Christianity 201

May 3, 2019

Things You Must Believe to be a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We tend to couch our Christianity in terms of propositional statements. But we don’t necessarily see that in the ministry of Jesus. We don’t see him teaching an apologetics seminar.

Andy Stanley often says that “you don’t have to believe everything to believe something.” In other words, there isn’t a package of doctrinal beliefs that requires you to check each line before you are welcomed by God into His family. On initial approach to faith, there’s some truth in that, but I am quite sure that even Andy would say it only applies to the early days of faith investigation.

On the other hand, for some belief in the deity of Christ is a deal-breaker. Take that away, and there’s nothing left; you’ve sacrificed the gospel itself. Does a Jesus who isn’t divine have anything substantial to offer?

I thought today’s article would get us thinking along these lines. Statistically, many readers here don’t have evangelistic discussions ongoing. They don’t have friends, family, neighbors or co-workers who are asking them, ‘What do I need to do to become a Christian?’ It’s easy to pontificate about these matters when there no real person involved in the discussion. For some of us however, we interact with people who are drawn to the person of Jesus without knowing (or knowing about) any of the theological underpinnings. Again, I thought the topic was worth considering…

…Today we’re again at Done With Religion only this time with a different writer, Mike Edwards. Click the header below to read this at their site. Do you agree with the spirit of this approach? Are there some items listed below with to which you would take exception? Feel free to leave a comment here or on their blog.

I don’t have to convince anyone that God does or doesn’t exist. God can speak to the hearts of individuals on their own. That billions are convinced there is a loving God cannot be declared definitely irrational or delusional. It is not irrational either to ask if God is real, why doesn’t God clinch the argument by making their Presence obvious? I would encourage those who believe in a relational God to not stand in the way of others and speak for God declaring any beliefs are required by God to consider a relationship.

God doesn’t require any belief!  

I am convinced God only wishes for all to consider the possibility of a loving God who desires to help you in your journey of becoming the person deep down you want to become. Loving, human parents don’t require certain beliefs from their children before hoping they will consider if they love them. Are we better lovers than God? 

You certainly don’t have to believe in magical trees and talking snakes.

No one was there with Adam or Eve to know literally what took place. Genesis isn’t necessarily a scientific explanation about Creation but about a relationship with the Creator. Flood stories appeared in ancient literature before Genesis. The global flood story could describe a regional flood in hyperbolic terms to convey moral, spiritual food for thought. God doesn’t require literal belief in any event in the Bible or else! Now if God physically appears raising your friend from the dead, you may want to consider!

You don’t have to believe Jesus resurrected from the dead.

I know the above statement is extremely offensive to many, but I care more about those who want to believe in a God but struggle with certain requirements as opposed to those who are already convinced a loving God is real. Jesus told followers He was coming back from the dead and they didn’t believe Him. And they supposedly witnessed miracles beforehand to have less doubts such a claim was possible.

I would like to think more of us if we witness a man or woman coming back from the grave after being killed that we would think their message such as claiming to be the son of God would be believed. But, none of us lived during biblical times so we will not have such an opportunity. I happen to believe the historical evidence is credible that Jesus rose from the grave, but God can handle doubts or skepticism.

You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Many insist that Jesus was both God and man. Some can’t logically wrap their heads around Jesus being both man and God. Exactly how does one do that chromosomally? Isn’t it logically impossible to be God and not God? Some may be willing to accept that Jesus was an extraordinary man who epitomized who God was. Why can’t we begin there as a discussion as to what teachings and actions of Jesus seem to represent what a loving God is like?

Doesn’t God at least require the Law of Love?

I have written before that the only belief God requires is love. I would say that differently now. God doesn’t demand love but only seeks to encourage unselfish love which leads to personal freedom. God know what we know – the road traveled of learning, reflecting, and freely choosing convictions over time is what leads to genuine, lasting love.

Didn’t Jesus require belief for eternal life?

When Jesus was asked directly by a religious expert how to have eternal life, Jesus didn’t talk about escaping torture after death. Please see here that the Bible says nothing about the traditional understanding of Hell. Jesus replied to simply love God and your neighbor (Lk.10:25-37). Jesus’ focus wasn’t on quantity of life after death but about a life worth living here on earth. Jesus’ message wasn’t about requiring certain beliefs but avoiding consequences in life here on earth through destructive choices. This is the message of any loving parent!

What beliefs about God are worth insisting upon to others?  

There is no belief about God you should impose upon others. You could be wrong. God is big enough to prove themselves to those interested. You don’t even have to insist God is loving. A tyrannical God isn’t worth believe in. I surely am not as perfect or loving of a parent as God is, but even I don’t require my children accept any of my beliefs or else. Even I understand controlling through fear than proving my love doesn’t lead to true change and intimacy.


What do you think?

April 25, 2019

A Compelling God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How the Justice and Mercy of God Point to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the God we meet in the Bible a God of justice? In being gracious and merciful, does God turn a blind eye to sin and injustice, and say “I don’t care”? We often care about justice and have concern for those who experience injustice. Shouldn’t God? If a worldview or religion is to be compelling, then won’t it point to the importance of justice? Indeed a God that has no concern for justice is a God that does not love. If God is love, we will expect God to be perfect in his justice.

So is the God of the Bible a God of justice?

We are introduced to the theme of justice very early in the Bible;

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10 (NIV)

We can assume that the blood of Abel was crying out, metaphorically speaking, to God for justice. Not too further along in the Old Testament we hear another cry for justice;

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

Someone has pointed out that the Hebrew for the last part simply says “God saw the Israelites. He knew.” He knew they were experiencing injustice. Justice for Israel meant judgement for Egypt. In the plagues the Egyptians found out what it was like to be picked on. The death of the firstborn males in the final plague mirrors the deaths of the Israelite male infants at the hands of the Egyptians. One is reminded of the Biblical “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Justice is held up as important.

We also find in the Book of Exodus a concern for God’s people becoming a just society. The Book of Exodus moves at a very quick pace until the people reach Mount Sinai and everyone, and everything, comes to a stop. The fast paced action ends and suddenly we find ourselves reading about various legal matters, such as, what should happen if your ox gores someone. It is often said that as Christians, we are not under the old covenant, we are under the new covenant. This is true, but we should also point out that as Canadians we are not under the old covenant law, we are under Canadian law. So if your neighbour’s ox gores your friend, do not wave a Bible in their face, call the police! In these civic laws, given to a specific people at a specific time, God is ensuring that the people He just rescued from the injustices of Egypt can themselves become a just society. If those laws seem like a tedious read, try reading the Canadian law books! Both are important for the existence of a just society.

In many ways, the laws given to Israel signalled a step forward from other ancient societies with regards to justice. There were laws to ensure that no one goes hungry, that the vulnerable were taken care of, that foreigners were treated fairly, and that no child was sacrificed for religious purposes as was happening in surrounding societies. Indeed, the justice of God rings throughout the entire Bible.

While I originally planned on the title of this to be “Compelling Justice,” I had to go with “Compelling God” instead. Why? Because in Jesus the justice of God and the mercy of God come together in a beautiful and compelling way. Consider:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
  But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
  We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

For God to be considered just, sin must be punished. Sin cannot simply be wafted away as being unimportant. Yet for God to be considered merciful, our sin must be lifted from us somehow, for no one is without sin. There can be no future in God’s presence for us without mercy. In Christ, God has taken away our sin and yet punished it at the same time. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Keeping in mind that Jesus is God the Son, God Himself has been both merciful and just by bearing the punishment we deserve.

In this bringing together of justice and mercy, Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world. As Peter points out in a sermon in Acts,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (NIV)

Salvation is found in no one else because there is no one else who could bring justice and mercy together as God has done in Christ. There is no one else who could have done for us what God Himself has done for us.

God is consistent in his justice and mercy. The Old Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. The New Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. God will be experienced as a God of both perfect justice and mercy in the future.

What will be the focus in your future? Will you experience the justice of a merciful God? He will not force you to spend eternity with Him if that is not something you want. He will do the right thing, the just thing. No one will say “that is not fair” when He sends those who reject Him away from His presence. Of course, God is merciful and it does not need to end that way. Will you experience the mercy of a just God? On our own merit, we do not deserve to spend eternity with God. Yet “by his bruises we are healed.” God will do a really good thing. He will show mercy, yet it will be consistent with his just nature.

Any religion that presents God as either all justice, and no mercy, or all mercy and no justice, is not compelling. Any religion that presents God as either lacking justice, or lacking mercy, is not compelling. The God we meet in the Bible, in revealing Himself supremely  in Jesus, shows Himself to be the God of perfect justice and perfect mercy. This 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.

November 23, 2018

Decision Making in the Here and Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Some readers here know of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. I got to meet Glenn on many occasions when the band traveled to Canada, and was a distributor for the magazine and a regular attendee at the festivals.

Click the title below to read this at his website.

“Blessing”?

I woke up this morning with one thought: There is a massive world (perhaps lifetime) of difference between us asking God to “Bless what I do!” and God saying “Do what I bless!”

In terms of theology an extreme Calvinist may blow it in thinking most every desire was predestined and the plan of God for their life while an extreme Arminian may wrongly decide most any desire was automatically a matter of their sin nature and therefore God couldn’t be stirring them to do X, Y or Z. Extremes -false balances which are not balanced in the first place.

Plenty of Christians are troubled by Paul’s comments in his first letter to the church in Corinth. But before we look at that, have a look at this:

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. -Psalm 127.1

I suspect this was in apostle Paul’s mind as he wrote about the people exalting and putting down leaders in their church. In fact the entire chapter is written to help them think that through, the folly of glorifying one Christian leader over another when all were dependent on the grace and work of God for anything to be of significance much less part of God’s plan. Some of Paul’s conclusions are what may upset us when he writes in 1 Cor. 3:

11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

“No big deal, I’m saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, HE justifies me, not any sort of “works” I do. I cannot be saved by my works!” All true- except the “No big deal” part. In this part of his letter Paul isn’t talking about how he, Apollos or those in the church at Corinth were being (or not being) saved.

Any concept of “God doesn’t care about what I decide, what I build, what I do with my life while in this world” is in many, many biblical texts just not true. On the other hand the idea we can simply make whatever choice we like best because we like it or like the idea of it therefore God is cool with it so “just go for it”… nada.

At this very intersection many who once professed being Christians no longer will. Their will versus His will is the issue.

Some will argue “Glenn, this text is all about eternal rewards, nothing more, not about our relationship to God in Christ” and I’ll say I disagree. Read Psalm 127.1 again. Vanity is selfishness at core. It is worse than ignorance because it is arrogant. Such is never God-serving but self-serving. Vanity, the fact something is foundationally vain means it’s about US, not Him. The motivating factor -or in this case person… is not the Lord of me… or in another sense, it IS the “lord of me”… it’s me, myself taking the place of my true and eternal Lord Jesus Christ.

Granted, not every choice, not every road we take, not every mission, ministry or area of service we work at in or outside the church or mission field is a matter of drawing closer to or farther from the One we call our God… or is it?

At what point might are we possibly separating our relationship with Him from our choices, daily labor? This is a massively important matter because that relationship is core and more essential to what we pursue in life. Just as many have stated, our character is more important than what we do -equally true is that our relationship to Him trumps our works. To therefore conclude what we do with our time and life isn’t important to Him is patently false.

Back to theology very briefly.

Both extremes (Relax cuz it’s all the will of God vs. Freak out cuz nearly nothing is His will) or even fretting over our eternal rewards is in my view, folly, useless, even besides the point. In reality such focus on rewards rather than relationship with God is likely more of a rampant individualistic, capitalistic worldview than based in a living relationship with Jesus.

My choices based on:

  • sincere prayer, seeking the Father’s will and mind on ANY major decisions I make
  • studying and applying HIS Word rather than my desires to careers, hobbies and you-name-it
  • getting sage advice from godly folks who know Him and know me and willingly speak the truth in love to me as I make decisions about my life and paying attention to His voice in these 3 areas as well as via:
  • practical doors opening and closing
  • even the supernatural (dreams, visions, prophetic utterance)

-though I’ll tell you that last area is one I’m extremely careful with.

This is how I’ve lived out my days. This is how God’s grace in planning and decision-making has come my way and I’m convinced it has kept me from adding to the (already long list) wood, hay and stubble I’m certain I have also produced next to the gold, silver and precious stone service He has performed in my life.

Again, verse 15 is clear- this is NOT about salvation but it IS about our works while on this earth. There is no escaping the fact God cares deeply about our choices. Are they HIS or ours? Do we seek Him and to the best of His confirming information (see those bullet points above) sense His voice and direction or are we simply spreading finger-paint on someone’s wall because we have access to the paints and the wall, in truth because we “just feel like it”? Gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, stubble?

I’ve not only made mistakes but sinned and every day must trust Jesus alone for my sense of peace with God, salvation, eternal destiny with the Father and all the saints. At the same time it’s not simply a shrug and “who cares?” attitude I take as I pray and make choices about what to do with my time and life.

May God grant you and I grace to pay attention and not overlook or worse, ignore what HE deems important in our life decisions.

Jesus Christ is my Savior -and it is His will and mine that He is also actively my Lord!

November 6, 2018

Have You Been Deceived?

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

Paul cautioned about deception. (Gal 6:78; 1 Cor 6:9) Having been deceived is being led into believing something that is not true or accurate. It means having been led astray, to err, to be seduced, or to wander from the way. Paul cautioned the Galatians not to be deceived. “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 reaps destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8) To deny God’s provision and requirement of living righteously through the Spirit is “mocking” him. “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.” (Rom 8:4 Italics added) The nature of a person’s “sowing” or living will determine his or her eternal outcome. No wonder Paul taught of the necessity to “work out (complete, finish) your own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)

The necessity for righteous living has not been annulled by Christ. He came to fulfill the law through his life in the believer. (Rom 5:10; Jn 6:63) All humankind have been called to repent of their sin and the hurt that it has caused the heart of their Creator (Gen 6:6) and it must be avoided in the lives of believers. He commanded them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:8; Lk 3:8) Paul described his ministry in the same manner. “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

The Spirit saves by enabling victory over sinful practices, thereby accomplishing the righteousness for which we hope (Gal 5:5) and producing fruit that is acceptable to God in the life of believers. This can only be achieved through a humble and obedient walk with God, the Spirit, who is the Lord. “Believers” are believers because they have been convinced that Christ is their means of righteousness and of their eternal salvation and consequently cling to him because of their faith (trust) in his ability to meet their need. Avoiding the deceptions of the evil one requires a committed and intentional walk. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9─10)

Many deceptive teachings permeate modern theological thought and the person seeking an eternal hope would be wise to consider without bias and to verify the doctrines that he or she accepts as truth. Although it is true that teachers will be judged “more strictly” (Jas 3:1), all will be held accountable for the way they have treated the Word of God. Believers have been cautioned to stand firm with the belt of truth bucked around their waist (Eph 6:14) and the husband has been instructed to “cleanse his wife by making her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:26)

While many teach that eternal salvation is a “gift,” (see a previous writing: The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation) Paul has revealed that something is required of the person seeking eternal life. Believers have to sow to please the Spirit. It is often repeated that eternal salvation is accomplished solely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross; however, Paul has taught

  • that it is achieved through the Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; Jn 6:63),
  • that the believer must be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18),
  • that it comes through obedience (Heb 5:9),
  • that the believer must be a slave to God (Rom 6:22) and to righteousness (Rom 6:18), and
  • that judgment awaits all people for what they have done in the flesh (2 Cor 5:10).

He has also presented that “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 8:14) These requirements do not indicate a “gift.”

Some promote that all sin has been forgiven allowing the belief that for the confessor the nature of his or her walk will bring no eternal consequences. Those who claim the name of Christ and who walk in sinful, rebellious ways thinking that God’s grace has covered their sins, have been deceived. Old Covenant law did not give freedom to sin; neither does the New Covenant. (1 Jn 3:9) God has not changed nor will he ever. He is building a holy nation. The “old” or first covenant was a “covenant of the letter”; the second, or “new”, is a covenant of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:6) The first was engraved in stone; the second is entrenched in the heart which is dynamically informed by the Spirit. As the Spirit enabled Jesus to live righteously during his time on earth in the body prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he can do so in the body of each person willing to submit to his authority. Claiming right to self is having been deceived.

Although freedom has been given from Old Covenant law, Christ’s law (1 Cor 9:21) or the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) must still be honored. That “law” exists in the recognition of the Lord’s sovereignty as displayed through conformity to his commands. (Heb 5:9) Believers are to be transformed into his likeness (Rom 8:29) becoming “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) “Living according to the Spirit” requires obeying the Spirit. (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18) Unfortunately, many have been deceived and are not aware of this need.

Effort is needed to enter through the narrow door, and although many will try, not all will gain the kingdom. (Lk 13:24) Many will be “thrown out” because they were “evildoers” (Lk 13:27; Mt 7:23) or because they are “lukewarm” (Rev 3:16), lacking commitment or conviction. Making an effort is not a passive act; it requires energy, action, and determination.

In the end, all will be judged for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10) and everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be weeded out of his kingdom. (Mt 13:41) As Malachi has recorded, “And you will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18)

When a proclamation is made that benefits a person, it is easy to accept it as truth. The more the falsehood is repeated and the more the speaker is esteemed, the more valid the declaration appears. The Word even prophesies that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) Deception will be rampant.

People readily accept as truth proclamations that appear to benefit them but submitting to the evil nature will bring destruction. Satan is always ready to encourage the flesh in pursuit of its comfort and satisfaction. Those who love and practice falsehood, who deny Christ’s God-given authority as their Sovereign and Lord, and who live contrary to the will of God, will be found forever separated from their God. In the end many will have been deceived. Be wise! Carefully examine the Scriptures for their truths.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His 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 a feature-length article at this link.

October 16, 2018

The Evils and Mistakes of the Past

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

Ghosts and Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September 17, 2018

“You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Mark 12.28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Today, something completely different: I’ve copied and paraphrased and updated notes on the passage from Alexander MacLaren’s Exposition of Holy Scripture as found at this website. I’ve tried to make minimal changes in the flow (except where noted) except for changes in vocabulary, formatting and paragraphing.

Not Far and Not In

This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered that he needed some one who could certify and commend God’s love to him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognizes such beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.

This Scribe in this story is an interesting study as being one who recognized the Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies. His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. ‘By law is the knowledge of sin.’ His intellectual convictions needed to pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognized true piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is ‘the Way.’ So Jesus’ praise of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between knowing and doing.

I. Who are near?

Christ’s kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel, profligate or not.

Here is a distinct recognition of two things to keep in mind:

  1. The varying degrees of proximity to the Kingdom found in different people, and
  2. The place or standard where you draw the line between those in the Kingdom and those outside it.

This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life.

How constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among ourselves!

How many of us have true thoughts concerning God’s law and what it requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the consciousness of our own sin, and yet are untouched by one pang of penitence!

How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be personal beliefs, which only need to be followed out to their conclusion to refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!

How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no error more common, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief, of which the individual neither knows the basics nor perceives the intellectual or  practical issues.

There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in Christian homes. They are on the verge of ‘the great surrender,’ but they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate ‘the great refusal.’ And to all such the word of our text should sound as a warning note, which has also hope in its bone. ‘Not far from’ is still ‘outside.’

II. Why they are only near.

The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So that the sole cause of any man’s non-entrance lies with himself.

We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.

[This is my own addition: A vaccination is a very small dose of the disease it is intended to prevent. Many people have had just enough church, just enough preaching, or just enough religion that they have become immune to the real thing. Or to change up the analogy, they’ve stuck their big toe into the water and decided they’ve had enough of swimming.]

But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent acts.

The two most familiar and fatal of these are:-

  1. Procrastination.
  2. Lingering love of the world.

III. Such people cannot continue near.

The state is necessarily transitional.

[This is my own addition] Some people are just sitting on the fence. But there’s not such thing as totally perfect balance there. You’re leaning ever so slightly one way or the other. And when the ground shakes, or the fence weakens,  you’ll fall in the direction you’re leaning. Which might be either:

  • Continuing on toward the Kingdom
  • Moving further away from the Kingdom

Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action — the need to do something — because

  1. Convictions not acted on simply die
  2. Truths not followed out simply fade
  3. Impressions resisted are difficult to be formed again
  4. Barriers and obstacles increase with time
  5. The habit of lingering, procrastinating, or being undecided strengthens over time.

IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.

You’ve heard of ‘Cities of refuge.’ It was of no avail to have been near. One needed to stive to enter in.

If you know someone who is in this in-between, transitional stage; appeal to them to cross the line of faith.

September 11, 2018

Honoring God as Holy

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

Do you honor God as holy?

God condemned Moses and Aaron because of their attitude towards the one with whom they had enjoyed fellowship while leading Israel out of captivity. “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20:12) Moses and Aaron had travailed in the wilderness with a rebellious people and with God leading the way. The people had become quarrelsome because they lacked water. The LORD had told Moses that he was to take his staff and Aaron and to gather the people before a rock. He was to speak to it and water would flow from the rock. However, Moses did not call upon God before the people but struck the rock twice with his staff as he made his proclamation; consequently, the LORD uttered his indictment, “You did not trust me enough to honor me as holy.

The commands of God are important. He will do as he has promised but he is to be obeyed and honored through humble obedience; he is not to ignored. Neither is he hallowed when people assume credit for his work. Moses and Aaron left out God when they struck the rock and declared, “Must we (Moses and Aaron were before the congregation.) bring water out of the rock?” (Num 20:10) They were incapable of making the rock produce water and yet they were taking credit for the work of the LORD. They had denied the holiness of God through their disobedience. The had not hallowed him.

The modern church is presented as dwelling in an age of grace. Unfortunately, the presentation of that grace has left out the need for obedience to God. However, any rejection of the commands of God is a lack of the acceptance of his holiness and of a lack of trust. He alone knows his plan for the believer and he alone has ordained the way to his eternal promised land. Believers will hear his calls, will look neither to the right nor the left and will respond in obedience. The understanding of grace that has pervaded many of the churches allows God’s grace to excuse disobedience; however, such neglect of his holiness will bring its own reward, just as it did for Moses and Aaron. Salvation, including eternal salvation, is by God’s grace, but that grace is often revealed though the obedience necessary to trust the course that he has set. God is holy and so must be his people. “Be holy: without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

Some accept that the sacrificial offering of Christ has made them holy and that this will remain their state forever. The Word addresses the need to become holy or the need to be made holy. The writer of Hebrews has presented, “Because by that one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14) or to re-order the passage, ‘Those who are being made holy have been made perfect forever.’ Paul also addressed the issue, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Rom 6:19)

The Spirit, who is Christ in you (Col1:27) is the means of developing holiness. “And so [God] 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.” (Rom 8:34) If a person is to live according to the Spirit, he must hear the call (commands) of the Spirit, must treat the one giving the commands as being holy, and must live accordingly. Paul has also written that those who are led by the Spirit of God are not under the law (Gal 5:18), and that those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. (Rom 8:14) Christ taught that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 7:21) and that his sheep hear his voice and follow him. (Jn 10:27)

God is holy and he must be treated with respect through the recognition of his authority and through trust in his provision, plan, and intervention in their lives. Just as Moses and Aaron disregarded God’s holiness before men and reaped loss, so will those who reject his authority and holiness and rest their hope in human philosophies and teachings that do not humbly recognize his sovereignty and glory. Those who mock God through disregard will reap destruction. “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 6:78).


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 alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

August 28, 2018

You are a Slave: Who is Your Master?

by Russell Young

How often have you heard a passage put in a context that seems to make sense without giving its meaning second thought? Romans 6:23 may be one of them. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage is often used in the evangelizing process to confront people with the fate that awaits sinners and to reveal the hope provided by Christ; however, the context of this passage makes it more expansive than often appreciated. It is directed to both those who have confessed faith in Christ and to those who have not. Paul is addressing the question of whether those who claim to be believers should go on sinning “that grace may increase” (v 1) and has stated that we should “count” ourselves, or consider ourselves, to have died to the practice of sin which our baptism has pledged. He has proclaimed that sin should not be our master because we are no longer under the law. In addressing slavery to sin his words are:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16 Italics added)

In his encouragement, he has added, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (v 18) The freedom to which he refers is from past sin and from slavery to sin since breaking the law is sin and the law has been nailed to the cross. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (the law) with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:1314)

Old Covenant law does not apply to those under the New Covenant, therefore sin cannot be acquired by breaking its prescriptions. He has commended their slavery to righteousness since they were obeying the teaching that he had given. Paul went on to explain that although they used to offer their bodies in slavery to sin, they were to “now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (v 19) Further he explained, “but now that you have been set free from sin (past Heb 9:15) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (v 22) His position is that slavery to righteousness leads to eternal life. It is in this context that he wrote, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many confessors have taken the last clause, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” to over-rule the first. A “gift” is normally something given unconditionally. Paul has not promoted the idea of a “gift” anywhere in this chapter, however. In keeping with his teaching on “slavery” a more understandable and a better rendering of charisma, the Greek from which “gift” has been translated, can be gained.

The Liddle and Scott Greek Dictionary presents charisma to mean “grace, favour.” The online Ancient Greek Dictionary (to 1453), Glosbe, represents charisma to mean “personal charm or magnetism; (Christianity) an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others; personal magnetism or charm.” This chapter does not mention “gift,” nor hint of a gift, but of a life of slavery.

Gift” as used in Romans 6:23 is misleading. Charisma refers to the idea of the appeal or magnetism of God and implies a response by the one who has been attracted or charmed and influenced. Some confessors will not see the charisma of God and to others the influence of a holy God will not endure; they will be claimed by the world once more. It is the appeal of God’s magnetism (attractiveness) which motivates a person’s soul to pursue God and to become a slave to righteousness that provides eternal life. Christ is to be recognized as lord or master and it is through obedience to him (Heb 5:9) that he is able to accomplish the believer’s eternal salvation. Paul has presented that while slavery to sin –which is the continuation of sinning and rebellion against the Spirit—results in death the influence or appeal of Christ entices slavery to righteousness which results in eternal life.

Verse 23 is a summation of his address to the question concerning whether we should go on sinning so that God’s grace should increase. Those who don’t live in slavery to Christ as their master and lord by default become slaves to sin which will result in death. Confessors have the freedom to choose their master. However, the wages of sin is death but the charisma of God provides eternal life through Jesus our Lord, our Master. The sin issue cannot be resolved until the mastery issue is resolved.

Although the first covenant law has lost the power to enslave the confessor, a law still exists that can be broken. Paul said that he was not free from God’s law but was under “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21), which he has also called “the law of the Spirit of life”. (Rom 8:2) Breaking Christ’s law brings death. John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) If life over death for a brother can be gained by forgiving a sin, neither pardon for sin nor certainty of life must have been established for the brother.

The Lord addressed the issue of slavery, as well. He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:3435 Italics added) A son is one who is led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14), who in slavery to righteousness, through which he or she honors Christ’s law.

Confessors would be wise to consider Paul’s words in their context and to choose their master carefully.


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.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

 

August 7, 2018

Avoiding Ambush

Proverbs 11:17-18:

If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away. But these people set an ambush for themselves; they are trying to get themselves killed. NLT

Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. NASB

Last year at this time I introduced you to Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog titled Finishing Well. Today’s thoughts are from two consecutive posts there.

Ambushed

A downside of being a news junkie is the gloomy reports of tragedy and violence one hears nightly.  Accidents, shootings bombings, floods, hurricanes, sickness, death, deceit, fires, political strife and corruption – the list is almost endless!  Worst of all are the stories of man’s inhumanity to man – the acts of violence due to anger, revenge, lust, greed, drunkenness, rebellion – the whole gamut of consequences brought about by bad choices.  Too often a damaging environment in home, school, society, even religion or its absence, have shaped and twisted thinking and personality.

Whoever rejects the concept of sin, or the depravity afflicting humanity, is either blind or detached from reality.  The biblical explanation is, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Truly, the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Our nation’s increasing rejection of God’s authority over what is, and is not, sin is determining the decline and bleakness of our future.  The high cost of rejecting God and His commandments cannot be avoided.  We reap what we sow.

Who of us has not experienced, or observed, how easy it is to ambush one’s own life?   A wrong choice or decision, carelessly made, can reek havoc to one’s future, marriage, finances, relationships, reputation, health, career or whatever.   How grievous it is to see youth making choices about behaviour, morality, appearance, companions, habits, work ethics and attitudes that can only result in limitations and hurt, if not disaster.

For years our family devotions included reading a chapter from the Proverbs.  The first chapter contains a vital motive to pay attention to the whole book.  It warns the reader of those who “ambush their own lives,” by rejecting wisdom, knowledge and the fear of God.  They do not accept counsel and spurn reproof.  “They eat the fruit of their own way.

Oh, that young and old alike would seek the forgiveness of God that leads to salvation; and the wisdom of God that leads to wise choices, good decisions and true blessing.  Another proverb admonishes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  From my youth, I have held on to that promise.  I can report with conviction that deviation from it hurts, but obedience benefits.  God is faithful to His Word and Ways.

Thank God, most ambushes to which we victimize ourselves, though often hurtful, are not fatal.  That allows us time, the wisdom of understanding, the grace of repentance, the kindness of forgiveness and the blessing of renewal.  “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart, for the night comes when no one can work.”   “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  What a wonderful, healing promise – a way to avoid an ambush!

Ambushed – Part Two

The Proverbial statement, “They ambush their own lives,” is a sad description of the self-hurt most of us have experienced at one time or another.  Wrong choices, bad behaviour and foolish rebellion result in wounds, dysfunction, crippling limitations, grief and the judgment of hurtful consequences – sometimes life-long and beyond.

The list of things that ambush one’s life can be found in the Ten Commandments.  Most of the disruption to family life, social chaos and corruption can be traced back to our disregard or violation of the divine will and order.  Because our government, educational system and courts of law have often chosen to reject God’s counsel for a noble society, our country is increasingly losing its way and stumbling in darkness.  The individual or family who rejects God’s way misses the pathway to a happy home and a safe environment.  The evidence of this is most everywhere one cares to look.  Our stubborn refusal to admit to our national rebellion against God and His ways, and thus to correct it, condemns us to devastating hurt!  We are literally ambushing our own lives!

Is there a solution?  What can we, who care, do about this before it is too late?

  • Proclaim faithfully the saving grace of our Lord Jesus.  Respond to the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to all who will believe that they are children of God.  He guides into all truth those who listen.
  • Demonstrate and teach the fear of God, the value of obedience to absolute truth, and the beauty of holiness.   Sin must be named and forsaken.  Guilt must be understood rather than be disregarded or shoved under a rug.  The way of cleansing, purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus on the cross, must be applied.
  • Search the Scriptures daily to advance your knowledge of God.  Draw upon the sufficiency of Christ.   Find and own the promises of God which cleanse and shape thoughts and behaviour.   These actions build discernment and wisdom.
  • Learn to recognize the deceitfulness of the devil, the lust of the flesh, the nature of idolatry and the lure of the world and its ways.  Distrust yourself, but trust God.  He satisfies the hungry soul.
  • Put on the whole armor of God.  Practice using both the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.  Expect to be attacked, and prepare for it.
  • Rejoice that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
  • Worship God in spirit and in truth.  Praise Him with a whole heart.  Pray to Him without ceasing, rejoicing in the Lord always.

As long as we walk this earth we will face things that ambush faith, hope, love, holiness, body, soul, spirit and our very lives.  So be it!  But our protection and victory are assured in Christ Jesus who has promised never to leave nor forsake us.  Having done all, stand – and keep standing for victory in Christ Jesus is sure and His coming is near.

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

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

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . 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

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

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”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 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 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

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 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

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

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

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

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

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


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

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 14, 2018

Olfactory Theology

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You can tell a lot about presence with the sense of smell. Like the smell of a roasting turkey letting you know that a great Christmas dinner is on the way. Or the time a horrible smell alerted me to the presence of a mouse that had wandered into a live trap and died. I hadn’t put bait in it so didn’t expect to catch anything. The poor mouse would still be there if the smell had not given away its presence. The Bible tells us that we as Christians ought to smell:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

We are the “aroma of Christ.” In other words, through our presence people ought to be able to tell that Christ is present. When a Christian is near, people should “smell,” or be aware of, the presence of God. But do they? Sometimes they might smell something else entirely.

I am reminded of a debate which touched on the topic “Was Hitler a Christian?” If you point to his family of origin, and/or to his denominational affiliation you may answer “yes.” However, if you look to his track record of picking up a cross and following Jesus in the way of sacrificial love, grace, and forgiveness, then you would answer “no.” Whatever your answer, it is obvious that Hitler did not spread “in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing [Jesus].” He was not “the aroma of Christ to God” or to anyone else for that matter. Instead he left behind a terrible stench from a form of Social Darwinism.

Never mind Hitler, what about us? Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell better. To be so Spirit filled and centered on Jesus that the presence of God is palpable.

We are the “aroma of Christ to God.”* Here the writer, the apostle Paul, is alluding to the living of his life as a sacrifice to God, with an aroma that would be pleasing to Him. We can think here of these other words of Paul:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

When our lives are conformed to this world then the aroma of our sacrifice is rotten to God. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, not conformed to the world, but changed by God Himself.

We are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”* We will understand this better if we observe the mixing of metaphors that goes in this passage. In verse 14 it sounds like we are led as a band of victors: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” However, scholars point out that this “triumphal procession” is not a parade of victors, but captives. This is in reference to celebrations in Rome in honor of conquering generals. The captives would be led through Rome, often to their execution. So does Paul have in mind here the idea of being a conqueror? Some Bible scholars point rather to the idea that Paul sees himself as surrendered fully to Christ. Though sin once made him an enemy of God, reconciliation was offered by God. It is a surrendered life that “spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” In contrast, we can only spread our own fragrance if we live a self centred life. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be surrendered to Christ.

But what about the aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”? There would be a lot of incense burned at Roman celebrations including the triumphal procession. No matter whether the aroma of the incense was pleasing or not, it would be a welcome smell to the conquering people, but will be the smell of death to the conquered. Here the metaphor changes as the Christian becomes the incense. We become the aroma of Christ that elicits a response from the world. To some we will be “a fragrance from death to death,” and to others we will be “a fragrance from life to life.” The presence of God being palpable does not necessarily mean that Christianity will be palatable. The one who rejects God will find the fragrance of Christ to be objectionable as he or she continues life a captive to someone other than Christ. Of course, anyone, at any time, can join Christ’s triumphal procession in a life surrendered to God. 

Strong smells always elicit a response. We can think of a turkey dinner or a skunk. The message of Jesus will elicit a response. Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell so strongly of Christ, that we elicit a response. If no one ever asks us about our faith in Jesus, perhaps we are not smelly enough?

Our passage ends with a great question: “Who is sufficient for these things?” The answer is no one, at least not on our own. Just as Paul depended on the presence of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in being the aroma of Christ, so can we.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All scripture references are from the NRSV)


With Clarke away from the pulpit last week, this is an archived post from his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.  * italics added

June 5, 2018

God’s Requirement of a New Creation

by Russell Young

Much is made of the fact that the confessor is a “new creation,” but what is meant by that? Paul told the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17) A new creation is an “original formation” according to translation from the Greek. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2937) He or she has become something that they were not before. They have been cleansed from sin and are now in possession of the Holy Spirit whom they did not have in their previous birth. That is, they have the same advantages in Christ as he had. Paul wrote, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) The need for this newness has been revealed in Genesis. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6) The new creation is needed to destroy evil inclinations and by doing so to conform a person to the likeness of Christ. Although the creation is new, conformity or refinement must yet be achieved through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

How do people become a new or an original formation? To be “in Christ” they must first have been cleansed of any existing sins. The writer of Hebrews has stated that they “have been set free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15) But, in their new formation they now possess the Holy Spirit, who is Christ in them (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) The whole purpose of the believer’s redemption was so that he or she might gain the Spirit. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 Italics added) Being a descendant of Adam, humankind possess the natural or evil spirit that entertains sinful practices and fills God’s heart with pain. It is freed from the encumbrances of past sins that bring death and it houses the Holy Spirit. Although confessors still have the flesh and the spirit from their natural birth to contend with, they have been given all that is necessary for life and godliness through Christ’s presence in them (Col 1:27), the Holy Spirit.

Being a new creation, possessing the Spirit, does not mean that the believer has been renewed however. The new creation is a new birth, a new beginning. The Spirit must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:9─10 Italics added) Paul also wrote, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made knew in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22─24) The confessor has something to do, to put off his or her old self; they must live in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) A person who is being led is an obedient follower.

The “renewal,” refining, or “conforming to the likeness of Christ” is not done instantaneously. It often requires discipline, punishment, and hardships. (Heb 12:5─7, Rev 3:19) A new birth is the first stage of the creation that God requires, but it begins with incorruptible parentage providing better hope. The new creation through a new birth makes the confessor into a new spiritual baby. He or she must mature to become the person or offering that God requires, sanctified by the Spirit. (Rom 15:16) Hebrews cautions about “falling away” during this process. (Heb 6:1-12)

Many take the believer’s transformation as being a unilateral act of God, a gift of grace; however, the believer’s –a confessor makes the pledge of Christ’s lordship, but a believer lives it out–transformation is an exercise of his or her will, or of their choices. The Spirit is a helper only. He enlightens, leads and empowers, but must be obeyed. Those who thwart, deny, or quench him will not enjoy the hope of God’s heavenly kingdom. These are the hypocrites who blaspheme the Spirit—”sin defiantly.” (Num 15:30) They will never be forgiven. (Lk 12:10)

Peter wrote, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:13) Christ suffered when he was tempted (Heb 2:18) and believers are to join him in his suffering. Further, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) The mature new creation will be a revelation of Christ as he is willed to live in the body of the believer.

(Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are quoted from the NIV)


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 31, 2018

John 3:16: Should God Send People to Hell for Not Believing Certain Things?

by Clarke Dixon

Should God send people to hell for failing to believe certain things? Some will point to John 3:16,

“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 (NRSV)

Some object that God cannot be very loving if failure to believe results in punishment. Does the punishment fit the crime? However, John 3:16 will help us respond to the objection.

Before we get to 3:16, it helps to look at verses 1-15 where we are introduced to Nicodemus. Being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have believed certain things about the way things are. He was no doubt well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and was looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God. He would have held onto certain beliefs about who would enter the Kingdom and how. You enter this kingdom by being born into the right family, the Jewish family, and doing the right thing, keeping the Jewish law.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus on his beliefs about these things:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3 (NRSV)

Being born into the right family is not what is important for the Kingdom, but rather “being born from above”, or “born again”.  Nicodemus takes the latter meaning of the term but Jesus is referring to the same idea we were introduced to in John 1:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

To boil this down to essentials, you will see God’s Kingdom, not because you were born into the right family, but because of God’s work in you no matter what family you were originally born into. Jesus continues:

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Nicodemus would have known where he, as a Jewish person ,came from; Jewish parents. However, with Kingdom people, you do not know where they come from. In other words,  a Kingdom person can be from any background or nation, as long as God is working in them. Nicodemus had certain beliefs about the Kingdom, but Jesus challenged him on them.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus on his beliefs about who he, Jesus himself, really is. Nicodemus already believes certain things about Jesus:

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:2 (NRSV)

Jesus challenges Nicodemus to go deeper than that:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (NRSV)

Jesus is not just a prophet with God’s presence, but the Son of Man coming from God. Nicodemus would likely have had Daniel 7 going through his mind at this point. He also would have been thinking of the passage of Scripture from Numbers where Moses is instructed to lift up a serpent so that everyone who looked to it could be healed from the consequence of their sin. The inference here is subtle, but important; namely, that Jesus is not like Moses, but greater than Moses. While Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus is the One lifted up, meaning that he was to be crucified as a means of healing. Jesus is the One through whom healing comes, the One through whom we receive forgiveness for our rebellion against God. Which brings us to verse 16:

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 (NRSV)

Jesus is challenging Nicodemus to move from belief that something is true, to trust in Someone. Nicodemus believed certain things, namely that you enter into the Kingdom first by being born into the right family. Jesus tells him that anyone can enter the Kingdom by trusting that God has done the best thing.

What does this have to do with our objection: “should people go to hell for not believing certain things”?

Even when I know where I am going, I like using my iPhone’s Maps voice guidance on Highway 401. It shows me the traffic and has occasionally led me off the highway in order to rescue me from an upcoming traffic mess.

Now suppose I don’t listen to the voice guidance thinking that I know better. When I slow to a stop, would I then ask my phone why it sent me into a traffic jam? I chose that route, and I chose to trust my own judgement rather than trust my phone which offered a better path.

God does not send people to hell for failing to believe certain things. People choose a path that leads to death and separation from God. When God offers forgiveness and a better path, they choose to not trust Him. Being separated from God for eternity is not punishment for disbelief. It is the natural consequence of a life of walking away from God. It is sin, not disbelief, that separates us from God. Eternal life is not about believing certain things, it is about trusting God. It is about trusting that God has dealt with our separation from Him through Jesus at the cross. It is trusting that through His grace, we are welcomed as children, born from above.


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

 

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

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.

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely 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 surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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