Authority: The Gospel or Man-made Religion

GALATIANS 1:11-24 – “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came †through the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

In this passage, Paul opens a broadside against the false teachers who came to the Galatians churches to claim their authority and dispute Paul’s authority.  They sought to dismiss the gospel Paul preached because they claimed it rested on his own authority.  They supported their claim by pointing to the Mosaic Law, specifically that of circumcision.  To them, that seemed reasonable, since their claim not only reached back into ancient history (for them), but it defined them as God’s people He delivered from the Egyptians and placed His mark on them as His chosen people.  How could Paul begin to argue against such insurmountable evidence?  To the Judaizers, it was an uphill battle for Paul to make any other claim.  How could anyone reject the established Mosaic Law that had more than 1,300 years of acceptance?  Additionally, how could anyone simply cast aside centuries of traditions the Jewish fathers taught in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law? Law and tradition were like hand and glove – inseparable.

However, since Paul received direct revelation from Jesus Himself, he staked his claim on that which was greater in significance – the promise of Messiah.  Promise had far greater value than the Mosaic Law, because promise stood as the grounds for faith whereas the Law catered to the flesh by inciting sin through the fleshly nature.  The promised Messiah came prior to Moses and saw His fulfillment apart from Law through grace (John 1:16-18).

Paul will take his readers through several arguments to explain the superiority of God’s promise over the Mosaic Law later in his letter by showing:

  1. that faith in God’s word holds greater importance in relating to Him than the Mosaic Law
  2. that faith and grace preceded the works of the law
  3. that the Law had no power in itself to bring forth righteousness
  4. that God never intended the Law to bring forth righteousness

Defense of the Gospel from Experience

  1. Not from men (1:11-12)
  2. Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:12)
  3. Refutation of human authority, including his own (1:13, 16-17)
  4. Refutation of traditions (1:14)
    • Affirmation of God’s grace 1:15)
    • Independence from men and apostolic authority (1:16-19; 2:9)
    • Affirmation from a changed life (1:21-24)

 

CHAPTER ONE WRAP-UP QUESTIONS

  • How does Paul explain the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just for unbelievers?
  • From what we have learned so far, how would you present the gospel to others? (See also Romans 10:9-10)

Can Something be True without Being Factual?

The LA Times published an editorial April 13, 2017 about the Passover, In religion, something can be true without being factual.  The article poses a question, “Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?”

In it, the author, Eric Schwitzgebel, argues that it does matter.  However, his position is that if it is true, then Judaism has a problem.  He confronts one negative with another.  He states the problem in the following way,

“It matters,” I said, “because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.”

That is, he claims that making the story historically factual, gives Judaism a murderous god, something he does not want to believe.  Such a false dilemma.  Therefore, one must adapt a story or myth to present values to make it powerful for today.  In other words, he celebrates a truth of values, which are adaptable to present circumstances.  Consequently, the way to escape what one considers a negative from history is to establish one’s own truth based on ever changing values.  This argument is one similar to that which many today hold,

“What is true for you may not be true for me,”

or

“Your truth may not be the same as my truth.”

These statements result from divorcing truth from historical fact and creating one’s own “facts” or not having any facts at all upon which truth rests.  That is, truth is that of convenience to do away with what one dislikes.

Several people responded to this editorial, but one specifically caught my attention.  This responder picked up on the core issue when writing,

   “As a professor of philosophy he probably knows the difference between “facts” and “truth,” as well as how much the meaning of stories matters, regardless of their empirical factuality. His “alternative” interpretations of the Torah manifest precisely this difference, in their appeal to the “moral” character of God.    He is correct to say that the meanings of the stories contain their moral lessons. Therein also lies their truth value.     No matter one’s inclination for literal as opposed to figurative interpretation, the stories of the Torah aim at truth, as do all religious narratives. More than their factuality, the truth of these narratives is what both comforts and discomforts us. Interpreting these stories and communicating their truth is what holds in tension our contemporary values with the timelessness of truth.”

What this responder claims is that truth does not necessarily have to be based on facts to hold truth.  That is, truth and facts are not necessarily the same or something can be true without being factual.

Here is the rub.  If truth and facts can be different, then why should we believe this Schwitzgebel or the responder to him?  If truth and facts can be divorced from one another, what difference does it make?  None.  One simply states a baseless opinion among many opinions for one’s faith, which does not rise to any significance, especially if truth has no foundation in reality (facts of history).  Facts are stubborn things of reality.  That which is non-factual has no correspondence to reality.  To espouse “truth” without grounding in reality makes it fictitious and without any significance.  That which is not part of reality does not exist and has no knowledge base.  Our entire existence and way of life are based on truth having its grounding in the reality of facts.  Once we dismiss or ignore facts as the basis for truth, chaos ensues.  We cannot live with such a division.  Rather, one would necessarily take a leap of faith into the dark abyss of non-existence where knowledge does not exists.  Such a leap is an attempt to escape reality itself.

How do we know Schwitzgebel is not wrong if he makes a distinction between truth and facts?  How can Schwitzgebel judge something right or wrong, whether a historical event or present circumstance which becomes history, if truth has no grounding in fact?  If truth and facts are different, how are judges to make decisions in courts?  Those who swear to tell the truth can also ignore the facts of a case.  If truth and facts can be separate, why believe anyone who presents you with a contract?  If someone swears they will do something, and they believe in the division between truth and facts, why would you believe them?  Actions are also facts, and we cannot wish them away regardless how much we try.  It is this kind of reasoning that destroys truth altogether and makes lies the bedrock of society.

However, we know that the Exodus and Passover are true because they are factual events.  Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He fulfilled Passover by paying the price for our sins and then rising from the dead.

Have a Blessed Easter (Paschal).

The Letter to the Galatians Outline

When Paul wrote his letters to the churches, he frequently addressed problems they encountered.  The urgency of the problem depended on how swift he addressed it.  In the Galatians letter, Paul began with the problem immediately.  Not long after Christ’s death and resurrection, defection from the gospel began.  The influence of Judaism and the Mosaic Law remained strong among the recipients of the gospel.

The Church lived in two worlds: the world of Judaism and the world of Christ’s resurrection.  While mass conversions took place to Christ, the thought of leaving Judaism never entered the minds of the Jews.  They still had their synagogues, the Temple, sacrifices, ceremonies, and Torah.  The newness of the resurrection never led the Jews to believe that they must leave the Jewish religion and all that defined it.

Then came Paul.  He discovered or rediscovered the seeds of the gospel in God’s word to the Jews in the Old Testament through his encounter with the living Christ.  These seeds came to fruition through Christ.  Christ opened his eyes to the grace and peace (Galatians 1:3) from the unchanging covenant given from God of the Jews and the Gentiles.  As he received this revelation from Christ, he understood how the Mosaic Law never meant to be the means of redemption or what distinguished the people of God from others.  The Gentiles never had the benefits the Jews possessed (Romans 9:4).  Yet, God also called them to redemption.

Since Paul ministered the unqualified grace and peace of Christ to the Gentiles, a huge tension arose among the Jews concerning authority.  God gave Moses the Law.  Must then the Gentiles enter the Christian community of faith through the same authority – Moses?  There is precedent for this process – Gentile proselytes through circumcision.  If so, they must be circumcised and observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law to receive redemption.  Christ was not enough.  Grace was not enough.  One cannot just kick Moses to the curb just because Paul said so.  Who was he to usurp Mosaic authority?  What was Paul’s answer?  No, no, no!  No one could keep the Law.  Sinful flesh held sway over us and simply leads to defection.  Jewish history gave evidence of Israel continually leaving God.

What then?  Paul argues that God the Father and Jesus His Son gave the necessary grace and peace the Law could not provide.  This grace and peace came through the cross: Christ becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  With this message, Paul encountered the first heresy of this young Church – the renunciation of Christ’s complete satisfaction for sin.  What are the points of this heresy?  Christ and His sacrifice were not enough.  Grace was not enough.  Peace with God was not enough.  The Galatians needed to go through the Mosaic Law to get through Christ’s redemption.  Therefore, salvation was Christ plus, grace plus, the cross plus.  What was the plus?  Human effort!  The tension was between Christ and human effort.

OUTLINE

I.            The Problem: Gospel Defection, 1:6-12; 3:1-4

A.                  The tension with the gospel

B.                  What is legalism?

C.                  Rejecting Christ

D.                 Rejecting Christ’s sacrifice

E.                  Substitutes another gospel that is human centered

II.          Defense of the Gospel from Experience, 1:11-2:21

A.                  Direct Call from Jesus Christ

B.                  Conversion and Rejection of Judaism

C.                  Affirmation by the Apostles

D.                 Showdown with Peter

III.        Defense of the Gospel from the Scriptures and History (OT), 3:1-4:31

A.                  Faith centered as shown by Abraham, 3:1-9; Acts 13:36-40; Habakkuk 2:4

B.                  Opposed to the Mosaic Law, 3:10-12

C.                  Christ centered, 3:13-14

D.                 According to promise, 3:14-18

E.                  Purpose of the Mosaic Law explained, 3:19-4:7

F.                   Mosaic Law versus the promises of God, 4:8-31

IV.        Application and Return to the Message, 5-6

A.                  The liberty of faith and the slavery of the flesh, 5:1-15

B.                  Walking in the Holy Spirit versus walking in the flesh, 5:16-26

C.                  Love as bearing burdens of others, 6:1-5

D.                 Love as doing good, 6:6-10

E.                  Keep the cross central, 6:11-18

 

Nothing But the Gospel

Can We be Saved through Creation, Other Religions, or Human Philosophy?

Nothing But the Gospel: Can We be Saved through Creation, Other Religions, or Human Philosophy? by [Talbot, Floyd]

Today’s Christians live in a religiously pluralistic and diverse environment. Pluralism is a hot topic in our post-modern society. That is, we receive pressure to be all-inclusive and to embrace diversity. This pressure does not stop with culture or race. Religious pluralism is also included in this list. Such pluralism suggests that we should be accepting of other religions and their teachings as well as embracing more than one way to God and His salvation. Otherwise, we are labeled intolerant and narrow-minded. However, must we accept this mindset?

This book tackles these challenges.

A tug of war continues to exist over two positions within Christian circles:

1.Exclusivism – One who does not know God must encounter the proclaimed gospel to come to a saving knowledge of him.
2.Inclusivism – Those who have never heard the gospel can come to a saving knowledge of God without hearing the gospel. Rather, they can go to heaven by responding to the light from creation, other religions, human reason, or philosophy.

One of the major consequences of these two positions concerns the person and nature of God. This book engages in a lengthy discussion about how each position treats God and the difference such treatments of Him make.

It addresses such questions as “Is God fair? Can we trust Him? Is God in control of the future, specifically our destiny, or does He share control and power with His creation, specifically humanity?”

The environment of inclusivism has an increasingly negative influence on evangelical churches and whole denominations, leading many astray. It is of utmost importance for Christians to understand influences speculative philosophy and false teachings have on faith.

This book also affirms that only the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Salvation requires the right power. The Scriptures declare that the source of that power is in the gospel, and it begins with the righteousness of the triune God. Getting the God of our faith right insures that we come to an accurate understanding of salvation. This book discusses these two essential attributes of God, His power and righteousness, for salvation.

The Letter of Paul to the Churches of Galatians: An Introduction

A Return to the World’s Efforts to Compromise the Gospel

As in the time of the Apostle Paul, the attempts to compromise the gospel has taken a toll on the Church universal.  Paul battled this tendency during his life and wrote a letter to the Galatians churches to warn them of those who wanted to compromise the one true gospel.  At the beginning of that letter, he declared,

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

While the circumstances differed from those of today, the dangers remain just as high.  Other so-called gospels bring about a curse from God.  The one true gospel has its source in Him.  It concerns His declaration of the means of redemption found in His Son, Jesus Christ and informs us of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the promise of redemption.  To compromise the gospel is to compromise not only God’s revealed word but also the work of God in redemption and God Himself.  A compromise of the gospel affects all three: God’s word, God’s work, and God Himself.

Paul informed the Galatians that such a compromise led them back into slavery to the fallen flesh and its corruption highlighted in the Law of Moses.  Those who preached another gospel to the Galatians churches raised doubts about God’s word to the apostles, God’s work of redemption through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the very nature of God.  This letter explores all three of these theological issues and explains the outcome of compromising the gospel.

Today, we live in a world in which religions proliferate like ants. Just open the telephone book or an Internet page for churches within a given city, and you will discover a variety of churches.  Many teach another gospel than the one from the Bible.  Not only are numerous churches preaching another gospel, but also there are a myriad of religions spread across the world.  Most believe in many gods (polytheism).  Others believe in some ominous spirit that permeates nature (pantheism, panentheism).  Others believe in no gods at all (atheism, humanism) or claim that we cannot know if God exists (agnosticism).  Each has its own gospel (or good news) for bringing hope to humanity.

While Paul does not address religions per se in his letter to the Galatians, he makes it very clear that any other message than the gospel he preached receives a curse from God. If such messages receive God’s curse, how serious should we take the one true gospel rather than following cursed messages from whatever source?

As we go through this letter, we will encounter terms Paul uses to describe the gospel that need our special attention so that we can understand his message.  The original readers of this letter were well aware of what these terms meant because of the problems they encountered with the false teachers who came to them.  It is important to place ourselves in their shoes, their culture, their historical context, and their language so that we can understand what they did and not walk away from reading this letter with a different message.  These terms consist of law, flesh, faith, promise, justify, righteousness, grace, and liberty.  These words have context out of which Paul’s message arose.  We will walk through this letter carefully, paying attention to the repetition of these words so that we can come to grips with Paul’s message.  Not only will we do this, but we will also determine how Paul’s message encounters the pluralistic (many religions) world in which we live.  As we do this, we will be able to discern the one true gospel as opposed to the many false gospels spread across the world.

What is the Point in Faith?

A person in another discussion board posed the following scenario worthy of discussion, because it appears to make faith an abstraction divorced from reason and knowledge.  This article replies to the concluding question.

—————————————————

“I have a hypothetical for any believers who consider faith a virtue. Imagine a young child born to Christian parents. In circumstance A, the child is raised Christian. In circumstance B, the child is adopted and raised Muslim.

Regardless of who raises the child, by adulthood it will believe one of these religions on faith. These religions however, totally negate each other.

My question is: what is the point in faith?”

LINK: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/channel-religion/the_irrationality_of_faith/

The point in faith? To understand faith, one must drill down into its meaning. The way of and context for your question seems to focus on faith as an abstraction. It is not. Allow an example.

Suppose you enter enter a marital relationship. For the sake of argument, let it be within the context of the Christian faith since you address that faith leading up to your question. Christians view such a marriage as exclusive and permanent. The question arises in that relationship: Does each spouse trust or believe in the other for faithfulness and commitment to that exclusivity? Trust and believe are simply the verb parts of speech for the noun faith. The foundation for that believing or trusting is that the relationship actually exist and is therefore based on and grounded in reality: two people are married and have established a real household. Even your example bears this out.

The outcome of the actual relationship is a family unit of the two parents and children. Christians hold to faith in the same way. Mutual faith in the marital relationship is not an abstraction. Rather it is a bond acted out in commitment and the behaviours and actions that commitment ensues.

Some people attempt to divorce faith from what exists or reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. For if that were so, then there could be faith without the relationship or in non-existence itself. However, biblical faith is not divorced from reality, reason, or what exists. It requires knowledge, and knowledge requires reason to make sense of that knowledge. Faith and knowledge do not stand independent from one another. For if they did, there would be no faith but presumption or the Kierkegaardian leap into the dark abyss of nothingness.

Those who divorce faith from knowledge and reality are not defining faith but presumption. A great biblical example of such faith is found in Hebrews 11:3,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible ” (NKJV).

In this passage, the author attests faith as commitment to knowledge, that is what actually exists. It affirms two things about this reality: 1) God created what exists so that existence did not just pop up out of nothing, and 2) the visible did not create the visible (for example rocks did not create other rocks at the outset or that matter is eternal). The author of the Hebrews rejects the division of faith from knowledge and reason, for he points to knowledge and he uses syllogistic reasoning. Therefore, the whole point of faith within the context of biblical faith is affirmation and commitment to what is real and not to what does not exist.

That commitment recognizes (knowledge of reality) that God created us to be a certain way, and to be another way strains or breaches the relationship and leads to alienation. That is the reason that the Bible frequently uses marriage as a metaphor to express the relationship between God and humanity. As I said before, in this context faith is the bond for the real relationship to God in the same way that it is in the actual marital relationship. It is not irrational but very reasonable and joins with reason to makes sense of what exists – the relationship. Otherwise, faith would not be faith but presumption. Presumption is irrational and a leap.

Easter: Something Borrowed, Something New?

Every Easter those who oppose the Christian biblical faith surface the notion that Christians borrowed the celebration of Easter from pagan sources.  Accordingly, they say Christians developed their own traditions that buried the pagan sources and resurrected the story of Christ.  Consequently, the entire Christian religion, according to them, stands on pagan sources as a relatively new holiday for Christians to use for their claim of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For pagans who deny the resurrection, they claim Christians raise up Easter from something borrowed and something new.  However, is this notion true?  Additionally, how does such a notion affect Christian faith in the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead that first Easter morning?

First, consider the origin of Easter.  Many have attributed Easter to the ancient English monk and historian, Bede (673-735 AD).  In identifying names to the months of the year ancient cultures assigned to them, Bede wrote the following in his work De temporum ratione,

“In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months.  … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

Bede points to a particular goddess for the month of Eosturmonath (April) as the origin for the name of Easter.  Those who wish to associate the Christian celebration of Easter seem to have a case for their claim that paganism is its source.  Such a claim, according to Anthony McRoy is suspect, speculation, and far from the truth (“Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?”  Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/april/was-easter-borrowed-from-pagan-holiday.html).  He points out that Bede’s claim of Easter deriving from the goddess Eostre has no substantiation anywhere else in history.  He also points out a timeline conflict,

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival.  This is easily answered.  The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity.  Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7.  The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772.  Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance.  And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier.  It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Not only did Augustine celebrate Easter in Britain, but earlier Christian authors also affirmed its celebration well before pagan stories surfaced, showing that Easter could not have arisen from pagan stories.  Gregory Naziansus (329-390 AD) gave an Easter homily (Second Oration 45.5, Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, 132).  In the beginning of the 4th century, Christians sang an earlier Easter hymn (Oden, 273).  Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 AD) gave a sermon called On the Incarnation in his Easter Homily 1.6).  Even farther back, Chrysostom (349-407 AD) narrates Paul’s written account of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3; Homily on Corinthians, 38.2, Oden, 479) on the first Easter.  Before him, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 AD) wrote “On the Celebration of the Pascha [Easter].”

The actual name of the event does not really rise to the level of significance as the event itself.  Words pass through many languages, alphabets, cultures, and time periods.  Some point to Bede as the source of the word Easter from pagan sources.  Yet others, including Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther in their translations brought the word for Easter from the word Pascha, signifying that Christ was the lamb sacrificed for all humanity.  While Bede speculated about the connection between Easter and the goddess Eostre, he associated the month named after Eostre as “Paschal month,” demonstrating that the earliest celebration of Easter dates to the original biblical truth and not to pagan sources.

More could be cited of early church Fathers who preached Easter sermons.  Suffice to say, these early Church Fathers give overwhelming evidence of Easter’s celebration and the event it commemorated – Christ’s resurrection.  Oral tradition of actual events precedes their written authorship showing that Christians of earlier centuries dating back to the Apostles passed on to the next generation what they learned from the original eyewitnesses through hymns and actual historical oral accounts.

What do we then learn from all of these authors dating to the earliest centuries after Christ?  Easter arose from the actual event, Christ’s resurrection, and not pagan sources. Easter signified the earliest remembrance of Jesus rising from the dead!  Eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) recorded what they saw and heard from Jesus after His resurrection.  They passed this good news to their disciples in the gospels they wrote some 20-30 years later.  Paul also saw Jesus and recorded his encounter of Jesus even earlier (Galatians, 53-55 AD) than when the Apostles wrote their gospels.

Eyewitnesses and subsequent authors recorded actual historical events about Christ’s resurrection.  They put to rest any fictitious notion of pagan sources for it.  Speculations cannot overturn historical fact.  Rather, they highlighted that behind the myths lie actual events.  We only need to view contemporary celebrations of Christian remembrances to see how rapidly pagan innovations occurred.  The mind stirs up fanciful creations consisting of bunny rabbits hiding eggs for little children to find.  These mimic actual events with changes to align with fresh ways of expressing paganism.  They bring to mind celebration of the freshness of the earth’s resurrection from a wintery dead state and the correlation to Christ’s resurrection from death.

The truthful themes of the first resurrection surface in the fanciful pagan rites of the contemporary.  The wretchedness of the human condition splashes across theater screens.  One need only turn to Hollywood to view resurrection played out in one movie after another.  Deus ex-machina (God of the machine) descends from the heavens in the form of humanity (Superman).  Captain AmericaThe X-Men, and the salvation of Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings provide one fictitious example after another of resurrection and redemption.  They supply deliverance from human tragedy.  In such cases, paganism depends on established Christian truth and its preservation and not the other way around.  The evidence for the foundational truth of Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming.  Paganism uses and twists historical truth for its own means and message.

Christians need not fear fables, fiction, and allegations of the pagan sources for Easter.  These pagan sources do not exists. Paganism rests on speculation and novelty resulting from becoming “futile in their thoughts” (Romans 1:21, NKJV).  Pagans borrow from the truth to create their own myths for their leap of faith.  Given the continuous line of written testimony from the first century forward, we can take heart and have hope in the resurrection of Christ as we also celebrate Easter.  Paganism cannot just brush aside truth having its foundation in history.  We can rest in Christ’s promise that as He rose from the dead and went to be with His Father, He will come again and take us with Him to be with His Father and ours (John 14:1-3).

Delusional Philosophy

The atheist Richard Dawkins authored a book entitled “The God Delusion.”  In it, he ridicules Christians specifically for believing God’s existence.  While Dawkins travels through a litany of stories, anecdotes, and diatribes, he never really gives a defense for his own position and why it ranks superior than that which he pegs as a delusion.  He simply pokes fun at the Christian faith, his primary goal as he stated at the outset.  However, stories, anecdotes, and ridicule are not defenses of one’s position.  Rather, they are irrational.

While Dawkins does refer to arguments of evidence, proof, and science, he provides little to defend his position of atheism from those arguments.  All he concludes in his reference to them is that they offer no reason to believe in God without providing syllogistic arguments in support from them.  His arguments are not from syllogistic reasoning but based on speculation and ridicule without support. Additionally, he spends an extensive amount of print on defining delusion while referencing other people’s claims and then making his own claim. He then meanders into a defense of his own claim by stating his book is “less shrill” and “tame” compared to other published works.  However, “less shrill” and ridicule remain shrill and irrational.  Shrill and ridicule are traits of intolerance and irrationalism.  Such traits not only show opposition to different ideas, philosophy, and religion, but they also engage in intentional acts to destroy these ideas, philosophy, and religious beliefs.  Today’s atheism delivers such actions by pursuing court actions, demonstrations, and in some cases violence against religious activity, specifically Christian beliefs.

Delusion consists of not only actions but thoughts.  A belief system and worldview guides thinking and behavior.  Consider the atheistic belief system.  It is the belief in the non-existence of God and regularly rails against God and those who believe Him.  How rational is it to believe in what a person alleges does not exist?  That equates to believing in magic and pixie dust.  In doing so, atheism affirms what it denies – God.  For one could not know what does not exists, for there is no knowledge in non-existence.  One cannot conjure up in one’s mind that which does not exist.  Try thinking of non-existence.  What would non-existence look like?  Can a person entertain non-existence in one’s mind if there is no knowledge of that which does not exist? If one thinks or speaks of God, that person affirms knowledge of God.  That is, one imagines what God or some god looks like and formulates it into a straw man when associating it with a particular religion or specifically biblical faith.  That straw man is formulating an argument based on what one believes another holds.

One cannot escape this logic by claiming that superman, trolls, or fairies do not exist, and one can imagine them.  These fictitious characters are extrapolations of what exist in the real world.  Someone simply imagined a man who could fly or a flying tiny human-like creature with wings one calls a fairy sprinkling pixie dust everywhere.  We witness wings on birds and imagine them attached to a small human form.  Humans are creative in their imaginations.  Movies and television exhibit this creativity.  However, creating out of imagination and believing that such created objects are actually real or that they become real when we imagine them is fantasy, child-like, or delusional.

Many have created gods in their imagination.  However, they have done so as extrapolations from what exist in the real world.  Virtually all of the Greek and Roman gods possess features of humans or animals.  One cannot find a god or gods in the world religions, except the Christian faith, not extrapolated from the real world and imposed on some god or gods.

Such a stance is a belief in alleged non-existence and non-knowledge.  Such thinking and actions are delusional and irrational.  It is a true leap of faith, because no basis exists at all for such belief.

The psalmist affirms the irrationality and delusion of those who refuse to accept God,

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?

How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2)

 The psalmist claims in rhetorical questions that seeking after that which does not exist is delusional.  Religious leaders in the nations surrounding Israel created gods extrapolated from the created order.  The Greeks did that as did the Romans in elevating gods they created from their imaginations after observing objects in the created order.  They glorified non-existence and non-knowledge.  It is one thing to create fiction by extrapolating characteristics of that which exist in the real world and admitting that it is fiction, but it is quite another to claim that such created fiction is real and then worship this fiction.

Atheism follows the same pattern as polytheism by continually thinking about and speaking of that which they claim does not exist.  Such thinking and acts are just as delusional as creating gods in one’s mind, which atheists must do to speak of them.  Atheism must imagine some sort of god to speak of the Christian biblical God, for it cannot think or speak from non-knowledge.  Atheism cannot speak of the biblical God without having read or studied God from the source – the Bible.  Quite frequently, atheists ignore the Bible in talking about the biblical God and thereby create a straw man god, and not the biblical God and ridicule it.  That is tantamount to a person continuously having a conversation with oneself as though that person’s other self actually existed or thinking of or speaking with an imaginary friend created in one’s mind.  Atheism creates in their own mind some god it believes Christians believe.  That is also a delusion.  The psalmist had such delusion in mind when he wrote his words.  A delusion is claiming that which is false true and that a person can think of or have a conversation with what one created in one’s own imagination, that is non-knowledge.

Psalm 4 brings us back to reality by having the psalmist’s words correspond with reality, not gods that are false but the God of all existence, not gods created from the created order but the one true God separate and distinct from it and over it.

Bloviating from Irrationalism

When in an irrational state of mind, one cannot discern irrational thoughts and words. Such a stance makes it difficult to distinguish between truth and a lie.  A person suppresses such a means of making a distinction when one divorces the foundation of one’s thinking from the Creator.  We call speech from that foundation ranting or bloviating.  These expressions arise from irrationalism.  In the world of critical thinking, such irrationalism arises from logical fallacies or defective machinations based on falsehood.

Psalm 2 provides a perfect example of those who engage in bloviating from irrationalism.  Let us listen in on a conversation with such people,

The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against the LORD and against His

Anointed, saying,

“Let us break Their bonds in pieces

And cast away Their cords from us.” (NKJV)

Is there something wrong with this scene?  The irony is laughable.  In this scene these monarchs, powerful in their own defective thinking and self-aggrandizement, brandish arrogant words in their chains.  They spew out audacious curses toward the One who holds them captive with heavy chains [cords] while in complete denial of their imprisonment and the One who holds them.  They engage in futile conspiracy [counsel] in an attempt to strategize to break free.

While they recognize God’s personal name (Yahweh, [LORD]), they refuse to subject themselves to Him.  In their derangement and insanity, they believe in their own strength to free themselves.  They look at the cords wrapped tightly around them and lash out toward the LORD of all, thinking that they can break free from their bondage.  However, their strategy and counsel is futile, defective, and delirious while they believe they think from a sound mind.

The scene pivots from them to the LORD of hosts:

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;

The LORD shall hold them in derision.

Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,

And distress them in His deep displeasure:

“Yet I have set My King

On My holy hill of Zion.”

Their Creator and Sovereign laughs at them derisively.   He dictates to them and not they to Him.  He holds them in contempt because of their rebellion and arrogance, and informs them that their kingships were temporary fantasies based on their foolish pronouncements and not His.  The LORD then, distresses them by pointing to His Son and declares Him as King.  This act is indeed distressful for these self-appointed kings, because God’s King usurped their thrones.

Today, many make self-declarations concerning their rule.  History demonstrates that such dictators and tyrants eventually fall.  They fade into infamy after the sword or a bullet lands a fatal blow.  Individuals believe they rule their own lives and determine their fate.  They adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra,

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.” [From “My Way” by Frank Sinatra]

Those who deny God fail to recognize that He alone appoints leaders throughout history.  These deniers who refuse to even admit God’s existence return to the dust of the earth and await judgment from the righteous God.  Individuals who also deny God, want to live their lives like Frank Sinatra, that is, “my way.”  Regardless of their ideology or belief systems, those who oppose God and refuse to acknowledge His Son will face the same fate as the kings depicted in Psalm 2.

This psalm offers a way out from judgment.  It declares that those who serve the LORD will find hope.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists alike can find that same hope by turning from their futile faith in themselves and materialism to faith in God the Deliverer.

Taking Counsel

Family, friends, political leaders, and professors all have counsel to give to us.  Much is wise learned from experience and wisdom gathered over the years.  We do well to listen to such tested counsel.  However, some counsel is just plain wrong and foolish.  If a person took you to the edge of the Grand Canyon and suggested that you jump, informing you that you would fly.  Would you do it?  Would you invest in a risky business enterprise without performing due diligence?

There is good and wise counsel and evil and foolish counsel.  Sometimes, it is difficult to separate them out due to circumstances, cultural setting, and many other variables.  The laws of many lands have good counsel and foolish counsel integrated.  One question we must asked to know the difference between the good and bad and wise and foolish is, “What is the basis or source?”  Is the source limited to culture or circumstance?  Or can it be applied universally with all cultures and peoples without exception?

The psalmist who penned Psalm 1 is very straight forward with absolute statements with counsel and the person giving and taking it.  He does not not mince words about what is wise and foolish, good or evil, or the nature of individuals giving counsel.  He identifies the blessings that come to people who take counsel he defines as godly, upright, or sound words by stating it in a negative,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly

Nor stands in the path of sinners

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful”


Psalm 1

At the very beginning he speaks of the ungodly, sinners, and scornful intimating that the godly, upright, and people with sound words exist.  In doing so, he offers a polemic for the presence of God, the recognition of sin and sinners, and evil speech.  By giving attention to the ungodly, the psalmist immediately renounces atheism and its foolish philosophy or counsel.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists have written and published hundreds of thousands of books giving people the advice of their philosophy.  At the basis of this advice is to ignore God and His existence.  Live as though God does not exist and that all that exist is material.  Scorn those who believe in Him.  Stay away from God’s word but rather call it dangerous.  The psalmist has a message for such people.  They are like chaff without power, taken up by the winds, and scattered across the landscape.  They and their words do not last.

However, those who worship God, listen to Him, associate with His people, and speak words of wisdom receive blessings from God.  They find their place in the presence of God and prosper.  This psalm is an apologetic worthy of continued thoughtfulness over the span of a lifetime for gathering from it eternal wisdom that dwells with God and applies universally to all peoples for all times to eternity.  Its reading is a great way to begin a new year.

 

IS THE BASIS FOR OUR FAITH JUST A LEAP?

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God y that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9).

Many years ago, a Christian told me,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

Those statements amount to no more than what many of us have heard as a leap of faith.  That is, the basis of true Christian living is a leap of faith.  There is no rationality for believing.  In fact, according to Soren Kierkegaard, faith and rationality are not on the same side of the ledger.  Rather they are distinct.  Reason requires evidence or empiricism.  With faith, no evidence or warrant for God needs to exist.  We just believe God without the requirements of clear evidence for His existence.  This is known as fideism: believing in God without the need for evidence.  We simply accept it.  With this in mind, we return to Kierkegaard and William Lane Craig’s assessment of his leap:

Kierkegaard believed that there is ultimately no warrant for Christian belief and you simply take a leap of faith to believe.  What he tried to do is to motivate this leap by showing how life lived apart from God ultimately degenerates into despair, boringness, and languishing in absurdity.  He tried to motivate the person to make the leap.  But ultimately for Kierkegaard it is a criterion-less leap of faith.  He thought that Christianity was indeed absurd because it says that God, who is timeless, entered into time in the Incarnation and that this is absurd – the presence of the eternal in the temporal.”[1]

The key to what Craig states is that a leap of faith requires “no warrant [evidence] for Christian belief.”

What does the discussion of a leap of faith have to do with what John claims about Jesus coming in the flesh in the passage we are studying?  It is easy to conclude that faith in God does not require evidence.  Where is He?  How do we really know He exists?  The Gnostics during John’s time took a similar rationality.  Jesus did not really exist.  Rather, He was a mirage, a ghost, an illusion, and not part of reality.  They rejected all evidence of Jesus’ actual existence in the flesh because of their false philosophy that God could not inhabit matter, and Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.  The Gnostics then concluded that Jesus and the Christ were separate entities.  The Christ came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion.  Therefore, they denied both the divinity of Christ and the historical reality of His physical death and resurrection.  They then held to a form of leap of faith for their religious and philosophical beliefs.  Their faith had no basis in historical reality.

The Apostle John refuted their claim.  He insisted on the physical presence of Jesus Christ in the world and on His physical resurrection.  He claimed that to deny this historical reality made God a liar (5:10).  He pointed to two key evidences for faith in Jesus: His baptism (water) and His physical death (blood) and resurrection from the dead (5:6).  John also pointed to God Himself, the Triune God, as the strongest evidence.  These sets of evidence coincide with one another.  If Jesus was the Son of God and came in the flesh as the word of God (John 1:1), then the evidence was very clear.  Jesus the Word took on human flesh and existed among men.  The Holy Spirit also gives evidence internally as the witness to the historical reality that Jesus came in the flesh.  In citing the Holy Spirit, John returns to the event of the new birth.  He gave us new birth and through it gives witness to us of the reality of the living Christ.  He writes,

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:2, 13).

In the above, John essentially makes the same claim as he does in the current passage: Jesus came in the flesh!  Why is this truth so important?  It is important for two reasons:

  1. Not believing this historical reality makes God a liar
  2. Eternal life depends on it

John ties the trustworthiness of God to the historical reality of Jesus coming in the flesh.  God sent Jesus to take on human flesh.  To deny what God did is to make Him a liar.  It is not circular to claim that if God said something, it must be true and fact.  Historical reality supports His word.  One can deny a claim all one wishes, but such a person cannot deny reality.  Many have attempted to deny that Jesus ever existed, but they supply no evidence to support their claim.  If a person makes a claim, that person must support it.

The Apostle John uses his evidential claims of Jesus’ historical existence, death, resurrection, and the testimony of God Himself to segue into the assurance of eternal life for those who believe Him.  Just as God gave testimony of His own Son coming in the flesh, He also gives firm testimony that He gives eternal life to those who believe Him.  We have no greater assurance of eternal life than the word of God Himself.  The basis of this eternal life is the new birth God created in us.  Earlier John connects the new birth to this eternal life when he states,

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  (5:4)

John picks up this truth again in discussing the witness of the Holy Spirit within us,

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (5:10).

The same faith that arises from the new birth is the faith the Holy Spirit implanted in us for believing the reality and saving activity of Jesus Christ when He came in the flesh.  This new birth and corresponding faith grounds our assurance of salvation.  That is what God accomplished in us through the new birth can never be reversed.  God proclaimed and gave witness to it.  Jesus provided for it.  The Holy Spirit administered it through the new birth or internal regeneration.  If God did it all, nothing apart from Him can reverse it.  We have assurance of salvation because of God.

Is the basis of our faith just a leap?  No!  Enormous amount of evidence exists for the historical reality of Jesus and His resurrection, the two strongest platforms for our faith.  Faith is not a leap into some dark unknown chasm where no knowledge exists.  Knowledge and truth have their basis in reality.  John teaches us that Jesus did exist, died, and rose from the grave.  We do not rest our faith on something that may or may not have happened as a Christian once claimed many years ago when making the statement,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

That statement is a leap of faith in that it has no basis or evidence for it.  That is presumptuous faith; that is faith without anything on which to base it.  There are two types of hope.  One hope says, “I hope so.”  The other hope says, “I know and believe that knowledge to be true.”  The first hope is tenuous, vague, and unsubstantiated.  It draws from thin air.  The second hope has evidence from existence.  John teaches evidential faith substantiated by history and God’s word.  This means that every believer has utmost security in God’s hands.

[1] William Lane Craig, “Existence of God: Properly Basic Belief in God,” Reasonable Faith, Lecture 4, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-29.

The Spirit of Truth Vs. the Spirit of Error

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).

I recently had two Jehovah Witnesses come to the door.  After answering the door, one of the men immediately drew out a pamphlet and began handing it to me.  I greeted them and then asked the question, “Do you believe in the Trinity?”  The reason for this question was twofold: I knew their answer would be “no,” and the Bible raises the Trinity as the basis for the identity and nature of God.  The man replied that the Bible does not mention the Trinity.  This reply is the spirit of error.  It is based on the logical fallacy of argument from absence.  That is, just because the Bible does not mention the word “Trinity” does not mean that it does not teach it.

He then surfaced an argument that the Bible says that the Father is greater than the Son without giving reference to or providing any knowledge of context.  This Jehovah Witness never even made an attempt to explain what he quoted out of context.  It was a statement devoid of reason or thoughtfulness.  If we were to arrange this man’s statement in an argument, we can see just how deceptive and unreasonable it is.  The below is an example of the reasoning underlying this Jehovah Witness’ statement:

Premise: There is only one God

Premise: He is greater than everything that exists.

Premise: God is greater than the Son

Premise: The Son exists

Conclusion:  Therefore, the Son could not be God since His Father, who is God, is greater than Him

Another argument shows how defective the above argument is:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

This argument turns on the use of the word “greater,” and assumes it has only a single meaning.  Since neither argument defines the term “greater,” both use it to arrive at a false conclusion.

Let us add another premise to the one about the priest:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Premise: The pope is greater than a bishop

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

Conclusion: Therefore, the pope is neither human nor not non-human (double negative used for showing the irrationality of this type of argument)

Of what kind of existence would that make the pope?  A rock?  No.  Rocks are non-human.  A plant?  No.  Plants are also non-human.  This type of logic draws ridiculous and irrational conclusions.  Such arguments do not stop the spirit of error from deception.  The Jehovah Witnesses and other erroneous cults like them begin from a departure from the truth.  From that point they introduce deception in attempts to counter the truth.  They prepare their own sacred scriptures, indoctrinate initiates into these deceptions and fallacies, and place the fear of rejection on them if they depart from their teachings.

The spirit of error uses such tactics to draw unsuspecting people away from biblical faith by claiming they are Christian and believe the same Bible.  These two tactics actually reduce to the following: the use of logical fallacies for raising deception and twisting the Scriptures.  The Apostle John calls the spirit of error deception because it:

  • denies what the Bible teaches and twists the Scripture with deceptive arguments, using Scripture hopping, ignoring contexts, and disregarding the grammar and word meaning of the original languages
  • makes generalized statements without contexts and without interpretation
  • shows no knowledge of God and His word
  • accepts what false teachers proclaim without question
  • denies the identity and nature of God.

Those who hold to biblical faith  must be aware of such tactics and be prepared to handle them.  Fallacious arguments and simply quoting a passage, with or without citation, on the surface seem to offer sound replies.  The spirit of error always attempts to make a lie sound reasonable.  However, what seems reasonable coming from the spirit of error is far from truthful.

The Apostle John teaches believers how to discern between truth and error and how to counter the spirit of error.  He called upon the believers in Ephesus in his letter of 1 John to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1).

John then identifies the truth by which to test the words of the spirit of error:  Jesus came in the flesh.  The incarnation identifies the truth of Jesus coming in the flesh.  The false teachers of John’s day did not believe He came in the flesh or rose bodily from the dead.  The Jehovah Witnesses today hold to a similar belief.  Rather, they believed He was an illusion and did not have a physical presence.  Of course, this test was not the only one believers can use to test false teachers.  They also separate Jesus from the Christ and view each as distinct entities.  In doing this, they misuse and misapply the term “Christ” as an equal name like Jesus rather than recognizing it as an office or title.  Consequently, they make Jesus an illusion and material being at the same time while identifying the “Christ” as a spiritual being separate and distinct from Jesus.  John claims that this spirit of error comes from Satan himself (2:13-14; 3:8-12; 5:18).

This error received the name of Docetism, which derives from the Greek word “dokien,” which means to appear or to seem.  The early representation of Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not have a real body, but He was a phantom or illusion.  He seemed to be real.  They held this position because they believed matter was evil, and Jesus could not have inhabited an evil substance as flesh.  Given this conclusion, there was no incarnation or bodily resurrection of Jesus.  For this reason, John continued to focus forcefully on the historical bodily appearance of Jesus (1 John 1:1; 2:28; 3:2, 8, 4:1-6) and His physical second coming (2:28; 3:2).  Yes, John does teach the second coming of Jesus Christ.

We must be careful when hearing people discuss God, Jesus, the human condition and its remedy.  If they raise teachings contrary to the Bible, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny the Trinity and do not hold the final authority of the Scriptures, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny Jesus came in the flesh (incarnation), they  are antichrist.  If they deny Jesus died for our sins and rose bodily from the grave, they are  antichrist.  Many from the cults or even among Evangelicals may sound biblical.  However, if they use strange or deceptive arguments and misuse the Scriptures to teach what the Bible does not claim, they are antichrist.  If they generalize with the Scriptures or engage in Scripture hopping (going from one passage to another without regard for context to prove their position), they are antichrist.  If they quote or cite the Scriptures to create new teachings, be careful and listen well.

People use the Scriptures to justify their way of life, behaviors, belief system, and for gaining a following for themselves.  The early Gnostics during John’s time did this.  Cults today also do this.  The best way to counter false teachers is to be knowledgeable of the Scriptures and grounded in sound doctrine.  If you  hear strange teachings, seek out the view of another you trust and whom you believe knows the Scriptures well.  Knowing the Scriptures act as a sound protection against false teachers.

Copyright 2016 Action Faith Books Press

John 3 The Currents of Righteous Living

The Apostle John’s writing style presents a number of difficulties for the modern reader.  The primary audience knew what he sought to convey due to immediate conflict they had with false teachers in their midst and the cultural setting.  These false teachers plagued the church in Ephesus for decades since the Apostle Paul warned the elders prior boarding a ship to leave them for the last time (Acts 20:17-38).  Paul informed these elders,

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (20:29-30).

These false teachers had a very different message, one that rejected the righteousness of God and depended on self-reliance.  They twisted the knowledge and nature of God and sought to stir up dissension with members of the Christian fellowship in Ephesus.

With this history in before them, the audience of 1 John recollected both Paul and John’s teachings on righteous living, brotherly love, and caring oversight both exhibited during their times in Ephesus.  When John recalls these teachings in his letter, they connected them to the time he dwelled with them.  John appealed to his interaction with them while with them.  He wanted to remind them that they knew the truth (1 John 2:13-14, 18, 21), and the Holy Spirit imprinted that knowledge in them (2:20).  Although John’s writing style appears meandering to us, it did not appear that way to his original audience because they knew John’s teachings.

The Flow of John’s Message

However, a closer look of the flow of John’s writing reveals more than a meandering style.  An analogy can assist in our understanding of the flow of his message in 1 John 3 as well as with the entire letter.  The strong waves seen on the surface of the ocean represent his message.  The water through these waves appears powerful and overwhelming as we see each wave strongly reaching their peaks and then gushing robustly toward the shore.  However, beneath that surface exists a number of unseen undercurrents that drive the waves.  Some undercurrents flow strongly and appear periodically on the surface of the waters, acting as large cresting waves.  Other undercurrents flow more subtly.  One may not see their strength when viewing the surface from a distance.  However, to one in the water, they brush strongly against the body and act like unseen undertows attempting to sweep the person to the bottom.  John’s writing style resemble this ocean.  His dominant message appears like the strong waves on the surface of the sweeping ocean.  The corresponding themes show up like undercurrents, sometimes subtly and sometimes forcefully, as they support the primary message.

In the case of 1 John 3, John stresses righteous living as his primary message.  Living righteously is the message of power much like the ocean waves.  Several corresponding themes appear like undercurrents in support of this message.  They consist of the following:

  • Appear (2:28; 3:2, 5)
  • Hope, faith (3:3, 23)
  • New birth (2:29; 3:9)
  • Loving others (3:1, 10-11, 14, 16-18, 23)
  • Abide (3:6, 14, 17, 24)

He connects these themes into a single forceful message through a series of comparisons and contrasts.  He also uses them as counterarguments against the false teachers who disturbed these believers.  For example, when John writes of the two appearances of Christ (His birth and second coming), John counters the false teaching that Jesus was simply an illusion and not real.  John replies with a NO!  That is, Jesus did appear physically, and He will appear once again at His second coming.  The theme of the appearance of Christ represents John’s counterattack toward the false teachers.

John’s Message and Supporting Themes

As a thematic undercurrent for his message, John bring up appearance three times, once referring to believers and twice to Jesus.  His first use speaks of His second coming (2:28; 3:2-3).  With his second use, he refers to the historical event of His first coming or the incarnation (3:5).  These two events act as two anchors for hope, faith, the new birth, and loving God and others.  The third time John uses the word “appear” he speaks of the believer’s new unknown state when Jesus comes again (2:28).  Although the future of our state of being when Jesus returns is unknown, we do know that we will be like Him (3:2).

In his typical style, he reverses the historical order for emphasizing that the motivation for the life of righteousness has its grounds in the hope of Christ’s second coming.  For this reason, his writing style appears somewhat meandering.  The connections of these themes are subtle in support of his message.  Notice how he connects the two.  He first states,

“…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (3:2-3).

The false teachers (the early stages of Gnosticism) could not comprehend this physical appearance, because their philosophy of matter as evil and impure caused them to reject the incarnation and the second coming of Christ.  The appearance of Jesus, to them, was an illusion.  Jesus could not inhabit evil flesh.  John emphatically counters their false beliefs about Jesus.  Their idea of purity/impurity rested on materialism and not on God’s declaration.  God created everything and pronounced them good.  Evil entered the picture with humanity’s willful rebellion against and rejection of God.

The false teachers failed to distinguish between the good God created and the act of human rebellion.  Rather than seeing the individuals created in the image of God as good, they saw this material creature as evil.  Furthermore, rather than recognizing rebellion against God as evil, they rejected such rebellion and consequent sin.  Purification according to John is not about the false teaching of separation between the body and spirit but the distinction between living righteously (purity) and living lawlessly (3:3-6), which is the true biblical category.  The life of righteousness solidifies hope (3:3).  This hope is the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

John uses the undercurrent themes to reinforce living between the two comings of Christ – the incarnation as the first coming and Christ’s return to claim all who believe in Him as the second coming.  Righteous living occurs between the two appearances of Christ as shown in the following illustration.  The events that occur after Christ’s first coming find their source in the work of the Holy Spirit.  John earlier wrote,

John 3 Living Between the Appearances of Christ
Living Between the Appearances of Christ

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him” (2:27).

He affirms this truth later when speaking directly of the Holy Spirit,

“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (4:13)

As the Holy Spirit directs our lives through the process of living for God, we exhibit confidence and assurance (2:28; 3:21; 4:17) so that we will not show shame when Jesus returns the second time to claim all believers.  The events between the first and second appearance of Christ lead to righteous living.  Righteous living is the primary message John conveys in John 3 and that he threads throughout the letter.  It is the mighty and majestic display of the God who gave us birth to His dear children.  The events John discusses to support this message are the undercurrents that support and strengthen righteous living.  They demonstrate to the world the difference between the children of darkness and the children of God.

Future articles will explore the undercurrents shown in the illustration:

  • The new birth
  • Knowledge and truth
  • Hope & faith
  • Abiding
  • Loving God & others

Understanding God’s Message or Will

Recently, I had someone ask the question,

By what process do I discern God’s message?”

This question arose from the context of a discussion on a Christian website (The Gospel Coalition, (http://bit.ly/25BQ00I) about transgenderism and God’s acceptance of people regardless of their false beliefs about themselves and God.  One person actually commented earlier in the discussion,

­
Christ accepts us in our current state (which includes any categories mentioned in regards to gender and gender change) because of grace and love. We as ministers of reconciliation are to treat all equally, offering Christs love to believers and non believers alike. Their current state is not as relevant as you might think when it comes to knowing Christ.”
The following is a reply to the question, “By what process do I discern God’s message?”
The Scriptures make clear how we discern the message (God’s will) of the Scriptures.  Both Jesus and the Apostle John inform us that a person must be born again (John 3:1-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).  Without new birth that comes from God, no one can practice righteousness, repent, truly love one another and God, place faith in Christ, or overcome the evil world.  If God has not given new birth to a person, one cannot even rightly discern God’s will or the “the things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In fact, the person not born of God does not even accept God’s will.  Read the cited passage.

Afterwards, a person needs to devote oneself to the reading and study of God’s word.  That is a discovery process, a discovery of the mind of God through the agency of the authors.  That is, we must always seek the author’s intent within the contexts in which he speaks.  Scripture hoping and proof texting are not valid approaches to the Bible.  Those ways are not the ways we read a regular book.  We do not isolate a sentence or paragraph from a book’s context and then claim, “To me, in means…”

Devotion to the Scriptures does not simply mean reading and studying the Scriptures, but also applying and obeying them.  When we hold to the Bible as nothing more than a “conversation,” we devalue it for our lives and fail to understand how it applies to us.  We cannot really know God’s will, though we can understand His message, unless we live faithfully in obedience to him.  Obedience by faith gives way to true knowledge (Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:26).  One cannot really know the things and will of God without obedience by faith.  One thing neglected in this discussion around “transgenderism” is it ignores God’s will and word, because it rejects it.  It also overlooks faithful obedience to God’s will for our identity in favor of one looking inward for a fictitious identity.  It does not seek to discover the identity God gave us but rather seeks to establish one’s own.  The entire message of 1 Corinthians 2:14 elude those who follow this path.  All the arguments in the world for attempting to justify one’s self-identity and lifestyle are arguments that reject God.  In essence, they are atheistic.  Arguments are not application or living by faith.  Arguments over the Bible, lifestyles, and philosophical speculations amount to resistance to God.

What follows the engagement of Scripture is then living by faith.  As I mentioned before, faith subscribes repentance.  If there is no repentance, there is no faith.  They are inseparable.  The faith that sets one’s sights on God involves repentance that turns to Him.  Arguing over God’s word does not lead to a life of faith but rather to a life of speculative darkness.

The gospel is clear.  Christ died and rose again on our behalf to bring about faith in Him and remission of sins.  Believing the gospel (good news) leads one from the bad news, the result of rejecting it – eternal death.  Read carefully through 1 John, and you will learn how to know God and His will: a) the new birth, b) living by faith (repentance), c) practicing righteousness, and d) loving God and others.

Born of God: Foundation for Abiding in God

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you…If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:24, 29).

One of the major themes in 1 John consists of “abiding.”  John’s qualifies his use of the word “abiding” by its fruit, and that fruit rests in the new birth.   John wrote to the Church and individuals in it.  He addressed false teachers who disturbed the fellowship of community.  Along with their false teachings, they saw no use for remaining in fellowship. John set the stage for his discussion on abiding in God by showing the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of these false teachers,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

They left because they were false confessors.  Those who fail to confess Jesus do not remain in the fellowship of believers.  They stay as long as they get something out of it.  They have nothing to keep them committed, because their focus is on themselves and not on Jesus and His Father.  Therefore, once people rejected their false teachings, they had no use for the fellowship.

The following chart shows John’s teaching of abiding as opposed to what the  false teachers taught.

Contrast of Abiding and Leaving

ABIDING (2:24) LEAVING (2:19)
Believing truth (2:21) Believing a lie (2:22)
Objective witness of the Holy Spirit (2:20) Reliance on subjectivism, inner enlightenment
Believing Jesus’ incarnation (2:22-23) Rejecting Jesus – Jesus and the Christ
Confession (2:23) Denial
Abiding (2:24) Leaving
Eternal life (2:25) Eternal death
Christ’s appearance (2:28) No bodily appearance, an illusion, spiritual
Righteousness (2:29) Unrighteous
Following the new birth (2:29) Following the flesh

The expressions of faith in community could not exist if those in it did not abide together.  Abiding constituted both a community and an individual application given his focus on those who left (2:19).  Abiding together strengthened the bonds of fellowship in community.  They all held  to common faith and teaching.

For these reasons, John highlighted that these false brethren and teaches left because, as he declared,

“…they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (2:19).

They were unrighteous, not only denying Christ but also rejecting that they were sinners.  John gave an earlier counter argument to their dim view of sin (1:8-10).  The word “righteousness” carries a sense of both living right and being faithful (1 John 2:29).  Righteousness assumes its opposite of living unrighteously or in the presence of sin.  These false brethren were neither righteous or faithful.

Abiding in God was crucial for corporate fellowship.  Those who adopted a false view of God by denying the Son and the Father placed a dagger in the heart of fellowship.  They stirred up controversial teachings and presented a false God and spurious Jesus.  Abiding fellowship was not possible with such false teachings.

The Anchor of the New Birth

While John stresses personal abiding, that abiding hinged on God’s work in the person for producing a new birth from which life (2:25; 3:14; 5:11-13), righteousness (2:29; 3:7), and love (3:1, 10) emanate.  These three words thread their way through this letter.  They express the life of abiding in God.  That is, the weight of the abiding life begins with and rests with God.  He gives birth, and from birth arises the knowledge of the Father and the Son (2:23-24) with the assurance of eternal life (2:25).  Abiding, then, is a fruit of the new birth.

John introduces the theme of abiding prior to his phrase “born of God.”  This later introduction of the new birth is a conclusive statement that summarizes the nature and source of abiding in God.  Righteousness signifies abiding,

 Believers who act righteously in word and deed proclaim their righteous Lord and show the error of the false teachers” (Peter Toon, “Righteousness” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Books, 1996), p. 689).

He intersperses the word “born of God” throughout this letter and associates it with righteousness and love.  In doing so, he wants to conclude that the new birth is their source.

His first use of “abide” is in 1 John 2:24,

“Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (2:24).

He associates it with his introduction of this letter, “That which was from the beginning” (1:1).  What did they hear from the beginning?  The message about the real presence of Jesus, the Word of life or the eternal life.  Notice how John uses “eternal life” in his introduction of Jesus (1:2) and in this passage (2:25).  Because Jesus is the eternal life, we have assurance of eternal life through Him.

In this introduction, John counters the counterfeit doctrine of an illusion of Jesus or at best a simple man and not God.  At the beginning of this section (2:18-19), John again raises the folly of the false teachers.  They left the community of faith to show that their temporary presence did not reflect abiding in God.  Since they did not believe that Jesus actually came in the flesh, they undercut the foundation for the life of faith.  Abiding needed something of more substance – the new birth.  He concludes this section with the necessity of the new birth,

“If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).

The new birth is the staying power of faith.  Upon first glance, it seems that the practice of righteous gives way to the new birth.  Nothing could be further from John’s thoughts.  The verb John uses means just the opposite.  John uses the perfect tense to express “born of Him.”  The perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action.  What this means is that this past action was the new birth.  This new birth results in continuing to practice righteousness.  Practice suggests progress and not perfection.  John countered the false teaching of being without sin in the beginning of his letter (1:8-10).  In the same way, abiding has its strength in the new birth God gives to us.

Those who deny Jesus is the Christ and came in the flesh lie and do not know or practice the truth (2:21-23).  Because they rejected Jesus, they left the fellowship of believers (2:19).  They did not know His righteousness, because they did not know Him.  They were antichrist (2:18-22), because they held a different view of Him, one contrary to what the Apostles taught, especially John.  They did not know birth from God but speculated about the divine spark within.  These false teachers focused inward for self- knowledge rather than upward for the knowledge of God found in Christ.  Getting in touch with their spiritual origins and destiny through self-knowledge and escape from intellectual error and ignorance was their spiritual birth in a new spiritual body.

Such a philosophy led to the rejection of the true meaning of righteousness, Christ as its source, and the need for abiding in God.  John refuted these teachers and claimed they sought to deceive (2:26).  He affirmed that those who believed the Son had the anointing, the Holy Spirit, the source of true knowledge.  The Spirit will be with them until the final appearance of Jesus (2:28).  Abiding in Christ gives assurance and confidence when believers see Him.  By stressing Jesus’ physical return (appearance), John jabs at the false spirituality of one’s ultimate destiny in a spiritual divine body.  Abiding in God is a vastly different process than these false teachers taught.  Theirs focused inward in search of enlightenment through self-knowledge.  John taught a focus upward toward the knowledge of God and the practice of God’s righteousness.

The New Birth, Abiding, and Their Expressions

As we see from John, his conclusion really gives the anchor for abiding in God,

“…everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).

That is, righteousness comes to fruition through the new birth.  In discussing this first instance of the new birth, the first thought that comes to his mind is the knowledge of Jesus.  His righteousness stands as the source of the new birth.  We understand God’s righteousness through the revelation of Christ.  The new birth God brings about in us bears witness to Christ’s righteousness, the faithful Son over the house of God, whose house we are as the author of Hebrews claims (Hebrews 3:2).  We would not know righteousness apart from Christ.  We would not know Christ apart from the new birth.  We could not practice righteousness without being born again.  The new birth brings us to its fruit: faith, knowing and practicing righteousness, and love.

These outcomes are impossible within knowing God through the new birth.  We express them in community as we show goodness, faithfulness, and love to one another.  When we do, we express our commitment to build one another up in faith.  The false teachers left, showing their lack of commitment to sound teaching that promoted commitment to loving those in fellowship.  Those whom God gives spiritual birth engage in this practice of righteousness, a practice that strengthens fellowship and those in it.

Evidences for Knowing God

1 John Study Notes“And by this we know we have come to know Him…”  (1 John 2:3)

False teachers during John’s time placed knowledge as a high priority in their philosophical worldview.  Today, knowledge also rates very high in our contemporary world.  In both of these cases, knowledge is superficial with a focus on self-advancement.  In John’s time, knowledge emphasized self, mystery, secrets, and initiations into a special group.  It placed theory and speculation above the truth of God.  Today, knowledge assumes similar qualities.  God takes a back seat to secular philosophy, theory, speculation, and self-knowledge.Dead Sea Scroll

False teachers then and those of today turn knowledge upside down, placing the knowledge of God lower than alleged knowledge of ourselves.  Consequently, a large gap exists between the knowledge of our world (and ourselves in it) and God.  This gap has led to the rejection of God and His relationship with the world.  The speculations of atheism and evolution express this divide.  Both reject God as the source of the world and its moral structures.  Therefore, knowledge according to the world has little if anything to do with God and relating to Him.  For this reason, John writes,

And by this we know we have come to know Him…”  (1 John 2:3)

Knowledge According to False Teachers

John saw through the false teachers’ erroneous view of knowledge and sought to correct it.  His corrections also apply to the present time.  John’s correction of knowledge took a 180-degree turn from the false teachers.  The Gnostic philosophy began with self and self-knowledge.  John said that there is a great divide between the claim of knowledge of false teachers and the knowledge of God.  John turned from the inward (subjective) to God (outward/objective).  He declared the knowledge of God has greater importance.

Gnosticism, on the other hand, focused on experience and the spiritual.  However, the spirit had a very different meaning than the biblical one.  It referred to the deeper level of an individual: the intuitive and unconscious.  It was highly subjective, non-specific, and vague.  It was within this subjective deeper level one connected with the incomprehensible and undefinable God.  Gnostics believed one cannot make the journey toward knowing God until one became an initiate or those spiritually ready to listen to the masters who knew the mysteries or secret traditions.  Knowledge consisted of coming to terms with the divine spark within and the escape from ignorance and intellectual error.  Knowledge is coming to terms with our origins (true spiritual nature) and destiny.  However, we cannot know God and ourselves completely while we dwell in the present material world.  He is inaccessible to us in our present material state.  According to one view of Gnosticism (Valentinian),

“…God is incomprehensible and cannot be known directly.  Therefore he defies accurate description.  He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed.  Everything including the world lies within the deity and continues to be part of it.  The Godhead manifests itself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining its unity” (“A Brief Summary of Valentinian Theology,” The Gnostic Society Library, http://bit.ly/22jEBk5).

One can see the vagueness of knowledge, because it dwells in the mysterious and in secrecy.

Evidence of True Biblical Knowledge

John says NO to this type of knowledge.  He claims that knowledge is not vague or secret at all.  Rather, God is accessible and knowable while we live in the world.  Knowledge does not consist of an inward journey but faith in specific and clear evidences.  There is no divine spark within.  Knowledge does not begin with the subjective self but it beings with God’s objective revelation and His work in us through the new birth (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).

John associates knowledge with several other key truths.  These key truths act as John’s rebuttal toward false teachers.  The table below shows these truths and the assertions they refute:

John’s Key Truths

Claims of False Teachers (Gnostics)

Keeping God’s Commands Seeking the divine inner spark
Love God Self-love; self-awareness; self-knowledge
Abiding in Christ Becoming an initiate into secret knowledge
Truth Intuition and consciousness
Light Enlightenment from inward divine spark
External objective knowledge Internal subjective knowledge
God is accessible and knowable God is inaccessible and unknowable
Knowledge is concrete, specific, and clear Knowledge is vague, non-specific, and secretive

These key truths give evidence of knowledge.  When we think of evidence, we associate it with specific observable data, such as evidence in a court of law or for scientific theory.  We view it as that which supports a claim or argument for events.  For example, the evidence for gravity is the event of dropping a heavy object, and it drops to the ground (unless it is a helium balloon).

Although John does not use evidence in exactly the same way, it is analogous.  The evidence for knowing God is keeping His commandments.  When people see that we live by what God says in the Bible, they say, “That person must know God.  He gives evidence by following God.”  The same holds true with evidence of love, truth, and light.  Enlightenment comes from following the light, which is the nature of God.  When we walk into the light, it shines all around us, and we are walking in it.  That light makes our way clear, and we do not want to go off the path into the darkness.  We know what is true when we follow it.  Truth, light, and love are objective qualities found in God.  Those who keep God’s commandments show they know the truth and that it dwells in them.  Those who love God and others give evidence that they know God’s love:

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s love shines from them.  We do not fall in love.  God’s love is no romantic notion that makes us swoon.  Love is not a feeling we learn, simply words on a Valentine card, ecstasy, an inspiration, or a poem as Plato claimed.  There is no vagueness or mystery about love.  John makes clear about love and brings it out of the realm of some mystery into the light where we can know it.  Since God is love, the new birth grants us knowledge of His love so that we may share it with others (1 John 4:7).

True Knowledge Promotes Growth

After correcting the teaching of false teachers, John turns to its dimensions in the lives of those to whom he writes.  He recognized that those in his audience were at different stages of their Christian lives.  He wanted to address all of them in a way that highlighted what they knew, what was important in their knowledge, and that knowledge leads to spiritual progress.  He also wanted them to understand the primary reason for him writing them: their progress rested on clear knowledge at all stages of their lives.  According to John, knowledge and it practice were inseparable.  It found its source in God’s commandment of loving one’s brother (1 John 2:7-11).  Such love is true enlightenment as opposed to the elusive and mysterious false enlightenment of seeking the divine spark within.  Self-seeking rather than loving another motivated this false enlightenment.  It was an “all about me” philosophy.  John claimed emphatically that love was all about God and others.  It did not begin from within.  Rather, it began with God loving us, showing that love committed oneself to God and others.

Those he wrote were real people at various stages of spiritual growth.  He wanted to address how knowledge of God expressed itself in various stages of their lives.  Within his audience were fathers, young men, and children.  The fathers were those who had known God for a number of years and they had well established faith.  These young men knew the Scriptures well and applied them in becoming strong in faith.  These children had come to know God as their Father and His loving forgiveness.  He wrote to them as one congregation with one message: Knowing and loving God is the highest pursuit for believers for all ages and stages of spiritual maturity.  To both the fathers and children John points to God the Father.  To the young men, he stresses the practice of biblical faith and its results: strength in God’s Word and overcoming “the evil one” (2:13-14).

What do we learn from John’s teaching?  The knowledge of God depends on truth.  This means rejecting false teachers, and embracing and growing in the knowledge of God.  This growth involves focusing on God the Father and the word of God.  A sixteenth theologian wrote the following:

“…no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God…it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeill Edition, pp. 35, 37).

Copyright (c) 2016 Action Faith Books Press

Keys to Reading 1 John

Today, as in times past, biblical Christians face an onslaught of false teachings from those who claim to teach the Word of God.  There are numerous gospels within mainline denominations and cults.  Many whole denominations have followed the way of the world and adopted beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors contrary to biblical faith.  They have followed the siren sound of worldly philosophies brought forward from centuries and millenniums before.  For this reason, Christians must keep their ears and eyes open for distinguishing between falsehood and truth.  The Apostle John gives bold warning in his letter of 1 John concerning those who seek to bring their false teachings within churches,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, ESV).

An insidious philosophy had taken hold in the time of Jesus and the Apostles brought in from Greek philosophy (Plato) that proposed a dualistic way of viewing existence.  Jews and Christians alike were not immune to its lure.  It espoused philosophical beliefs foreign to Judaism and biblical faith.  This dualism identified a spiritual side and a material side, hence dualism.  The spiritual was perfect and pure while the material was corrupt and evil.  False teaches came into Christian fellowships and disrupted them with this dualism.

Exposing False Teachings

The Apostles John and Paul wrote letters warning their congregations of the deception of this sinister Greek false teaching.  John devoted the entire letter of 1 John tearing down the walls of its deception and exposing its philosophical errors.  He leaves us with some very important keys for alerting us of modern day religious philosophies that operate under the cloak of deceptions.  These keys enable us to gain greater understanding of 1 John.  This letter shows us how John engages in corrective teachings that preserve the gospel’s message.  He brings these corrective teachings to application in our relationship with God and other Christians.  These keys for understanding John’s letter consist of the following:

  1. Knowledge/knowing
  2. Spirit/physical dualism
  3. Light/darkness
  4. Truth/lie
  5. Love/hate
  6. Christ followers/anti-Christ
  7. Jesus the Christ vs. Jesus and the Christ
  8. Righteousness/unrighteousness
  9. Fellowship/separation

This Greek philosophy was the early stages of Gnosticism.  This Gnosticism held to a secret knowledge (Sophia) meant only for the initiates whom its teachers guided into a process of self-knowledge.  This secret knowledge was associated with an inward divine spark that led to one understanding one’s spiritual origins.  Light constituted this divine spark, and darkness was simply intellectual error and not really sin.  John fought back against six major errors Gnosticism brought into the early Church related to this secret knowledge.  All of them related to a subjective way of truth as opposed to objective truth found in Jesus.  They consisted of the following:

  1. False Christ – False teachers denied that Jesus came in the flesh, because to them the material was evil. They denied the Incarnation and Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Jesus was an illusion.  They divided Jesus from Christ.  According to these teachers, this Christ came upon Jesus when John (Jesus’ cousin) baptized Him and left Him when Jesus went to the cross.  The Christ remained a pure Spirit untouched by evil.
  2. False knowledge – Secret knowledge based on self or the subjective rather than true knowledge; that is, knowledge of the one true God (objective) and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. False spirituality – These false teachers believed in an ethereal spiritual existence based on secret knowledge that gave them an awareness of their heavenly origins and blissful destiny through an internal (subjective) divine spark. They simply had to be in touch (i.e., get in touch with your inner child) with it to gain true spirituality through secret knowledge.
  4. False light – There exist a divine spark (light) in each of us we must come to understand (secret knowledge). This opposed the true Light (Jesus, objective).
  5. False righteousness – People came into righteousness through self-knowledge and a movement away from material evil. Since evil dwelled in sinful matter, one becomes righteous by attaining a higher consciousness of the spiritual as an initiate, perfection of self-knowledge, and escape from intellectual error and ignorance.  It is not a matter of sin but knowledge and escape from ignorance.
  6. False morality – Self-knowledge informed initiates of their spiritual pure state. The physical body held them in slavery.  Once they come to self-knowledge of their perfect and pure spirituality untouched by the material world, they can then think on a higher plane and ignore the restraint of the material world.  That is, they can live as libertines (amoral), because their spirits are untouched by the material existence.

John’s Counterarguments to False Teachings

John not only wants believers to recognize the false claims from false teachers but also desires us to counter and refute them through acknowledgement, practice, and defense of the truth in our own community of faith.  That is the reason he begins this letter as he does.  Therefore, from the beginning words of his letter to the conclusion John’s defense of the truth about Jesus is of the highest importance because of its consequence on relationships with God and others.  Who and what these first century believers believed influenced the way they lived their lives.  His counterarguments to the six false doctrines of Gnosticism consisted of the following:

JESUS – John stressed that the real Jesus dwelled among humanity in flesh and blood (Incarnate) (1 John 1:1-2.  Jesus was not an illusion but a real person.  No cosmic spiritual “Christ” existed.  Jesus came as Christ (Messiah).  To believe otherwise denied the Incarnation, resurrection, the eternal life, redemption and mediation, and fellowship with the Father, five foundational truths of faith.

KNOWLEDGE – Knowledge was NOT some internal secret self-knowledge, self-actualization (Sophia), or enlightenment through an initiation (subjectivism).  It is not the means of getting in touch with the divine spark (light) within for discovering our spiritual origins and destiny.  Rather, true knowledge is the knowledge of the personal God (objective) with whom we have fellowship and whom Jesus came to reveal (1 John 1:3; 2:3-4, 13; 4:7; 5:20).

SPIRITUALITY – True spirituality is not something we strive to attain through escape from material evil and secret knowledge (subjective) but a result of the new birth from God (objective) leading to faith, obedience, and righteousness (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:4).

LIGHT – Light is not some internal divine spark of higher consciousness meant for select initiates through which we attain when we escape ignorance.  It is not some sense of the mysterious destiny of ultimate purity and perfection when we come into complete self-knowledge of pure mind once one escapes the material world.  John declares God is light; it is His very nature where no darkness at all dwells (1 John 1:5) in which He has called us to walk in obedience (1:7) in love of God and fellow believers (1 John 3:1).  There is nothing mysterious about walking in light, because it is summed up in the New Commandment of love toward God and others (1:7; 2:9-10).

RIGHTEOUSNESS – Righteousness is not reaching some higher consciousness and perfection through self-knowledge.  Rather, it is a practice of life resulting from the new birth (1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10).  This righteousness exhibits itself in love for fellow believers and being faithful to God (3:9-10).

MORALITY – Morality is not casting off the restraints of the material world and rising to a higher consciousness.  It is not being in touch with our spirit selves and denying sin as that which is associated with the material world.  Rather, morality is living righteously (faithfully) toward God.

Contemporary Elements of Gnosticism

As we can determine in our reading through 1 John, John’s response is hard hitting and specific against the treacherous and cryptic teachings of the false teachers.  These false teachers are attractive because they cloak their teachings in enigma.  Their teachings are all about the inward and subjective while they ignore objective truth and clarity.  Secrecy, the intellect, escapism from reality, and the higher consciousness are the essence of their philosophy.  The elements of Gnosticism have made their inroads into philosophy, religions, and psychology.

Cults as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and the New Age movement have adopted many of Gnosticism’s beliefs and teachings.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus was God, but rather view Him as a lesser god much like the demiurge of Gnosticism.  It also denies Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Rather, He rose spiritually, a Gnostic belief.  Mormons deify humans and make God human according to one of their prophets who claimed, “As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be.”[1]

The New Age movement harbors all sorts of cult and occult beliefs and doctrines.  One of the underpinnings of the New Age movement is Gnosticism’s strands of beliefs.[2]  Both the New Age and Gnosticism holds to mysteries, hidden knowledge, and “enlightened minds.”[3]  It encompasses the psychological philosophy of psychologist Carl Jung and the metaphysics of Theosophy, Scientology, and Christian Scientists.  It encompasses astrology and numerous pagan practices.  It has captured whole denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and its Re-Imagining Conference in 1993 with its symbol of Sophia.  While the denomination rejected the Conference then, it continued to hold to the Sophia symbol as one of worship in its continuing “Voices of Sophia Breakfast” in the denomination’s General Assembly.[4]

Warnings!

Such inroads into mainstream denominations and Christian fellowships should alert us to the dangers of ancient religious philosophies posing as Christian and secretly coming into Christian congregations, disrupting and dividing believers.  We must read John’s letter carefully to become aware of these dangers and guard ourselves against them.  John informs us,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Not much in philosophy has changed over the millenniums. The same false teachings continue to rear their ugly heads in different ways.  Beware of them!  Hold tightly to John’s warning, listen closely to similar sounding ideas that resemble Christian theology, search the Scriptures, and ask questions.  Many who come in the name of Christ raise false imitations and counterfeits, which sound like Christian teaching.  They offer things like higher consciousness, the higher life, deeper spirituality, inner enlightenment, secret knowledge, divine spark, entry into mysteries, self-actualization, and inward-focus.  They imitate, impersonate, mimic, and copy biblical faith.  In the end, these false prophets give a foreign Jesus and lead astray into false teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

[1] (Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, http://bit.ly/1kH4fIU).

[2] Phil Johnson, “What’s New with the New Age?  Why Christians Need to Remain on Guard Against the Threats of New Age Spirituality,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 10:4 (Winter 2006), pp. 76-78.

[3] Ibid, 76.

[4] http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/7/voices-sophia-breakfast-thorson-smith-reflects-bac.

The Real Jesus in Today’s World

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—” (1 John 1:1, NKJV)

If Jesus appeared to the world today, would he be whom people imagined Him?

The Apostle John begins this letter of 1 John in a rather strange way that most people today do not do when writing to someone.  However, he had a purpose for this beginning.  Philosophers of his time began teaching a very different Jesus than He whom the disciples knew.  A substantial amount of time had passed, substantial in terms of John’s life but seemingly short considering the brief amount of time it took for these philosophies about Jesus to take hold.  Their underlying tenets survived for a couple of centuries since their formulation.

John gives insight into the basis for these philosophies.  A battle ground existed that dates back the Greek philosopher Plato.  Plato taught a metaphysical dualism that subscribed to the physical or seen and the intellectual or unseen.  The physical dealt with the senses and material objects.  The intellectual dealt with knowledge and the mind.  Many variations of Platonism arose over the centuries up to the time of the Apostle John and beyond.  These variations never really disappeared, but they lay dormant until another religious variation adopted them and brought them up to date in current religious practices.  These variations exist today in a number of forms and practices, such as with different philosophies of the New Age movement.

One major practice that arose during the first century and continues today is Gnosticism.  It integrated one of the major tenets of Platonism, dualism, and posed a major threat to the faith Jesus and His disciples taught.  This dualism saw spirit and the material world as incompatible.  Spirit is pure while the material world is corrupt.  Jesus could not have come in the flesh without becoming tainted and corrupted.  Therefore, He remain a spirit and never came in a human body.

John took up his apologetic arguments against this strain of Gnosticism.  He exposed how it committed theft of Jesus and incorporated Him into its religious philosophy through splitting Him apart by denying His physical appearance and accepting Him only as a spirit.  This threatened the gospel and its central truth of the incarnation.  That is, Jesus came among humanity in human flesh, a body like ours.  He knew and experienced suffering and pain.  People saw and touched Him.  He enjoyed a good meal with His friends and family.  His own race of people condemned Him, and the Romans executed Him, hanging His tangible body on the cross to bleed and die.  Men placed His body in the grave, but He physically rose from it to life once again.  Gnosticism denied this Jesus.

The errors that crept into this infant church sought to undermine the gospel.  These errors encompassed the following:

  1.  A split or separation between spirit and matter resulting in a variety of entities in both forms
  2. Complete separation between the material and spiritual so that God or the Demiurge could not inhabit the material world – total transcendence.
  3. The existence of a divine spark within man for making him aware of the divine
  4. The deliverance from evil and the material world through this divine spark by increased self-awareness and increasing knowledge and the insight it brings through masters and spiritual guides.  These masters bring such knowledge to the initiates, who are among the few, chosen, or elites to receive enlightenment
  5. The Christ was the source of the divine spark and delivered it to Jesus, the man – the spiritual enlightening the material Jesus, the two being distinct and separate rather than the same person.  Jesus, in turn, became the Master or source of secret knowledge from God for His disciples and those after them.
  6. All those who learn of this divine spark or secret knowledge become enlightened about themselves and salvation (www.bibleone.net/print_tbs61.html).

The dangers of these beliefs are the denial of the deity of Jesus, the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus for victory over sin and death, and the practice of self-righteousness.  This self-righteousness expresses itself in the pride of life (1 John 2:16), a condescension toward others that shows through a lack of love (1 John 3:1-10), and unrighteousness, leading to the denial of sin among the initiates or disciples of Gnosticism (1 John 1-10; 3:4-10).  These insidious errors in theology and practice lead one away from God and his beloved children who know Him through faith (1 John 2:18-19).  Those who deny Jesus is the Christ, without splitting Him into two parts, separate themselves from those whom these initiates consider uninformed and unenlightened.

Therefore, the initiates will have nothing to do with them (believers in the gospel John taught) because they remain in their evil of a lack of self-knowledge.  Self-love becomes a substitute for divine love so that the commandment of love reduces love to the condition of enlightenment on a higher plane of knowledge that separates the spiritual from the material.  This love is pure spiritual love based on separation from the material.  Those who have not reached this higher plane have not arrived at this distinctive love with its basis in secret self-knowledge and self-righteousness.  This kind of knowledge and righteousness reduces love to a feeling and mysticism that romanticizes it through the inner divine spark and an internal focus. It is not a love found in the rough and tumble of the physical world but on a higher plane of the spirit, the ideal, separate from evil material.  This love (Akhana) is connected more to some sort of ethereal (other worldly) wisdom (Sophia) born out of eroticism rather than the biblical sacrificial love of agape or philos.  It focuses on self rather than others and eventually becomes destruction and alienating.  Those who follow this kind of love walk away from other Christians and subsequently biblical faith altogether.  Because biblical Christians do not participate with the more enlightened, they deserve to be left.

The Apostle John’s warnings throughout this short letter of 1 John should give us pause concerning the errors that creep into our lives.  They lead us away from Jesus Christ to another gospel and cause us to separate ourselves from other believers.  Many in churches and Christian fellowships throughout history have adopted the errors of Gnosticism without realizing it.  They believe in some sort of higher plane of secret knowledge that causes a separation of spirit from the physical world, relegating the entire physical world to evil and prizing a romantic type of secret knowledge.  They attain this secret knowledge only through some sort of initiation of ecstatic feeling, higher wisdom, deeper knowledge or similar means.  These who have not reached this higher plane have not attained a true spirituality that results in living apart from all known sin.

This describes a modern rendition of Gnosticism, one that also needs confronting with the same truths John used to refute and renounce the errors of his day.  We do this through acknowledging our sinful condition and our confession of it while recognizing that Christ alone is our focus and source of forgiveness.  We also do this by faith and fellowship, two central truths the Apostle John clearly teaches.  This faith is in the clear teaching of Scripture and not in secret wisdom on some spiritual higher plane meant only for those who attain a higher level of spiritual knowledge (gnosis), abstinence, and separation based on self-love and self-righteousness.

This fellowship means commitment to love others, to participate in their lives, and to contribute to their spiritual growth.  This fellowship is not “what I can get from the church or small group” but rather how can I give myself to others in an exchange of open and transparent knowledge of Jesus and His word.   In this fellowship, there is no secret knowledge of dreams, vision, or other revelations meant only for a few initiates.  There is not cliquishness that causes separation.

These philosophical strains of Gnosticism are dangerous to the Church and the fellowship and love we share with one another that raises some above others.  Rather we follow the real Jesus and not some imaginary philosophical one that departs from what the Scriptures clearly teach of Him.  This real Jesus leads to a true bond of fellowship around clearly communicated Scripture that reveals a transparent Savior who came in the flesh, participated in our humanity, was executed, rose from the dead, and remains our living Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2).  Through Him, we have genuine and transparent fellowship that leads to a life of joy (1 John 1:4).

Did Jesus Come Back to Life?

While some assert that Christianity stole the idea of resurrection from various mystery religions featuring a dying and rising figure, the Gospel accounts breathe a far different air – the air of factual actuality, of datable, verifiable history” (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics).

Consider the claim of theft.  Someone in the distant past develops a religious teaching about people coming back to life.  Another religious teacher elsewhere at a different time or concurrently speaks of people returning to life.  Still another guru or religious master passes on what he heard from another about  a cycle of death and life then death again and life in another form.  Today, we refer to this type of teaching as reincarnation.  As oral traditions arise from the past from a number of sources, the stories in those traditions change through secondary and tertiary retelling of the stories.

Inseparable Essentials: God and Resurrection

cropped-2016-02-24-10-12-12.jpgWhile these secondary sources arise from an original, the primary thought of someone returning to life is a common theme.  Is the theme just as false as the stories surrounding the theme?  Is there any evidence for the original claim although details change over time through a variety of sources?  Was there an actual event that gave rise to the various stories?  If not, how did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?

These questions about resurrection from death is similar to the question, “If God did not exist, would we have to invent Him?”  That is, if the idea of resurrection did not have its source in reality or history, would someone have to imagine it and spin it into a legend, fable, or myth?  If nothing existed to give rise to the idea of resurrection, how could one spin a legend, fable, or myth around non-existence?  The same thinking arises concerning God.  If someone invented God, as atheists claim, how did the notion of God even arise in our thoughts if He were simply an invention and not part of existence?  The parallel between an actual resurrection and the existence of God are worth exploring for arriving at the truth about them, especially the resurrection of Jesus.  They are two indispensable claims underlying the Christian faith.

If they can be shown to be valid, then such faith has solid and sure support.  If no evidence exists for either, then the Christian faith would be vain as Paul noted (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).  Both claims depend on history and not imagination or fiction.  Truth cannot arise from fiction.  Such foundations are unlike other world religions because historicity is not so instrumental to them.  One could remove the idea of reincarnation (fiction) from the religions that claim it, and those religions would not necessarily fall.  They would simply revise their teachings to accommodate another idea and integrate this idea with existing beliefs.  That occurs frequently in religions over the span of time as religious teaching change over time.  Their tenets change to integrate current philosophies.

On the other hand, the teachings of God and resurrection have never departed from biblical faith.  Granted, many who bear the name Christian have ceased to believe in the historical resurrection (i.e., Paul Tillich (1886-1965, John Hick (1922-2012), John Shelby Spong (1931-)).  However, it does not depart altogether.  Resurrection echoes from the beginning of time.  This article will later explore this fact.  In many Christian segments that reject the historical resurrection, it still remains as a symbol and attaches to a belief system within those Christian segments.  However, does such symbolic attachment discount or rule out God’s existence and the resurrection?

God, Resurrection, and Naturalism

Let us consider these two claims.  One, the resurrection, depends on the other, God’s existence.  According to naturalists, both seemingly defy the way the natural world works.  Notice the disclaimer in the previous statement: “seemingly.”  Does the material order refute God and the resurrection?  Do the laws of the natural order rule out God and resurrection?  Douglas Groothuis does not believe the natural order rules them out.  He makes the following statement:

But miracles do not break natural laws. The day Christ raised Lazarus, people all over the world were still dying and staying dead. The law of nature had not changed. But natural laws speak only to natural events. Supernatural events are outside of their purview” (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, IVP Academic, 1988, Kindle, Location 5764-5765).

C. S. Lewis expands on the issue of miracles of which the resurrection of Jesus is one,

“The divine art of miracles is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into the patterns” (C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Harper, 1974, Kindle, p. 95).

Lewis provides the example of natural law’s pattern of cause and effect to support his claim. That is, one of the laws of nature is cause and effect (If A then B).  He claims that a miracle does not suspend this law but rather has a cause with a corresponding effect and therefore abides by it.  The “new event” is not A in this case but A2, that is God as the cause with the corresponding event as the miracle (B2).  This miracle occurs “according to Natural law,” Lewis claimed.  However, he goes on to say,

Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards, interlocked with the previous history of Nature” (p. 95).

He adds that naturalists have a problem with and cannot tolerate such logic.  The reason why is that they begin with rejecting God as the Creator and believe that Nature is the sum of existence.  In rejecting His existence, they refuse to accept that this God they consider non-existent could intervene in Nature with an event consistent with Nature (birth, death, and life).  Consequently, they lock themselves into a closed system that excludes anything that does not fit their materialist worldview.  That is, material is the sum of all existence, and there is nothing beyond the material.  That means the supernatural.

What About Resurrection?

Let us consider the question, “How did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?”  We know that ideas of resurrection came about prior to Jesus.  Religious leaders (Pharisees) of His time believed in it.  Did the resurrection of Jesus arise from myth or was it a true historical event given the preexistence of the idea of resurrection?  We need only return to the beginning of creation to discover seeds of resurrection.  Consider the creation.  God created life from nothing (lifelessness) by speaking (Genesis 1-2).  We read of a parallel when Jesus spoke and raised Lazarus from death (John 11).  Abel presents a motif of resurrection.  The letter of Hebrews reads,

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

We also discover the theme of resurrection in the historical account of Abraham of which the letter of Hebrews also testifies,

Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12).

Again, the author writes of Abraham,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Elijah brought a widow’s son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).  The creation was not myth.  Abel, Abraham, and Elijah were not myths.  History left traces of resurrection that all pointed to the single historic event of Jesus rising from death.  Individuals embraced the resurrection because God Himself left traces of it in His own works and through actual events.   Creation, Abel, and Abraham represent God’s works while Elijah exhibits an actual ancient biblical event.  Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on myths, fables, or legends.  God intervened in events prior to Jesus’ resurrection.  The history of the resurrection of Jesus rested on God and His intervention in historical events.  This intervention confirms that God works in history to demonstrate His power not only in events that preceded Jesus but also with the resurrection of Jesus..

God and Nature

We may ask those who reject God to explain chance and accidents and how the principle of these events is any different from explaining miracles.  Are “accidents of nature” and chance just as inexplicable as a miracle from their perspective?  Many new occurrences today baffle scientists and doctors just as others did centuries ago.  However, new discoveries explain the inexplicable of a century or two ago, but today’s undiscovered or unknowns remain just as puzzling as unknowns did to those in the past.  However, one variable could always exist: there may never be a discovery that explains all unknowns due to the temporal restraints of our finite being and the limitations of the tools available now or in the future. Speculation rules over unknowns among the finite.  Just because the resurrection cannot be explained today by known natural laws does not mean that it can never be explained by any existing laws.  God’s laws of all existence exceed natural laws.  If scientists cannot explain chance and accidents they consider within the the natural world, how then can they explain laws beyond the natural existence?  To reject God is just as irrational as believing in chance or accidents.

His intervening acts with us are of a supernatural sort that requires a different kind of explanation, the supernatural, just as those beyond our grasp as so-called accidents or chance does to the naturalist.  By the very definition of accident and chance, naturalists seem to suspend cause and effect, whereas miracles do not.  Chance cannot cause anything unless it has intelligence to give direction and will things to happen.  An accident is its corollary.  Neither can cause anything.  Yet naturalists want us to believe that chance prompted (caused) an evolutionary outburst (effect).

All the while, they reject the source (God) that gives way to the natural law of cause and effect.  They reject Him while calling Him to mind and making mention of him.  One cannot think or speak of that which does not exist.  Thinking assumes knowledge.  There is no knowledge in non-existence.  However, when those who reject God think of Him, they affirm what they deny.

The rejection of God in favor of chance places those who reject Him in the precarious position of also rejecting and suspending the laws of nature (that is, cause and effect).  God does not suspend the laws of nature with the resurrection of Christ from death.  Rather, He worked within those laws.  Douglas Groothuis asserts that people still die.  That law remains the same.  God (the supernatural Cause) intervened to raise Jesus from death.  On the other hand, chance remains chance regardless what naturalists desire to impute to it – some sort of causal agent.  We must ask ourselves which is the most rational, the causal agent of God or an event lacking cause and effect – chance.

Since God is the Creator, He is beyond the entire created order.  As the Creator, He then holds sway over the created (natural) order and its corresponding laws.  He created those laws.  Therefore, the natural order and the supernatural order both exist.  God consists of the supernatural order .  With such a scenario, chance and accidents are not options.  Cause assumes a determinant, which is an agent that places something in motion for the desired effect.  God has not endowed some event called chance with directional capacity.  Accidents do not just happen, because all things are within God’s purview and control.

God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

God is not only the Creator but also the Redeemer.  What is a Redeemer?  Redeem means to purchase back.  The Law of Moses revealed the meaning of this kind of purchase (Exodus 13:13; 34:20; Leviticus 25:25-26; Numbers 18:15).  Why redemption?  The human condition called for it. All chose to go their own way, away from God.  God took the initiative to intervene and revealed His redemptive hand in the Law of Moses.  He also revealed the way through a Redeemer, His only Son, whom He sent into the world to purchase back those sold to slavery to rebellion and their waywardness.  Their penchant for rebellion and condition prevented them from coming to God on their own.  They needed a Redeemer.  Jesus came and lived in the form of man, was executed, and came back to life.

The resurrection affirms two truths for those who believe in Jesus.  First, death has died.  Jesus showed He had life in Himself by rising from death (John 5:26).  Death had no hold on Him.  This truth is a “far different air,” as Groothuis claims, than mythical stories of resurrection.  No material being has life in itself.  All life derives from God.  All other so-called stories of resurrections were myth while having their roots in historical reality.  There was no theft from other religions.  Rather other religions distorted the truth and created fiction.  That truth resided in historical events with the grandest truth being Jesus’ resurrection.

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was the true life from death, the historical event that changed all history.  Given His resurrection as a true historical event God determined from all eternity, what weight does that carry with us?  Faith in Jesus means all the world and eternity for us, for that faith also transports us to new life from spiritual death and after death.  Chance has no basis in history.  There would be no history by chance.  The living God controls history and set the course of redemption in motion with its fulfillment in Jesus’ resurrection.  The living God and the resurrection are inseparable essentials.  Are you willing to bet the rest of your life and eternity on chance?  Paul wrote,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul discusses two outcomes resulting from the resurrection of Jesus: judgment for those who reject Him and assurance of life for those who believe Him.  Place your wager.

Who or What Created God?

In a recent online Internet discussion, an individual posed the question, “Who created God?”  Below is the entire question:

Let me start by saying I’m not actually a believer at this moment. When listening to the lectures, I hear a lot of talk about the complexity of things being a big proponent for creation or design because somebody created it. But at some point in the paradigm you’re at least admitting that, somewhere, something just existed that was at least as complex as, or more complex than, us….If we couldn’t have just existed, how could you say God just existed without something creating him. I’d like to hear your answer on that” (http://www.symposiachristi.com/qa-who-created-god/#comment-76390).

This question deserves a reply if we are to take to heart the Apostle Peter’s encouragement to us about being ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).  Below is my reply.  Please also read Dr. Hugh Ross’s response to the question.

The question concerning who created God, makes a number of assumptions:

1. If God were capable of being created, then He must be part of the created order
2. If God is then part of the created order, He would then fall under its physical rules: time, space, disorder, depletion, assuming that matter is not eternal. If so, how could He continue to exist?
3. That God has a cause, and He is simply an effect of a still bigger cause or greater being
4. If there is indeed a greater being, the real question is, “Should not this greater being be God?” Or should not the question address this greater being rather than a lesser being to which the question points? The question simply pushes back to an ultimate greatness of an ultimate cause.

As Dr. Ross noted, God is not part of the created order, and Christians insist on the truth of Creator/creature distinction according to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” The writer of this account understood this great truth. The beginning of the created order did not begin with God in it but the created order at the beginning. God was before that beginning, because He was before time itself (time assuming “beginning” since a beginning (start) point assumes movement – an onset).

If He was before it, then the question about the creation of God is moot and irrelevant. He is the greater Cause. As One who is not part of the created order, God caused it. We cannot fathom this, because we are part of the created order, and we cannot grasp that which is not part of this created order.

The question asked also omits so much more than the God who is if one stops to think through it. It also assumes God. Otherwise, the question could never be asked. If then one assumes God, then so many more questions must inevitably follow:

What kind of being is this God? Is this world and us in it His effect or result? If so how? And on and on. How do we then know this God who stands apart from the created order (or transcendent)? We must go deeper with even more question. One question will not do to get to the root of all existence.

For example, if all things resulted from God, then how then did we as personal beings arise? We have all the characteristics of personality: intellect, will, emotions, ethical senses, etc. An impersonal being (rocks) without these traits could not have brought us about. That which has no intellect or will could not have thought, acted, or spoken for creating. If then He created us, should we then not give Him gratitude through living according to the way He created us?

If then God created us, He then left some trace of Himself in that creation. The Bible says that trace can be found in all He created, including us. The Genesis account of creation states that God created humanity in His image, thereby making His trace (or image) inescapable to us. We know there is God from these reflections of Himself. We know Him still more through what the Bible describes as special revealed truth in Jesus Christ.

The question about God does not stop at just one.  Rather, the questions continue, on and on until…well until we reach their logical conclusions that lead to how we came about with the properties and characteristics we possess.  Why is the world like it is?  What will happen to us?  Is there any hope for making things right?  If so by what means?  These are questions of great weight and lead us down a trajectory of solutions to these questions only this great God can answer and give remedy.  They also lead us to the source for these remedies in His word – the Bible.  You can read the Bible at this link: https://bible.org/netbible/

Read more on this subject at this site:

Reasonable Faith, Dr. William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/causation-and-spacetime

 

One Rule of Faith: The Word of God

Recently, two articles appeared on www.patheos.com, one about the demise of Progressive Christianity,[i] and a rejoinder to it with the claims that Progressive Christianity creates a spiritual environment “in new and exciting ways,” “nourishing the spirits and theological growth of longtime progressives, newcomers, and a whole new generation of Christians.”[ii]

Upon reading both articles, I find one major flaw in each of them. First, what Longenecker claims about the death of progressivism is really irrelevant. Why? We live in a temporal world destined to pass away with all that is in it. The demise (or not) of progressivism is really of no consequence compared to what lasts. The Bible claims that all things will pass away, but the Word of God will remain well past their existence. In eternity, no one will give thought to the temporal or for that matter Progressive “Christian” thinking or theology. It will die in the end. Outside of that of the death of progressivism [iii], I am in agreement with his thoughts on the historic faith and its theology.

As for Sandlin’s concluding chest thumping about the benefits of Progressive Christianity, he forgets one thing – authority. Since progressivism eschews the Bible as the complete word of God, he overlooks its authority as well as the authority of the One who stands as Lord of All – Christ the King. He concludes by using the 1st person plural pronoun – “we.” We are doing this and that. It is all about what we are doing. This “we” shoves Christ and the Holy Spirit aside. Sandlin mentions Jesus only once and the Holy Spirit zero times. In his mention of Jesus, there is nothing of His power and supremacy. Certainly, Jesus does love, but that is not the sum of His nature. Where is the righteousness He came to fulfill? Where is His throne? Where is His power? Silence.

Progressive Christianity pushes all of these to the curb, injects themselves in the center, and refers to genuine biblical faith (historic Christianity) as an “institution.” That historic faith is to what Jude referred as contending earnestly for the faith when he penned,

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4).

We have a common salvation. It was “ONCE for all delivered to the saints.” Jude then takes a turn to speak about those who “have crept in unnoticed.” They have upset this common salvation and this “once for all” message of the unchanging gospel. The “we” shove it aside and trump its claims with their own. This “we” corrupts this “once for all” gospel and turns it “into lewdness [showmanship and corruption] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, it does not matter who wins the glory on earth in their chest thumping self-glory. The ultimate winner will be the Lord of all who will accomplish redemption His way not by “creating spiritual community” or “nourishing the spirits” or promoting “theological growth.” Rather the time will come when all God’s family will rejoice and be filled and content while no longer needing nourishment. The time will come when all will see the one true God and have no need for “theological growth.” For they will be like Him, for they will see Him as He is. The things of earth will fade away and be no more. There will be one rule of faith – the eternal word of God.

Those who reject this word will find themselves at odds with and separated from God in a community of death, because they rejected the Savior and His word. Therefore, it does not matter who wins on earth. Winning is for the temporal. Rather those who claim Jesus will fall down, worship Him eternally, and do away with all chest thumping.

[i] Dwight Longenecker, “12 Reasons Why Progressive Christianity Will Die Out,” http://bit.ly/1WEsrj8.

[ii] Mark Sandlin, “A Letter to Progressive Christians: “On the Death of Progressive Christianity,” http://bit.ly/1ONYR5x.

Taking Advice, Giving Consent, Embracing

Three steps in decision making lead toward adopting a philosophy of life.  We adopt a philosophy piece by piece, segment by segment, thought by thought, and action by action.  As we engage these steps, our intents and commitments become more pronounced toward a direction for our life.  There are numerous advice givers for information in making a decision.  Each of these advice givers may or may not have taken the same advice they give.  For example, some will give advice on a diet plan but never use it themselves.  The adage, “Take my advice, I am not using it,” becomes true for them.  Just watch television, read newspapers, or flip through magazines and you will find articles and advertisements advising you on every aspect of living.  Each has a philosophy about how one should look, smell, see, talk, hear, dress, present oneself, vote, worship, argue a point, or even think about issues.  They want you to embrace their viewpoint and philosophy and shame you if you do not embrace it.

Generally speaking, a lot of people become influenced by their own advice and follow it.  When giving such advice they deem important, they consider it valuable.  The more valuable they find it, the more they consent to it and embrace it.  Even if they half-heartedly believe in their own advice, they follow it because they do not want to be exposed as being inconsistent when giving advice.  Eventually, they adopt a philosophy of life and advise people from that philosophy after taking it themselves and giving consent to it through action.

There are two ways to take or give advice, consenting to it, and embracing it: a positive way and a negative way.  Parents tell a child, “Don’t touch the stove top because it is hot!”  A financial advisor recommends that his clients engage in budgeting.  The child consents to parental advice by staying away from the stove top.  As time passes and the child grows into adulthood, he embraces the lifestyle that hot stoves should not be touched with a bare hand.  The same applies to those who listen to a financial advisor’s advice.  They consent and eventually join the group of people who exercise budgeting as a lifestyle.  Wisdom grows for those who take sound advice.  However, those who take unsound advise suffer its consequences.

Psalm 1 announces the above three step process of adopting a philosophy of life and a sound lifestyle.  It dispenses this process in negative form preceded by a positive outcome,

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (v. 1, The Apologetics Study Bible.

The psalm tells its readers not to take the advice of the wicked, assent (consent) to sinners or join (embrace) a “group of mockers.”  In other words, there are certain types of people we should avoid and with whom we should not keep company (embrace): the wicked, sinners, and mockers.  They will make us unhappy.  Avoiding them and embracing God’s instruction will make us happy.  Other Bible versions use the word “blessed.”  Being blessed means favorable (not necessarily an emotional response).  Within the context of this psalm, we understand that this favor comes from God.

The psalm expands on this favorable outcome with the illustration of a sturdy tree.  Prior to this illustration, it expands on the meaning of happiness or blessing: delight.  That is, the person delights “in the LORD’s instruction.  This delight compels him to give continuous thought (meditation) to the results of the LORD’s instruction: sturdiness as a tree, fruitfulness in life, and prosperity.  Spiritual thinking through the word of God results in these outcomes.  These outcomes are not necessarily material well-being and external success.  They could be, but God does not promise them.  Prosperity does not mean material riches but reaching specific successes God designs for our lives.

The other side of this favorable outcome are results of opposite decisions, decisions that avoid the advice and result in embracing that which the psalm warned: chaff and disappearance of all that is good.  These decisions ultimately lead to the rejection of the source of all blessings, God Himself.  This psalm gives stark images that heighten the urgency of following sound advice, consenting to it, and embracing it.  Unhappiness is not the ultimate result to avoid.  Rather, it is God’s judgment and destruction.  Those who delight in the LORD and commit their ways to Him find security in Him and not judgment just as a sturdy tree that rises confidently to the heavens.

Advice can be warnings.  This psalm gives warnings about giving consent to certain life characteristics and embracing those who follow them.  Warnings are like street signs.  We see them all the time.  Not following them could lead to disaster.  Consenting to them and embracing them leads us to a favorable destination, God’s destiny for our lives.

Who is God? Part 3

Those who worship the God of the Bible in spirit and in truth need to be careful not to reduce the Most High to nature, being, evolution, process, humanity, or even religious experiences…No church can long serve the God of truth with an untrue and diminished view of who He is.”

– Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demarest, “Integrative Theology”

If you conducted an on-the-street survey with the question “Who is God?” how many different answers do you think you would receive?  Given the number of gods that inhabit the minds of individuals, countless gods could outnumber a single nation.  The survey could not offer a list.  The New Age borrows from the old age of ancient Greece and Rome.  The Pantheons would be a meager bunch compared to the number one could count today.

Many gods have arisen because people have sought to imagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing the one true God onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.  Many have claimed that people across the world cry out for God and seek after Him.  If we are to believe Paul the Apostle in his statement in Romans 3:10, these many cry out for that which is greater than themselves but one like them.  They want a savior much like Israel wanted a king like the other nations.  Corruption brings about such perverted desires.  Albert Mohler refers to these perverted religious desires as making God into a “therapeutic category” (The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism).  Paul quotes from the Psalms of the Old Testament:

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside…” (Psalm 14:2-3)

When the real God shows up, people exclaim,

“That’s not God, not the god I desire, one I can see, feel, and hear, one who pats me on my back and consoles me in my predicaments, one who gives me wealth, health, lots of toys, recognition, and popularity (instead of ridicule).”

C. S. Lewis wrote,

A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads— better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap— best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband— that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

– Lewis, C. S., A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

Seeking?  Yes.  Spiritual?  Yes.  Religious zeal?  Yes.  Seeking after God?  No, that is until He finds us and gives us a willing heart and mind.  All the rest of our seeking, according to Lewis, is dabbling in religion.  God is not at all what we make Him to be.  However, He is everything we need Him to be given our current state of affairs in this destructive, unenviable, hopeless, and violent environment in which we find ourselves.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17)

God loved.  He gave.  He sent.  He saved (delivered from destruction).  In His matchless initiative, He reached out to us in our religious dabbling, philosophizing, and therapeutic machinations.  No initiative on our part comes infinitely close to His strong hand of mercy and grace.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Who is God? Part 2

In the previous article, “Who is God? Part 1,” we examined approaches to God and how the biblical God offers the only true choice for a real and personal God with whom humanity can relate.  However, humanity has decided to pursue its own set of gods deriving from the created order, one who is limited and impersonal.  These are imitations and straw man perversions of the one true God.

This article focuses on the question,

“Why is God as a personal God an important and strategic truth?”

The personal biblical God is indisputable and unanswerable from the view of unbelieving evolution, atheism, and all other idolatrous religions. None of them can explain how humanity can possess the nature of personality (being a person) apart from a personal God. All that other religions and philosophies can do is offer speculation about how impersonal and inanimate matter can ultimately become a person. Speculation is no substitute for truth. This speculation fails because other religions and philosophies cannot identify a clearly defined trajectory from the impersonal to the personal.

God as Personal

While God transcends the created order and our experiences in it, He has a personal nature and is immanent with us.  We do not project on God a personal nature because we are personal beings.  Such a projection is merely speculation and cannot define a clear trajectory from the impersonal to the personal.  In other words, there is no clear and definite answer for explaining the personal nature of human beings except through a personal God.  Rather, He shares this nature of person-hood with humanity because He created us in His image.  The personal God created us in His image with person-hood being a major part of that image.  This creation alone explains how we are persons.

Importance of a Personal God

The personal God provides the only reasonable explanation for the personal nature of humanity.  Humanity’s personal nature is unanswerable from evolution, atheism, impersonal theism, polytheism, and all other idolatrous religions or philosophies. People are unable to relate with the impersonal god(s) of these religions.  None of these provides an adequate religious or philosophical model for explaining how we came to be persons.  Furthermore, the sciences has no means of explaining how we assumed personality. They simply discover the observable and offer an interpretive best guess.  Even then, clashing and competitive interpretations exist among scientists, the social sciences, and philosophies.  We could never know or comprehend love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, patience, gentleness, or other personal qualities apart from God as a person. Individuals defines such qualities in so many conflicting ways.  Without God, these qualities are simply open to interpretation from clashing philosophies.

FOCUS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PERSONAL TRIUNE GOD

It is easy to overlook the importance of the Triune God. Many people do, and end up concluding God to be other than who He is, one arising from the created order or from a myriad imaginations.  One of the most crucial and fundamental characteristics of the image of God in which He created us is the capacity for personal relationship. This characteristic exists as fundamental to the being of the Triune God.  When God created us in His image, that image implanted in us the capacity for relationships.

There is another extremely important reason for understanding why we relate to and worship a personal God. God is a Triune God.  To know the living God is to know the personal Triune God. It is impossible to relate with something impersonal. You cannot have a relationship with a rock, but you can sell them. There is no reciprocation and no capacity to relate. Additionally, humans as personal beings cannot arise from an impersonal state or an impersonal god. The speculation and conjecture of evolution proposes that humans as personal beings can arise from an impersonal source by chance. However, such speculation fails to explain how our person-hood came into existence and how chance alone brought us about.

Let us return to statements from the previous article:

  • When there is a rejection of a personal God and the desire to know Him, this leads to a breach between God and humanity as the historical account of the Fall demonstrated
  • When a breach between the personal God and humanity occurs, worldviews with impersonal gods arise (pantheism, polytheism, animism, agnosticism, atheism).  Atheism and agnosticism assumes the impersonal.  Atheism stands for no god or gods.  There is then no source for relationship resembling the personal and no explanation for the person-hood in humanity.
  • Such worldviews turn men and women inward toward self (isolationism) rather than outward toward God (relational)
  • When other worldviews minimize a personal God, they also tend to minimize the person-hood of humanity. This minimization shows up in the devaluation of individuals in treating them like numbers, statistics, or sources of profit
  • Minimizing the person-hood of humanity leads to devaluing life altogether or valuing life in terms of monetary gain: abortion, human trafficking, and slavery serve as examples of individual devaluation

These statements show why it important to trust a personal God.  Such trust is a personal attribute and demonstrates how the rejection of the true biblical God leads to the devaluation of humanity in various forms: abortion, human trafficking, and slavery.  Some may claim, “Well now, here is a Christian who speaks of value but ignores what Christianity has done in the past.”  This statement raises a straw man “Christianity,” one that is man-centered and not God-centered and biblically centered.  It is easy to point fingers when one pointing them is guilty of the same thing.  The one thing that does away with finger pointing and criticism is humility and faith in the one and only God of which the Bible speak, because He alone informs us of Himself and exposes us for what we really are – those separated from Him, living in darkness from the truth, and in need of Him.

 

Who is God? Part 1

“In this world, the god many believe still has certain characteristics parallel to the God of the Bible…[but] a god without teeth, without majesty. This god fills people with warm fuzzies, but is never feared… dispenses a benevolent love… has little moral bearing…this god may be personal or pantheistic, but is never sovereign and rarely a judge… he or she or it cannot even be called a “god” anymore, but simply “Reality,” since in some religions…there is no place for “god” in any personal sense at all. And underlying all these gods is the great god Pluralism.”

– D. A. Carson, PhD, Professor, Trinity Divinity School, “The SBJT Forum: Is There a Battle to Define God?,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1997.

“The very concept of God is among the most contested issues in contemporary thought and culture…the concept of God is merely a matter of emotivism and sentiment…Modern culture commonly denies God as God, as well as the very notion of God as an objective referent.

“In many circles[Evangelical], God is merely a therapeutic category. Many evangelicals are now mostly concerned about what good this God will do for us, how well this God may make us feel, and how much self-esteem this God may give us as His gift.”

(R. Albert Mohler, Jr., The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Spring 1997)

When we approach the study of God, we step out on to very holy and mysterious ground, ground on which we tread carefully and prayerfully. Unless we have the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, Counselor, and Guide, we will tend toward error as history from the very beginning illustrates.

Many errors and heresies have arisen because people have sought to The God Many Wantimagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing Him onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

There are all sorts of imitations and perversions of God arising from the created order, and we must be aware of them due to the subtle ways they imitate God. The Apostle Paul in Romans informs us of these imitations,

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:20-23)

Idolatry is people seeking to know and worship that which is greater than themselves while rejecting the true biblical God. Idolatry relies on fiction (false knowledge) and myth-telling (speculative story) and has no historical basis.  Idolatry does away with a personal God.  Consider the following possibilities of God:

  • Atheism, Naturalism, Humanism – No god, not even a personal one
  • Agnosticism – Who knows if there is any kind of god let alone a personal one
  • Deism – A distant Providence; An unknowable god with whom no one can relate because he or it is impersonal
  • Polytheism – fictitious and impersonal gods of the created order, that is, no God at all because they do not exist
  • Eastern Religions – Impersonal beings of the created order; unknowable; no God

Only one worldview offers a truly personal God – the biblical worldview:

  • Biblical Theism – God relates to us a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God. He alone is the personal God who relates to us through His Son. It took a person (Jesus Christ) who came in the flesh to draw us to the one personal God that we may relate with Him and know Him as Father.

It has been said a number of times that we live in a secular world with secular societies.  That is not exactly accurate.  We actually live in a pluralistic religious and spiritual world with people holding on to their own gods, whether they are atheistic, agnostic, deistic, polytheistic, or any number of other gods created from the material universe.  Which type of god do you worship?  In the next post, we will explore this subject in more depth.

Jesus: Life in Himself

The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—” (1 John 1:3).

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John takes us to his next thought after introducing us to his eyewitness account of Jesus. This next thought is the revelation of God’s Son come in the flesh or the incarnation. This revelation is the life of all things. John speaks of life in a special way – eternal life. In His gospel, John informed his readers and us that Jesus is unique in the possession of life. He has life in Himself (John 5:26). Nothing in all creation possesses this attribute. All that exists in creation dies or decays. Plants and animals die. Humans have a lifespan. All other things deteriorate. They do not possess life in themselves. Rather, they depend on that which is external to them to give them life and to sustain them. God gives to them.

One exception exists – God. In the same place where John points to Jesus as having life in Himself, he also says that the Father also has life in Himself. He states, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). John expands his claim to the Father, affirming the divinity of the Father and the Son. Now, since the Bible (and John) claims there is one God, we come to understand from him that the Father and Son share in that divinity (John 1:1). They are two of the three persons of the divine essence, that is, God.

Jesus manifested His divinity to His disciples when he lived with them and also when He rose from the dead. His resurrection demonstrated that He has life in Himself. All others who lived also died, even those whom Jesus called back from death to life, such as Lazarus. Lazarus finally died permanently. Jesus rose from the dead and lives today in the presence of His Father.

John declared the eternal life of the Son of God, Jesus. He also announced that Jesus was with the Father prior to His incarnation. In stating this, John informed us that Jesus existed before His birth as the baby of Joseph and Mary. He took on human flesh at a point in time and became like one of us so that He might bridge the gap between God and humanity. He became “God with us.” The Creator of all things took on the form of the created to bring those who believe Him back to the Father. This is the good news and the hope all have who placing their faith in Him.

A Word From Our Sponsor: One Who Encounters God

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1)

Encounters with God differ for everyone.  Some engage Him in prayer, some through the Scriptures, while others do so through praises and singing.  Revelations and visions were rare occurrences.  God appeared unexpectedly to certain people to give them a special message for those whom He sought out.  Most of the time, these revelations and vision were about God’s redemption, that is, saving people from their troubles or delivering them from their enemies or destructive circumstances.

God engaged Isaiah in such an occasion.  One day, he entered God’s temple to worship the LORD.  Suddenly, the LORD appeared to him.  Isaiah saw the LORD sitting on His throne above him in a robe that filled the entire temple.  He also saw certain heavenly creatures called seraphim, crying out to another,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3)

Just as God’s glory filled the temple, these creatures proclaimed that this same glory filled the entire earth.  The power of this vision and the voice crying out caused the temple to shake.  Stunned as he was, Isaiah could do nothing but cry out,

Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (6:5).

One of he seraphim comes to Isaiah and touched his lips with a piece of coal, and pronounced him clean.

Immediately after the seraphim did this, the LORD Himself asked,

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (6:8)

Isaiah replied,

“Here am I! Send me” (6:8).

The LORD then gave Isaiah a commission and with it a message to give to the Jewish people,

“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed” (6:9-10)

Isaiah and the LORD continued in their conversation.

Many strange things exist in this incident between Isaiah and the LORD.  Additionally, the message the LORD gave to Isaiah is highly enigmatic.  Without delving deep into the passage, we can make a number of observations about Isaiah’s encounter with God.  First, God is the LORD (Yahweh), the God of all and everyone.  He is the sovereign and only God in all existence.  He recognizes those who do not accept His position and pronouncements of Himself and His declarations.  Second, He does not leave rebellious people without witness and revelation of Himself.  During Isaiah’s time as well as during the eras of the other prophets, He revealed Himself to Israel and others through His declared word.  Third, God’s word has immense power.  When He speaks, His word can shake the entire earth and the hearts of individuals.  We learn of such power elsewhere in the New Testament letter of Hebrews where the author declares,

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

This power engaged Isaiah’s heart to the point that he recognized his own sinful state before a holy God.  Here he was in the temple of God preparing to worship God.  Yet he recognized that his standing in the presence of the holy God who speaks holy words yielded a confession of his own destitute position.  He declared himself “unclean” and one who lived among a rebellious people.  He saw himself not in the position to be before this God.

Fourth, God’s word changes hearts.  After Isaiah heard the words of the seraphim, he immediately confessed his sinful predicament and the predicament of his fellow countrymen.

Fifth, God’s word not only changes hearts, but it also motivates one to do God’s will.  After the seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a piece of burning coal, the LORD spoke to him in the form of a question.  The LORD basically asked Isaiah who will accomplish His mission.  Isaiah did not allow a moment to pass without a swift reply, “Me!  I will!”  God’s word so changed Isaiah that it redirected his focus to others.

The message the LORD gave to Isaiah seems rather strange, because it was a negative one.  Close their ears and understanding so they will not turn to Him.  Why did the LORD want Isaiah to give Israel a negative message so they reject Him?  God had His purpose,

But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump” (Isaiah 6:13).

The LORD speaks about a “holy seed.”  The word the LORD gave to Israel would come to a people who resists His will until the time of the “holy seed.”  This “holy seed” is the promised Messiah who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  Much like the message Isaiah received from the LORD, the message of Messiah will also turn people away.  However, like God’s word to Isaiah, its power will turn the hearts of people everywhere to Him, causing them to confess their sins and to seek His redemption.  Isaiah is an example of the power of God’s word.  It not only saves but it motivates toward a mission.  This passage gives great encouragement for every Christian in every nation that God’s word will accomplish His purpose in and through those He saves so that the whole earth will eventually realize the glory of God and become His temple in which all will do His will.

The Fool’s Answer About God, Part 2

[NOTE: Numbers in parenthesis refer to notes at the end of article]

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 53:1).

The psalmist and fool returned for their card game, tossing their bets, calling one another on their hands, and attempting to gain an edge with each card.  Their bantering continued back and forth for about an hour in their attempts to gain a philosophical strategic advantage.  The fool was hesitant to say much about the questions the psalmist left on the table from their prior game.  He thought long and hard about them, attempting to wrestle through some subtle and distracting replies from his readings of the Four Horsemen of new atheism: Dennet, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins.  Although, he did not want to be the first to speak, he believed he was ready to engage in this winner-take-all bout with the psalmist.  He read through numerous philosophical arguments from the four atheists and others and considered himself armed to reply to any question about the psalmist’s God.

The psalmist threw out a question, “Mr. Fool, have you ever been married?”  The psalmist paused to wait for an answer from the fool.

The fool was caught off guard by the sudden question seemingly unrelated to their previous discussion about God.  He wondered what marriage had to do with whether God exists or not.  He was unsure what the psalmist was up to and how to address his question.  His readings of atheism had not prepared him for such a question.

Then the fool replied,  “Uh…Yeah…Yes.  But what of it?  None of the ten marriages ever worked out for me.  I never got anything out of them.  Every morning when I sat down at breakfast, the wife I had would preach at me about this or that, trying to convince me of her god.  They were the worst communions I ever had.  I then shopped around to find the woman with the best looks, listened a bit to her ideas, got tired of them, and decided they were not to my liking.

The fool paused and then continued, “It was similar to searching for a church, you know.  Sit in the pew for awhile, get preached at, but never getting anything out of it.  I couldn’t get any satisfaction as the Rolling Stones would say, you know…heh heh…the preacher was like the voice on the radio trying to ignite my imagination with useless information…how pure my soul could be.”

The psalmist interrupted, “So, finding a wife is like finding a good church, eh?  You didn’t get anything out of marriage or church?  What was it you were looking for?  Self-fulfillment? Self-gratification?  Some magic solution to solve all your problems?  Did you believe the preacher or your wives were genies ready to pop out the lamp and fulfill all your fantasies?

The fool squirmed in his chair just thinking of his failed marriages and all the hypocrites he met in one church after another.  The fool replied in an angry tone as his face grew red and his hands shook, “What a second.  What does having a wife have to do with God, religion, or church?  I don’t get it.  I’m not interested in your psychoanalysis.  So what’s your point?”

The psalmist replied, “In our last card game, you suggested believers in God must take a “flying leap” of faith.  You also said that you didn’t need faith and that faith is a religious thing.  My point is that faith, or its twin “trust” is relational.  You do not rely on science for proof your wife loves you or that she is beautiful, kind, and patient with you in spite of any conflict or disagreement the two of you encountered.  Tell me how you apply scientific methodology to those qualities?  Tell me, also, how interpersonal trust between a husband and wife or even friends are religious experiences if indeed you assign faith only to religion.  Do you establish a null hypothesis (1) and apply statistical analysis in relationships for determining the confidence level of marital love?  What scientific proof do you need from the women you married that they loved and trusted you?  Finally, would you apply such an analysis to yourself for seeking scientific proof of your trusting commitment to your spouse or even that she is your spouse at all?”

The fool thought about all the alimony he paid out to each wife that left him without the means to buy his boat and RV and retorted, “Now wait a minute!  That is plain ludicrous!  You can’t apply science in that way.”

The psalmist interrupted, “Why not?  If atheists hold that science is the arbiter of all that can be known, (2) then the qualities of love, faithfulness, patience, beauty, or relational trust cannot be known except through scientific method.  The trait of trust is every bit a faith factor in relationships, and this fact seems to escape your notice.  Even the atheist Bertrand Russell suggested as much when he said, “What science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know.” (3)  Would you make exceptions for beauty, love, faithfulness, and trust by claiming that they are not within the realm of knowledge?  Or would you claim their nonexistence altogether or that they are subject to individual taste or perspective?  If so, are perspective or taste not then part of the realm of knowledge?  If they are part of human knowledge, would then Bertrand Russell’s assessment not apply that they are subject to scientific inquiry and proof?  How would scientific inquiry explain trust, love, and faithfulness apart from religion if you hold that faith is the exclusive realm of religion?  Also, you claimed that those who believe in God must take a leap of faith.

The psalmist paused, leaned over the table, looked the fool in the eyes, and continued, “Did you take a leap of faith each time you married?  Was not your interactions with your marital prospect sufficient substance and evidence (4)  for you to trust her enough to marry?  That does not sound like a leap to me but trust based on knowledge of the woman you wanted to marry before you said “I do.”  You admitted that you shopped around, examined each woman you married, listened to their ideas, and then made your choice.  Did you not gain knowledge of each woman before you married?  Was there not evidence?  Even with such evidence, you still needed mutual trust for your relationship or skepticism and doubt of your spouse would continue to overshadow you.

The fool seemed stunned by what the psalmist said.  He stared at the cards in his hand and contemplated if they were good enough to win this round.  One card kept him from an inside straight and winning the hand.  He discarded one and asked for another card.  The card he received had written on it EMOTION.  He thought, “That’s it!” Love and trust like faith are just emotions.”

The fool looked up from his cards straight into the eyes of the psalmist and exclaimed, “Faith like love is nothing but an emotion.  You can express emotions toward things that do not exist, such as a dead loved one.  Dead people no longer exist.  Christians do the same with God.  They simply express their emotions toward a god that really does not exist.”

The fool folded his arms, sit up straight in his chair, held his head high, grinned at the psalmist, and said, “Answer that!  Your god is simply wishful thinking based on emotional desire.”

The psalmist spoke gently, “Mr. Fool, your explanation of love is reductionistic much like Sigmund Freud’s assessment of religion as being nothing more than an illusion or mental illness or Karl Marx’s belief that it is no more than the “sigh of the oppressed” or “opiate of the people.”  Anyone can derive a philosophy of love.  Tina Turner did when she referred to it as a “second hand emotion.”  Now these are unsubstantiated truth claims.  They are simply sheer philosophical assumption from speculation arising from a given worldview.  Your claim also has no substance for scientific analysis as you claim as needed for knowledge.  It is no more than philosophical mysticism.

“Mr Fool,” the psalmist continued, do you think that perhaps your lack of understanding of faith may have contributed to your ten failed marriages?  You compared it to going to church for Christians – seeking what you could get from it rather than give to it.

The psalmist laid one of his cards on the table that showed the following formula:

faith (substance + evidence) = hope (God’s promises) + unseen realities (faithfulness, love, patience, self-control, kindness, giving)

Mr. Fool,” the psalmist said in a compassionate voice, “This card shows a formula that God has revealed to everyone about the essence of faith.  It transcends any religious experience or practice to the relational.  It not only applies to relationships with people but also with God.  Just as your trust in people elevates your hope, so also does this same trust in God do the same.  This faith is not a religious leap of faith but that which relies on knowledge.  Human philosophy claims that faith begins when knowledge ends.  It also claims that since God does not exist, that theists must take that leap of faith and cling to it in the face of God’s nonexistence.  That is not the biblical view of faith.  It does not separate faith from knowledge but rather joins them.  That knowledge consists of all God is and does in time and space.  Our tendency toward evil is undeniable historical fact that requires a remedy beyond ourselves before we destroy ourselves. As any judge would in human courts, God must judge all evil and those who commit it.

“God declares,

“There is none who does good. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God? There they are in great fear where no fear was” (Psalm 53:2-5).

“God broke through time and space and provided the remedy in the life of His Son Jesus.  He lived a life pleasing to God, a life we could not live.  He also died in our place so that we do not have to be judged for our evil.  Placing faith in God’s remedy gives hope of escape from God’s judgment and for being with God forever.”

The psalmist paused once again and then asked, “What is your assessment of this faith, Mr. Fool?”  How do you see yourself in relation with this God and His remedy?”

“One of God’s spokesman wrote,

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame”” (Romans 10:9-11).

The fool looked at the losing cards in his hand and stammered, “I…I…uh…I never thought of it like that before.  Let me…give your words some thought, and I will have an answer the next time we meet.”

__________________

CITED NOTES

(1) Null Hypothesis – Something assumed to be true unless statistical analysis shows otherwise.

(2) Paul Copan, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless, Baker Books, 2005, p. 58.

(3) Attributed to Russell in Ted Peters’ Cosmos As Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance (1989), p. 14

(4) “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  While this passage applies to God, its truth shows it as a relational quality between and among people.  As a married couple gains knowledge of the other, their faith and trust in one another grows and becomes more firm.  That trust promotes hope of a lasting relationship and evidence of unseen realities – continued faithfulness, integrity, and self-control.

The Fool’s Answer About God, Part 1

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”” (Psalm 53:1).

The psalmist and fool sit across the table from one another, cards in hand, and bets tendered.  The fool gambled with all he had in life, placing all his chips in the center of the table, sitting smugly in his chair, and holding his cards close to his chest.  He daringly looks straight at the psalmist.  The psalmist calmly and softly announces, “I call your hand.  Show it.”

The fool lays down his hand and defiantly declares, “There is no God!”

The psalmist looks at the atheist’s cards and replies, “Say that again.”

The fool again exclaims louder and in a more boisterous tone, “There is no God!”

His cards reveal the word God on each card as both the psalmist and fool stare at them.  The psalmist presents his hand.  It, too, had God written on each card. He declares, “Sorry, you lose Mr. Fool.  Your cards you held next to your heart betray you.”

The fool stared at his cards and gazed at what he just admitted.  The cards were clear.  His claim contradicted the cards he held close to his chest.  The cards reflected what he thought in his heart and thereby conceived in opposition to what he claimed.  His speech betrayed his thoughts.  He claimed there was no God while his thoughts conceived God’s existence.  The very mention of God showed what his cards showed that he held close to his chest.  He claimed with his mouth that God did not exist while making mention of God on His tongue.

The psalmist met the fool’s eyes and said to him, “You lose the hand and all that you have, for one cannot think with his thoughts, conceive in his mind, or extrapolate from what does not exist.  You have thought of God, because God implanted Himself deep inside you.  You conceived God in your thoughts before making the verbal claim about the non-existence of God.  See there, your thoughts appear on each card you held close to your chest right next to your heart…”

The fool raised his hand and shouted, “Hold on, Mr. Psalmist!  I can think about unicorns and Superman.”

He smiled widely as he laid down a card with a unicorn on it and claimed,  “They don’t exist!  Yet I thought of them and conceived of a unicorn.”

He then laid down another card that showed a picture of Superman and said with a big grin, “Here is another non-existent being from another non-existent planet.  I can conceive of him flying, bending steel with his bare hands, and moving faster than a bullet, but he doesn’t exist.”

The psalmist briefly thought and then spoke, “A unicorn is nothing but a horse, and certain novelists have simply placed a horn on his nose and given it the name ‘unicorn’.  Horses exists in reality as do horns.  Somebody got creative and integrated them into a fictitious animal and gave it a fictitious name.  With Superman, his creators knew men existed.  They then dressed him up in a Halloween costume and assigned him the powers of flying, great strength, and speed.  All of these characteristics exists in the real world.  Birds fly, polar bears have great strength, and the cheetah runs fast.  It is easy for us to imagine all of these characteristics with a man, and comic book creators did just that.”

The fool replied, “But men have to create a god or gods because one does not really exist.  These other things are not gods but fictional characters in novels and comic books.  What do you have to say to that Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist raised his finger to his lips and thought for several seconds before continuing, “Think about what you just said, Mr. Fool.  What is the source of these gods or god?  They are extrapolations of what exist.  Much like the creation of Superman or the unicorn, god creators integrate from things that exists, because they cannot think or conceive of that which does not exist.  In spite of denials of God, individuals who create gods do so as extrapolations of what exist.  They take from creation – animals, rocks, trees, the sun, and even people – and integrate them into what they conceived as God and take it to be their god or gods.  They knew God exists because they cannot think of that which does not exists.  God exists.  Therefore, they think and conceive of Him.  They want some image to represent what they conceive in their thoughts.  As they perceive the created order, they choose from it those things they want to represent the God of which they already conceived in their thoughts.  They then create their god or gods from the knowledge God planted in their thoughts and what they wanted from creation to represent Him from creation.  They make an idol from corrupting the true God.”

The fool folds his arms and sits gazing at the five cards he placed on the table that reflected what was in his thoughts.  He then looked at the psalmist’s card, and they reflected back his thoughts, also.  What was he to do?  In claiming there was no God, he admitted thinking of God and entertaining Him in his mind. He thought, “Where did those thoughts come from?  My parents through their parents and their parents before them!”

The fool then looked up, and with a gleam in his eye leaned forward and looked straight into the eyes of the psalmist and spoke, “I asked myself where the thoughts of God came from and I have an answer!”

The psalmist, inquisitive then asked, “What is it?”

The fool then replied, “My parents told me of God just as their parents before them, and their parents even before them.  You see, generations past passed on this fictitious thing called god.  It’s like an inheritance passed down through the generations, an inheritance through the mind.  What do you say to that, Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist still engaged the fool’s eyes, smiled, and then replied, “Are you accusing your parents of lying to you by later denying what they believed?  Furthermore, where did the original humans receive their idea of God if one cannot entertain in one’s thoughts, conceive of, or extrapolate from what does not exist?  How then did the thought of God come to be in the mind of the first person that ever lived if you wish to trace back that far?”

The fool thought hard for several minutes and then spoke once again, “Evolution!  God evolved along with the evolution of all that exists!  As we evolved, we continued to bring to mind that which is greater than ourselves, and we began to worship that greater thing or things.  However, some saw through the charade of religion of a hierarchy of being with God as the highest to which humanity must worship.  Those who recognized that all creatures are on equal plane without some hierarchy saw no need for a crutch like religion.  Rather reason led them to the conclusion that humanity needed no God.

The fool paused, took a breath, and then continued, “They determined that the default position was really atheism at birth.  Babies have no notion of God, because they are atheists when born.  Humanity’s natural dependency led to the need for a god or something of a divinity, and hence god and gods arose from the creation of the mind.”

The fool folded his arms and thought, “I have the psalmist now.”

The psalmist then replied, “Are you suggesting that (all we are as persons with the attributes of thinking, acting, and feeling) some impersonal thing or process determined by blind and mindless forces of chance made us into more than a robot or machine?(1)  How could we then be free or exercise any modicum of free will, make choices, or even guide our own thoughts.  We could not be thought of as having personality with hopes and aspirations, goals, and dreams for guiding our lives and giving us meaning.  Speaking of chance, how could it even move matter to generate the form of all that exists into millions and billions of shapes and give shape to the universe as we know it?  Pure chance (or randomness) cannot give such direction without there being some determinism for shaping what exists.(2)  At the point of direction, chance ceases to be chance and becomes intelligent direction for guiding and shaping the universe.  Additionally, such intelligence gives rise to intelligence (humanity) and animate and inanimate objects as well as the knowledge of such intelligent design within us for promoting our own imagination, creativity, and thinking.  That is, Mr. Fool, intelligence gives rise to intelligence, making the default position as theism or something greater than ourselves and the entire universe.”

After a moment, the psalmist continued, “Mr. Fool, do you not think and make choices or are you simply a machine for programming and that we obey the impulses of determinism without recourse?  Do you really want to take the path that humanity is nothing more than a set of drones without meaning, purpose, and hope and that what exists in the material world is all that exists?  How can you judge your life worth living?  How can you distinguish between right and wrong or good and bad?  How can you judge something fair or not fair?  How can you make any moral judgments at all? How could such judgments even arise through randomness and chance?”

The fool looked at the cards he placed on the table between him and the psalmist, reading the word “God” on each card.  Then he glanced at the other cards he place on the table that read “unicorn” and “Superman.” He pondered what the psalmist said and then replied, “Hmm, no I am not a machine but free to think, make choices, and act.”

After making that statement, the fool’s face brightened and he took another direction and exclaimed, “But Mr. Psalmist, you cannot prove scientifically that God exists..  You simply must accept it by faith, because in the face of a lack of fact and knowledge, you as a believer in God must simply take a flying leap of faith.”

The psalmist replied, “Mr. Fool, you have now taken several directions without replying directly to my rebuttals or giving a defense FOR your position that there is no God.  Your tactic of evasion shows you have no answers or adequate replies to theism.  It is one thing to deny something, but it is an entirely different matter to defend your own position.  Denial is not a defense.  So far you simply have offered excuses for not believing in God while failing to give a defense for your position.  If your position is indeed valid, you must show it.”

The fool interrupted, “I do not need to “prove” anything.  How can you ask me to defend what I do not have and do not need – faith?  I do not need faith, because faith is a religious thing and arises due to a lack of knowledge and scientific proof.  It is on you, Mr. Psalmist, to prove God exists and not on fools to prove or defend non-existence.  You cannot prove non-existence, anyway.

The psalmist then replied, “Thank you for raising the issue of faith.  I will join that issue with your assertion of proof for God and not being able to prove non-existence.  I have several questions for you regarding:

  1. Have you ever been married? You make a faulty divorce between faith and knowledge as though faith takes over when knowledge is absent.
  2. Do you hold or need scientific proof that your spouse is trustworthy and faithful?
  3. Do you really claim that science is the arbiter or medium for all knowledge and that unless something is scientifically proven, it is false or not worthy of consideration and analysis?
  4. Do you really understand the nature of “proof”?
  5. Do you really claim you do not need to support any claim you have about your atheism?
  6. Do you really believe one cannot prove non-existence?

Let us take up these questions when we get together again for continuing our game.  Thanks for all your chips I won.

(1) See Edward Feser, “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Kindle location 3890.

(2) See Robert J. Spitzer, “New Proofs for the Existence of God,” Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010, p.65-67, 74, 90-91.

Is Evil Greater Than God?

Many atheists and others who reject the biblical God have attempted to cast judgment on God and render Him weak in the face of evil or try to do away with Him altogether.  In a recent discussion with several atheists, Action Faith Books Press engaged the argument concerning the existence of God from the view of evil.  The argument was in the context of the recent persecution of the Jews across Europe,

“In light of jewish (sic) history, I would agree with [another in the discussion], that this opinion (God’s oversight of the Jews) is delusional. If God exists and watches over Jews, that has not prevented Jews to experienced (sic) terrible things throughout history and in many different places of the world. God watching over the Jews is clearly not helping them.”

Our reply was as follows:

“Yours is a faulty old argument even academic atheists do not use anymore because it is a logical fallacy. First, when you admit to people experiencing terrible things, as the Jews, you acknowledge objective moral evil. Otherwise, you cannot call what happened to the Jews (and Christians and anyone else who disagreed with Hitler) terrible. And if you acknowledge moral evil, you have to admit to objective moral good. That means morality (good and evil) are external to human judgment. That is, you set up a standard concerning how things ought to be and ought not to be and that this applies to all humanity, that is, a standard of goodness and corruption due to the absence of goodness, by which you admit to as evil.

God is the intelligent Designer of the universe, and His good character provides a moral standard or moral context to discern evil (Paul Copan, “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless”). God is the source of all goodness. God created humanity. Humanity decided not to follow God but turned to objective evil from objective good. Therefore, humanity is the source of evil. Now if humanity is the source of evil, why are you transferring evil deeds from humanity to God? By doing so, you reveal your own corrupt reasoning and refuse to accept the goodness that comes from God. Therefore, you are just like Hitler and even worse by projecting on to God, who is higher than Hitler, evil that exists in humanity. Therefore, you stand guilty of worse atrocities than Hitler. It is false to assume that God cannot stop all evil.

Let’s bring it back to you. Did you ever think that God wanted to teach you a lesson about your own evil and false judgments about Him and others? Yes, you too stand guilty of doing evil to God and others. By allowing you to engage in evil thoughts and actions and suffering their consequences, He is showing you the true nature of evil so that you will turn from it to Him and not be harmed to the point of death.”

The source of evil is one of the most pernicious allegations against the Christian faith.  Sometimes, Christians do not have an answer for those who accuse God of perpetrating evil, the inability to stop it, or being evil Himself.  This argument simply comes back to the accusers.  They fail to realize that when they admit to evil in the world, they establish an objective standard for identifying certain actions as evil.  In doing this, they then have to admit that objective good also exists as a basis for the standard for evil.  How can one identify evil without some standard?

They also fail to realize humanity’s own rebellion against God, thereby entering into corruption.  Many point their fingers at God and others and ignore themselves as the perpetrators of evil deeds.  This is faulty thinking, for in admitting others as evil, they must themselves look into the objective moral mirror and judge themselves.  The Apostle Paul makes this same argument when writing,

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-3)

Paul establishes two truths about humanity and evil.  First, when people judge others, they admit to objective morality.  In doing so, they also judge themselves for the same thing of which they judge others.  By admitting to objective morality, they also admit to objective truth.

Second, evil is not greater than God, and God could stop evil if He wanted.  However, he has a greater purpose for it.  This greater purpose is called the “richness of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.”  He also explains this higher purpose: the goodness of God leads to repentance.  Since the standard for objective evil (wrongdoing, disasters, suffering) is objective goodness found in God, God uses goodness to bring people to recognize their moral corruption so that they will turn from its destructive effects to Him and be saved from destruction.  Such an action on God’s part magnifies His goodness.  God conquers moral corruption one person at a time and will eventually bring it to a halt.  God showed that He had the power over moral corruption by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the world and conquering evil through His perfection and death through the resurrection.

Humanity’s Thinking: God Is Like Us

“You thought that I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you” (Psalm 50:21)

The psalmist shows that God breaks through the natural world from His domain and does not fail to leave us without knowledge of Him.  Since He created men and women in His image, God implanted knowledge of Him in them and revealed to them how they should live.  When our faulty thinking rises to Him, He takes it into account and it calls down His rebuke.  He is not like those among humanity who give a pass to sin and overlook wrongdoing.  Judgments in our court system is full of inconsistencies and laxities. We think nothing of watching violence on television or at the movies.  They decrease our sensitivities to wrongdoing.

The judgment of humanity is that fairness and judgments are what we want them to be.  Then we form God in the image of our judgments.  We fail to understand and perceive the faultiness of our thinking until its repercussions show up in our behavior and actions.  Troubles abound as we experience the results of our faulty thinking and evil ways.  Then we ask, “Why do bad things happen to “good” people?”  We fail to understand our faulty logic, because our waywardness has encompassed our entire being, and we no longer see ourselves the way God sees us – in need of restoration and reconciliation back to Him so we can see ourselves from His perspective.  God calls people who have wandered from Him and sought their own ways, calling them “wicked” (Psalm 50:16).  He pronounces judgment on them because of their wickedness:

“But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, Or take My covenant in your mouth, Seeing you hate instruction And cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, And have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:16-20).

The psalmist’s statement is not only true for his age but also true for all ages.  The psalmist stated then,

“You thought that I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50:21).

Today, contemporary men and women substitute the above statement with the following (and so many more):

“A loving God would not punish people.”

“God accepts everyone.”

“Who is your God to judge me?”

“Live and let live.”

“It is OK to do [fill in the blank] as long as it does not hurt anyone else.”

“My truth is just as good as your truth.”

All of the above give us a way out and an excuse for anything we believe is not bad.  We call good evil and evil good and claim God holds the same perspective.  We claim, “There is nothing wrong with doing [fill in the blank].”

The only way we can overcome faulty thinking is through embracing how God created us – in His image and turning around and affirming through faith God’s design for our lives, a design patterned after His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The psalmist says much the same thing in his conclusion:

“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).

Offering praise to God is an act of faith.  It acknowledges that what God declares is right and truthful and that He alone establishes how we order our lives.  That ordered way is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The results is salvation or life with Him for all eternity.  This salvation is real freedom from faulty thinking and waywardness into evil.

God the Creator or God the Created?

“You thought that I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50:21).

The psalmist identifies the greatest sin of humanity – idolatry.  Idolatry is turning God the Creator into God the created.  It is men and women creating God in the image of humanity – limited in all ways, angry, arrogant, impatient, jealous, and so on.  Estrangement from God over time due to rebellion from Him lends to people viewing the created order as somehow resembling the image of God.  The psalmist claims that this estrangement begins in the mind with disordered thoughts.  It is natural for us to think this way in our rebellion from God.  In fact, the greater the distance humanity is from God, the more individuals shake off the truth of God and form Him into the image of the creature.  Idolatry has no bounds in its creativity.  It takes that which exist in the created order and converts it into a god.  In doing so, certain consequences occur.

Love turns into hatred, and embracing God becomes rejection. Raising up other gods demonstrates hatred for God’s instruction, especially the first of the 10 Commandments,

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

This instruction is not simply something in writing but the instruction of humanity’s design – created in the image of God.  If men and women are created in God’s image, then we bear the image of the one and only true God.  No other gods exist, for they are fictions risen from the minds of individuals.  Since God is righteous (50:6), His imprint of righteousness is on everyone.  It is an objective imprint that God stamps as good because it is the essence of His being and character; that is, He is internally consistent and faithful with all He is.  God is good and love and righteousness and truth.  Therefore, there is an objective good and rightness, and it resides in God.

Just as we create gods from that which exists in the created order, we think we can create our own good and rightness and make it our own truth.  When each person does this, goodness and rightness multiply by as many people that exist, and each person does what it right in one’s own eyes.  We develop our own “truth” after we have rejected God and the truth that He is.  We view ourselves righteous in our own eyes and claim, “Your truth may not be the same as my truth” and live in that fantasy world.  This is one of the major consequences of rejecting God’s instruction.  We take a path contrary to the way God created us – His design for our lives.  The world is a sad commentary of everyone doing what is right in one’s eyes.  Paul the Apostle gives a list of consequences that results from this action:

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies †among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Romans 1:22-29).

The above is a vicious cycle of destruction, a destruction arising from a lie and rejection of the one true God.

However, the psalmist claims another way,

“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).

Praising God turns negatives and the cycle of destruction into life – eternal life.  Praise accepts God and His way for us.  It returns the good and brings order back to us.  God restores that good within us by faith in Him in recognizing Him as both God the Creator and Redeemer and rejects a god created in the image of a replica that exist in our minds.

Worldview and Moral Philosophy: The Widespread and All-encompassing Nature of Conflict, Part II

In the previous article Action Faith Books Press presented a challenge to the topic on http://www.linkedin.com entitled, “The moral guidelines that could change our moral codes” (Source: http://linkd.in/16U1CCF).  In this article, the author, Denis Pageau, proposed what he considered as useful guidelines comprised of a “series of questions to make us think and find answers that can then be used as guidelines to help us evaluate if an action is “good” or “bad”.  He then presented these guidelines:

“Would this action or practice
– facilitates or impede my/our development?
– facilitates or impede the development of our fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede my/our interrelations with my/our families and my/our friends?
– facilitates or impede my/our interactions with my/our colleagues and fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede the functioning of my/our governments?
– creates or maintain an environment where we are free to develop?”

In this article, we will consider Pageau’s premises and conclusions (syllogisms) that make up his argument and how they are faulty and fail.

His first argument can be broken down in the following syllogism:

1. There are problems with moral codes.
2. One main problem with moral codes is that “they do not really make us think.”
3. The conclusion is in the form of two questions: “if these moral codes could make us think before we make a moral decision, that it would help us prevent, solve or manage the different social tensions, frictions and conflicts that naturally arise because we are social beings? Would it help us live in a better world?”

Since the questions are both rhetorical and for the reader, because he prefaces his questions with “Do you agree…?” Then he continues after the questions that his organization “Citizens and Societies proposes such an approach.”

If we can show the premises false, then the conclusion fails. The first premise assumes problems with moral codes without empirical evidence to support his point. It is a hasty generalization logical fallacy. The second premise that moral codes do not really make us think can also be proven faulty as another hasty generalization that defies reality. All humans think about their actions before they act, which is a fact that makes this premise fail. It does not matter if an individual engages a logical argument prior to making a moral decision, that person still thinks and cannot help doing so prior to acting.  Such thinking considers choices of right and wrong before making the choice.  No one is unthinking.  When we refer to someone as not thinking or unthinking, we do so metaphorically, but we do not cease thinking.  Since both premises fail, so also does the conclusion. Therefore, the entire approach that follows is based on a faulty syllogism.

There is agreement in part with Pageau’s conclusion: we as humans are naturally inclined to “social tensions, frictions and conflicts.”  That all humanity is inclined to badness or evil is another way of expressing what Pageau concludes. If we naturally incline to such tendencies, then the problem of morality (or immorality) is within us rather than something external, such as a moral code.  No moral code can compel morality or correct any inclination toward conflict. A moral code is not a living entity with a personality to force morality on individuals.  The beginning of a solution is recognizing our natural tendency and its cause. From that point we can determine a solution.

If the source of the problems of social tensions, violations, and conflicts reside within individuals, then any moral code would simply aggravate the internal turmoil of social conflicts: arguments, interpersonal battles, lying, cheating, wars, hatred, prejudice, and many other related attitudes and behaviors.  The Apostle Paul say as much in his letter to the Romans,

“For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death…What shall we say then? Is the law [moral code] sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:5, 7-9).

The moral code of which Paul spoke was that which God gave to Israel in the Torah.  He claimed that nothing was wrong with that moral code, because it came from God.  Then why did Paul say that it aroused all kinds of immoral [sinful] passions within him?  It simply revealed what actually existed within individuals and described its intensity when the moral code confronted the moral corruption existing within us.  He not only brushes aside that the problem of conflict is with any moral code but also with anything else external to us, such as elements in our environment.  The problem is within individuals and not in the moral code.

If then the problem of conflict resides in us and not in the moral code, how then do we solve the problem of the tendency of human nature toward conflict and friction with others?  How do we solve the problems of prejudice, corruption, and wars?  We can deny that they have any association with morality.  That denial only wishes away conflict and does not make it disappear.  Few if any subscribe to this conclusion.  We can accept that people are sufficiently rational to sit down with one another and negotiate over the issues of interpersonal and societal conflicts.  However, history is replete with people negotiating without success in the long term.  Reason is not sufficient in turning away conflicts that arise in relationships and resolving social issues like racism, greed, envy, hatred, and related attitudes and actions that stir up interpersonal and international conflicts.  People continue to violate treaties and covenants.  Heated disagreements continue.  People continue to lie, steal, cheat, and murder.  Courts are filled with people who suffer from personal injuries and wrongful actions.  Crime fills our prisons.  People bring lawsuits against others for gaining fairness over violations of rights.

We can rename wrongdoings, such as referring to them as not accepting responsibility.  However, people still accuse others of human rights violations and racism and cry out about hate crimes.  Most point the finger at others over some offense by word or deed.  We can also minimize the seriousness of certain conflicts, but such minimization is a form of wishing them away while they swamp us like a tidal wave.

Does evolution offer the reason for interpersonal conflicts and strife between individuals and nations?  Did conflict or evil evolve along with us so that we are prone to destructive behaviors.  If so, how have we lasted?  Why have we not destroyed ourselves by now?  Did we somehow during the evolved process recognize that conflicts were not to our benefit, leading us to offer resolutions through negotiations of treaties and covenants?  How then does evolution explain how good can arise from the tendency toward evil?  Does the incentive toward survival explain it?  Murders still occur while dictators throughout history commit genocide.  Regulations have increased to control whole populations and for steering people toward the good.  A large number of regulations have arisen to check the supposed evil of leaders in large organizations in what some hold as suppression of the helpless worker.  Have they worked?  They have only led to oppressive regimes and top-heavy corruption.  What then is the explanation that good arises from the tendency toward conflict and destruction?

The solution to all of the different conflicts and violations cited above and a reply must be greater than their sum.  What is greater than a giant multitude of individual and societal conflicts?  If history reveals individuals continually breaking their word and failing to keep promises and if nations violate treaties, what can bring these actions to a halt?  Will Pageau’s question sessions have an affect?  Will people be willing to accept such “guidelines” as Pageau suggests given their propensity toward conflict?  Does the reality of human history show that people attempt to optimize good over evil?

The answer to human misery resulting from the continuation and intensity of conflict between and among individuals, communities, organizations, and nations is not in the environment or in other external sources.  Solving environmental issues fails to mitigate conflict.  Transfer of wealth does nothing to reduce poverty.  Individuals have tried and failed to bring about harmony and peace numerous times in world history without avail.  Regardless of how we as humans attempt to manage this condition, it always surfaces like a cancer in turmoil and greater conflict.  In the next several articles, we will address an answer that most aligns with reality concerning human nature and the nature of conflict or wrongdoing.  This article sought to show that the problem is far greater than Pageau and others throughout history have shown in minimizing or discounting conflict as less than what it is.  The next two articles will examine the worldview and ethical position of Pageau’s guidelines and how this ethic and worldview fail to offer an adequate solution.  They will show their root in previous ethical positions and how those positions fail to address the problem of the increasing conflict resulting in turmoil and destruction of property and human life.

Why Worldview Makes A Difference for Morality and Philosophy for Life

night moonRecently, I engaged in a discussion on the http://www.linkedin.com network website.  The discussion was “The Moral Guidelines that Could Change Our Moral Codes” (http://linkd.in/1vp7DDa).  The author suggested that not all moral codes make us think.  He then proposed a question answer scenario that would facilitate our thinking.  In doing so, he posed a number of questions prior to acting or making a moral decision:

“Would this action or practice
– facilitates or impede my/our development?
– facilitates or impede the development of our fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede my/our interrelations with my/our families and my/our friends?
– facilitates or impede my/our interactions with my/our colleagues and fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede the functioning of my/our governments?
– creates or maintain an environment where we are free to develop?” (, “The moral guidelines that could change our moral codes.”

In a comment to a series of other replies, particularly focused on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, one gentleman posed a suggestion: “When we do for others we do for ourselves for it creates our reality…the same is true when we only focus on self/fear.”

He came very near what Jesus claimed by paraphrasing what He actually said.  The difference between this gentleman’s suggestion and what Jesus claimed is that Jesus claimed that such a statement revealed a singular and truthful worldview and not the creation of “our reality.”  I went on to say,

“One thing missing in this discussion because this one thing rises above and encompasses the details of what has been said: worldview. Rand’s philosophy rises from her worldview.  [Name withheld], the initial statement you made (a paraphrase) in your recent post rises from a specific worldview: “When we do for others, we do for ourselves.”

Jesus actually claimed that statement:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:7-12).

He embeds that statement in His worldview, that is God is above all. Notice at the beginning of the cited quote, Jesus says, “Ask…seek…knock.” Ask…seek…knock from whom? GOD. Then He continues by describing the nature of humanity. He said that although people are inclined to evil, they know enough to do good for their families. Then Jesus notes that God is greater, because He is Father of all. Afterwards comes the quote in question: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12). That is, those who seek God and His worldview will have this mindset, because it comes from God, and all humanity is created in His image.

This worldview claims, then, all have His imprint within and know value and duty. Value recognizes the worth of all God created and the order He established. Duty recognizes moral obligation. That is, everyone knows when they do right or wrong. Treatment of others and allegiance to God show both. We do good to and for others because we see them as having great value. Doing evil toward another or even toward ourselves devalues others and ourselves. Doing evil devalues oneself. Although we are naturally inclined to evil, as shown by our need for any moral code at all, we recognize good and do good because we are created in the image of God. Jesus claimed that our commitment to God enables us to live according to the image in which He created us, that is, according to Him.

Worldview makes a huge difference in terms of how we view moral codes. If we reject God as the giver of morality, we will attempt to create our own. When everyone does this, conflict arises, and morality becomes relative to one’s own worldview. There will be no end of conflict, tension, and wars in the world as each person, group, or society competes for the power to exert its worldview. Power plays happen in all organizations. Recognizing and committing ourselves to the source of our existence goes toward reducing such conflict and living in love toward one another. The last phrase Jesus said acknowledges this. He referred to the claim of doing to others as you would have them do to you as arising from the Law and Prophets. Jesus made only one other claim that did so, and that claim was loving one another. He said doing this fulfilled the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). God’s worldview preempts all other worldviews and moral codes. It is universal while any human created worldview and corresponding moral code is limited because it is finite.

If then a moral code assumes that all are inclined toward evil and all need correction, as Denis’ questions suggest, then the solution is a worldview and corresponding moral code that is sufficiently universal to apply to the universality of the inclination toward evil. That worldview is that which Jesus claimed.”

Worldview matters, because it does indeed reflect truth and that truth reality.  The significance of the worldview of Jesus is that His worldview is the only one that works, because God alone changes people from the inclination toward evil to an inclination toward right living through imparting to them a new life altogether.  The Apostle Paul wrote,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Through faith we commit ourselves to the worldview of Jesus and in doing so to the greatest commandment of the Law – to love one another.  This worldview is reality because it reflects the truth of God.  Worldview matters for morality and philosophy of life.

Into Your Hands

Just before Jesus expended His last breath, He cried to His Father,Hope

Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Those nearby who were well acquainted with the Scriptures, especially the Psalms would have recognized that He recited Psalm 31:5.  He had the word of God on His lips with His final breath.  It sustained Him throughout His life.  In one incident when He encountered Satan, Satan said to Jesus,

If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3).

Jesus replied from Torah,

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (4:4).

Satan continued to try trip him by also quoting Scripture back to Jesus out of context.  However, Jesus knew the Scriptures well and would not be fooled by Satan’s trickery.  Jesus frequently used Scriptures in countering the arguments of the Pharisees and Sadducees and giving a defense for His Father and His decrees and declarations.  He taught the truth of the Scriptures to His disciples so they would gain strength from them in time of need and be able to offer a defense for the truth in the life of Jesus.  The Scriptures became Jesus’ sustenance in life and in death.

His example teaches us that the Scriptures are our authority and their content are lamp and life.  Relying on the Scriptures is relying on God.  Both God and His word are the content and strength of our lives.  The particular passage from Psalm 31:5 illustrates this assurance.  King David never knew that the Messiah, the Son of God, his offspring would quote from his psalm.  He never knew the vitality of his psalm for all subsequent generations.  He never realized that this truth would give assurance to so many.  Although he wrote it initially for himself, we recognize that he also intended it to be for the entire congregation of God.  The heading informs us of his purpose,

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.”

He saw commitment to God his lifelong vision and allegiance, even in death, because he recognized God was his redeemer (Psalm 31:5).  He gives a litany of distresses and troubles he encountered throughout his life and concludes,

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand” (31:14-15).

At the conclusion of his psalm, David turns to his audience, the congregation for whom he intended it and announces,

Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints! For the LORD preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person. Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.”

He wants to assure them that commitment to God meant safety, because those whom God considers “saints” or set-aside ones are safe in His hands.  They can be courageous and hopeful, knowing that the strength and power to endure hardship comes from God.  God holds His saints tightly in His hand.  Jesus, our Savior set the example on the cross when He cried to His Father,

Into Your hands I commit My spirit” Luke 23:46.

God is our Father, also, and we like Jesus can trust Him to care for us.

Beauty of Holiness

Did you know that holiness has beauty?  The psalmist declares,

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

As we look around our world, we take in the beauty of nature.  The Sequoia sempervirens tower above all other trees demonstrating their strength and longevity.  The oceans cleanse our senses as we take in their freshness and powerful sounds.  The heaven gives off its strong morning light and mellow evening one as both orbs travel consistently across the sky in their unbroken routine.  We take assurance that as the sun sets one day, it will inevitably rise the next and give its warmth and brightness for energizing and enlivening our work and play.

However, the psalmist bypasses the earthly pleasures of creation and takes us to genuine worship apart from the wonders of creation.  He calls for worship “in the beauty of holiness.”  Whoever has ever described something like holiness as beautiful?  It has no physical dimensions.  It has no real fragrance nor can we hear musical notes flowing from it like that of a Stradivarius violin in the hands of a virtuoso musician.  It has no voice that sings as Joan Sutherland or Luciano Pavarotti.  It has no canvas that portrays the artistic splendor of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  The beauty of holiness, according to the psalmist, surpasses these wonderful expressions of humanity, as beautiful as they are.

What makes holiness beautiful?  Two things.  First, the LORD Himself makes holiness beautiful.  Holiness means to set apart for the purpose for which it was created.  When a thing is set apart and expresses naturally what God intended, it is holy.  The earth and all its splendor in this sense takes on a sense of holiness, for it expresses God’s intended purpose.  It expresses the life and greatness God intended.  When God created it all, He declared that is was good.

We sometimes take that goodness for granted, and plow through the day under stress and pressure with our routines and ignore God’s wonderful intentions in the created order.  As we do so, we not only brush aside God’s intentions in creation that praise Him, but we ignore God’s intentions in our worship of Him.  Our action items interfere and bog us down with worry and anxieties.  Meeting deadlines and the distractions of the mundane takes us away from the extraordinary, that is, God’s intentions for our lives – the beauty of holiness.  Temptations enter the scene and lead us away from His purpose.  Things get ugly: broken relationships, bickering, distrust, arguments, tension, isolationism, factions, and related actions and attitudes.

Second, worshiping God in the “beauty of holiness” returns us God’s intended purpose.  Such worship turns the ugly things of life into something more beautiful than the surroundings of the natural world.  Peace with God is a beautiful position.  Assurance of His love and living in it is a beautiful attitude.  Jesus informed us of the greatest commandment in the law:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Love of God expresses holiness, because in doing so, this love sets us apart from the way the world loves: conditional and with self in mind.  Loving from the heart, soul, and mind encompasses the entire being – nothing left out.  This is holiness, and it is beautiful to God.  Love expresses worship.

The Grace of Soul Restoration

Shepherd with SheepThe Twenty-Third Psalm is timeless.  Pastors continue to read it at funerals and related events.  It brings comfort to those who weep and assurance for those encountering troubles and difficulties.  At times, those who hear it are caught up in an emotional turmoil and some of the deeper truths rush past.  Often application arises first before the meaning of a phrase or word, and some of the richness of the passage or a phrase within it breezes by as an after thought.  For this reason, in spite of the troubles or anxieties that come to mind when we approach a passage as Psalm 23, focusing on particular phrases and words compel a deeper dive into what the author may be communicating.  One important principle for guiding such a reading is realizing that works as Psalm 23 are inspired by God, and the Holy Spirit uses His word as teaching moments about eternal truths.

Upon reading it a few days ago, my eyes stopped at one phrase,

“He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3).

That is a curious phrase.  Restore suggests that something may have been taken away or became worn down and needed repair.  That thought prompted me to seek a Hebrew lexicon to determine how those who spoke the original language treated the word.  I was surprised to discover that the word “restore” has multiple meanings in the original language, one of which is bring back from waywardness.  The applicable truth is quite simple.  When God’s people go astray, He brings them back.  The Scriptures throughout affirms this truth.  Israel constantly turned away from God, but He promised to return them.  The Gospels portray Jesus as the Good Shepherd who keep His sheep and goes after the one that strays (Matthew 18:12-13).  In the same way, the portrayal of God as the Shepherd illustrates this same truth.

The Bible gives testimony that humanity always goes astray.  Even believers in Christ do so.  It is within the nature of men and women to wander off from God.  Temptation easily captures the mind and heart and takes it down a wayward road.  History from the beginning of time illustrates people following their own path.  Frank Sinatra used to bellow out, “I’ll do it my way.”  Our way is the most traveled path.  It is easier and captivates our desires while attempting to fulfill us with pleasures.

The psalmist, David, had a very different perspective.  He recognized that waywardness for the sheep meant death and destruction.  He knew that his own life crossed many destructive and tragic crossroads.  When he encountered these crossroads and encountered tragedy, he later recognized the destructive nature of his actions.  God restored him.

If we review the context of Psalm 23, that type of restoration seems to come to light.  The next phrase gives the aftermath of restoration,

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (23:5)

Righteousness suggests a contrast that the sheep have gone the wrong way, and the shepherd took his rod and staff and  restored them to the right path (23:4).  These implements give comfort, because they lead back to familiarity.  The wrong path was a frightful unfamiliar ground full of dangers.  The rod is a means of discipline for showing the right way.

The way of the shepherd is “goodness and mercy,” whereas the way away from the familiar path is evil and harshness.  The shepherd is good and merciful.  This means that he does not wait for the sheep to return to him.  They never will once they are lost in an unfamiliar pasture full of rocks and stubble.  He goes after them and restores them to the right pasture, the pasture full of nutrition for the soul (23:5).  He guarantees the believer’s safety in this life and the next.  Such safety surfaces from God’s grace of soul restoration.

Reminders of the Cross

 Sunday morning, the minister talked about Jesus sharing about His second coming to His disciples from John 14-16.  A thought surfaced – “I have heard this before many times.”  Pride.  No sooner does the proclamation of the gospel happen that a temptation arises to attempt to blunt the message.  Temptations do not come from God.  Rather they come from the source of darkness and try to block our listening so we do not hear and the Spirit does not have material to work in our hearts.  Such subtle deception – these temptations.

Yes, I have heard that message from that passage many times before, but the moment the cross gets stale and old is the moment it fades from memory.  This results in losing sight of the love of God.  The slippery slope begins from that point first toward questioning God.  This questioning, while entertaining what we consider as the staleness of the message of the gospel, leads to another rung downward.  Doubt creeps in.  This questioning and doubt do not arrive without a nudge.  Temptation gives them that nudge.  Unless we encounter that temptation, it could blossom into skepticism and subsequent unbelief.  Giving into temptation takes a person a step away from God.  That first step encounters more temptations.  If we succumb to them, the steps away from God become more rapid until we run full speed into unbelief.

I have read many stories lately about former pastors, elders, and leaders in the church “deconverting” and becoming atheists.  One atheist, John Loftus, was a pastor for 14 years, graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and studied under Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  He has now written six books against the Christian faith.  Among them are: “Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity,” “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails,” and “The End of Christianity.”  He even taught apologetics.  He gave three reasons for deconverting: adultery, the failure of other Christians when he asked for help, and atheists came up beside him and converted him.  Two of them had nothing to do with atheism and its merits.  Even the other one failed to give merits for atheism.  He boasts in his failures.  This is a sad and tragic commentary.  Temptations killed whatever faith he claimed and baptized him in pride and boasting.  He apostatized.  It is tragic that fellow believers shoot their own wounded, and we must take care to surround a wounded sheep.  But do we not have responsibility to come to Christ with our problems (Matthew 11:28)?  Loftus did not, and he rejected faith in Christ and took the ultimate step toward apostasy.  That occurred frequently in the early church from what we learn from John,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).

I am constantly reminded of what Peter writes, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12).  Though you know.  Hmm.  Fading thoughts without reminders lead to forgetfulness and cold hearts.  I do not want temptations to get in the way of remembering the cross.  I need to check my temperature regularly to insure that I never get cool toward Christ and His cross.  Temptations are sneaky and devious.  They break the temperature gauge and whisper that it is warm outside.

EVERYTHING NEW FOR 2015

The vast number of us enter 2015 with the greeting, “Happy New Year!”

As we look out our windows, many of us see a brisk cold morning, because 80% of the United States experiences a freeze.  However, that does not stop us from enjoying a fresh start in a new year.  As we view the landscape of the new year and review the old road behind us with all of its experiences and the wisdom it left us, we can plant our feet on the starting line of the new and give thought to fresh expectations and goals.  What guides them?

The Bible offers us some tips on all things new for paving our journey to which we can gain freshness and hope in things to come.  Many of the passages below give encouragement, strengthen our faith, and provide confidence of God’s sovereignty and providence from which we can draw for engaging the days to come be they good or difficult.

All references are from the New King James Version.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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“Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy” (Psalm 33:3).

“He has put a new song in my mouth– Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

“I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You” (Psalm 144:9).

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).

“Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26-29).

“And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).

“…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).

“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

“Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning” (1 John 2:7).

“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).

“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name” (Revelation 3:12).

“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:3).

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).

“Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:5).

Surprised by Grace: Anna

Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary take Him to the Temple according to the Law of Moses.  They meet with Simeon and receive his blessing and prophesy.  Afterwards, they encounter an old woman who virtually made the Temple her home.  Her name was Anna.  This poem is dedicated to her and attempts to capture her deepest desires and yearnings for Moshiach (Messiah).

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38, NKJV)

I am an old woman

Drawn, gaunt, waiting for the Dawn[1]

Praying evening and morning for Moshiach (Messiah)

Oh, Bethlehem, city of David

His star hovers above you

Patiently giving its eternal light to the End of Days[2]

Shining and making way for the Deliverer of His people

As the prophet cries in the wilderness, so my cries rise to Him

To come oh come Emmanuel.

I am an old woman

Bent, lowly, waiting for the Dawn

Fasting and praying evening and morning

Till Shabbat[3] arrives for His people at the End of Days

When Moshiach shall appear and save His people from their enemies

The final enemy who swallows dust

Moshiach shall crush his head –

Conquered and defeated forever –

The death of death in the death of Moshiach[4]

Who lives and shall return for His people

As the prophet spoke:

“Only what the LORD speaks can I speak.”[5]

The Ancient of Days has spoken so shall I prophesy also, an old woman

Full of days waiting to be gathered with my people

Waiting for Moshiach

His kingdom come

His will be done

Heaven and earth singing His name:

Moshiach, Moshiach

Bearing gifts to celebrate His coming –

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel

The one who perceives the thoughts of the Most High

The Star of Jacob who shines everlasting light[6]

The light of the world[7]Menorah

The darkness cannot comprehend[8]

Hiding as it does cringing in terror when His Star arises

And gives light to everyone coming into the world[9]

As the evening makes way for the Dawn and Shalom comes to His people.

His kingdom comes.

I am an old woman

Eighty-four years a virgin

Betrothed to One

Waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive in His glorious chariot – my oil ready and lamp trimmed –

As it touches the earth and makes all things new[10]

The New Jerusalem, Shabbat Shalom –

The Bridegroom – superior to Melchizedek

The king of the Great City of God.

The Bridegroom will claim His inheritance

With all of His people in final Shalom –

The Ruler who comes out of Jacob

Moshiach, Moshiach.

He tarries for but a moment

Until the dispensation of the fullness of times[11]

A thousand years to us in our yearnings and desires

A twinkling of an eye to Him until the guarantee of our inheritance.[12]

I am an old woman.

I serve my Moshiach

Fasting and praying night and day in the Temple of Moshiach

For His people and for His return to take His people to be with Him –

In the New Jerusalem, the City of the Almighty –

The El Shaddai of our Father Abraham

His people’s Shield and Deliverer.

I am an old woman.

I go now to render service to Moshiach

Fasting and praying evening and morning

Until He comes to take me to my new home.

But wait! Who comes up the steps?

Whose feet make their way through the Temple doors?

I lift my lamp to cast away the shadows.

A woman sings softly to her babe as she cradles Him gently in her arms

And walks quietly through the Temple

With her husband, thoughtful, righteous, beside her

Joyful smiles spread on their faces as the light masters the shadows

And caresses the baby’s face, and the Light shines in the darkness

The Light of the World!

It is He! Moshiach! Moshiach!

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD,

For He is good! For His mercy endures forever!”[13]

He has fulfilled His promise:

The Redemption of Jerusalem![14]

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[1] Luke 1:78

[2] Numbers 24:14

[3] Sabbath rest

[4] This phrase refers to the title of the Puritan writer John Owen’s treatise “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” in which Owen explains the atonement of Christ.

[5] Numbers 24:13

[6] Numbers 24:16

[7] John 8:12

[8] John 1:5

[9] John 1:9

[10] Revelation 21:5

[11] Ephesians 1:10

[12] Ephesians 1:14

[13] Psalm 118:29

[14] Matthew 2:38

Copyright (c) 2014 Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.

Surprised by Grace: Simeon

The prophets of Israel longed to know about which they spoke. Peter wrote of them,

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Suffering played a key role in the early church, and Peter wrote to these suffering Christians to encourage them so they would not lose heart. He used the role of suffering to illustrate that just as Christ suffered, so also must they in a world which sin turned upside down. We gather from what Peter wrote a deep sense of longing arising from both the prophets and angels of God for the coming of Messiah and the redemption He brings. However, God gave the prophets a limited message beyond which they could not speak or even know. God also informed the angels that even they could comprehend only so much.

God alone laid out His plan in perfect order down the corridor of time, and He alone would fulfill the promise of grace made in ages past concerning the ultimate grace He would bestow on humanity through Messiah. God used suffering to prepare the world for this Messiah event. He did so that people would not look to themselves or their resources for deliverance but to Him, the Mighty God, Deliverer, and Holy One of Israel.

The time finally arrived. Anticipation rose to its highest peak. God now commanded His angels to shout gladness and joy from the heavens, their desire fulfilled. A star announced the Consolation of Israel and the Gentiles. Magi arrived at the house in which the baby slept and bestowed gifts at the feet of this newborn (Matthew 2:11). They looked upon the grace of God with awe.

There is more. Grace awaited an old man who longed for Messiah. He knew he would not die or face Nunc demittis[1] or “Now you dismiss,”

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

Like the prophets of old and the angels, Simeon simply longed for Messiah. He knew God would fulfill His promise. But when? Signs pointed to a future time, but no one knew exactly not even the prophets. He lived to serve God. The Scriptures describe him as “just and devout,” or righteous and God-fearing. Luke emphasizes that he communed with the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit was his constant guide and companion. While Simeon walked with and in the Spirit, the coming of Messiah remained undisclosed.

One day, the Holy Spirit sent him to the Temple. To Simeon, this prompting must have been simply a normal one. His communion with the Spirit was a common occurrence from what the Scriptures suggest. Off he went down the dusty street, perhaps praying as he walked with the tentative gait his age conveyed on him. He goes about his worship, a custom he relished. He hears footsteps echoing down the Temple corridor. These were not the normal footsteps of routine visitors making their way in to offer worship.

His half-closed eyes widened. Is it…? Can it be? He straightens himself up as much as an old man could and makes his way to his feet from his knees. His anticipation heightens as he begins to tremble. He squints and sees two shadows coming closer and closer. A couple enters the light of the Menorah candles on the altar. The woman carries a baby in her arms. Yes! Yes! Surprised by grace. Messiah! He stretches out his arms with a soft smile and tears streaming from his eyes. The woman comes closer and hands him the baby as Simeon sighs with joy. He speaks,

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

He pauses, turns to the woman, and continues,

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35, NKJV).

He performs his final service for his God. He declares Messiah and His mission. He prophesies the agony and pain His mother will experience. He tells of the promise fulfilled for redeeming the lost. He calls for God to give his Nunc demittis (“Now you are dismissing”) so he can rejoice with the angels in heaven. He passes the mantle to John to declare,

Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3).

[1] Latin for Simeon’s words after he saw Jesus and translates into English as Now you are dismissing or Allow me to depart. It is often sung as an evening canticle at Christmas.

Surprised by Grace: Mary

All of us know the story of Mary the mother of Jesus. The Scriptures speak highly of her and give us many details about her. She fearlessly stood with her Son before the cross as He died for our sins. She prayed in the upper room with the disciples and witnessed their choice of Matthias to replace Judas. She received the Holy Spirit when He came upon the disciples on Pentecost. The writers of the gospels relied on her as a resource to record the life of Jesus. Yes, she played a pivotal role in rearing Jesus in bringing Him up in the fear of God. Although He existed as God come in the flesh, “He learned obedience…” (Hebrews 5:8), we cannot deny Mary’s participation in teaching Him. Yet, while she gave birth and mothered Jesus, she acquiesced to His rule over her as her Savior and Lord.

Mary-JesusAs we enter into her story, we discover the surprises she received from God. The first of these surprises came about when an angel of the Lord appeared to her. This was no ordinary angel. Rather, God sent Gabriel the archangel, among the highest of God’s angels. Gabriel dwelled in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), in His royal court as His personal servant (Maxwell Davidson, “Angels” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). It took a special messenger with a special message for Mary because she would bear the Son of God. Gabriel declared to her,

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)
This declaration troubled Mary. That is, her emotions appeared to overwhelm her thoughts with intense perplexity and confusion rather than expressing joy as Gabriel encouraged her to experience. Favored? Blessed among women? What kind of message is this? God surprised her with grace. Gabriel continued in his greeting,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30)
Gabriel wanted Mary to know that what he said was not simply idiomatic or an ordinary greeting as we often express ourselves to others such as,
Bless you!
or,
Have a good day!
or again,
I wish you well!
Rather, Gabriel declares God’s grace twice to Mary, not with a frivolous phrase, but with meaning and the full weight of God’s promise. God embedded His guaranteed redemption in this grace. God gave Mary genuine and earth-shattering grace. In the same way that Noah found favor or grace in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), so also did Mary. The favor or grace toward both Noah and Mary was momentous and historic. It was redeeming grace. Just as God redeemed Noah and his family, He also set apart Mary to bear the Redeemer of humanity. This grace amounted to far more than wishing one well or a reaction of “Bless you.” This grace possessed eternal weight and results, because God’s word has repercussions for eternity. What could prepare Mary or us for such grace?
Grace does come in surprising ways, especially when unexpected. Mary had a difficult time handling this grace from God. It initially confused her to realize that the King of all existence and the redemption of sinful humanity would grow in her womb and receive birth from her. Rejoice? Finally, after Gabriel finished speaking, she said,
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
What an example for us toward whom God declares grace! God surprised Mary with grace. He also does that with everyone who belongs to Him. God’s grace is not a frivolous declaration from Him such as “Bless you, my Son.” When God blesses us with grace, He does so with purpose, power, and resoluteness.
When God appeared to Isaiah as he worshiped in the temple, Isaiah fell prostrate on the ground and shook as he cried,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)
The same trembling and fear came upon him as descended on Mary. He recognized the grace of God with great humility and received it in similar fashion. God’s grace causes such a response. It bends us to the earth and causes us to recognize our state – those in need of the Savior, for it comes with overwhelming mercy and love stunning in our encounter with it. How does grace bend us to recognize our state and simultaneously lift us up with mercy and love?  Forgiveness and complete acceptance.  Everyone who believes through the touch of the Holy Spirit, receives forgiveness and total acceptance before God the Father.  Grace surprises us and catches us off guard in a similar way that it did with Mary.
The group Hillsong presents this same surprise of grace in their lyrics:
And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you
From Hillsong, “I Stand in Awe of You”
Awe expresses surprise and wonder.  Christmas is a time that represents God’s surprising grace that lifts our face to His. Does God’s stunning grace captivate you?
HAVE A GRACE-FILLED CHRISTMAS

Surprised by Grace at Christmas

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:21

Have circumstances entered into your life that totally disrupted it?

Then consider the story of Jesus’ parents. Joseph discovers a disturbing fact that his fiancée is pregnant, and he is not the father. What was he to do? Normally betrothals brought in gifts and dowries. This one bestowed confusion and bewilderment. What was he to do? We receive a hint of his reaction. He wanted to put her away quietly so she and her family would not be embarrassed. Then he encounters an astonishing announcement. God surprises Joseph with grace.

This newborn will

“…save His people from their sins.”

Nothing in the biblical story prepares us for these words. They are sudden and abrupt. Isn’t it just like God to meet difficulty and tension with unexpected and abrupt words of grace?

Craziness often drowns out “comfort and joy” for us during Christmas. Sometimes we would rather say, “Bah, humbug!” Alienation, loneliness, loss of hope, and depression have their sway with many. Compulsion marks gift giving. The message the angel of the Lord announced spoke of a sinful world. Luke described the world as steeped in moral darkness (Luke 1:79). The fact is that all of us live in moral darkness in our separation from God. The Bible says death results from our sinful state. All of us stand on the same level of having sinned against God. What are we to do?

The good news is that in our moral confusion, anxieties, alienation, and fears God surprises us with grace. Faith in Jesus delivers us from hopelessness and fear. What are we to do? Trust our lives to Him! This is the Christmas message that caused the shepherds and wise men to rejoice. God surprises us with grace through Jesus and forgives us of all wrongdoing. Christmas and grace intersect in the manger. Surprise someone with grace this Christmas.

The Shepherd Comes at Christmas

Shepherds ponder their legacy –

to some a pitiful stain on history.

Shepherd staff

Unlike seeing the evening with anticipation of a promising morn

no contemplation of hope lies before them –

they grow accustom to the stench of sheep

as the flock lingers on them like uncleanness hanging from mortality

but they and the sheep are one as the Father and Word are one

forever an undivided community.

The shepherds care for them as their own,

and the sheep know the shepherd’s voice.

The sun slowly disappears below the hills

Casting a long shadow on the forsaken-like bitter wildernessnight moon

as the shepherds’ contemplate the barren ground –

their eyes surveying the land for enemies of the flock.

They know no sleep

Just snatching slumber

Curled in the threads of their subsistence

gnarly fingers wrapped tightly around their staff

eyes squinting watching for treachery traversing the shadows

silhouettes of maliciousness stalking prey – their innocent charges.

They lean on staffs with rods

ready to fend off these night visitors

wolves and roaring lions ready to devour the sheep.

Among the forgotten and oppressed

these pastoral overseers of the helpless

protectors from the ruthless

earn a pittance for their toil.

They live apart from other classes – nomadic – migrants of their era.

Darkness closes unsettlingly around them – anticipating the light in due time –

as it slithers silently into the deep darkness afraid of the Light.

Sporadic bleating from the flock breaks the calm

while in the distance a census of lights commands

flickers in Bethlehem like lamps from virgins anticipating the Bridegroom.

As the evening draws deeper, the night fires become fewer with three remaining lit overseeing Advent.

The shepherds gaze heavenward as one star seems unusually bright

leaving a mystified look on rough, drawn, and dried faces

like weary mystics troubled by three trees they pass on the horizon outside the city

as they follow the star on camels.Wise man

One shepherd stares up at a star growing in size

As its point kisses Bethlehem.

Suddenly angel voices fill the expanse above;

heaven’s symphony burst through the clouds

announcing that God touches humanity with grace and truth.

The Shepherd rejoices with His sheep

as He comes to meet them in their humanity.

Harold Sings a Christmas Solo

Harold waited with intense anticipation just inside the gate. His time finally arrived. The others in the orchestra were flying high with passionate excitement. All of them had finely tuned instruments and practiced intently every moment they could for this very special day. Harold was part of the choir, and he had the enviable position of singing the solo. He practiced and practiced. Every morning his voice rang out in perfect pitch in such a melodious manner that those in the orchestra would gasp with pleasurable surprise and awe. All of them loved Harold because of his voice, and they could not wait to hear him at this special event.Angel

Mike had delivered several messages beforehand about this momentous occasion. He was one of the best sales persons the organization had. The big boss personally trained Mike in delivering the perfect pitch. Mike had a persuasive personality that simply left some wanting more and others finding what he had to say detestable. He was tall with an impeccable posture and confident smile. He stirred up a love hate relationship with many in the community, but because of the confidence the boss had in him, he remained unfazed.

On a couple occasions, he received such opposition that it just drained him. However, he held his ground that no one should miss the biggest symphony ever. On one occasion, he stayed in a town for an exhausting three weeks, going from one house to another informing the citizens that they had to be prepared to come.

His partner, Gabe, had similar responsibilities. The boss sent him to make arrangements with various family members. His job was not without troubles. He almost broke up a wedding placing the bridegroom in doubt about wanting to get married. He gave an extreme case of laryngitis to another family member so that all he could do was write on a tablet for several months. Gabe didn’t seem to be as persuasive as Mike. That’s the reason the boss sent him to family members rather than to strangers.

Both Mike and Gabe accomplished their jobs. Now it was Harold’s turn. All the orchestra finally arrived, and they were all ready to exit the gate together. All of them were so giddy that they wanted to shout. The boss had to calm them down, because he wanted Harold to do all the shouting while they accompanied him with their instruments.

Then the boss gave the nod, and all of them rushed out of the gate. The horns rang out first, giving out a haunting melodious sound that caught the entire audience off guard. Next came the trumpets accompanied by the bass and snare drums as though an army was about ready to attack. The harp and violins then presented a calming affect that led into Harold’s solo. All of a sudden, the entire orchestra ceased playing all instruments and with the choir shouted, “Hark Harold the angel sings!”

Harold thenmanger carries the orchestra in the grand finale, “Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.”

Contemplating Christmas

Forest Snow

Campers with packs and tents

fade into the white-laden wilderness for several days stay

with unnoticed disturbances of crackling branches

falling from the snow’s weight

and distant rustling of night visitors wandering

among the firs and pines as

darkness makes the snow appear as soft coal

spread across the meandering landscape.

Silence soothes those settled warmly in their tents

listening to nature’s harmony – this peaceful wilderness:

a distant howl a calling owl branches movingWolf in snow

with the slight wind in tandem with the season

lulling these campers into a slumber.

The evening ambles like timeless moments

traversing tranquil minuscule motions of a world

seemingly stirring dismally in insignificant stages of time

(through which millions of living souls rush hurriedly to catch up with the earth’s rotation

lost in the meaninglessness of things

specks strewn on the earth like seeds spread on hard soil

falling and eventually dying and lost in memory

overcome by weeds and brevity)

traveling ever so slowly toward another day, one like no other.

They desire this rich wilderness – a divine garden –

this Christmas Eve night of nights silent in its advent

perhaps to glimpse a dazzling star

angel songs

another life.

This night hovers in expectation –

a spiritual moment –

brooding amid profound shadows

frozen in stillness and space

standing guard watching

until light shines through darkness

incomprehensible

inchoate

incarnate.

The fresh scents of sugar and ponderosa pines

rise heavenward like gifts of sweet smelling aromas

traveling on crisp and pure air

that leaves a slight refreshing chill –

like the first breath rising from the abyss

giving form to the formless

as the earth inhaled and the word gave birth.

It passes ethereally before these campers

serving comfort in solitude and solemnity

softly whispering to them

beyond the sense of sound

what the morning brings to pass.

Its cleanness transcends distress seeking

to distance them from heaven’s sacred moment

its purity brushing regenerate against their faces.

The quietness of evening lends escape

from the harshness of mundane existence of lost communities in the flurry of self-importance and urbanity

where the roar of hectic endurance and intolerance

tramples nativity for a toy or Petty Pursuit

and stains the vision of Christmas.

A deep sleep overtakes these campers

as dreams begin to dance within their hearts and heads –

anticipations and premonitions of Christmas morning’s freshness and renewal bringing possibilities of hope.

Lying beside a frozen lake beneath the firs and pines that stretch toward the house of God

their dreams still attend to movements of nature’s symphony soft and almost unnoticeable melodic notes like

a long drawn lull before a crescendo lets loose in celebration.

Sugar pines replace sugarplums –

almost supernatural in their bouquet.Icecicles

They have hours to go before they wake

hours to go before they wake.

Can such a wintry silent night guide the hope of a new day?

The baby in the manger insures it.

Copyright (c) 2014 Action Faith Books Press.  No part of this published work can be used or stored on any media or device without expressed written permission of Action Faith Books Press.

The Dones of Church

This morning I read an article from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed by Thom Schultz called “The Rise of the Dones.”

It highlighted that many leaders in the church are leaving for good.  Why? Schultz notes, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.
Schultz preceded the above remark with, “Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”
Interestingly enough, this interviewee did not seem like he wanted to play either unless that play centered around him.
I think when we contextualize the point of Schultz’s article, it boils down to what the churchmen said in Malachi’s time. Present congregationalists won’t admit to this, but the parallel is stunningly similar. Those leaders in Malachi’s time could also be saying, “I’ve heard it all. I have labored fruitlessly. I’m tired of being bashed by God. Been there, done that. God’s word is wearisome. So bye.”
Is it not a heart issue for the Dones also? Are they not really pointing their finger at God and saying, “What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance…?” The current crowd of the Dones may also be saying, “What profit is there in being a disciple and serving God in he church?” The cycle returns.
It seems that the issue always seems to find its way in the heart.  It is a sad commentary when people echo the churchmen in Malachi’s time,
“I left the church because I didn’t get anything out of it.  No recognition for my service.  No pat on the back or attaboy.  No since of control over programs.  It seems to boil down to, “What’s in it for me?”
Many want to attend the Church of Me and sit on the premises rather than stand on the promises (as Southern Baptists used to say).
One person replied,

Perhaps, it is a heart issue – but not the way you think.  It isn’t that it is useless to serve God – rather it is useless to continue to be part of a congregation where your role is to “plop pray and pay” and to provide hands (no brain necessary) for the leader’s vision…I understand why so many may be. … especially if their church changed under their feet leaving no opportunities.”

Hmm.  My reply is,

Malachi expressed that same sentiment about the “churchmen” in his day. “Ploppers” are not engaged in serving God. Of course, prayer is a gift. Samuel prayed for the people daily and even said, “God forbid that I should sin again Him in not praying for you.” But when we become exhausted in our prayers, God becomes a burden. Augustine’s mother, Monica, made it her life-long ministry to pray for her son daily. In God’s timing, God answered that one prayer, and look at what happened. Augustine became one of the most influential theologians in church history after leaving a life of debauchery. As for “paying,” that is turning God’s gift of giving into a “pay to play” situation. Many take that one by offering conditional gifts to the church.

God is the one who disburses His gifts in His church. Would He then allow those same gifts curl up and die? He also opens up opportunity. Faith sees those opportunities and steps out. Often, it is what we want and not what God wants of us. Opportunity always exists in the church to serve people. It is not always in the big stuff or before a large crowd to be seen. There is the coffee ministry, greeters, ushers and hushers, custodians, money counters, visiting the sick at their homes or in the hospital, or changing stinky diapers in the nursery while singing a lullaby. The last one does not need to be formalized. While doing these things, the opportunity to share the gospel one on one with new comers always exists. Nike’s motto is, “Just do it.”

Again, it is a matter of the heart and not the art of ministry. This past Sunday, my pastor brought up in teaching from Malachi that we should be taking an inventory of our heart. I like what Zig Ziglar once said, “Perform a check up from the neck up to prevent the hardening of the attitudes.”

Wise advice for all the Dones who are fed up from the neck up.”

Only a personal inventory and faith reveals true motives.  The challenge still remains, Who do we worship and serve – ourselves or God?  Isaiah’s response is very telling,

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of †unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

After God touched his lips and asked,

Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” (6:8)

The prophet’s reply was,

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (6:8)

Isaiah did not say, “I’m done” but “I’m undone.”  He chose the better response to which the LORD declared,

And He said, “Go…”

God determines the mission with the gift and the power.  Ours is to walk by faith by also declaring, “Here I am, send me!”