Saturday, January 27, 2007

Behind a Frowning Providence

Proverbs 3:5-6:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

It is a good thing that none of us can predict the immediate outcome of all our decisions. If we could, then there would be many choices in life that we would reject, especially if we knew in advance that our decisions would lead to pain, suffering and personal loss. God does not give us a crystal ball with which to make our choices in life, and this is for our good. If we did have such a thing, then we would spend our days hovering over that ball of glass rather than seeking God’s wisdom through His word and fervent prayer.

For myself, I know that if I could go back and alter some of my decisions in the past, there would be many that I would gladly reverse, simply because those choices were clearly sinful as defined by God’s Holy Word. All of us have regrets from the past concerning sinful choices that we have made. But then there are those choices that were not sinful and yet they yielded great trials and afflictions. Of this latter category of decision making, I would like to offer the following thought:

The choices that we make in life that have been diligently scrutinized by the standard of Scripture; that have been reviewed by godly counsellors in the church and have been immersed in fervent prayer in the Spirit, are choices that we can make with a clear conscience before God. If we can say that we have served the Lord in our choices, trusting in His wisdom from the heart, then we can have peace of mind as we look back on those choices. Sinful choices should rebuke our hearts - but with godly decisions, we can have peace.

Now this is not to say that we can make decisions perfectly, but it does mean that our primary goal must be to make decisions in life through the means of genuine godliness, rather than leaning on our own corrupt understanding. This truth is an important issue concerning our conscience. Whatever sinful choices I have made in my life should lead me to repentance as I reflect on them. Frankly speaking, there are things that I have done in my past as a Christian, that I believed to be right at the time, but I now realize that the confidence of those choices was based upon my foolishness, rather than the firm foundation of God’s truth. Those choices ought to goad me to relent of such foolishness, so as to learn and grow in godliness. But of the choices that we entrust to the Lord, we can say “I will trust the Lord to make my path straight.” Choices that we make about a future spouse, a job, a place to live, a church to attend or even the things that we buy do not have a chapter and verse in the Bible by which we can seek guidance (unless of course your fiancee’s name is Jezebel [1 Kings 16:31] ;) ). What we have to guide us in life is God’s revelation, the Holy Spirit’s illumination and leading, as well as God’s providence. Beyond this, we won’t receive an angelic e-mail telling us what to do with our lives. What we need is to learn to reject our own understanding, while trusting in the Lord and His wisdom as we acknowledge Him in all of our ways. The good news is that as we prayerfully submit our decisions to the Lord, we can rest in Him for the outcome...

Proverbs 16:9: 9 The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

I often wonder if Joseph would have gone to Dothan to meet his brothers, if he had enough foreknowledge to know that his brothers would sell him as a slave to the Ishmaelites. Would you? Joseph’s choice to meet his brothers at Dothan could in no way be construed as sinful, and yet his choice led him into a great and painful trial; and yet, Joseph’s final assessment of his brother’s sinful deed against him is such a wonderful display of God’s providential care for His people:

Genesis 50:20: 20 "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

It is a grace of God that Joseph could not know the outcome of his visitation with his brothers (Gen. 37). The revelation of that event would have sent most people in the opposite direction. Truly, Joseph’s choice to visit his brothers bore no corruption. His brothers, however, acted in great wickedness. Through it all, God was accomplishing a great work for the descendents of Israel so that the nation would be preserved for His glorious purposes.

Thank God for His providence!

It is our responsibility to seek to be godly stewards concerning the decisions that we make in life; learning from our mistakes, while seeking to abandon our own wisdom to God’s revelation - trusting Him with all of our hearts as we do. But as we do this, we must also entrust ourselves to God’s care, understanding that the onset of trials and affliction should never lead us to doubt God’s loving character and sovereign purposes. His trials are always sent our way with a loving purpose, though we may not always comprehend that purpose in time; or as Spurgeon once said: “When we cannot trace God’s hand we can trust God’s heart.”

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty and loving providence is a truth that brings genuine peace to the heart of the child of God. If frees us from the fearful superstition of reading crystal balls, so that we might pursue the Lord’s revealed will for all of our lives: holiness.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way (William Cowper)

1 God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

2 Deep in unfathomable minds Of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, And works His gracious will.

3 Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

4 Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

5 His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding ev’ry hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

6 Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Theology, Like my Coffee

It’s just that simple - I like my theology like I like a good cup of coffee: strong and undiluted. That’s right, I’ll take a strong shot of sound doctrine over much of the watery preaching of today. Frankly speaking, all believers ought to desire the rich and robust doctrines of the Bible; or to put it in biblical language, genuine believers will want to go beyond mere pablum to the solid food of God’s Word. This is indeed the path of the believer’s progress: from conversion to death, all believers will live lives that are marked by theological growth. Such progress is a sign of sanctification; it is an indication of the Spirit’s indwelling and faithful work in our lives. The fact that such progress is expected in the genuine Christian’s life is made evident when the author of Hebrews declared: “by now you ought to be teachers.” By this statement he revealed that there should be a genuine expectation of theological growth with those who name the name of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:12).

But things can become unhealthy when we expect everyone else to be exactly where we are in our theological progress. In many ways a problem such as this is evidence of spiritual pride and impatience. It happens when believers become puffed up with their knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1) and fail to see that intellectual knowledge must be met with genuine wisdom - wisdom which seeks to take doctrinal knowledge and put it into practice in one’s daily life:

Philippians 4:9: 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

When Paul refers to “these things,” I am convinced that he is referring to the entirety of his epistle to the church at Philippi. Thus all of the doctrine that he gave to the church was to be prassete (practiced) among the children of God. This balance of knowledge and practical wisdom is needful, for as we make progress in our knowledge and sanctification, we must remain humble, comprehending that our progress is the work of God’s grace; we have no room for boasting in ourselves; we can only give glory to God. Therefore Christian forbearance is needful among the people of God (Eph 4:2-32, Col. 3:12, 2 Tim. 3:10, Gal 5:22). Without it, the church becomes an ugly place of one-upmanship and vile competition. The pride which underscores these things will only bring about fleshly fights, quarrels (James 4:1-6) and fruitless wrangling about words (2 Timothy 2:14).

Thus, there is a great need for patience as we deal with others. Now to be clear here, Christ and the Apostles often delivered very severe rebukes to the false religious leaders of their day: Galatians 5:12: 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves (NIV). But they also exercised remarkable patience with genuine believers and with the lost of this world. Even to the gnarly Corinthians, Paul was patient enough to give them milk, understanding that they weren’t prepared for the meat of the word:

1 Corinthians 3:1-3: 1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

Paul’s patience with the churches, as well as with unbelievers, gives us a very helpful example. In both cases, Paul dealt with people according to their station in life - faithfully ministering the Word of God, but doing so with patience and compassion. He reminds us that we must guard against theological arrogance when dealing with believers and unbelievers:

Titus 3:1-3: 1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.

In many ways the posts dealing with America’s Altar to the Unknown Jesus, Parts I & II, were designed to encourage brethren to think about our need for patient endurance when proclaiming the Gospel to the lost. But I have added this final post in order to demonstrate the importance of patience in all facets of life: we must be patient towards all men, whether unbelievers or believers. To younger brethren, we ought to nurture them carefully, without trying to force feed them a 12 oz steak in one sitting (1 Cor. 3:1-3). To the unbeliever, we must be patient with them, remembering that we too were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.

It is absolutely the case that we need to grow in our desire for the strong and rich doctrine that is supplied in Holy Writ - but we must be patient with others as we invite the lost, and even younger brethren, to the table of God’s robust truth.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

No Comment

As I have three writing projects that have yet to be completed, along with the regular privileges of pastoral ministry, I have chosen to suspend, temporarily, the comments to The Armoury. As it is, 98% of the readers of The Armoury are - readers only, thus, I find that this move for now does little violence to things.

Any questions or comments can be sent to me via e-mail.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

America’s Altar to the Unknown Jesus, Part II

Proclaiming the Gospel in the Wasteland

of America’s Religious Culture

In the last post (America’s Altar to the Unknown Jesus) I addressed the need that we all have to proclaim the Gospel with some awareness of the people with whom we speak. Especially if they have been polluted with years of bad religious teaching, we may have to take the time to deconstruct some of their misunderstandings about the very terms of the Gospel.

For example, if I am speaking to a Catholic, I realize that by mentioning the concept of the forgiveness of sin, my Catholic listener will most likely impose thoughts of a human “priestly” intercession, penance, the sacraments along with certain prayers and incantations that have been prescribed by the Roman Catholic church. With such a person as this, I will be inclined to emphasize (among other things) the uniqueness of Christ’s role as Savior and Priest (Heb. 3:1).

If I am speaking to someone who comes from a works-righteousness background (of any kind), I will invest more time speaking about our inability to save ourselves - “by the works of the law, no flesh shall be justified” Galatians 2:16.

Broadening our circle of error further - If I am speaking to a Muslim, my mention of the name of Jesus Christ will call to his mind the image of a good man, a godly prophet and a wise teacher - a mere mortal who is no more than a “prophet of Allah.” With such a person as this, it will be important to clarify the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ - yes, He is a godly prophet - but He is so much more!

And out there in the farthest reaches of the epistemological universe where, let’s say, I’m speaking to a California “Valley Dude” whose religion is nature, surfing and vanilla lattes - then I will have to begin at the beginning, informing him of the fact that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is returning to judge the living and the dead...Dude!

Our culture is such a melting pot of bad thinking that it is impossible to maneuver through all of the nuances of corrupt theology out there, and those who pay too much attention to the cultural settings of evangelism often commit the error of actually catering to the culture, rather than confronting it. Thus, there is a very tender balance to be observed here. On the one hand those who engage in a kind of mechanized Gospel preaching commit the error of just lobbing out out the Gospel into the world without much thought or concern as to whether people are understanding (and believing) what they have heard. Decades of such preaching and questionable conversions have left a barren wasteland that loudly illustrates this corruption. On the other hand there are those whose preoccupation with cultural sensitivity has overtaken them to the point that they cater to the opinions and preferences of men - thus these individuals produce a compromised Gospel message that is powerless to save anybody. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the biblical middle - one which leads us to compassion when speaking to the lost sinner; but one that also reminds us that it is not our presentation that saves people - it is the Lord who redeems sinners through His powerful Word (Romans 1:16).

In our eclectic and religious culture, we must remember that much of our Gospel proclamation will have to include an admixture of the Gospel approaches that we see in Holy Writ. Sometimes we will be able to speak to people without having to say a word about the Bible’s authority as sacred Scripture. At other times, we will have to labor patiently with those who have no idea why we would bother quoting from what they see as an old, musty book. Like Paul in Athens, we will need to be prepared to confront the culture with wisdom and with an absolute confidence in God’s providence in salvation. What Paul does in Athens is (I believe) highly relevant to our American culture. In many ways, the modern American is like the ancient Athenian: he is religiously pluralistic, very ethnocentric, fairly well educated and extremely prideful. I am convinced that it is because of this very context that Paul entered into his presentation of the Gospel only after he spent some time demolishing some of the strongholds of their bad thinking (2 Cor. 10:5):

Acts 17:25: "He is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything..." - In the Greek/Roman mindset the gods were somewhat needy beings, in that they were thought to be (to some extent) sustained by the temples and the sacrifices that were offered (Varro, speaking with a tone of sarcasm once said: "I am afraid that some gods may perish simply from neglect.").

Acts 17:26: "He made from one man every nation of mankind..." - The Athenians believed themselves to be superior to all other peoples, because it was Zeus who formed them from Athenian soil - and of course, Athenian soil was the best in the world. At least that's what the Athenians believed anyway.

Acts 17:28 “…for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” Paul appealed to their love for philosophy in order to demonstrate God’s common grace (Romans 1:18-19), and their culpability for what they knew: Or as Calvin says about this verse: “Certain of your poets. He citeth half a verse out of Aratus, not so much for authority’s sake, as that he may make the men of Athens ashamed; for such sayings of the poets came from no other fountain save only from nature and common reason. Neither is it any marvel if Paul, who spake unto men who were infidels and ignorant of true godliness, do use the testimony of a poet, wherein was extant a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraven in men’s minds.”

Acts 17:29: “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man." This Paul said amidst all of the ornate idols that were formed by the art and thought of man! That's quite a thing to say at the Areopagus!

Acts 17:30: 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent...” The Athenians were very proud of their history - culturally, philosophically and religiously. In history, they were the proud conquerors of the world, and all this Paul calls “a time of ignorance.”

Without a right understanding of Greek culture and history, some may conclude that Paul isn’t saying much in this sermon. But in reality he is saying a great deal here - most of it having to do with his convictions in 2 Corinthians 10:5 as well as 1 Corinthians 1:18-25: he would often approach the Gospel by means of a didactic process which included the tearing down of much of the anti-Gospel thinking of his audience. As I mentioned in the last post, what Paul does in Acts 17 is very different than when he preached in the synagogue in Antioch in Acts 13. Here, he quotes no OT Scriptures, but summarizes their teaching. He spends a great deal of time destroying speculations (logismous - human reason) in order to herald the Lord's singular right and authority to "judge the world in righteousness through a Man." In many respects, we could call Paul's message here a kind of Gospel primer.

What we should learn from this is that we need to avoid the extremes of either a mechanized Gospel, or a watered down (compromised) Gospel. We ought to consider our audience, but not at the expense of proclaiming the risen Christ who died for our sins. We don’t have the wisdom to anticipate in advance what we should say in any given situation - thus we need the wisdom and leading of the Holy Spirit when we speak to the lost about the Savior, praying that God, in His sovereign power, pleasure, and providence, might save those with whom we speak.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

America’s Altar to the Unknown Jesus

Acts Chapters 13 & 17:

Two Distinct Audiences -

One Uncompromising Message

See also - America’s Altar to the Unknown Jesus, Part II

Last Lord’s day, our church began a comparative study of Paul‘s Gospel presentations in Acts chapters 13 and 17. Like all other Gospel presentations in the Bible, these two have their distinctions, while sharing the same important foundation of Christ and Him crucified. How the Apostle arrives at this centerpiece of the Gospel is quite different when we examine each presentation, side by side. It is important to note that Paul’s example of ministry is crucial:

- the message of Christ is sovereign in each case, however, the mode of presentation varied slightly according to the theological knowledge or ignorance of his audience.

For the brethren at Pilgrim Bible Church, their homework will be to answer the following questions:

1. Is Paul’s message in Acts 13 a thorough Gospel presentation?

2. Is his message in Acts 17 a thorough Gospel presentation?

3. How does Acts 17 differ from Acts 13?

This comparative study is important and will help us to think about witnessing to others in the present day. Again - the message of the Gospel is sovereign, but the way in which we unfold it will depend (somewhat) on the people to whom we speak. But at this point, we are just laying out the bare principle that distinguishes the substance of our message (Christ) and the means by which we communicate that message. As to this latter point, Acts 17 can be helpful to us in many ways, and yet it still presents a unique experience that we will rarely have here in American: meeting people who are totally ignorant about Jesus Christ.

You see, when Paul ascended the Areopagus, he had just left his preaching in the synagogue there in Athens, and was exhorted by a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers to speak more about the “strange deity” of whom Paul spoke (Acts 17:18). Their ignorance of the true God was confirmed when Paul said:

Acts 17:22-23: 22 ..."Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance (agnoountes), this I proclaim to you.

The Athenians were truly ignorant of Christ in every way. They knew little to nothing about His first advent, nor of the O.T. covenants and promises which spoke of Him, or as Paul said to the church at Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:12: 12 remember that you (Gentiles in the flesh, v 11) were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Paul was well aware of the Athenians’ lack of knowledge concerning the O.T. promises, as well as their infatuation with Graeco/Roman deities; and it is for this reason that he didn’t repeat his Acts 13 Gospel presentation to the Jews verbatim. As an inspired sermon, Acts 13 is in fact perfect; but to the Athenians, who were utterly devoid of any significant biblical knowledge, Paul gave a Gospel presentation that moved at a much slower pace. Yes, it was equally inspired by the Spirit of God, but it was presented in a manner that would be more understandable to his audience. In this sermon, Paul began with small steps which led him towards the message of Christ - which was interrupted as soon as he mentioned the resurrection (Acts 17:32). In this we see Paul’s patience in communicating the Gospel, doing so with a great deal of compassion for his audience: as a parent might speak to a little child with terms that are simplified (1 Corinthians 3:1), Paul chose to move with incremental steps on the way to the cross at Mars Hill. But as I mentioned already, Paul’s context of ministry at the Areopagus had a distinct advantage that we do not have:

At least his audience was in fact ignorant.

You see, in the case of those who are doctrinally ignorant, one can begin with a clean slate, seeing that there is very little doctrinal baggage to take down so as to make room for the Gospel itself. But in our day, evangelism requires much more epistemological demolition (2 Cor. 10:5), because most Americans have heard an ear-full concerning Jesus Christ - and precious little of it is of any value. Whether we are facing people who believe in the “Jesus” of modern liberalism, the secular media, the “Jesus” of the cults, or the “Jesus” of mindless fundamentalism - All of these will require some form of doctrinal demolition and redefinition as we proclaim the Gospel to others.

In other words, modern America worships at the altar of the “Unknown Jesus,” and we must be careful to proclaim Gospel truth so that the Savior doesn’t become yet another statue amidst a pantheon of American idols.

This can be much more complex than being invited to speak to a group of ignorant philosophers. But in a day of venomous attacks against Christ and His disciples, there is much suspicion and distrust in our culture. Even among professing Evangelicals, we have men, who in the name of Christ will slander certain Christians, calling them terrorists; rank behavior as this makes it even more challenging to witness to the vast sea of lost souls here in the religious south. It is for this reason that Gospel presentations may require more time in order to clarify and explain the very terms of the Gospel itself. Words like faith, justice, salvation, substitution, grace, mercy, condemnation, sin and damnation all have their alternate meanings amidst the aforementioned epistemologies, and thus it behooves the child of God to present the Gospel, while making sure that those who hear us are understanding that the biblical Gospel is not the same thing as the false imitation that they had been given before.

Ultimately, it is important that we communicate the Gospel, not just so that we can say that we did so. We must also endeavor to communicate to people so that they understand what is being said. In many ways, you can just think about the process that is required to explain the Gospel to a four year old child. Give them a heavy theological presentation, filled with complex terms, biblical texts and an amen at the end, and they’ll be giving you that cross-eyed look very soon. But this is not what a caring and compassionate parent does. He breaks the message down into very simple terms and is careful to make sure that the child is comprehending what is being said - because children are ignorant too, in view of their youth and therefore must receive a Gospel pedagogy that is patient, persistent and committed to the message of Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we treat unbelieving adults like children per se, but the principles of patience and compassion still do apply. Unlike the ancient Athenians in Paul’s day, the modern American has heard a truck load about Jesus Christ. Our challenge is to navigate our way through their false perceptions, while faithfully and patiently communicating the uncompromising Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cursed for the Lost

Shall we believe in God‘s absolute sovereignty


in man’s free agency?

Actually, this isn’t a valid question but it is the query that most people come to based upon their own flawed human reasoning as if we had to choose between the two. But it is not that we can go to the Bible and simply pick which truths we like best - God’s sovereignty or man’s free agency. Both truths are taught in the Scriptures and therefore must be proclaimed.

1. God’s Absolute Sovereignty: If anyone has a genuinely free will, it is the Lord God. His freedom is seen in two important realities: a. He is not bound by any external constraints whatsoever. He is especially free of any wickedness since He Himself is infinitely holy (Psalm 5:4-5). The natural man does not share this important attribute of God, for he is defined as a slave of sin (John 8:34) and is therefore unholy. b. Only God can actually do all that He determines to do according to His own will. This is because He is the only One who has the power to accomplish His own good pleasure by His unbounded omnipotence: Isaiah 46:8-10: 8 “Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; Men may boast of their intent to accomplish their own will, but they have not the power to accomplish all their own wicked pleasure.

2. Man’s Free Agency: The imperative of worship did not end with the fall of Adam in Genesis 3. Though Adam and his progeny became the bondslaves of sin, this did not nullify mankind’s culpability before Almighty God. Men will be held to account for their own lives, their own decisions and their own actions. Men therefore cannot refute this culpability before God because of His absolute sovereignty: Isaiah 45:9: 9 "Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?” God is absolutely sovereign, but within the scope of that sovereignty, men are called to answer before almighty God for their own sinful actions in this life. In other words, men cannot blame God for their own deeds of wickedness (James 1:13-15).

Where this discussion becomes most dangerous for believers is when we try to pick and choose which truth we like best, while minimizing, or even nullifying, the other in the process. An interpretive choice such as this is not the work of the Spirit; nor is it the result of responsible interpretation/application. Instead, it is the result of flawed human reasoning. Some will conclude that man’s free agency is the sine qua non of all truth and hence go off the deep end of error. This particular slant often produces a form of Gospel preaching which seeks to transform the lost by human means and messages, rather than trusting in the power and sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and plain Gospel preaching. This is the legacy of C.G. Finney and it must be avoided. Others will so emphasize God’s sovereignty, at the expense of man’s responsibility, that some end up producing their own set of errors in the process - even committing the error of minimizing, or even denying, the characteristics of God’s love and compassion for the lost. Both extremes produce a corruption of genuine evangelism and therefore they both must be avoided.

But I find it interesting that, in the providence of God, these two truths are brought together in a wonderful way in Romans chapter 9. We most often think of Romans 9 in terms of its great discourse on God’s sovereignty - and it is true, Romans 9 is that. But it is also a great chapter that teaches us about man’s free agency and the believer’s need to be zealous in his Gospel plea. Yes, it is actually true that Romans 9 = an exhortation which calls us to greater urgency in our Gospel proclamation. You see, before Paul ever said “it does not depend upon him who wills or him who runs, but upon God who has mercy;” and before he ever said “who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” - before all of this, Paul gave us an expression of his great passion concerning the lost:

Romans 9:1-3: 1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh...

Question: When was the last time that you wished that you yourself could be cursed and sacrificed for the sake of the lost? For myself, it is a convicting question. It reminds me that I have a great need to grow in my own love, compassion and grief (yes unceasing grief) for the lost. It is this compassionate yearning for lost souls that is the work of the Holy Spirit rather than false human reason. I find it fascinating that the Lord established both truths in this one chapter of Romans - the truth regarding man’s culpability (along with the believer’s need to seek the lost with zeal and compassion), and God’s absolute sovereignty in everything. We could never say that this was a coincidence.

Be assured of this - the Lord gives us what we need - we need both truths, not simply one or the other.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The “Problem” with Christianity

In the eyes of the world, Christianity has a problem - a very serious problem. This perceived problem is that biblical Christianity is not inclusive with respect to other “faiths.” In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ provides us with an irreducibly narrow teaching concerning how a person must be saved:

John 14:5-6: 5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

This arthrous* construction leaves little to the imagination and no room for speculation; that is to say, there is a definiteness to what the Savior is saying here: there is only one way, and only one truth and only one life and His name is - The Lord Jesus Christ. The smallest child could do the math on this issue and those who deny that Christ is our only hope cannot claim that the Scriptures are unclear in any way. Instead, when people deny the claims of Christ they are simply suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

Thus, this is not an intellectual problem, it is a spiritual problem whereby those who deny the singularity of Christianity are ultimately denying Jesus Christ Himself.

To illustrate this point, consider for a moment the following segment from the Larry King show in which Joel Osteen vacillates on a simple question concerning the singularity of Christ as the only hope for mankind. Rather than giving us a clear description of his views, he dodges the clear meaning of John 14:6. There is even a point in which Mr. King seems to understand the plain implication of John 14:6 and even tries to help Mr. Osteen think through the realities of what it has to say - watch:

What a remarkable example of deception this is. Every time that Mr. Osteen is asked about whether Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, he responds with “it isn't my business to say who is and who isn't going to heaven” and “that’s just not my way.” Certainly, it is important that we refrain from rushing to judgment concerning the eternal state of people that we don’t know - but this is not the point. Sadly, Mr. Osteen’s responses had nothing to do with the questions that were being asked. When the caller asked him why he was side-stepping Mr. King’s question about how a person can get to heaven, and queried about the meaning of John 14:6, Mr. Osteen managed to side step the matter entirely; even when Mr. King asked about atheists!

Mr. Osteen is not an ignorant man. His problem is much more serious - he has a problem with the exclusive claims of Cristianity, and it is important that such men be called out for what they really are - wolves in sheep’s clothing.

*arthrous constructions - refer to substantives which are prefaced with an article and are therefore considered to be definite in nature - meaning that there is a specific quality or identity in view. John 14:6 is a simple predicate adjective construction with three arthrous substantives - all of which give us the clear understanding that the Lord is being very definite or specific about His very nature as the only way, truth and life. This is reinforced when He then says: “ one comes to the Father but through Me.”