Monday, December 13, 2010

Glorified For Our Sakes

God would be glorious without us, an obvious statement indeed, but one that needs to be affirmed nonetheless. God need not be affirmed by humans or angels in order to remain the Almighty. Therefore, when we read in Scripture that God is concerned about His Holy Name (Ezekiel 36:22), we must ask the question, “why?” Why would a God who needs no affirmation be concerned when we are not glorifying Him? He does not seem to lose anything of necessity. It seems to be a loss for the human who does not uphold God in his or her mind and not a loss for God, and this is exactly the point.

God wishes to be glorified for our sakes. It is only natural that God be glorified. He is the most glorious. God is pleased by our praise, not simply because He is being uplifted, but He is pleased because, by our uplifting of His Name, we will be blessed. And a God of outward focused love is always concerned for the sakes of those He loves. While this at first glance might seem selfish on the behalf of God, we need not come to such conclusions. God knows that those who glorify Him will draw closer to Him through the recognition of sheer truth. As we draw closer to Him, we draw further away from sin and destruction. We draw closer to life. Thus, we are the benefactors of relating to God through worship. Look for a moment at the nation of Israel.

Throughout their history, Israel goes through times of obedience and times of rebellion. As Israel rebels against Yahweh, the Lord allows them to experience the inevitable results of sin in order to teach Israel its need for reliance upon God. Thus, Israel often finds itself delivered into the hands of its enemies. While Israel is supposed to be enjoying the fruits of the promise, including living within the Promise Land, instead, as a result of rebellion, they are often dispersed among the surrounding nations, often nations hostile to the Hebrew people.

While in dispersion, the people of Israel are living far below their privilege as the people of God. As a result, the surrounding nations see that the divine promise to Israel is not being fulfilled, and, instead of attributing the lack of fulfillment to Israel’s lack of obedience to God, the other nations assume this to be a sign of the weakness of Yahweh, of the true God (Ezekiel 36:20). Thus, God states that something must change. The people of God need to be holy so that God might be glorified. But, once again, what does it matter to the Almighty when mere humans misunderstand His glory; no matter what humans think, God is still glorious.

At first, it seems that God is simply concerned for His reputation for His reputation's sake: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you profaned among the nations to which you came” (Ezekiel 36:22). God suggests that He will send His Spirit so that Israel might have the ability to remain obedient (vv. 26, 27). While it is obvious that Israel will benefit from His outpouring, God suggests that He does it for the sake of His name, but why?

“I will sanctify my great name [through Israel], which has been profaned among the nations [by Israel]…and the nations will know that I am the Lord…” (Ezekiel 36: 23). God plans to pour out His Spirit upon Israel so that the name they profaned will be sanctified before the nations. Thus, while God says that He does not redeem Israel for its own sake, we should not assume that it is merely for His own sake that He acts. Remember, God does not say that He is merely concerned for His name, but for that name which was profaned before the nations. The corrective is for the nations, the whole world, to understand His glory. To further understand this point, we must look to God’s original and ongoing intent for calling out the nation of Israel. When God establishes His purpose for Israel in speaking to the father of that nation, Abraham, He suggests that Israel will be such a nation that it will bless the entire world (Genesis 22:18; 26:4). Thus, to redeem Israel is to continue this purpose of blessing the world. While the nations are now degrading God by their assumptions of Israel, the chosen people of the promise, God intends that the whole world know that He is the Lord, and when humans actually see the glory of God, they, more often than not, worship Him. Once again, through His glorification, we are blessed.

Our God is not a petty God needing us to affirm Him for His own sake. Instead, He is such a God that, by His outward focused love, He would will our happiness forever. He concerns Himself with our opinion of Him for our own sakes. Otherwise, if God were concerned merely of Himself, He could simply give up on us. As previously stated, to affirm God as glorious is to be blessed through a drawing closer to Him, the source of life. However, let me not be misunderstood. Should we merely worship God because it benefits us? Not at all…

By His very nature God should be glorified. Simply because I am highly valued by God does not give me any right to become prideful. It certainly does not mean I should hold a low view of myself or others as children of God, but glorifying God is a call to give God all honor and praise, to be self-forgetful and outward focused. Less of me is more of Him, and the more of Him I receive, the more blessed I am. If we are truly to display God’s love to the world and to glorify His name, we will be like Him in that we concern ourselves with the sake of others and not with the sake of the self.

Throughout the writing process for this blog post, I worried that I might overemphasize my point. While my point is to raise awareness concerning God’s purpose for our worship in that He is focused upon us, I, of course, did not want to in turn glorify man above God. We owe our all to God. However, as I see it, this understanding of God’s want to be glorified more honors God than merely stating that He needs to be glorified for the sake of being glorified. Honestly, what does a perfect being “need” anyway? Without understanding our need to glorify brings about joyful relationship, we simply downplay the personal aspect of God and make Him out to be vain. But, if we realize that God is concerned for our sakes, we begin to glimpse into His love, and realize He is anything but vein.

Praise Him!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relational Holiness

I am slowly working on an idea that makes so much sense in my mind, but is somewhat complex to express into words. Hopefully I will, in time, develop this thought further. The necessity to express this thought became very clear to me when reading a recent article in “Christianity Today.” The article “Hipster Christianity” told of a rising trend in the American Christian culture. While the whole of the article was not completely negative, it still turned my stomach. In an effort to be relevant, I am guessing, many young Christians are rejecting the attitudes of their elders for a more “edgy” demonstration of Christian life.

As for me, one of the most chilling aspects of the hipster movement revealed in this article was the fact that hipster Christians use foul language as a means of expression, even while in the pulpit or in meaningful talks upon the faith in order to relate to the people. I have never been one to concern myself when a fellow brother or sister uses certain words that are deemed negative by society. In fact, I have been guilty of such action myself. However, the true problem of this sort of habit became painfully clear when I realized that not only are some brothers and sisters allowing themselves to become a little too relaxed around each other, but they are openly using such language as a perverted evangelical tool, allowing the world to see that the hipster does not feel he or she is above others. In other words, they cuss so as not to seem “holier than thou.”

As I began to become physically ill at the actions of some of my fellow believers, I began to notice the plank in my own eye. (Do not allow my use of this description of my own fault as a plank have you assume that I see the adoption of worldly language by the hipster culture as a speck…It too is a plank, if not a whole tree house.) We must not allow people to think that relationship with Christ is anything less than an actual changing, a perfecting, from worldly negativity to Christ-centeredness. Thus, even the occasional relaxing of the tongue around those who know my true heart is living far below my calling and privilege.

To live a set-apart, holy life does not necessitate a “holier than thou” attitude. In fact, if holiness is the character demonstrated by Christ, humbleness is surely a large part. Would we ever say Christ was pretentious simply because He did not have a slanderous tongue?

One might say, “Well, you are not Christ, and to pretend to be is pretentious.” But is that not our call? Surely, if we were not asked to follow Christ, we would be pretentious, but we are begged to follow. We are dared to follow. And how might we follow Christ’s directive to be demonstrators of God’s holiness if we cannot truly, by God’s might, be holy (Matt 5: 16; also see Ezek 36:23). God is to be shown holy by the actions of His people. Becoming popular was never the point of the Christian movement. Using the world’s negative language is to ignore and profane the holy name of God. And while the hipster might imagine that his loose tongue makes the unbeliever more comfortable when being evangelized, in effect, they are only belittling the calling of God before the nonbeliever. There is no confidence in the Christian faith for the unbeliever if he or she cannot see any recognizable differnce in the faithful.

But why are my peers, the younger Christian generations, adopting this perverted style of evangelism. In my estimation, I think the problem is largely owed to a loss in the Biblical mandate to be holy. And so a secondary question has to be asked: why have we lost our stress on the doctrine of holiness. In short, I think it is out of disgust that many have turned their noses. Sometime ago, many advocates of Christian holiness lost sight of its relational qualities and made it into a legalistic lifestyle, and the larger holiness movement has suffered ever since.

Since the Reformation, Western Christianity has had little trouble accepting God’s imputation of righteousness to believers. Imputation of righteousness simply means that God, in a forensic sense, declares His followers righteous because they belong to and are covered by Christ. However, the Christian culture has had more than a little trouble accepting God’s impartation of righteousness to believers. Impartation of righteousness simply means that God not only declares us righteous after conversion, but actually begins to transform the believer into a righteous being, not only in word but in deed.

As I said in my opening, I have a lot I want to say on the matter, but I need more time in order to flesh it all out. Therefore, I do not want to belabor my point by offering partially thought out ideas. Instead, I will come to a more abrupt end by revealing what I see as the primary issue. Holiness has largely been ignored because of the perversions others have used to distort its truth. Legalism has made many in the Christian culture become reactionary against the holiness movement, instead of engaging in the movement while using correctives to keep it on the course. While some in the movement have remained engaged despite the narrow views of others, many more have ignored the movement altogether.

The real misunderstanding comes in peoples’ concepts as to how holiness is imparted to the believer. Many have assumed that holiness is an autonomous character gifted by God but exercised by the believer. We do in fact exercise this gift, but not in a completely autonomous fashion. It is not as if God gives us a holy character so that we might be holy apart from Him. This was never the intention for humanity. We were always meant to be holy as we relate to God, but this does not mean, as so many assume, that we are only to be called holy because we belong to a holy God.

We actually are made holy, and we are actually capable of living in action a holy life by the impartation of God’s grace. But this holy character is still incumbent upon God’s presence. In other words, we are capable of being made holy, for it is our focus on and relation to Christ that makes this possible. Instead of impartation of righteousness being a gift of an autonomous, perfect character, it is a reorientation of the being away from selfishness to Christ. As Christians are drawn away from the desires of the flesh by God’s transforming grace, they begin to focus on Christ and to follow His will. Therefore, holiness is relational, for to remove Christ from the center would be to remove that which guides us into holy living.

To live as if we cannot be holy, but are merely to claim Christ’s holiness as our own without allowing it to change our orientation is to fall short of our calling. The hipster movement has missed out on the fullness of the gospel. There needs to be a revival, a reformation of the emerging Christian culture.

“Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct…” I Peter 15

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Idolizing God

Being honest with oneself, a person may find that he or she is not so much in love with God, but, at least in part, his or her idea of God. This becomes obvious as one matures in his or her understanding of theology. As biblical truth found through Scriptural study begins to replace traditional thought instilled by others and/or self-referenced thought driven by desire, one may find his or her entire religious framework being deconstructed and rebuilt. The Christian faith is an entering into a relationship with a transcendent Being that cannot be entirely understood by the human mind. Thus, categorical knowledge of the being of God will forever be an unfinished area of understanding. It is often a painful revelation when one begins to discover that he or she does not have a true relationship with God, but, instead, has idolized God according to his or her own desires and understandings.

The action of idolizing is not often attributed to someone’s development of coming to understand the being of God, but humans are capable of doing so, nonetheless. Usually, idolization is thought of as the process of uplifting an object or person beyond its rightful status, many times placing its importance above God. However, one cannot rightfully suggest that a person is capable of raising God above His status, for He is the highest being in existence. Therefore, this cannot be what I mean by idolizing God.

In ancient pagan tradition, which is still represented in some religions today such as Hinduism, the worshiper would create an image of a god called an idol. This object would be used in order to worship and manipulate the god. Because this image was derived from the human’s mind, it represented the human’s self-projection of his or her desire of what this god might be. This is why God expressly forbids the Hebrews to create any graven images of Him, for God created us in His image, not the other way around. Therefore, humans are guilty of idolizing God when they create within their minds an image of God that pleases their liking instead of coming to understand God as He presents Himself.

Oddly enough, idolizing God has quite a different and almost opposite effect than idolizing any other object or being. The results are not entirely opposite because they are both negative, but for very different reasons. To idolize anything other than God is to raise that thing above its status, and is an injustice to that object. For example, many persons in a relationship, especially a relatively new relationship, will often idolize the other person, expecting the other to be the perfect match according their own desires. As a result, the idolizers will often become unfairly disappointed in the other when they do not act to desired preconceived notions. In fact, this is why many relationships end, even marriages: The person was more in love with an idea of the other than they were with the other.

On the other hand, when a religious person creates God in his or her own mind, the result is not a raising up of God beyond His intended position, but it is to lower God from His status, because human projections always fall short of His glory. While learning of God is an invaluable investment, one cannot presume that his or her knowledge of God produces any sort of relationship. Instead, true relationship should produce greater understanding of God. To enter into this relationship, one need not obtain a particular knowledge of God. Instead one must become submissive to God’s will. Through obedience we fall deeper in love and come to truly know God. Love is expressed not through a self-taught knowledge, but obedience and trust (John 14:15).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Importance of Right Doctrine

It has often been said that right doctrine is not as important to Christian faith as right relation. However, right relation seems to be based upon proper understanding. Assume that you enter into a relationship with person X. Let’s say that this is the common relationship of friendship. You might assume that X desires to share ideas, interests, maybe even sorrows, but X assumes that this relationship also entails that the two of you will participate in certain morally wrong actions such as robbing others of valuable items. Unfortunately for you, this assumption is only made clear when X steals from a stranger and you are obligated to respond justly, breaking what X thinks is a commonly held tenet of the friendship. Obviously, this situation was based on false assumptions of or ignorance to this facet of X’s character that might have been avoided if you had attempted to learn more about X.

Relational interaction between personal beings is heavily impacted by the shared assumptions of each person, and knowing each other’s character can help inform what the person might expect out of a relationship. If the character of God cannot be separated from the being of God, and I suspect it cannot, since God is defined by such characteristics as love, then right study of God and right understanding of His character will lend to better relation with Him. Being in Christian faith is being in a relationship with God, and for any two beings to be in proper relation to the other, it is beneficial for each person to understand the other, especially when one being offers relation based on certain principles to which he or she expects the other to agree. It goes without saying that God knows our character and what is best for us since He is our Creator. However, as humans, we often lack understanding or have misunderstandings concerning God’s character.

Christian doctrine helps us to rightly express God’s character as well as His purposes for being in relationship with humanity, but often we observe that many in relationship with Him do not hold to certain doctrines that have been affirmed by the majority of the church. Some presuppose that such lack of understanding in a saint points to the fact that doctrines are not important. In fact, the church at large has various denominations that differ on many theological doctrines. However, is unimportance the only logical inference that can be extracted from this sort of situation?

Doctrines are human expressions of a greater truth. The truth precedes our understanding. A truth does not depend on our ability to affirm such a truth. In other words, humans do not arbitrarily create doctrine, but form doctrinal understanding and formulas based on an established truth concerning God and His will for humanity, as revealed in Scripture. If there exists person who are in relation to the Father and yet are not willing to confirm or are ignorant to a certain doctrine, then they are in relation to God by His grace and mercy, not merely because the doctrine is of no importance. The truth that is affirmed by the doctrine still presses upon and has consequences for this person, whether he or she wishes to affirm this truth or not.

I suspect that each of us have certain misunderstandings because of our ignorance, and God is gracious enough to allow us an opportunity to learn, not before we enter into relationship, but while we are in relationship. Although God is gracious enough to allow us our ignorance, it is not beneficial for us to remain in such a state. It is better to come to right understanding of doctrine through study and prayer than to find out the hard way by assuming an incorrect reality of God only to painfully stumble when we wrongfully suspect we are in His will when we are not. Thankfully, when we wonder so far due to misunderstanding we experience pain so that we might realize our mistake, but I suspect each of us would rather properly avoid the pain in the first place.

With this in mind, proper doctrinal affirmations are of much benefit to the believers and can help believers in leading others into a proper relationship with God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Christianity and the Reality of Death

Christianity and the Reality of Death

"Die before you die. There is no chance after." C. S. Lewis

I recently heard some talk over a program airing on television that demonstrated that psychologist have the ability to manipulate and stimulate a subject’s mind in such a way, I assume through electronic signal, that the subject begins to believe he or she is having a religious experience. Specifically, the subject assumes he or she is in the presence of God. Once again, this is hearsay, but as it was reported to me, the thrust of the program was set out to prove that humans have naturally developed the concept of a divine being so that we might feel comforted in light of certain fears, such as the reality of death and persecution. Of course, this is nothing new. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are among many who have suggested such theories, both for various reasons.

I do not have much time to watch such programming, nor do I have much to say on the matter, mainly because I think these sorts of theories warrant little attention due to their distortion of the issue. However, out of frustration, I do feel the need to briefly address this topic and share what I think is an obvious, albeit theological, rebuttal to such notions. The one major fact that secular psychology is overlooking is that the claim that Christianity is a religion that somehow comforts us in the knowledge of inevitable death is a straw man. If one has this sort of understanding of Christianity, he or she is missing the point.

For many persons struggling with doubt or disbelief in the divine and the supernatural, this program seems to offer some major implications as to how we are to understand the phenomenon of religion. However, are the results from such experimentation really detrimental to Christian belief? Are not the scientists’ analysis of the results presupposing that such a result, manipulation of mind in a certain way produces the feeling of the divine, points to there not being a God. Why should it be the case that the “discovery” of the mind’s having a natural, built-in concept of God be understood as pointing to a mechanism developed by evolution that helps humans cope with fears? Have not theologians been suggesting that humans have the natural concept of God precisely because God gave humans this capability?

However, my own issues with this line of thought are not even based in the question of whether or not we are given this sense or not. I find the assumption that Christianity is a crutch for humans to deal with the concept of death to be a gross misunderstanding of the true message of the faith.

Christianity, in many ways, is a call to death. Death is not an avoidable reality. Instead, we are called to die to self so that we might become Christ-centered beings. We are to become so Christ like, as Saint Paul suggests, that when we act and live, it will be Christ who is living in and through us (For more on this topic, please refer to my essay, “If Christ is All, What Does that Make Me?”). Persons entering into the faith, as well as Christians at various points in our walk MUST face death. We are called to become radically new beings that result from a giving up of all the self wants and desires, which is to keep the status quo.

Secular psychology is not interested in this fact. Spirituality might be taken into consideration in evaluating humans, and I do not want to belittle any secular psychologist who does consider the possibility of the life-changing aspect of faith. However, I doubt many psychologists do take such accounts of one becoming a new creation seriously. Therefore, they study men and women in their natural state. In our natural state, humanity has been left wanting, knowing there must be something else out there, but also knowing of the ultimate reality of death. This does lead to fear, but Christians have never denied the fact, as these scientists seem to be presupposing, that each and ever person must face this fear and die. We only suggest that death might be more than what the secular definition seems to suggest. Death is frightening because we lose ourselves. The self wants to survive, but it cannot. Christians affirm this, and our faith does not suggest any way around this fact. We merely suggest that this sort of death can happen during this life. The natural self (the sin-oriented self) can, in this very life, die and be born anew, but we still lose that self that so desperately wishes to be in control, or at least we should.

Psychologists by-and-large have been suggesting, as the television program suggested, that humans must find a way to cope with the void left by the self-realization of our finitude, but Christians do not find that finitude is the root of the void. Instead, there exists a hole left by our separation from God.

Therefore, to commit to Christ, one must be willing to give up his or her life as he or she wishes it to be, and this is a very scary reality to face indeed. All the self-oriented desires must pass away. In a real sense, to pass into Christianity is to face, once-and-for-all, the finitude of the self. It is at the moment of committing to Christ that we die to self and begin life anew, reborn and converted to a new way of life. We do not die in a mere metaphorical sense; it is a true passing into another life. While physical death still awaits us, that does not deny the fact that we have already faced the reality of death. Maybe this reality is more hopeful than the secular understanding, but that does not mean it is wrong.

Thus, secular psychology gets it wrong when it suggests Christians are not willing to let go. For letting go is the very purpose we are called into this faith. It is the very essence of the faith. So, what then do I make of the claims of this television show? What if science has proven that it is in our very nature to have the desire for a divine presence in our life? Well, that makes sense to me. Does it not to you? God has given us the ability to desire and know of Him. As for such claims that we, or better yet, evolutionary process created our notion of God, well, I do not have much more time to discuss such nonsense.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ever Strengthening Faith

This post is a quick reflection on a philosophy class I just finished concerning Reason and Faith. I have not hammered out my thoughts nor did I proof-read this post. With that said, please read with mercy in light of that fact, and return in a few weeks for an updated version.

We know that belief-that God exists is not enough for salvation. Salvation is relationship with God. While I might believe that the president of the United States exists, this by no means suggests that I am in relationship with Barrack Obama. Likewise, one might know of God without knowing God personally. But many suggest that humans can only “know” things through natural inference. Natural inference does not allow for us to enter into spiritual relationship with God. There are some who suggest that faith is just a form of belief of the mind. However, many Christians suggest that faith is a matter of the soul/spirit and not merely a matter of the mind. If this is the case, can faith ever be effective? Can it ever overcome doubt?

There have been philosophers that have pointed out that we are only able to reason from experience. Our language is built upon experience, and we explore ideas by forming them into words. Thus, God cannot reveal anything to us that we cannot understand from experience. We cannot say, suggests this line of argumentation, that God gives us any special revelation that we could not arrive at from experience. And, even if He can, it does not do anyone else any good because we have no words from experience to explain what has been revealed. In other words, God cannot, or, at very least, does not have to, reveal anything new to us. With this in mind, these philosophers contend that all the knowledge that we can ever affirm, we learn through natural methods of reasoning from past experience. Thus, faith has little to do with the statement: “I know God.” Is this really the case?

Although the argument about beliefs might not deal exactly with faith itself, I find that it does have implications for some persons’ views of faith. For example, many Christians would argue that faith is a higher ability than reason. In addition, many would also posit that faith informs reason. In light of the above reasoning, can this be the case? Can we claim that “belief-that,” a product of the mind, can be informed by, “belief-in” (faith), a product, arguably, of a higher function? If faith is beyond humans’ natural experience and is not developed from experience, can it still inform the mind which understands from experience?

I think there is a way that faith can be helpful to reason, even if reason only affirms what we know from experience. Faith might be a quality that, among other things, somehow strengthens our already formed beliefs of the mind.

For example S might believe through reasoning from evidence that G probably exists. Let’s say that S was willing to place a value of 55% to this assuredness of G’s existence. Let us also imagine that S has tried with all his might to find evidence for G, but still is only somewhat sure and holds some doubt. Could it not be the case that G has a power to reward S if S chooses, on account of his desire for relationship with G, to trust G in spite of lingering doubt. Suppose G provides that faith, a quality He provides if S desires to exercise it, is such a quality that it causes the mind to become more certain in previously held beliefs. Thus, because S decides to place his faith by gradually raising S’s assurance of G’s existence, until it eventually reaches 100%. This could be accomplished by some relation of soul and body, in which a soul that has faith has the ability to cause the body to be a healthier functioning machine so that the mind can more easily replace doubt with trust.

I am not exactly sure how this might work, but let’s think of one possibility to show that it is at least logically consistent. It is natural for our feelings to play a part in the strength of our beliefs. Feelings do not have to be the direct result of beliefs. When I look at my wife and my heart flutters, I do not experience this love just because I believe she exists and loves me back. My feelings for her are deeper than my beliefs about her. If we believe in unconditional love, we must affirm this. Thus, feelings can be something other than beliefs that yet effects belief.

If faith is beyond reason, does that still mean it cannot influence our emotions? I see no reason that it cannot. When feelings are heightened, our beliefs are impacted. For example, when I hear a bump in the night, I might think nothing of it at first, but then I begin to think of the safety of my wife and daughter. The emotion of fear begins to drive my belief that there is someone in the house until I become almost certain of this.

Faith might not be a mere belief that God is present, but an overwhelming feeling that He is reaching out to our heart. While our mind might not think much of His presence at first, the feeling lingers and will not leave us alone: the stronger the feeling, the stronger the belief.

Thus, we do not have to affirm that faith is just another species of belief that is formed in the mind of man. It is a gift from God that is more likened to feeling than ascent to truth, seeded in the heart, to keep us grounded in His love. While there have existed times in my walk in faith that I might have thought, “what if God is not there?” there has been something much deeper within my being that has kept me rooted in my walk, and I believe this is the quality of faith. Praise God!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Crutch of Inbred Sin

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? –Saint Paul, Apostle of Christ

Reliance upon sin for the Christian is deplorable; we are surely to utterly rely on Christ and no other. Yet we often defer to our inbred impurity as excuse for wrongdoings. It is true that our perfection is not realized at the moment of conversion. Sin still lives within. However, while it lives within, it has no more dominion when Christ’s Spirit resides on the throne of the heart. Can we deny this? Is it not the case, as St. Paul suggests, that in light of the Spirit, if we focus upon Him, we remain in His will and do not have the opportunity to sin (Galatians 5:16)? Voluntary sin on behalf of the Christian is thus an act of volition in which one diverts His gaze from God Most High. In light of this, are we justified in the acclimation that “the Devil made me do it?”

As a matter-of-fact, I must recognize infirmities and psychological ills. In this consideration, I recognize such evils that result from these conditions of the human being to be involuntary and unrecognized as sin by the offender. In His mercy, God extends grace to us when we are guilty of such transgression. The above query deals with those sins that we recognize as such and participate in them nevertheless. This is the nature of such sin that we attribute to inbred sin. To attribute it as such is to recognize it as sin. So, I ask again, are we justified, in light of our known sin, to say, “I cannot but help to sin. It is in my nature”?

If it is an act of volition, how can we say such things? One might object, “I am weak, and my brokenness is such that I cannot help but sin. I would respond, “Do you not call yourself a follower of Christ and, as such, do you not proclaim to have Him living within? If so, then is it by your power that you live, or by His?” In light of the multitude of sin we are capable of committing in our life, it is easy to say that I might become overwhelmed and must submit to my nature at some point in time. However, think of each potential sin as it presents itself through initial temptation. Reflecting on each potential sin, one at a time, do we not have the ability to deny our temptation by appealing to the power of Christ within, or is that power too weak?

In order of the severity of their impact, think upon sin from least to greatest. The white lie: are you unable, with Christ’s power, to deny your desire to lie and instead tell the truth? The act of stealing: are you unable, with Christ’s power, to deny your desire to steal and instead trust Him for sustenance? The act of murder: are you unable, with Christ power, to deny your desire to kill and instead learn to love others as Christ loves you? When temptation comes our way, cannot Christ lead the heart away from such contemplations, or is His model prayer said in vein when we say, “Lead us not into temptation”?

When we approach sinful acts in this manner, we surely affirm Christ’s power over each, but in real life circumstances we too often circum to our temptations and use our inbred sin as an excuse. Sin has no power over those who are in Christ. While it lingers until we are perfected in Him, it cannot, or, at very least, should not reign. But, in order to realize this truth, we must trust in His power, and this is as much a plea for myself to follow as it is my message to you.

While we are capable of sin, even as Christians, and still have an advocate with the Father if we do fail, we do not have to do so. Sin should be the rarest of exceptions and never the rule. He has the power to deliver if we be vigilant enough to recognize our temptations and then lean utterly upon Him.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all you care upon Him; for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen –I Peter 5:6-11

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is Equality an Established Truth?

Most sane human beings have some sort of ethic from which to operate based in a phenomenon known as morality. Morality seems to be an inescapable quality that humanity upholds and from which we establish laws to which we hold each other responsible to follow. The ethic of equality that we, especially in the United States, hold seems to be a peculiar and particular assumption that must be firmly grounded in other beliefs (i.e. humans have value, etc.). Equality that grants each person a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be based on the fact that each human has been created with such rights. But, what overarching law demands this equality?

It would seem that if it were the case, as many assume, that humanity arrived on the scene through a very gradual, unsupervised process of natural selection (NS), there would be no other laws of morality than those created by the creatures that arrived from this process. Or, as the proponents of Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian suspect, NS might, out of necessity, demand “survival of the fittest” (SOF). The ethic of equality seems to assume a prior law set in place before humanity, not set by humanity, and although NS might precede humanity, it does not seem to grant equality; in fact, SOF seems to preclude such a law.

Most people base basic human rights on the basis of a divine authority. In other words, we establish our equality on the fact that we are created by a God who has established order as such. However, there have been some in recent times that have tried to establish the basic right of equality without the need for a higher authority. Can this be the case?

I might be able to write a lengthy dissertation on the topic, and someday I might do just that. But today I have a simple thought. So, for now, consider the following: There have been philosophers in the past that attempt to establish an ethic based on the ambiguity of our existence. One such philosopher Simon De Beauvoir claims that, since we are the highest being, at least that we know of, it is our responsibility to establish the rights of others and live peaceable lives based on our own ability to take charge of our fate. She argues that if there is no higher being, we are duty-bound to take control.

While these philosophers establish a need for humans to be responsible in forming ethics and laws, it still seems that the basic right of equality is not so basic without the assumption of the existence of God. Why is it my responsibility to establish equality for persons weaker than myself? If it were the case that there were no God and SOF was our highest governing truth, it might be argued that it is human duty to exploit and expose the weakness of others, ethnically or otherwise, so that we might weed out disease, figuratively or otherwise, that is spread by their weakness and incapability.

I know that the previous statement is a disagreeable one, and it is so for good reason. I submit that it is disagreeable because equality of all humanity is a basic truth grounded in God, otherwise it could not be rightly considered basic at all. If one believes in equality for all, the existence of God seems to be the most reasonable explanation of the existence of such a basic truth.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Faith is to the Soul as Reason is to the Body

As a person’s body cannot rightly be said to be whole without both flesh and bone, so the human cannot be said to be whole without both body and soul. Like flesh and bone, these components cannot function properly without each other (at least in this life); however, we can, as we do with flesh and bone, speak of each separately and diagnose each part of the greater whole.

With this in mind, we must understand that each part works with the other for the good of the whole, yet they each operate with different capacities. The brain operates with reason and observation. When it ponders an object of its interest, it begins to formulate ideas based on previous experience and knowledge that can be expressed in language. The soul, on the other hand, operates with faith. When it ponders an object of its interest, it begins to form a relationship to the object that cannot fully be explained by human language.

Thus, doubt and faith are both capacities of the greater whole, yet each one works on a separate level of the human being. Doubt comes from gaps in reason. However, faith is a product of the soul. As John Wesley pointed out, faith lies in the hidden heart of man. With this in mind, we need not assume necessarily that doubt is to be an indication of “weak” faith, unless the doubt cripples the relationship between God and person (I will speak more to this in a moment).

Because of these phenomena of human function, we might better understand why the Christian who is plagued by doubt might yet hold dearly to faith. While the mind might have severe trouble in its understanding of God, producing doubt, the soul, in relation to the Father, has no trouble relying and trusting the object of its desire (if we can rightly call God object). As modern psychology has indicated, many factors can contribute to a strained mind. Thus, some people do not have the capacity to “believe” properly because of plaguing anxiety and the like, and the gracious and patient God of Creation mercifully understands such issues.

While I hope that this can be digested as a word of hope, I must not neglect a word of warning. This distinction between faith and doubt does not suggest that doubt cannot penetrate to the soul and hamper faith. Doubt can become cancerous if not rightly understood. If one allows doubt to overpower the mind, the person can become so obsessed that the heart has no power in which to operate. As bone cancer can cripple the whole body, so doubt can cripple the whole person, if he or she does not actively allow faith to inform reason.

Properly align your faith and reason, properly accepting the capacities of each so that common human malfunction does not cripple your joy in relation to the Father. He is patient, kind and loving. If your mind has trouble accepting, but your heart wishes to hold on, take this as an indication that He has your heart and smile because you are His beloved, even when this fact is almost impossible to fathom.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is The Reception of Faith in Christ to Be Considered Works Righteousness?

A Wesleyan’s Perspective Briefly Stated

Note: Below I describe a few select opinions of Christian understanding that differ from that of my own. These statements are brief and are not intended to sum up any one particular tradition of thought, nor are they intended to stereotype any particular person into one way of thinking. If it were my intention to discuss vast differences between my thought and the thoughts of others (although there are particular thought traditions below that I do wish to distance myself from, and these are the traditions of thought that contradict orthodox faith by either affirming works righteousness as a means of salvation or affirming universalistic claims of salvation), I would be sure to spend much time on the topic. However, it is my hope and desire to clearly express my own thoughts and maybe even demonstrate how similar they might be to those who differ in opinion, if only semantically.

In reading the Scriptural writings of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (3:11-14-as well as many places elsewhere. I explicitly mention this epistle because it is the area of my study at this time), he makes clear the issue associated with works righteousness. Works is an attempt to perfect the will of God through an impossible task of the self trying to flawlessly obey the law. By this, the one performing the work hopes to enter into the will of God for the purpose of salvation. On the other hand, reception of faith is an act that is entirely other, if one wishes to call it an act at all.

Merely because something is an action does not constitute it as a work. Reception of faith is not an attempt by the individual to earn salvation. The one who truly receives Christ knows he or she has no means of saving the self, and it is only the grace of God that delivers us from sin. Reception is a passive act of submitting to God so that He might work in us (the term passive is not meant to remove responsibility from the individual. The term is used to denote that it is not the human action that is the active agent in salvation, even though it is a crucial aspect in the process). It is also important to note that it is not the human’s acceptance that is the initiating factor is salvation. The term “reception” needs to be understood as a response in that it is an action empowered by an already active action of God.

Many have tried to credit or discredit the action of reception by equating it to works righteousness. However, before one can categorize an action as a work, he or she must have a functioning definition of the term “works.” Merely claiming that a work is any action is to haphazardly dismiss the specifics that the scripture gives about the term. In our common everyday understanding of language, we hardly equate all actions with work. For example, we would hardly call the action of sleep an act of work. Similarly, we need to specify our theological understanding of works. To restate my definition from above: Works is an attempt to perfect the will of God through an impossible task of the self trying to flawlessly obey the law.

If we do in fact affirm along with traditional Christianity that we are totally depraved-we have no means of developing a healthy faith on our own- we must also affirm that it is only by God that we receive the gift of faith. With these affirmations, we are left with an inescapable consequence: Someone must be responsible for the detriment of those who never obtain faith.

In the opinion of some, it can be affirmed that God is ultimately responsible for the salvation and damnation of all humans. This affirmation is referred to as double predestination. Some assume that the sovereignty of God cannot be affirmed without this previous affirmation. A powerful argument used to affirm this assumption is the statement that God can do as God pleases, for He is God. There is not much that could be said to counter this argument, if it were the case that God did have such motives. However, we are given information about the resolute love of God by God Himself that seems to counter this claim.

For others, God’s sovereign choice of determining our ultimate fate does not leave man free from guilt. In this line of thought, even if God chooses to deliver some from sin, it is still the sin of the individual that made him or her guilty in the first place. Election is then a merciful act of allowing some to be pardoned for no other reason than it pleases God. Once again, if this was God’s prerogative, our protest would not mean much at all, for God is God. Yet, for many, including myself, it seems intuitive that the just God of Scripture would have the ability and desire to offer this gift to all.

Many, like me, that do hold this intuition that God wishes to offer this gift to all, unlike me, believe that no matter what one does, he or she will be saved by God’s divine election of all humanity. For the Universalist, God pardons all, no matter the condition of the heart. If this was the will of God, so be it. However, His holiness is described as such that this claim seems to contradict His very character.

There are still some that insist that works are a part of our way to salvation. While they might affirm that Christ is involved, some suggest that humans must grow into salvation, and once again, if this was God’s intention, I am sure it could be done in this manner. The problem with this thought is that it is a confusing of the Scriptural message of Christian life. Christian life is indeed to be marked by works of righteousness, but only after one is previously saved. There are no good works done by humanity unless the Spirit already dwells within, and the Spirit cannot dwell within until one has previously been justified by Christ. Never should we confuse the two crucial doctrines of justification and sanctification. Neither facet of our salvation should be ignored, but their proper order must also be understood.

Now that I have given a very brief and admittedly somewhat deficient account of what some Christians hold to be the proper means of salvation, I will leave you with my thoughts on the subject, thoughts not derived from my own imagination (not to suggest other’s thoughts are derived from their imagination), but from my humble interpretation of God’s will for us as I prayerfully understand it.

While humanity has been totally depraved of its moral image and has no means within its self in which to be saved, God’s grace is such that He might restore in each of us the ability to be called forth. If it is the case, as Scripture suggests, that God wishes for no man to perish, and if it is true that Christ’s sacrifice was intended for all, then all must have the opportunity and thus be held responsible for his or her eternal state (while there might be questions concerning those who never here the Gospel, this is not the time to discuss their possible fate. Although I will suggest that God’s grace extends to all, and He will fairly treat all He does judge). However, this responsibility is not to be accompanied with a pride of self accomplishment, for it is still by His grace that we are afforded such an opportunity. By His grace, fallen humans are given the ability to understand their hopelessness apart from Him and are given the choice to receive His will.

While works is a self righteous attempt to earn salvation, reception of faith as a gift of God is a passive action of allowing God to do for the individual what He has wanted to do for that person all along, but has waited for the person to want to rely on God so that he or she is not mandated into a relationship that is based on force, but rather based on love and dependence. True relationship must be a mutual interaction.

The submissive response of opening one’s heart to receiving faith is not an action of self-deliverance because it remains God who must perform this work. In truth, one could keep his or her heart open all he or she wished and it would amount to nothing unless God decided to act. Fortunately we are given the promise that those who are willing will receive.

However one may wish to look at the situation of faith, orthodox Christian teaching remains firm that it is not by any works that we are saved. We are saved only by the grace of God the Father through the sacrifice of His only Son, Christ, who sends us the power of the Holy Spirit to live as His people.

Now go and live in His promise as His people.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Narrow Path… (as I see it)

Note: When I write something that is somewhat obscure, which I think this post might be, and yet, at least in my mind, is somewhat eloquent, I pray I am not being merely clever, which is often the case for obscure writings (they seem to have substance, but they really mean nothing). I hope what I have to say has meaning. I hope that at least some who read my thoughts expressed here will be impacted in a positive manner.

While the path is narrow, it is deep. The depth at which one walks is not to be seen as an indication that one is somehow greater than those closer to the surface, for many on the surface may still be far ahead of many who travel deeply. Those who travel deeply might not travel at this depth for any other reason than they were created too heavy to walk on the surface. These who travel deeply cannot spend much time on the surface without frantically thrashing to stay afloat. It is within their very nature to sink deeply into their surroundings.

This might be a warning to those who travel deeply and are pessimistic about the quality of the faith of those who might not be so deep. While it might be human pride that tells us that the deeper we are in understanding the more important we are, the truth is that the deeper we travel the more fragile we become. If one takes stock of the believers around him or her, it becomes painfully obvious that those closer to the surface seem to travel the path of relationship with God much easier than those who might be deeper in understanding. The truth about understanding is that the more you have, the more you realize you do not know.

Our depth is dictated by our inner capabilities. Many intellectuals have no other choice than to go deeper so that they can move ahead, for if they remain at the surface, all their energy is wasted trying to stay afloat. While we might wish to stay on the surface, God draws us deeper, and as soon as we see the merit to this deeper journey, God does not allow us to go any deeper. While it is our decision to submit to our abilities and travel as deep as we are able, our potential is limited by our Maker who keeps us from going too deep so that we might realize that we must rely on Him. It is His prerogative. Going beyond the point God has dictated leads us into blindness. For, if we do choose to go beyond where He intends, He will not travel with us, and we have no light to understand true reality. This, I fear, is the condition of so many intellectuals of today.

Here I must carefully clarify what I mean by depth, because there exists various types of depth. This depth has little to do with our depth in relationship with God. The depth I speak of is vertical. It is the depth to which we understand our point on the path. The depth of our relation, on the other hand, is more of a matter of how far we have traveled with God in faith and has little to do with the depth at which we understand, other than the fact that the being at the correct depth of understanding for each individual is a matter of faithfulness to God.

I have no all encompassing final application to make here. However, I do hope that this is not the end to your thought on the subject matter. I hope this is a kick-board for further meditation.

God bless.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Life Or Death?

If you died today, would you go to heaven? This is a popular question that many of us evangelicals like to ask of those we are concerned for. But where does this lead the mind that has been inquired? This projects thoughts of the future, the life to come. But our salvation is now; our reality of citizenship in the kingdom, although not yet consummated here on earth, is a truth we live in now. It is our present concern. Sure, this question implies one’s condition for the present moment in that it refers to today. Ultimately, however, the question concerns one’s status as a child of God, and the focus of this status is one’s security in the afterlife. In other words, this question reveals the inquisitor’s view of the purpose of salvation and the end goal of faith, which is going to heaven, and this assumption is almost blasphemous. Christ’s purpose for dying on our behalf is not to give us the gift of heaven, as if heaven is nothing more than a peaceful retirement community for the dead.

Christ did not come just so that we might live forever. He came to transform us into His image, to redeem our brokenness, not only in the future, but here and now, to bring us back to His original purpose of being in relationship with Him, to make us holy. This is the end goal of our faith. Heaven is the place where God and His holy people dwell until the restoration of all things when we shall once again live on Earth as citizens of the fully restored New Jerusalem. It is not a prize for simply claiming to be a Christian. I am not accusing everyone who asks this question of denying this reality; I have asked the question myself, and I have done so out of genuine concern for people I love. However, what I am suggesting is that this question can lead to false conclusions that have little to do with the redeeming cross.

Maybe the better question is this: Are you who God has called you to be today? Are you living a life of happiness in relation to God at this very moment? Does His Spirit witness with your Spirit today? In its best possible sense, the question of heaven is asking whether or not we will be in the presence of the Holy God in the future, in the life to come. However, the question should really be: are you living in His presence now? There is no future hope without present salvation. Present salvation is by no means a mere promise for a future life. Present salvation is given to us so that we might grow in holy love now. This is not a call for us to forget our hope for the future. Yet, our hope for the future should not be a cause for us ignoring our present reality before the Living God today.

In life or death our purpose is to, by His grace alone, be truly holy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Fear of Being Happy

The following is an excerpt from a soon to be published TSM theological essay, "The Proper Acceptance of Assurance." I have not had time to proof, so forgive any grammatical mistakes. -TM

There is a particular professor at the seminary I attend whose disposition and approach to faith I have found a bit perplexing. This is not a commentary on the quality of his faith, only his manner of thinking, which is neither inherently good nor bad, but fits his quirkiness well and, for that reason, is very good (in the highest sense of the word). I am not sure why I bring this up other than to introduce my story. While some of his statements cause me to lose total track of the conversation in order to dissect his thought, whether that be good or bad, I never find myself drifting away during his prayers. His prayers are such that they captivate all who listen, but not so that one is amazed by the teacher himself, but, rather, they are such prayers that one can meditate on them and talk to God about them all day.

Today’s prayer was no exception. Now, when I give you the gist of the prayer, you might not be blown away. However, if you could but hear them in their context, you might be amazed at the depth that flows forth. While I will not attempt to recreate the whole prayer, here is the main message: While we are so amazed at God’s creativity, his power, his intelligence, and so forth, what is even more so amazing is His goodness. We are foolish in that we do not understand such goodness. His goodness is so great-and here is the part that really shook me-that He would will our happiness forever.

I tell you that story, to tell you this. My reaction to the last statement-that God is so good that He would will our happiness forever-struck me in a profound and even disturbing way. It is not that I did not already know this, but for some reason, in that moment, the reality of God, as it sometimes does, became so real to me that I found myself frightened. In a real large sense, this fear was that healthy fear we often read of in the Old Testament; however, there was yet another side to this fear. Something in me, something dark within me, was frightened by this proposition. It was not merely fear of ending up on the wrong side of eternity, missing the boat, if you will. That is to say, I was not brought to fear because I was afraid of not obtaining this happy state of eternal bliss with God (which would suggest the alternative-damnation), and it was not that, in that moment, I feared my professor’s words to be empty so that what he spoke of did not exist. It was something much worse, for I believed precisely what he was saying.

Before I tell you what this feeling was, I must tell you why I offer this thought to you. As a (forming) minister, the last thing I personally want to do is show you my weakness, especially when it comes to the faith that I wish to present. I am called to be a shepherd, and I cannot afford my flock not feeling safe with my leadership. However, my flock must also know my sincerity. Thus, in order to honestly speak of my knowledge of the darkness that sin brings, I want to relate to my reader through showing the severity of the darkness sin sometimes brings me.

So, without any more delay, I will tell you what I fear about the statement: God wills our happiness forever. In short, I fear exactly that, that God would will my happiness forever. I fear the idea that I am going to exist forever, even if this forever is to be spent in utter happiness. I do not wish to analyze this fear in depth, and I do not wish for you to worry about it yourself. That is but a part of who I am, the old self. The old self wishes not to be ruled by God, but loves autonomy, to be master of its own reality, but this leads to death.

While I am a child of God, I am still tainted by sin, and that which sin infects is dead. Thus, the dead, false self fears its ultimate demise. It knows the power of God, and it knows that His ultimate will for my life is to strip my true self-the self hidden in Christ-of the dead self. All that the self loves for its own sake will perish, and this old self does not wish to be let go. The curse of death is so great that even that which is already dead fights against it in a futile effort of self-preservation. In light of God’s goodness, I let go more and more of the dead self, and when this happens it screams out in fear. I experienced my deadness today, and, praise Him, I think I experienced it because I was letting it go just a bit more in light of my professors prayer. So, I must say: Thank you Dr. Stone...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Contemplative Awakening

I am not a poet. I work much better in the prosaic realm. However, lately, I have been inspired by a friend who is a poet by nature. Since I have no natural talent when it comes to poetry, I decided to model my work after Zach's. Now, you must understand that I do not presume to suggest my work is near his level by any means; however, since his work was my inspiration, I must give credit.

Since poetry can be obscure and since I am a novice, I must give direction to my intention to this poem, or at least share my heart in this work. For some time, I have been thinking about prayer. I have wanted to express my feelings, but for some reason, I could not do so in prose. Therefore, I turned to poetry…

This poem is for anyone who has felt lost in prayer. I wanted to express something I find God has been telling me: Prayer has many obstacles. The imagination begins to run wild, and we feel guilty for this. Why? Why do we allow our thoughts to stop us? Another obstacle is the feeling of being lost. The mind begins to fail us in prayer, and we assume we are doing something wrong when we are in darkness. But, what if it is the case that we are in that exact place that God wants us to be? Think about this: If God is transcendent and beyond the senses, how will He appear to the mind in prayer? –As absolute Darkness. We let this blindness scare us away. But, what if we were to stay and listen to the heart, that place where God speaks to our being?

I am not suggesting that this place of darkness is all prayer can be or should be. I only suggest that it might just be a good thing, instead of that dead end we have always assumed it is. I do not know if you will agree with what I have proposed, but I hope it will stir thought within your soul.

Contemplative Awakening

I close my eyes once more,
But not for sleep.
Here I am again,
Staring out into Darkness.
My soul at the edge of this Undefined.
How many times have I stood here?
How many times have I walked away?

The familiar clouds swiftly pass over my being.
Anxiety fills my veins.
Open your eyes,
The mind is screaming.
The heart wants to stay.
Eyes clinched,
I remain.
What will happen if I stay?
What if this is not the dead end I assumed?

This place is confusion.
I seek deeper things;
Yet, I cannot help but notice the trifles that dance about.
Dancing across the grounds of my soul,
They bring with them guilt.
Why do I pay them attention?
Why do I find guilt in what I am unable to control?

I am astonished that I have yet given up.
Here I stand.
I remain at the edge.
I have been here before,
But have always turned back,
Assuming there must be another path,
Assuming You are somewhere else.
What if I have always been wrong?
What if You are this Darkness before me?

All I can do is choose once again.
I can turn back,
Or I can stay.
My senses fail me,
Yet I am engaged in the deepest thought
I think not with my mind
Where have the dancers gone?
And why does this darkness seem tangible to the heart?

I go forward,
But you cannot go with me.
Words cannot go with me;
Therefore, they cannot come back.
I have no more questions.
Yet, I remain in wonder of this Mystery.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Remaining Aware of the Doctrine of Sin

It is important for the mature Christian to return to the doctrine of sin often, not only as an area of study, but as a reminder of where God has taken him or her from. At a certain point, a Christ-filled being grows evermore disgusted by sin; at least this should be the most natural result of desiring the will of God. This disgust with sin does drive this person away from the desire to sin, but the disease of sin remains and can find subtler ways in which to manifest its self.

As strange as this may seem, the gulf between the person and sin can become a hazard for the individual, if perceived incorrectly, especially when any amount of credit is taken by the individual. The most dangerous result is manifest when the self begins to become comfortable in its self-perceived distance from sin. The person can begin to forget the severity of sin, how sin once was such a destructive force within, and the reality of the sin that is still within. Thus, this person begins to look down on the world, effectively damaging his or her own testimony of being once a part of the world, which should be the very reason for compassion. Eventually, the omission of admittance of lingering sin, that sin that might not be acted upon, yet still infects the person, causes the person to downplay the doctrine of sin altogether. One can even forget that sin was ever really a problem for the individual in the first place. Thus, the person has unwittingly allowed sin to once again rule the heart. Pride has once again snuck in.

Only the sin of pride tells a person that he or she does not really have a problem with sin, that sin was never really in control. Forgetting the potential of sin, this person has let down his or her guard, and sin has crept back in, making the person prideful of his or her lack of outward sin. Since the doctrine of sin is such a basic of Christian doctrine, this person finds his or her study focusing on the more ‘lofty’ things of religion. Talk of love, tolerance, and acceptance becomes the norm for this person, and it is not too soon after, that ideas of universalism begin to take hold. Of course, love, patience and tolerance are good attributes, but mere human love, patience, and tolerance cannot deliver humanity from sin.

Only the Spirit can provide such love, and the Spirit is only accessed through faith in the One who came to pardon us from sin. Without remembrance for our need for Christ, humanity begins to form its own religion. We must never forget where we come from. Yet, this is not a call to continual guilt. This is a call to remain in awe, a call to remain mindful of He who has saved us, a call to rejoice in the One who has conquered sin. Therefore, return often to this most basic of Christian doctrines, and rejoice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Entering the Throne Room

Christians often speak of the ease of entering into the presence of God now that He dwells within the hearts of those who love Him. Respectfully, I sometimes question this optimism. How frightening it must have been for the priest of old to enter into the Holy of Holies. Death could be a result of such an encounter, such a journey into Yahweh’s throne room. Those who dared to enter His dwelling place painstakingly searched their being to make sure they were clean. They feared that If they dared to enter unclean, death would result. This same God is He who lives in the heart of the Christian, and any sensible Christian has an overwhelming awe for the Almighty, even for the One who dwells within. Only a brief contemplation of His reality can engulf the seeker in overwhelming mystery, for His power in unfathomable.

Thus, whether admittedly or not, many individuals would rather keep distance from the throne room within. Once the Spirit of the Lord has descended upon the self, the heart seems to be a mysterious place with the ability to radically reorient the self. The old man wants nothing to do with this change because change is terrifying. The power that lies within, the power of the One who dwells in the heart, has the power to strip the self of the dead flesh, the old man that surrounds the heart. This old man is the one who tells the self that control is everything, self-orientation is key to survival, and autonomy must reign at all cost. This death, even to sin, is a death the self fears, for loss of any part of self is loss of control, loss of autonomy. However, autonomy is not freedom! Freedom lies in being exactly who we are supposed to be in His presence, letting our will go so that His will might become our own.

The throne room of the heart beckons us to enter in. However, travel inside the self to meet with the One who dwells within is to face a reality many of us do not wish to face. Who has the courage to enter into His presence?

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
-Psalm 24:3

To travel into the heart and to ascend to His throne room within, we must enter into our own self. This journey is to pass through the self, past all the deadness within. We cannot enter into His presence without the admittance of such dieses within, for filth separates us from our God. Thus, who will enter into His holy place?

Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. -Psalm 24:4

Only the humble have the courage to admit the rottenness within, to allow God to cleanse within. Only the humble will have the courage to look inward, instead of living a life of denial by never turning inward to see what our true priorities are, to see who or what we truly serve. This is a sad life that many Christians live. We often lie to ourselves, telling ourselves we have made the journey to meet God, even when we have not really begun. Acceptance of Christ’s gift is the invitation to walk with Him, not the end to the journey. Those who walk have admitted their weakness and need for the Lord, and their reward will be great:

They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. –Psalm 24:5

This is a journey that the self has to go alone. No other can enter the self to journey to that unique throne room where God has chosen to dwell with that self. However, there does remain companionship, for others must also travel their own journey. We share in this bond, and there are certain burdens that we can share in, each lifting the other up because of the knowledge of the sort of pain that can come from such a journey of ridding the self of the death, the sin, that plagues each of us:

Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
-Psalm 24:6

Therefore, the ease we speak of can often be misleading, yet the journey is worth taking and maybe even more so, for the pain that accompanies the journey testifies to the work the Lord is doing in our lives. Sin has been conquered, and there is no reason to hold on any longer to parts of the self that are already dead. Amen.


Monday, January 25, 2010

God’s Sovereign Decision to “Harden Hearts”

This is certainly not a full treatment on the subject; of course, I don’t imagine anyone could ever accuse me of writing a full treatment on anything, especially not this. These were just passing thoughts as I was reading Joshua 11, and I recorded them mainly for the sake that I would not lose them. I share in case anyone is interested.

The Lord’s decision to harden the hearts of certain figures throughout the biblical history, most notably that of Pharaoh, has perplexed some and led others to come to less than reasonable conclusions. Some of these conclusions were, of course, based on the already established hermeneutic of the theologian reading the text. In short, some have used these examples as proofs that human existence is (pre)determined (if only as secondary proofs).

Consequently, the determinist continues to suggest that life is so determined that even our “choice” of accepting Christ’s gift of salvation has already been decided, with no concern to the heart of the individual. Indeed, the Lord’s sovereignty is demonstrated in His ability to “harden hearts.” And no matter how much one might try to stretch the text, there is no denying that God does, in fact, determine His desired outcome in these instances. However, do these instances in the biblical text give warrant to some using them to support such a radical claim as predestination, as defined by the determinists?

Read the following accounts for reference: Joshua 11:19-20, Exodus 14:17, Exodus 4:21. You may wish to read the whole account in each of these cases for fuller understanding.

In these stories, God is using evil men, men who do not serve Him, to fulfill His will. In each instance, it seems that the person the Lord uses could have chosen another path for the sake of self-preservation, allowing Israel to do as it pleased. However, the decision to do so would not come from a moral desire to help Israel. Instead, it would only serve to protect them, an already evil people. It does not seem that these men were kept from choosing the good. For example, even if Pharaoh had decided to release the Israelites without further protest, he would not have been choosing to do the “good” thing. The only true good humans can do comes from following the will of the Lord. Pharaoh, the Egyptians, nor the Kings of the cities of Joshua’s conquest were kept from choosing the good. If they had wanted to serve the Lord, the story might be different. Instead, God’s will required a certain outcome, and if these rulers had chosen self-preservation and God had not intervened, His ultimate will would have been defied.

The Lord’s decision to intervene in these instances in no way interferes with the doctrine of free will. Those who hold that God gave humanity free will as an expression of His image have never suggested that this free will does not have its limits. In fact, true freedom comes in following His will for our lives. However, we are capable of choosing our own will over His will for us to a certain degree, the degree to which He allows us (thus insuring His sovereignty is not brought into question. This is known as God's permissive will.). For example, we can choose not to follow Him, which is the sad choice of damnation. However, God has an Ultimate will that cannot be transgressed by humanity. For those who are followers, we do not have to worry that God will harden our hearts, for followers of God are followers of His will, and “heart hardening,” as we see in the text, is a power used to keep evil men inside the confines God has chosen for humanity and not an expression of total determinism.

So do the episodes of God’s hardening hearts have any correlation to predestination? In each instance, God uses evil men for His own good. From this, there seems no reason to make a connection of God causing men to perform evil tasks against their will. Their will was already set on evil. Furthermore, if a person wanted to suggest this was an example of God forcing man to do evil and this was an example that could be used to demonstrate predestination, it seems quite one sided. There is no evidence of God forcing men to become good (the closest event to this being Paul’s conversion, and even here Paul does not seem to become possessed and forced to choose good).

As stated above, God does not keep evil men from changing their hearts to choose good, to choose Him. Just as with many other instances in the OT, these men had chosen evil lives and at this point in the story judgment is passed upon them. God only keeps them from escaping their judgment for motives of self-preservation. In fact, there is no suggestion of these men ever wanting to choose good. He only keeps their hearts on a course they had already chosen (and I cannot stress enough the fact that if they had chosen the alternative from which God was preventing, they still would not have chosen good, only self-preservation).

In point-of-fact, to suggest God had to harden their hearts to perform certain tasks indicates that they necessarily had freewill. Thus, “heart hardening” is a rare occurrence to prevent the freewill of humanity to interfere in God’s ultimate will. God had chosen for certain events to pass for the sake of Israel, and He would not allow evil humanity to stand in His way.

In conclusion, although there is certainly a certain level of determinism for certain moments in certain figures in the Bible (however, note that their prior choices led to this point of determinism, and there is even textual reference to the person himself hardening his own heart along with God doing the hardening: See Exodus 8:15. Thus the judgment passed is related to the choices of man and God, not God alone), there seems to be no correlation between these events and the determinist view of predestination. God does not make these evil men evil; He only uses them for His good. There is no prevention of these evil men to choose Him as Lord, no forcing them away from salvation; however, their evil does seem to cause the Lord to finally pass judgment upon them as they fall under His might and Israel’s sword. The fact that God hardens hearts suggests prior free will ability, and the explicit mentioning of these few cases shows this intervention as selective and rare. Theologically, these verses do demonstrate the mighty sovereignty of the Lord by demonstrating His power, even over free willed humanity. Thus, no theologian can ever claim that freewill is an infringement upon His sovereignty, for He can take it away in an instant, just as He can with any other gift He gives.