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.
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Ten Obstacles to Saving Faith: Introduction and Obstacle One

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul sets out to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of that defense of the gospel is faith. Throughout this letter, Paul gives meaning to faith by association with the contents of the gospel. The center of that gospel is Jesus Christ. He associates faith with the following:

  • grace (Romans 1:5; 5:2; 12:3)
  • righteousness (1:17)
  • Christ’s sacrificial death (3:25),
  • justification (3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1)
  • righteousness (4:11-13; 9:30-32; 10:6-8)
  • God’s promises and inheritance (4:13-20)
  • obedience (1:5; 16:26)

All of these comprise the meaning of God’s saving act toward us. They stand in contrast to our alienation from God and unbelief resulting in rebellion against and rejection of Him. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul sets out ten obstacles to saving faith, which prevent people from coming into relationship with God both in our existing life and in the life to come of eternity. These obstacles resist the above listed benefits from God and reflect unbelief. This article addresses the first obstacle with subsequent articles taking up each of the others. While Paul writes of these obstacles from the perspective of those who reject God and fail to believe Him, Christians can also stand in the way of enjoying relating to God and enjoying His presence in life through not believing God in the benefits He offers.  This is not to say that Christians do not possess these benefits.  Rather, believers can doubt them and fall into a similar life as someone who does not believe the gospel and the benefits it brings them.

In laying out the condition of all humanity in Romans 1-2, Paul sets forth a heavy indictment of those who reject God. Among the first of these indictments include ungodliness and unrighteousness. He writes,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

Notice that ungodliness and unrighteousness begin a downward spiral. The first of their acts is the suppression of truth. Once this suppression occurs, indignity toward God results in dishonoring him. That follows with lack of gratitude leading to futile thinking and a dark heart. Once rejection of God and His glory thrusts Him down through dishonor and ingratitude, it leads to lifting up a claim to wisdom and ultimately full-blown idolatry.  A claim to the wisdom of which Paul notes, is really a claim of being wiser than God for recognizing what is best for ourselves.  The wisdom of which Paul speaks leads to idolatry (1:23), that is corrupting the image of God and setting up images gods unworthy of Him.

Rejection of God takes many forms:

  • Embracing God and then turning away (apostasy)
  • Claiming that one cannot know God (agnosticism)
  • Denying that God actually exists (atheism)
  • Worshiping of other gods (polytheism) made in the image of man (idolatry)
  • Defying outright God although one knows Him (rebellion)
  • Practicing the occult and cultism (Satanism)
  • Making excuses for not embracing God by faith (self-will)

Regardless of the form, they all add up to unbelief and rejection of God. Paul makes known that unbelief is the key ingredient leading to ultimate idolatry and all of its trappings: uncleanness, lust, and dishonorable treatment of self. The list Paul makes provides a summary of the type of people who typify unbelief (Romans 1:29-31), among which consist of sexual immorality, envy, murder, strife, violence, lack of trust and love.  Idolatry is the act of the worship of gods made in the image of those things in the created order including humanity.  It is the enshrinement and placement of anything in the created order as first place before God.  All of the above listed rejections of God are idolatrous practices.

Notice that their progression begins with ungodliness and unrighteousness. These two characteristics describe the natural bent of humanity. The first term, ungodliness, refers to a lack of respect or irreverence. It is a failure to render honor. It is the negation of a bent toward the goodness that characterizes God. The second term suggests unfaithfulness or disloyalty and not imperfection. It could also describe faithlessness that exhibits wrongdoing, injustice, and wickedness. Unrighteousness is a force for all other evils, especially those that Paul sums up at the conclusion of the chapter (1:29-31).

In listing the irrational and hostile traits at the conclusion of chapter one, Paul illustrates an undeniable truth. Those who exhibit ungodliness and unrighteousness toward God conduct themselves in like manner toward their fellow humans. If they demonstrate unrighteousness toward God, they will do so toward others. If they display acts counter to the sexual design for which God created them, they will perpetrate sexual immorality as described in the Bible toward others (1:29). If they are haters of God (1:30), they will be malicious, envious, deceptive, evil-minded, violent, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful toward others (1:29-31). Dishonor and irreverence only perpetuates the results of these characteristics toward others. The empirical evidence is obvious worldwide where we witness conflicts and wars over the material goods of the world and the desire to deprive others not only of their property but also of their lives either on an individual level or on the level of a society or nation.

Faith in God cannot stand when such turmoil and maliciousness exist. They exist or have existed within each person on the earth and in every person who has ever lived who never turned to God. For faith to exist and thrive, all individuals must recognize, admit to, and turn away from ungodliness and unrighteousness. The Bible calls this repentance. Repentance and faith must come together, and they do so only through God’s activity within the individual in turning a person from his or her own self-oriented condition toward Jesus Christ to recognize Him as the Redeemer of one’s soul.

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