regardless of teachings that suggest God’s overwhelming tolerance and forgiveness for ungodly practices and neglect of Christ’s lordship. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Mt 13:41)

What is the “more” than the cross that completes the gospel message? The offering of Christ redeemed the believer from his or her sin so that they might be given the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) Obedience to the Spirit will “fully meet the righteous requirements of the law.” (Rom 8:4) Judgment will fall on those who reject the Spirit’s leadership and live according to the sinful nature. (Gal 6:8) Christ, who has given his life to justify the confessor’s past sins (2 Pet 1:9; Heb 9:15), who has lived in a human body without sin and understands the temptations of the flesh (Heb 2: 17−18), and who has provided his Spirit for victory (Gal 3:14), holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and he will judge everyone according to the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) He will determine each person’s fate.

The righteous requirements of the law must be met, and they will be “fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Christ did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. (Mt 5:17) He did that for himself in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, and, as Spirit, he will fulfill them through his presence in the believer (Col 1:27) who has pledged and lived under his lordship (Rom 10:9). He provided his Spirit because the law, having been weakened by the sinful nature of humankind, was powerless to accomplish its purpose. (Rom 8:3) The law of the Spirit of life has replaced the covenant law. (Rom 8:2, 7:6)

“Eternal salvation” is not fully accomplished through the sacrificial offering of the Son of Man on the cross; it comes “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13), and it is to be worked out, completed, with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) The Lord did not finish his work for people through his death on the cross but rose to justify (Rom 4:25) the willing through his Spirit. God’s Word will be twisted, and his truths will be lost.


This was Russell Young’s last regular column in this alternate-Tuesday slot, though his writing may appear at various times in the future. He’s working on his next book and doing research. His current book is now available through a different publisher, and wherever you buy books, they should be able to access it at a better price. We thank him for his contributions here at C201.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) 

Text citations above include italics added. 

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

 

 

September 24, 2019

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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by Russell Young

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

This question is frequently raised and deserves a thoughtful response. Much of the confusion rests in word meanings and often involves concepts that are philosophical constructs as opposed to Biblical truths.

Before it can be established whether a person can lose his or her salvation, it is important to understand what “salvation” means. A commonly accepted perception is that it means ‘brought to the state where you will go to heaven upon death.’ The Hebrew word y@shuw`ah has been translated to mean “salvation.” Its first Scriptural use is Genesis 49:18. y@shuw`ah doesn’t refer to “going to heaven” but to deliverance from danger or disease, the preservation of a person’s welfare, victory. The Greek soteria has a similar meaning without reference to heaven but referring in general to rescue, health and deliverance.

Salvation is used in the New Testament in a rescue or deliverance manner. The woman with the issue of blood was healed, delivered, or saved from the agony of her physical condition. Paul was saved from drowning when the ship he was aboard sank. Confessors are rescued from the death that they had earned and from the Old Covenant which brought about their condemnation.

Unfortunately, “salvation” has come to be specifically and singularly accepted as referring to the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom. When this connotation is attached to the word, problems arise.

Those concerned with the thought of losing salvation are of the understanding that their heavenly hope has been established and they don’t want to entertain the idea that it can be lost. Two questions arise: Has their hope of heaven really been established? If it has, can it be destroyed?

Those who accept that they have been eternally saved, must accept that they are living the obedient life that Christ requires and that they will always live that life. Hebrews 5:9 states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The believer’s hope comes through obedience. Paul has written, “For in this hope—our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies—you were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. But who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Rom 8:24−25) He has stated that we were or have been saved, yet our adoption remains a hope for which we “wait eagerly” and that it comes with “the redemption of our bodies.” (v 23)

The “saved” or salvation that has taken place refers to a rescue or deliverance, but it does not mean to infer that the deliverance is into God’s heavenly kingdom; it is a different deliverance or salvation. Careful examination of the fullness of God’s Word reveals that confessors are first saved or delivered from the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant law and the death that they had earned, so that they might receive the Spirit (Gal 3:14). This is not an eternal deliverance. Following this gifting, they are to live in obedience to Christ as Spirit.

Can a person lose this salvation, deliverance from the covenant law? Yes! Paul has also written, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Gal 5:18) Those who have been given the Spirit but do not permit his leadership must revert to accomplishing the righteous requirements of the law apart from the Spirit’s help (The Spirit is Christ the Lord; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18), to the hopeless state that existed before their redemption.

The hope that is not reality and for which we wait eagerly is for “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” and this is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) The hope of adoption is accomplished by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (redemption of the body) through the leadership of the Spirit.

Some might protest that the Word presents salvation and eternal life come through belief. Eternal life and eternal salvation are different. Eternal life is life unending or immortality, and nothing more. Eternal salvation refers to a deliverance from any circumstance that would cause a person harm or negatively affect their eternal welfare. The only passage that addresses eternal salvation in the Bible, Hebrews 5:9, reveals that it comes through obedience and is availed for those who have overcome the world and have found a place in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)

The confessor cannot lose his or her “eternal salvation” because he or she does not have it. Unless personal obedience to Christ can be guaranteed, neither can eternal salvation.; it is being awaited and will come following judgment. Confessors can lose their salvation from sin if they fail to obey the Lord and continue to deliberately sin (Heb 10:26; Mt 13:41) following their confession of Christ’s lordship (Rom 10: 9−10), if they have walked in darkness rather than in the light of the Spirit (1 Jn 1:6−7), and if they have failed to confess known sin when it happens. (1 Jn 1:9) Peter warned that confessors who “have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and again are entangled in it are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Pet 2:20)

Paul, on whom many base their understanding of salvation, wrote that it remained for him to become like Christ in his death so that “somehow” he could attain to the resurrection. (Phil 3:11) He did not claim to have been eternally saved after many years of ministry and suffering. He had to live Christ’s death to the end.

Christ warned Jewish believers that sinful practices would render them impermanent members of God’s family (Jn 8:35) and cautioned that those in him who do not bear fruit would be cut from him. (Jn 15:2) He also spoke of the need to “stand firm to the end” to be saved (Mt 10:22), and that his angels would “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41)

The promise of God concerning eternal salvation is for the obedient; the disobedient will find themselves forever separated from him. (2 Thess 1:9) A person cannot lose their eternal salvation because they will not have achieved it until they have been judged acceptable for God’s eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16).



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.


 

September 10, 2019

The Purpose for Preaching the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

Has the purpose for preaching the gospel been distorted?

Preaching is intended to convey a vital message to those who are listening, and Peter has presented its purpose. It is not primarily to present the salvation message, but to inform both the lost and those who consider themselves to be eternally saved concerning specific truths.

The purpose for preaching the gospel was to inform people about life in the Spirit and judgment for things done in the flesh. That is, all will face judgment for things done in the body and that they can live to please God through the Spirit. “But they (pagans) will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (1 Pet 4:5−6) This passage might be understood more clearly if the clauses were reversed. That is, ‘For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are dead so that they might live according to God in regard to the Spirit but be judged according to men in regard to the body.’

All will be judged, but all can also avoid its negative consequences by living in the Spirit. Preaching the gospel is intended to inform and to bring clarity concerning these issues. Peter does not present that the many attributes of God…his great mercy, love, and grace are not to be the main issues of preaching but the nature of a person’s living and the judgment that will follow are paramount. Of course, the Lord’s sacrificial offering and his mercy and grace are part of the gospel, but the real purpose of preaching is to inform all people of the means of averting God’s wrath. The reality of judgment is seldom preached and with it the “good news” of the gospel seldom heard or appreciated.

Pagan-ish behaviors are not acceptable to God and all will be judged according to their ungodly interests and practices. Confessors are not to live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but for the will of God. (v 2) They, along with all others, will be judged for things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) The truths about judgement and life in the Spirit need to be loudly proclaimed since their proclamation is the purpose of gospel preaching.

Understanding the practice of living in the Spirit is necessary for the kingdom-seeker. The flesh leads to all kinds of ungodly practices. In fact, Paul calls it the “body of death,” (Rom 7:24) and has stated that we are to be united with Christ in his death so that we can die to sin. The Spirit ministers to transform the heart that is not acceptable to God into one whose thoughts and practices are righteousness. God’s grace does not cover defiance of the Spirit by deliberately continuing to sin. Those who are led by the Spirit will become sons of God (Rom 8:14) since it is the Spirit who enables a person to meet God’s righteous requirements. (Rom 8:4) From Peter’s perspective, the gospel was preached so that people would know how to become an acceptable offering to God sanctified by the Spirit (Rom 15:16) and thereby to avoid judgment.

When “freedom” from the consequence of sins by God’s grace becomes the focus of gospel preaching, the warning is lost both for the wicked and those who have confessed Christ as their savior, and both remain vulnerable to God’s wrath for disobedience. The Biblical presentation of “freedom” from “past sins” (2 Pet 1:9) does not allow escape from personal judgment by God. (1 Pet 4:17; Heb 10:30; 2 Thess 1:7−8; Mt 12:36) All will come under judgment for their activities in the flesh. The gospel is to be preached to make people aware that all will be accountable to God and that they can avoid destruction through the guidance of the Spirit. Those who preach freedom from judgment and neglect the need to live according to God’s will through the Spirit must not be addressing the purpose of gospel preaching.

All confessors know of the wrath that will befall those outside of Christ, but many do not appreciate the fullness of their need. Although the confessor’s “past sins” may have been forgiven, the need remains for them to live in obedience to the Spirit if they are to be acceptable to him. Because the focus has been taken off the purpose of gospel preaching its intent has been lost and with it so will the imagined hope for many.

The sinful nature has been the guide and remains the guide of pagans. They know nothing of the Spirit. The natural spirit takes direction from the flesh which would seek comfort and pleasure without regard to God. Ungodliness in its various forms must be overcome and this truth is clear in God’s Word. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11−12) Paul has written, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) According to Peter the gospel was preached that a person might know to avoid destruction through the judgment that will face people for the ungodly practices of their body and commit to Spirit-led living. The purpose of preaching the gospel must be honored for the eternal welfare of all people.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

 

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

A pastor once said “you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward.” He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

September 15, 2018

Looking into God’s Word; Looking into Ourselves

James 1:23 For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so—not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does… (Berean Study Bible)

This is our first time featuring the blog, Seeking God, which we discovered this week. All we know about the writer is his first name, Robert. Click the title below to read this devotional at source. Also, be prepared to click the different links to the many scriptures passages mentioned below, which will take you to Bible Hub.

God’s Word a Mirror, Not a Sword

God’s Word is a mirror that lets us see ourselves as compared to Him. God’s Word is to convict us as He speaks to us. It is not for us to condemn others by, for we are not God.

Know Thyself

How little many of us know our own faces: they’re something we can see if we look in a mirror, but they’re also something so common to us that we don’t even know all the details of how we look (make-up people excluded). We have a general image, but if blessed with exceptional artistic ability and asked to draw our faces, would we be able to make an accurate portrait? It is doubtful. Every pore is a world of its own, yet even the big things are thought of incorrectly (if I gave you a sheet of nose shapes, would you be able to pick out your nose– something you may even be able to see if you go cock-eyed enough–?)

A Mirror Unto Our Lives

Prayerfully reading the Bible and talking to God (with thoughtful consideration and openness to conviction of our own failures) is like a mirror showing ourselves since we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27). If we don’t look into His truths, we will never know what we really look like compared to His Image as portrayed in Scripture. And if we only look into God’s truth and never apply it, we are like a man who looks into the mirror, leaves it, and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).

We Are Not Other’s Mirrors

It’s almost funny: we better know what others look like without knowing how ourselves really look. You know your best friend’s face anywhere. You can pick your lover out from a crowd. You can identify your parents in a photo taken twenty years ago (well, some people can). You’re the last person to know you have food in your teeth yet the first person to point it out in others (metaphorically speaking, even if it’s committed only in the heart (Matthew 5:28)). This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV), “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

We’re often blind to the truth about ourselves, yet we’re quick to make a big deal of some perceived thing in others. Jesus continues on in the aforementioned passage: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Indeed, how true: and so is the idiom, “Practice what you preach”, though we hear it so often that its depth of impact is lost upon us: it falls upon deaf ears that have tuned it out. Revenge and judgement: they are for God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). We have not the right, for we have not the sight that God has: nor the heart, nor the understanding. It is not just outward appearances that God judges: it is not just actions. God judges the heart– the motives and reasons (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2).

Conclusion

Do we really know what we look like as compared to God? God remakes His true disciples day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 12:2). Can we see ourselves as united to God: with Him being our God, and with us being His true people (Ezekiel 37:27)? Do we see the fullness of ourselves, and the fullness of God in us? Do we see every detail that brings beauty or ugliness in our faces? Do we really know what we look like– everything laid bare: no foundation, no make-up: just the truth of ourselves as God would have us know? Most likely, the answer is no. And neither do we know the truth behind the face others put up: many embellish their faces. Many hides flaws. Many things that we perceive as imperfections are not– beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you hold not as you are only held. And much of what we think a haggard imperfection may not be so haggard as our own.

 

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

May 22, 2018

Pluck Out the Eye that Causes Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”

by Russell Young

What is a person to make of the Lord’s admonition that it is better to cut off a hand or foot or to pluck out an eye if it causes him or her to sin? (Mk 9:47) This passage is easy to dismiss because it is so extreme and contrasts so greatly with the concept of God’s love, and the supposed freedom through grace given to believers. Like many biblical teachings, this one is easy to dismiss as an hyperbole certainly not as something that should be taken literally.

The Lord went on to explain that the consequence of practicing sin through the hand, foot, or eye would be “to go into hell where the fire never goes out.” (Mk 9:44) Surely teaching that advocates cutting off a body part or plucking out an eye cannot have literal meaning, and if it does, Christ must have been addressing “non-believers.” If sin has been pardoned once and for all, why would such an injunction exist for those who have confessed faith? If sin has been forgiven, why should a person consider plucking out an eye?

In light of current teaching concerning God’s grace, the Lord’s admonition does not make sense, after all the practice of sin is to have been forgiven and has no eternal consequence; it has been fully covered by the blood of Christ. It is not the admonition that lacks merit, it is the freedom offered by God’s grace that is misunderstood. Concerning “the end of the age,” the Lord has stated, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Those who do evil and those who cause sin will not be part of his kingdom. Their eternal state will be dependent upon their actions. The very real possibility of missing his Kingdom is the reason for Christ’s admonition. The confessor’s hope is not to be achieved through an empty confession or pledge of Christ’s lordship but upon the testimony of his or her life practices and upon the honour that they have allowed the Spirit in their lives.

It is certain that the Lord does not want anyone to cut off a hand or foot, or to pluck out an eye. He is not really endorsing it. The point that is being made is that the practice of sin has serious consequences and should be diligently avoided and that confessors should give attention to the way they live their lives. Considering the possibility of enduring God’s wrath for disobedience through continued sinning, the confessor would be better off to be maimed than to be cast from his Kingdom. Paul told the Romans that he had been given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified [purified, made holy] by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NIV) Gentiles must become an offering suitable for God’s heavenly kingdom if they are to dwell there. The philosophical-theological perception that sin lacks consequence needs to be reconsidered. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Holiness is developed through slavery to righteous living. (Rom 6:22)

John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3: 89 Italics added) Either this passage is true, or it is false. It very well may be that current theological teachings have so missed the great truths of God’s Word and have given such licence to sin that little effort is being made to avoid its draw. Christ said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added.)

Sin is serious. John said, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) Those who claim the name of Christ and seek his kingdom must gain victory over the issues of the flesh. How should the believer deal with the admonition to cut off the foot or hand or to pluck out the eye that causes him or her to sin? They must learn to hear the voice of Christ through his Spirit and respond obediently as he leads. Peter has said that “[Christ’s] divine nature (his Spirit) has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3) He did not say that he has given us life and godliness. Those who proclaim that all sin ever to be committed has been forgiven should seek definitive, supportive scriptural evidence of that fact. The Word reveals that the righteous requirements of God as revealed in the “first covenant”, the Old Covenant, were forgiven (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) and that under the New Covenant they are fully met through obedience to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Believers are to live in the light (1 Jn 1:7) and sin is to be repented and confessed. (1 Jn 1:9). The life of Christ is to be lived in the believer (Col 1:27; Gal 6:8; Rom 8:14;4, 1 Jn 2:6)

The admonition of Christ to pluck out the eye that causes sin was not meaningless. It is obviously very serious and would have been considered serious in his day. Those who had lived under the law of the covenant would have understood it as such. We are not freed from law under the New Covenant, but it is the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) or the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21) that must be honored. Those who live humbly and committedly before God will not need to maim the body.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

May 19, 2018

Identifying the Source of Our Opposition

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
 – Eph 6:12 NLT

The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.
 – John 12:31 NLT

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
 – 2 Cor. 11:13-14 NIV

We’re back again at Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church, a numerically significant group. He is able to make contact with people that other blogs, including this one, might not. To see some of that dialog, click this link and read the comments.

Fight Evil Not People

Growing up in church we have always been told that God was a god of love. In fact, it is stated in the bible that God IS love. Yet so often we have seen more of a judgmental and condemning God by the actions of many christian people over the years.

Take for instance a popular song I remember singing while growing up in the church: Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Now I know the intent was to show we are in a battle, but the battle is a spiritual one. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but so often we fight people rather than spiritual forces and principalities. We turn people into enemies rather than the spiritual forces of evil.

SpiritualWarfare

To often these days we seem to live in a spirit of war rather than love. We spend more time arguing over doctrine and interpretation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We argue so much over sin that we become judgmental and condemning toward those who see things differently or are not of faith or belief in God.

Over the years many churches have taught that although God is a god of love, he was also judgmental, mean and condemning. We are told that we better do our best to please him or we will be in danger of judgment.

Yet Jesus came to show us what the Father was really like. He showed love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness to everyone, especially to those most of the religious world would have no contact.

Even though Jesus showed us that God loves us, we still turn the cross of Jesus into a weapon for our personal cause or belief rather than a symbol of love and good news.

If we are going to be Christian soldiers let it be against spiritual forces and not against our fellow human beings. Rather than fight and argue, let the love of God touch everyone you meet throughout each day.

November 9, 2017

When We Disagree (When Disagreements Arise, Part 3)

by Clarke Dixon

It is ridiculously easy to create disagreement in churches. Simply suggest painting the sanctuary, and presto, a disagreement arises over the colour. But you don’t even need to do that. Most churches harbour theological disagreements Sunday by Sunday, ours included. You won’t get very far into the Bible before disagreements arise. Some people from our church think that the earth and the universe is young, only several thousand years old. Others in our church family think our earth and universe is old, very, very old. Each can point to experts in the fields of science and theology to back up their claims. Both have different takes on how one should approach Genesis chapter one.

Certain passages of Scripture are tricky when it comes to knowing how to read them,  Genesis chapter 1 included. Is it a purely historical writing, or a poetic way of teaching theology without getting into the scientific details? On matters like these, and there are plenty of matters like these, most churches, even where there are strong opinions in the pulpits, have disagreement in the pews. What are we to do with such disagreements?

As “Convention Baptists” we could turn to the publication “This We Believe“, which we have agreed upon as our standard summary of belief. However, we will not find much within it regarding the age of the earth, or clarity on some other disputable matters we might want cleared up. Perhaps we could come up with our own supplementary summary calling it “This We Also Believe”? We could argue out all the details, declaring the winners on each point of theology until we had unity on each and every point of doctrine. We could then declare ourselves to be absolutely pure on doctrine. All five of us left once the smoke has settled.

Is there a better way? Scripture itself points us to a better way in Romans 15:1-7. Let us take a look at how Paul handled disagreement among the Christians at Rome. With some declaring freedom when it comes to Jewish sensibilities, and some finding such indulgence to be ungodly, let us see how Paul handled the disagreement:

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. . . . Welcome one another . . . Romans 15:1,7

First, let us notice what Paul does not do here. He neither declares a winner nor suggests holding a congregational meeting to determine a winner. A church council has already occurred to determine that Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians. But here in Rome, the Gentile Christians are not to declare victory. Instead they are to put up with the fact and the results of the fact that some continue to see things differently. In fact, people on both sides of the issue are to “Welcome one another” (Romans 15:7).

Part of laying aside the desire to be declared the winner is putting aside the need to be pleased, which brings us to our next point:

2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Romans 15:2-7

When we are in a disagreement, we are so quick to build a winner’s podium for ourselves. We will be pleased when we can stand on it having being declared correct. The way forward, however, is the building up of the people we are in disagreement with. This is the Christian way, for it is Christ’s way. Jesus was beat up. We are built up. Death on the cross hardly seemed like the self-pleasing option in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet Jesus bore the cross for us anyway. To live in harmony with one another we may need to pick up a cross along the way.

Next, there is the encouragement to look back.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Paul is referring to what we now call the Old Testament when he speaks of “whatever was written in former days”. What are we to find as we look back? What, from the past, brings hope? What brings hope is how God handles those who should be declared the losers. Promises are made in the Old Testament, for both Jews and Gentiles, that are fulfilled in the New. In Romans chapters 1 through 3, Paul teaches how both the Gentiles and Jews alike “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They are in a place of being declared lost. Yet in Christ there is a wonderful opportunity;

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57

Because of sin and rebellion, those without the law (Gentiles) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Likewise, those with the law (Jews) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Yet now, “Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

Instead of treating ourselves like winners, let us focus on treating those we think are the losers in the same way God treats those who are lost; with a sincere welcome.

Finally, instead of declaring victory, glorify God;

5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

We are to glorify God with one voice. As believers in Jesus Christ we are singing the same song. However, we may find ourselves sometimes singing a different note than the person next to us. God is not glorified if we stop in the middle of a hymn so that we can bicker about the notes. God is not glorified when our greatest priority is getting everyone to sing our particular note. God is glorified when we sing in harmony. If we can’t sing the same notes, let us at least sing in harmony!

Did you notice that verses 5 and 6 are a prayer? It is as if Paul knows that the Christians in Rome will find this all very difficult. So rather than simply tell them what to do, he asks the Lord’s help. Handling disagreements can be difficult. The Lord will help us sing in harmony to His glory!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Catch up on any of this series you’ve missed here or at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 26, 2017

Love’s No Tripping Policy (When Disagreements Arise, Part 2)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You may have been surprised to find out last week that I, a Baptist Pastor, do not have a guilty conscience if I mow the lawn on a Sunday. “But it is the Sabbath, the day of rest” you might say. However, a) the Sabbath is a Saturday, and b) the Sabbath is part of the ceremonial law given to the Jews, and I’m not Jewish. Being a pastor, I already work most Sundays. Being a Personal Support Worker, my wife is required to work every other Sunday. Sunday being the Lord’s Day, we do make every effort to gather with other believers for worship, however Sunday is hardly ever a day of rest. I do keep the spirit of the law by taking a day completely off for rest every week, but Sunday isn’t it.

Now suppose you are not convinced and still feel quite strongly that Sunday is to be for every Christian, including me, a Sabbath Day, a day of rest. And suppose, for argument’s sake, that even worse than mowing the lawn on Sunday, I have now invited you to join me for a Toronto Maple Leafs game on a Sunday evening. Driving into Toronto on the 401 is anything but restful, so you think and feel that it would be wrong for either of us to go. I can see no sin in going, it will be a wonderful time especially if the Leafs win. So I insist. A disagreement has arisen. What are we to do?

Romans 14:13-23 will be of great help to us. It begins with a summary of what we learned from verses 1-12 last week: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another . . .” (v.13). That statement is for both of us. What follows, however, is for me. From it, there are three questions I should ask myself.

First, am I putting a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister in Christ?

. . . but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. Romans 14:13

Could it be, that in trying to entice you to attend the game with me, I might be a cause of your falling? The word behind “hindrance” originally has the idea of a trap. By my invitation, you may feel trapped, not wanting to go against your conscience, but not wanting to offend me either.

The Jewish Christians in Rome were feeling pressured. Bible scholars point out that with the Jews only recently being allowed to return to Rome, having been expelled a few years prior, the Jewish Christians would have felt like a minority in a predominantly Gentile-Christian church. Where in some towns the Gentile Christians felt pressure from the Jewish Christians to keep the law, here in Rome the Jewish Christians felt pressure to give up their Jewish identity. After all, “nothing is unclean” and so there is no need to worry about food being kosher or other similar matters pertaining to the Old Covenant between God and the Jews. You can imagine the pressure at Christian gatherings for the Jewish Christians to cave and eat anything and everything.

Paul shows his agreement with the “nothing is unclean” statement in verse 14, but there is a ‘but’:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. Romans 14:14 (emphasis mine)

This verse may sound confusing, even contradictory, but it is actually common sense. Consider again my insistence that you join me for a game on Sunday. If you are convinced that my viewpoint is correct, that is fine and off we go. However, suppose you do not find my argument convincing. To you Sunday is the Sabbath and after all, Sabbath keeping is one of the ten commandments. So you are not convinced. If, however, you still end up going to the game, then what you end up in effect saying is: “it would be better for me to keep Clarke happy than God. I would rather sin against the Lord than offend Clarke.” So even if attending a hockey game on a Sunday is not a sin in itself, if you think it is, and yet you do it, you are demonstrating that you really don’t care if you do sin against God.

The emphasis here is on my actions. I ought not put you into that sticky situation in the first place! Instead I should show some understanding and be respectful of your disagreement with me. Are there situations where you may need to show some understanding?

Second, is love showing up, or am I showing off?

If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 (emphasis mine)

Walking in love is to be the priority of the Christian. However, sometimes our priority may actually be the winning of an argument. If I am walking in love, I will be sensitive to what is best for you. Having a conversation about viewpoints is always a good thing, but leading you to go against your conscience is not what is best for you! Remembering the extent of God’s love for you, that Christ in fact died for you, I should at least be willing to let an argument go and leave off my insistence. I wonder how many conflicts within churches have smouldered on, if not escalated, not because there has been a disagreement, but because someone just had to be proven right. Are you walking in love, or are you determined to be proven right?

Third, is this a Kingdom Priority?

16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:16-19 (emphases mine)

Will God’s Kingdom purposes be advanced in any way if you go to the game? Or if you don’t? When all is said and done, it really won’t have mattered. However, Kingdom principles are not held up if I carry on about your not going. Even if I am correct, the onus is on me to pursue peace and seek to build you up. Peace is a kingdom priority, winning an argument isn’t.

Disagreements between Christians about the Sabbath are nothing new. They mirror similar perspectives from New Testament times.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:5 (NRSV)

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

Let us remember that we are not thinking here of disagreement over fundamental doctrines or blatant immorality. The way forward on lesser matters of disagreement is the same now as it was when Romans was written; leave off judging one another, and remember that love has a no tripping policy.

 All Scripture passages are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

October 19, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Always Keep Saying “Thou Shalt Not” (When Disagreements Arise)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The recently retired pastor was on his way to see me, the new pastor. Getting closer and hearing a lawn mower he began to wonder what the new pastor thought of the neighbour mowing the lawn on a Sunday. He came around the back of the house, and there I was, mowing the lawn. In my defence, if Sunday is to be set apart for rest, well then as a father of a 4 year-old, a 3 year-old, and a 1-year old, there was nothing more relaxing than mowing the lawn! But did I need to make a defence? Should what the Christian does on a Sunday following church be the subject of a church tribunal on Monday? As we continue our study of Romans we will gain some perspective on this on other potential disagreements:

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:1-5 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Even back in New Testament times Christians were squabbling over what was appropriate on the Sabbath. Except, of course, Sundays are not the Sabbath. As a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus on a Sunday, the early Christians chose to worship on Sundays instead of on the Sabbath, which falls on a Saturday. As I am fond of saying, every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Sunday has never actually been the Sabbath, but has become known as “the Lord’s Day” which many of us set apart as a holy day. However, even then, as I have heard author Frank Turek say during a recent podcast, “Every day is the Lord’s day”.

Back to Rome; Paul is responding in verse 5 to the fact that some Christians in Rome were thinking all Christians should observe the Sabbath, just like the Jews did, and that others thought that all Christians should exercise their freedom from the Jewish law instead. It was already well established that Jewish law was not binding on Gentile Christians, a fact we can read about in Acts 15.

There were other matters being squabbled over, such as whether one should eat meat. It was far easier for an observant Jew to keep the kosher food laws by keeping away from meat altogether, as Daniel did in Babylon. Some thought the observant Christian should do likewise. Others figured that that the kosher laws did not apply to the Christian anyway, so enjoy your protein! Paul picks up on these squabbles in verses one and two where he gives the solution: make space for each other even where there are disagreements. Rather than condemn each other, welcome each other.

We must be clear here what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that there is room for disagreement on fundamental truths. Since we are in the book of Romans, we should notice that Paul has spent the first eleven chapters contending for the truth. Truth matters! But not everything matters. Paul is not saying “welcome the heretic”. But not every disagreement is evidence of heresy. So welcome those you have disagreements with over those lesser matters.

Paul is also not saying there is room for blatant immorality. Elsewhere he condemns a church for not taking a matter of morality seriously:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NRSV)

Paul does not say “welcome the unrepentant person practicing gross immorality”. Though it was clear that Gentiles did not need to start behaving like Jews to be Christians, it was also clear that they could not keep behaving like typical Romans either. Morality matters. But not everything is a matter of immorality. So welcome those who disagree with you on matters such as meat-eating and Sabbath keeping.

What is being said between the lines is, to quote an old but oft forgotten cliché, that unity is more important than uniformity. Departing from fundamental truths destroys the unity of the Church. Indulging in immorality destroys unity between people. Differences in the lesser matters of religious expression destroys only uniformity.

As we think about Paul’s solution for disagreements, let us not too quickly pass over the instruction to be “fully convinced in your own minds” (verse 5). To become fully convinced about something, we must be seekers of truth. We must be open to changing our minds if the truth turns out to be something other than what we expected. The more we do this, the more we will find ourselves in agreement with each other anyway. Some may think I am Canadian based on my accent. Others may think I am from Northern Ireland based on certain expressions and the incomprehensibility of my Mum’s. All seekers of truth will end up agreeing that I am British-Canadian based on the evidence of my birth certificate and citizenship card. (Or am I Irish-Canadian?!) An honest seeking of truth and having a teachable spirit leads to disagreements being minimized, even disappearing.

Finally, where disagreements continue to exist, don’t try to get the last word, because God always has the last word. I encourage you to open a Bible to Romans 14:1-12 to see for yourself the following: If you have a disagreement with a brother or sister in Christ over a non-essential matter, please note that:

  • God has welcomed them (v.3), therefore so should you.
  • God is their master (v4), and not you.
  • God will make them stand (v.4), so why try to knock them down?
  • They are actually making their best attempt at honouring God (v.6), and not just trying to pick a fight wth you.
  • We are all in God’s hands (vv.7-9),
  • God is the judge (v.10), and
  • “each of us will be accountable to God” (v.12).

We will today, as in Paul’s day, come across Christians we disagree with. When those disagreements are not over fundamental truths, or matters of gross immorality, we can make room for them. Disagreement with other believers is not a big deal. Being ridiculous about it is.

As for mowing the lawn on Sunday, you may be relieved to know that I no longer do that. Now I send my boys out to mow the lawn instead.


Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

May 9, 2015

Sinning Against Another vs. Sinning Against God

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

One of my favorite quotations is from Jerry Bridges in The Pursuit of Holiness, where he says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” (I think I’ve got that more or less word-for-word.) In other words, if it is sin at all, it doesn’t matter if is against ourselves (eg. failing to observe Biblical directives re. gluttony), against our neighbor (eg. a violation of any one of the ‘second tablet’ ten commandments), or against God (eg. blasphemy, failing to give God worship He is due); all of it is against God’s holy standards.

(Paul alludes to something similar in I Cor. 6:18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Italics added)

But this verse seems to provide us with a different level — hinted at in the third type I listed above — of sin, “sins against the Lord.”

To begin, let’s see how some other translations (NIV is above) deal with this first part of verse 25. Compare at this page.

As it turns out only the (old) Living Bible in any way remotely departs from the wording, and even it is very close:

Ordinary sin receives heavy punishment, but how much more this sin of yours that has been committed against the Lord!

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Perhaps this discussion leaves you wanting more. I was surprised at how print commentaries and their online counterparts were often silent on this verse.  Feel free to engage this in the comments section.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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