Category Archives: Doctrine/Theology

Obligation or Grace ?

crime stoppersI was raised in a Roman Catholic family, brought up on a system of morals and law.  Jesus, it was said, died for the sins of the world and if I were to believe that truth and be a ‘good’ person by being faithful to the Church and to God’s law, I should see heaven or at least make it to Purgatory.  Yet, somewhere in my mid-teens I saw a problem with a benevolent and loving God who seemed powerless to help those around me who needed Him the most.  During that adolescent time my sister was diagnosed with an incurable neuromuscular disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia – a degenerative disorder that eventually leads to premature death.  So as I wrestled with the implications of her permanent disability and my theology, I began to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why this?

Answers came from various areas and channels of philosophical persuasion, but no one gave me a Scriptural answer.  I received the padded answers that are more connected with making God out to be not-so-bad rather than the revealed answers of the Bible.  I’m sure you have heard them before – “God has a plan.”, “There are some mysteries we just don’t understand.”, “She can be healed if she just has enough faith.” and “This is the devil’s work not God’s.” All of these responses are commonly given to struggling sojourners and unbelieving denizens in a hopeful attempt to appease their grief and heartache, yet they are misguided replies.

The truth is that this world is under the curse of sin and death and with that comes diseases, disasters and heinous crime.(Gen. 2:17; Rom. 1:17ff) The better question to ask is whether or not God is obligated to do something about it. Is He obligated to cure all diseases? Is He obligated to prevent every murder and rape and theft? Is God obligated to stop every war?  Certainly, He is all-powerful so why doesn’t He? If we answer that He is obligated, then God has failed and if we answer that He doesn’t intervene because of our lack of faith or works, then we are more powerful than God for we can thwart His will.

crutch walkerHowever, the biblical answer is that God is not obligated to show mercy towards sinners; that is why we call it mercy. (Exodus 33:19;Rom. 9:15) Obligated mercy is duty, not grace and since everyone is guilty before God for every person falls short of the required obedience to the Law (Rom. 3:23; James 2;10), He owes us nothing. (Dan. 4:35) In His benevolent grace and chosen mercy, He does aid humanity for He restrains judgment upon mankind in His supreme patience so that all who will hear can hear the Word of Reconciliation in the preaching of the gospel.  As a result, this world is not as wicked as it could be through divine intervention. It is the purpose and joy of the church to bring the good news of His mercy found in Christ to a condemned race for  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Advertisements

Hyper-charismatapagania

HinnThere is much controversy in the church today about the gifts of the Spirit.  Interestingly, those who advocate that the mode and operation of spiritual gifts has not changed since Pentecost primarily focus on the gift of tongues as their anointing litmus test. Yet, the apostle Paul says that tongues were low on the gifting totem pole (1 cor. 12:28-31; 14:5) and specifically that this supernatural ability was given temporarily to the church as a judgment sign to unbelievers (1 cor. 14;20-22) that the Lord had condemned and cut off Israel, just as He had promised in the days of Ephraim and Isaiah.

Another belief that is carried into this century regarding spiritual gifts is the idea that there exists special prophetic ministries touring the planet offering to heal people of various diseases and to deliver them from whatever demon is either assaulting or possessing them.  Now, let me be clear on this point. I do believe that God can and still does heal us of our sicknesses and diseases today. What I contend, however, is that He doesn’t do it in the same manner as some advocate. God, if He so wills, can and has cured folks of their diseases and ailments.  What I deny is that there are those living today who possess anything that resembles the power of the Spirit that we see in the New Testament to heal sickness.  That was a special gifting given to the primitive church as a sign of the inauguration of the Kingdom of Christ on earth.

Benny Hinn is an extremely well-known proponent of what I call “hyper-charismatapagania” – the imitation of the work of the Spirit in paganistic forms. Here is a quote from a recent interview that was posted at FoxNews.com.

“I’m not one that can discern every little problem with people.  So if someone comes up and says that I have cancer and the cancer is gone …often I’ve said, “Go back to your doctor and make sure that you are truly cured” (on healings in his ministry, transcribed from the video interview)

copelands“They question me on why I don’t verify (these miracles),” Hinn says. “I answer, ‘God never called me to verify. I’m not a doctor.’” None of his comments even come close to echoing biblical fidelity. Hinn never preaches the gospel nor does he speak as a man of God.  Instead, he preaches materialism wrapped in a slice of culture-Christ.

Below, you will find an interesting video that shows what is put forth as the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the power of God among His people – bodies shaking, uncontrollable laughter, people falling backwards to the floor and continuous ramblings in jib-jab speech patterns.

There are no examples in Scripture that match such spectacles as true manifestations of God in the Body of Christ.  Instead, these happenings have much more in common with ungodly spirits and trances.  Examine it for yourself.

Come to Me

depression“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Here, in the gospel of Matthew, is a call and invitation to rest by faith in the completed work of Christ. Jesus is not asking for everyone to come, He is commanding everyone to come.  He says to all men indiscriminately, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” He did not merely make an offer, He gave mankind a command. (Acts 17:30)

If you have been laboring to please God for a long time and are weary, find refuge in Christ. (Psalm 31:1) If you are trying to live according to the Law of God and find yourself exhausted in every imaginable way, rest in the completed work of Christ for He has already earned the favor of God. (John 7:37)

Christ led the perfect life, never disobeying the Law. Christ is the perfection we need and by faith His perfection is our perfection.  He is our righteousness before God; rest in Him and what He has done. (Hebrews 4:15-16)  Christ lived as we should so that we may be saved from the punishment we deserve. No one will ever satisfy what is lacking in their performance. He alone is our all in all.

Are you tired of trying to please God in your effort? Are you burdened by hard things? Are you overloaded with guilt for failing to live up to what you know God requires of you? Come to Christ and He will give you rest.  No one else has the words of Life. (John 6:68)

Believe in Him who died and suffered for sinners just like you. Focus your eyes upon the One who shed his blood so that we might live forever. Turn your head towards Calvary where the Savior died a cruel death at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles so that His people would be reconciled to God. (Hebrews 9:13-15)

Turn from your own efforts, they only earn you more trouble and debt. (James 2:10)  Forsake your attempts at pleasing God for Christ has fully pleased the Father. See the Cross that redeemed us from the curse of the Law.  Embrace forgiveness by faith. See the love greater than all our pride.  Come to Christ and live.

Idolatry Fail – the crumbling down of statues

plastic saintsGod determines all things because He alone is God. This determining not only involves His complete sovereignty over all the events of history, but it also includes His attitude towards worship. The first commandment comes to mind as God gave the Israelites a very clear and simple rule – I am God and you shall not have any other gods besides Me.

This directive was immediately followed by the imperative prohibition to not make any carved or sculpted images or statues of anything either heavenly or on earth for the purpose of worship. Seems rather unambiguous and straightforward, doesn’t it ?  Well, Roman Catholicism and other professing Christians take license to dissect the second command and break it into variances. Apparently praying to dead people who have been enshrined in plaster models is not considered worship since ‘dulia’ is an inferior form of veneration and not truly ‘latria’ which is to only be offered to God.

The Scriptures, however, make no such distinctions.

So we are left to either follow the inventions of man in his religious quest or we can follow what God has laid before us in His Word.  Below, you’ll find an video which parallels this passage from the Old Testament that speaks of idol worship. Read and watch and may the LORD convict the hearts of the those who need to turn from false worship.

Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. 3 When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again. 4 But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor all who enter Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
1 Samuel 5:1-5

Food and Vice

cornucopiaAs Americans, we have abundant food resources that reflect the bounty of the Lord’s provision. Daily, we consume a wide variety of foods from whole wheat crackers and hickory grilled fish to bottled spring water and freshly squeezed juice.  Our shelves and stores and warehouses and restaurants all testify to sufficient supply.

Beyond mere provision, flavors, too, are a gift from God. After the Fall in Eden, He was under no obligation whatsoever to make our foods taste good; and yet, they do.

While we eat and drink to rejuvenate ourselves through divinely designed functions created to sustain us, the lure of a satisfied palate can become the doorway to overindulgence. That doorway can become a road to idolatry as the temptation of flavor and ‘food comfort’ supersedes self-control.  Instead of fresh grilled fish we dream about fast food tacos. Rather than spring water we consume gallons of soft drinks and corn syrup enriched liquids that stress our systems. Not only do our choices tend to lean towards unhealthy foods, but our ability to step away from the table wavers as well.  Food is our fuel and temptation.

After the completion of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, all Old Testament dietary laws and restrictions were lifted. (Colossians 2:16ff)  The cornucopia has been laid before us through the sacrifice of Christ and we should be joyful with each bite we take. “..Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

As the holiday season quickly approaches, let us be reminded about the joy of food and her lure.  While we can experience great culinary heights in the consumption of wonderful foods we must remember moderation. Food brings us together as a people and a Body, but self-control is living in the Spirit. Overindulgence is sin.

The celebratory goodness in feast and festival is of God, but the glutton should put a knife to his neck. (Proverbs 23:2)

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part III

carrying a heavy load

Last time  we saw that God’s love of mankind found in the provision of the gospel of Christ stands in contrast to His hatred of sinners and sin alike. (Psalms 5, 11; Proverbs 6) The Lord rescues sinners from eternal condemnation, not miscellaneous sins.  God, as the righteous judge of all things, sentences the workers of iniquity to the fiery pit as their just reward. (Romans 2:1-6)  Over time, most evangelicals have lost any real understanding of exactly what they are supposed to be saved from. With the advent of self-help psychology and rampant feel-good theology finding its way into once biblically-based teaching, there has been an overemphasis of good news. The problem, however, is that without the wrath of God as the backdrop of Calvary, Christ becomes merely a murdered man instead of the Savior having suffered for all the sins of His people.  This truth relates to our final cliché in this series – “The Lord will not give you more than you can handle.”

There is no doubt that from a purely experiential vantage point this is a false claim. How many times have you been completely overwhelmed by life? How often have you had to seek counsel and aid and advice and resources from others just to get by?  Is it not true that while we may experience a certain degree of independence, we are still hopelessly interdependent; relying upon others in times of great need? Surely, Katrina taught us that.

So where did this saying come from? I’m fairly confident that its origin is another Scriptural misquote. This time, it is a butchering of 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 –“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

The apostle Paul’s admonishment to flee idolatry is predicated on the promise that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle; instead, He will always provide us with a way of escape so as not to fall into sin. This passage says nothing about God not allowing us to endure a trial or suffering beyond what we can endure for if this were the case who would ever have suffered martyrdom? Also, we are well-covered in one-another verses in the New Testament as God has prepared that our new family in Christ would comfort us and help provide for our needs.(Romans 12:10-16)  If we were supposed to be somehow protected from being overburdened then why would we need each other at all?

On the contrary, the power of Christ is seen clearly in our weakness.  Paul instructs us that it is good to be content with insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for in our frailty God is mighty. (2 Corinthians 12:5:10)

May we all learn to live lowly and rejoice in our infirmities for it is in our darkest hour that God’s grace in Christ is the most lovely jewel in our lives.

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part II

saints sinners

In the previous post, we looked at the oft-used phrase “Judge not lest you be judged.” Most people utilize this verse as an escape from being judged themselves, without ever understanding its true biblical context and application. All throughout Scripture, we see both the need to discern correctly (judge) and the need to avoid hypocrisy when examining and criticizing others.  What God forbids is not judging itself, but, rather, doing so superficially, arrogantly and with a double-standard.

The next frequently used cliché involves God’s attitude towards sin and sinners – “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”  This statement is used without reservation in most Christian circles as if it was a biblical truth, but is it?  The testimony of Scripture will show us differently.

A common error is to over-emphasize a particular attribute of God and in our current culture no one attribute is more talked about than God’s love. Love, however, is spoken of in variant degrees and types in Scripture and in the English language the word ‘love’ is extremely weak and multi-definitional.  We say that we love our car, we love ice cream, love the Saints, love God and love our children all with the same word; however, the meaning in each case is radically different. Surely no one wants to argue that they love God in the same manner, meaning and measure that they love their automobile. Hence, ‘love’ is too broad and too blanketed to be used precisely in describing God’s relationship to sinners for most certainly the love of God extended to the man who is condemned to eternal punishment in hell is most certainly not the recipient of unending grace and mercy.

The book of Psalms declares that, “The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:5-6)  God’s wrath and hatred towards those who practice evil is often underemphasized making passages such as these seem quite foreign and harsh; yet without the bad news of impending judgment and condemnation the good news of the Gospel is made unnecessary.  Proverbs says that the LORD hates those who are arrogant and spread discord among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19) and Psalm 5 clearly states that God takes no pleasure in wickedness, therefore the boastful shall not stand in His sight for He hates all workers of iniquity abhorring the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

So if we are to stay consistent in our understanding and true to the text of Scripture we must maintain that God is angry at sin and sinner alike.  Hell will not be full of miscellaneous sins it will be the eternal dwelling place of sinners who refuse to turn from sin and put their trust in the complete forgiveness of God found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God loved humanity by offering up His only begotten Son at Calvary so that convicted sinners may escape their just reward but the degree of that affection is tempered by the free will of Him who alone extends mercy.

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part I

judge not 1

Along our walk of faith we find and learn Christian clichés – those pesky little phrases that emerge from the colloquial pond as tried and true nuggets of wisdom supposedly drawn from timeless biblical truth, but in the end, turn out to be more rooted in human imagination than in divine understanding.

Three such impostors making the top of the chart are these – “We should not judge others”, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin”, and “the Lord will not give you more than you can handle.”  These sayings are repeated often in an attempt to spread wisdom and comfort in life through advice and conservation; however, are they really accurate? Do these comments have their root in God or man?

We will take a look at each statement over the next few weeks and examine it biblically to see if it stands or falls. First, let’s look at: We should not judge others.

“Judge not lest you be judged” is probably the most abused statement by both believers and unbelievers alike being thrown around in debates and arguments more frequently than a well-worked pizza crust. It is found in the gospel of Matthew – “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1 Certainly, on the surface this looks rather compelling.  However, context is the text in which God breathed out His Word and so we must capture the essence of the passage by expanding our view to the next verses. Here’s what happens when we do:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

When the entire context is considered, the actual thrust of this warning passage turns out to be speaking directly to those who are hypocritical in their judgments.  Take the log out of your own eyes first and then you will be able to see clearly. The command here is a call to self-examination of sin, not a call to cease judging others.  Keep in mind also that judging here is about discernment not condemnation. God alone condemns.

Other passages help us to see our rightful role in judging, such as John 7:24, where Christ, in dealing with supposed Sabbath law violations said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Paul spoke about our need to judge small legal matters and disputes in 1 Corinthians 6:3 ” Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?”

All throughout Scripture we see both the need to discern correctly and to the need to avoid hypocrisy.  Learn to judge through having the same mind of Christ and exercise humility through patience and peace.

Clarity of the Heart in Relationship – Part I

Relationships are the hardest thing we ever do in this life, that’s why we do our best to both relationship heart achecontrol and avoid them. If we could live alone, for the most part, we would have an easy go of it, but instead we have others to deal with for they surround us constantly. As the great Dr. Seuss may have put it in his famous lyrical rhythm – People here, people there, people with me every where. People high, people low, people every where I go.

And so we find that mastering good communication skills as community and family members is as essential as a carpenter learning to master his hammer and saw. Not being able to utilize right and effective relationship tools invariably leads to much trouble. This week I’d like to bring a few of these tools to you that are tremendously helpful.  They are based upon a few biblical principles and involve the way in which we handle conflict.

Many of us pride ourselves on what we think is an almost perfect recall.  When it comes to what someone has said to us and what we believe they have said, we find that most of us have no problem relying upon our own internal witness.  However, this is quite dangerous for we are never neutral and unbiased; there is always the stain of past history on our hearts distorting even if only so slightly our perception of what we hear. The Old Testament recognizes this truth when it says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)  And to make matters worse the prophet Jeremiah has this insight –“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) We should always be suspicious of ourselves particularly when we are in conflict.

So the first principle for us to learn and cultivate is an active humility.  We must learn to accept that we are fallible listeners and consequently must be slow to judge and learn to discern rightly before we jump into accusation and assertions.  As Christ Himself said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

We should first seek clarification and understanding through probing questions and multiple witnesses before setting out stakes firmly in unmovable ground. Back again to antiquity the Lord spoke through Moses saying, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” (Deut. 19:15)

If we combine these truths regarding humility along with other admonitions of thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:4) and not assuming that we know someone else’s motives; we have started well.  Hearing correctly is the first step and seeking to understand rather than merely reacting to what we think we heard is a godly tool.

Next post we’ll go further into probing good and right communication during conflicts.

A Reminder of the Good News

crossDeath comes swiftly and death comes expectedly for none of us escape its call. Suffering, death and decay are all effects of the fall of man where sin entered the world and so, too, did death.  Through Adam’s transgression, his single disobedient act of the will against the Law of God, all of us will see death; yet those who believe in the gospel of Christ will escape its finality.  No one avoids their funeral, but we can be rescued from our final judgment. Like Adam, we eat what we shouldn’t eat and think what we shouldn’t think and as a result we will be held accountable for each and every action and heart attitude.

However, those who trust Christ as their Savior and righteousness will not taste the tomb forever.  Those who know Him know that just as the Lord’s tomb was found empty, one day in the final Day of the Lord, their tomb, too, will be vacant. And not only that, but when it comes to the time where the Lord of all Creation examines their life in accordance with His prescribed Law, they will be found guiltless.  This verdict will not be because of their righteousness or ability to ever have lived up to God’s requirements, but rather their freedom from punishment will be because they, by faith, believed in the perfect work of Jesus Christ. He was sent here by the Father to invade time as a man so that he could accomplish fully the redemptive work of our Triune God.  Christ paid what we owe in full and He alone was qualified to do so.

It was His flawless life in thought, word and deed that is accepted by God.  It was His sacrificial death at the hands of the world where He paid the penalty owed by His adoptive faithful; where the wrath of the Father was poured out into His every being – where the satisfaction was satisfied. His atoning death covers the sins – past, present and future – of all who believe that this gloriously good news is true.  God proved the truth of Christ’s mission on earth with a resurrective seal of authenticity. Christ being raised from the dead on the third day proves that this grand narrative of God’s ultimate work in human history is not merely a fable.

Helpless men radically corrupted by sin, incapable of rescuing themselves or even fully understanding just how deep they are drowning are saved by the grace of the Living God so that God may receive the glory of his mighty work in salvation. God changes hearts so that they will believe and worship in spirit and in truth. This, friends, is the good news. The good news is not what God will do for you; the good news is what has already been done on behalf of His people.  The gospel is not man-centered self-help, it is a Christ-centered miracle that points our eyes to the Cross where the Lord of Glory died so that men who deserve nothing from Him might live forever in perfect fellowship with their Creator.