Posted in love

A Word Spoken to a World in Need and a Government Needing Repentance, Part III: A Christian’s Responsibility to Respond in Love

So far, in the two previous posts (A Word to be Spoken to a World in Need and a Government Needing Repentance: Part I and A Word Spoken to a World in Need and a Government Needing Repentance, Part II: The Issue and the Appropriate Response towards Civil Officials), I have laid out how God judged sin in the past at a national level through the use of water, fire and sword. God created mankind to bear His image throughout all creation, therefore, it is an act of rebellion—to the highest degree—to assume the authority to bear one’s own image without reference to His Law-Word. Rejecting God’s standard of holy living invites God’s wrathful judgment against mankind’s perceived versions of good and evil.

Civil governments are not above God’s retribution. They have been sanctioned to uphold good and to punish, and thereby, to purge evil from our society. In this fashion then, governments are meant to be protectors against the assault of godly (goodly) individuals. This is their duty as the Lord’s ministers and as our servants to be a defender and not an instigator of wrong. Remember they are ordained to serve the good of society by executing vengeance against evil, for, as it is written, “they do not bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13.4).

This means that they are severely limited by jurisdictional boundaries. It also means that the Christian—a member of Christ’s body, His Church—needs to recognize his jurisdiction of speaking God’s Truth into all areas of life. We speak not only to individuals, to families, and to Churches, but also to society as a whole, in particular, to the authorities above us in the civil sphere.

What of those entrapped by such lies or deceived by such sins?

Our duty is to speak the truth in love. This is a command from our Lord: “[to] teach [the nations] to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20; NET). Love is not to be defined by anything other than obedience (positive action) to (towards) the Law of God. Love is defined by God’s law for true love upholds it:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5.3; NASB).

The one thing that we do not want to do is be silent. For it is the Name of Christ Jesus that redeems and ransoms sinners from the depths of all sorts of depravity. This is why we must speak out against such tyranny and abuse of power as we witness in Canada regarding the new legislation C4. For it is an attempt to silence the people of Christ from speaking in His Name.

Nor should we attempt to isolate, and therefore, insulate ourselves from the world in which we live. Though it must be admitted that this has been the practice of some, we must resist this temptation. But as Christians, this is not something we are authorized to do in this instance. For we are commanded in Scripture to separate the leaven from within our midst; within the body of Christ, but not to separate ourselves from the world:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; I did not at all mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the greedy and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders?” (1Cor 5.9-12; emphasis added).

Our goal as Christians is to bear witness to the world at large, to be salt and light (Matt 5.13-14). What good is light hidden or salt unspent? They are worthless. Does not the world need what we have? Were we not at one time just like those in the world? Were we not at one time guilty of the sins that we see the world committing? Even some of those things that are abominable to the Lord our God? Have we not been redeemed? Have we not experienced the love of God in Christ? Are we not adopted children of the Most High? How did this adoption come about? How is it that we have been redeemed? From where did we learn of a ransom price for our sin, for a life without lawlessness, a life filled with the Spirit and the love of God? Is it not because we were witnessed to? Did others who once shared in our lot not stoop to our level and proclaim to us the mercies of God in Christ? Were we not told by others who were once lost of the Savior’s sacrifice on our behalf?

“…Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1Cor 6.9-11; emphasis added).

The message of the cross is Christ crucified. He who knew no sin became sin so that we might be adopted as sons and daughters of God (2Cor 5.21; Gal 3.26). All of us came from a previous life of sin. We are all deserving of hell and the grave. No mercy ought to be shown to us. No compassion should have been forthcoming to us. For we have all besmirched the Name of God (Rom 3.23). And yet, though we were all vile sinners, in Christ we experienced being made clean, being set-apart, being declared “not-guilty” fully acquitted of our crimes against our Maker. For Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the will of the Father made us new through His saving, sanctifying grace! And dare we deny telling this truth to others? Dare we be silent for fear from tyrannical despots that no neither their right hand from their left. Should we not preach the truth in love, demonstrating the grace of God in sharing the goodness (gospel) of Christ and His kingdom with a world of lost sinners. Confused by deceiving hearts and the false doctrines of men. Should we not cry out against the liars and the abusers, the swindler’s in the highest offices in our land, and declare with one voice:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, make your own judgment; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4.19).

Understand my brethren, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, that these laws as seen in Canada and those currently coming our way under the guise of “hate speech” here in the US are meant to silence us from using the Name of Jesus (Acts 4.18), but we must not! We dare not! For I know not one, who knows Christ, who desires to feel His shame on that fateful day because we feared to speak His truth before those who can only harm the body but have no power over our eternal souls (Matt 10.32-33). Therefore, let us with one accord declare to the heads of state here and in Canada and across the West into the farthest corners of this world: God alone defines sin. God alone defines marriage. God alone defines sex. God alone determines male and female. God alone determines what constitutes the family. God alone determines right and wrong. And God alone determines salvation. Our desire is to go forth amidst the nations to proclaim the Word of God to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see, and no government, no organization, no bullying, no amount of hate or intolerance for our beliefs, no amount of phobia for the creation narrative will silence us. And those who refuse to listen, we do not judge, for the Word of Christ will stand against the unrepentant and judge them on that Day (cf. Deut 18.19; John 12.48; also see: Acts 17.30-31).

Amen

Posted in Attributes of God, Beliefs, Christian Perspective, Communication, dialogue, Knowing God, love, Personal Testimony, Theology, Witnessing

False Ideas and the Idols we make: Witnessing to a Witness

Opening Thoughts…

Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.

When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?

Witnessing to a Witness?

Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.

He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”

Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.

He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?

At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.

I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.

I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”

With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”

Closing Thoughts…

About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.

This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.

God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”

______________________________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).

Posted in Beliefs, Biblical Questions, Law, love, relationship, Theology

Love and Law

Love is a catch word that has been robbed of worth in our society. Its beauty and truth has been watered down and distilled to the point that love is no more than a fleeting emotion. Perhaps one of the most popular Scripture texts used in weddings (well, I should say traditional style weddings where people still don’t see getting married in a church as a sin) is 1Cor 13. This popular passage is often coined the love chapter of the New Testament; at least by modern sentiment if not by actual words.

In 1Cor 13 the apostle Paul offers many adjectives to describe the concept of love. For instance, he says in vv. 4-8a the following truths:

  • “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails.”1

Step back from these verses for a moment and consider the following: Who is Paul describing? What is he describing? Are these characteristics of love the byproduct of human beings or God? What is the object that we should be focusing in on as we read them?

Well, you can ignore the context—a pretty popular practice nowadays—or, you can take the context into consideration. We know the author—the apostle Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus (exact same dude). We can also see who the audience is if we flip all the way back to the beginning of the book.

Paul tells us that he is writing “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1Cor 1.2). He is writing to Christians in Corinth (that’s what the word saints means), people who have been set-apart (that’s what the word sanctified means) in Jesus Christ. Now Paul also includes all other Christians who claim the Lord Jesus Christ as their own.

With this information on hand, we ought to immediately understand that Paul is limiting his words in 1Cor to Christians; this includes what he is saying in the 13th chapter. Why is that important? Because, these characteristics of love described therein do not apply to all people everywhere. They are specifically pointed at Christians as words of encouragement and instruction.

One of the things that you will notice when you read this letter by Paul is that these Christians are very immature. They have divided into cliques (1Cor 1.11-13), they have bragged about their gifts (1Cor 4.7; 12.4-11), they have taken each other to court before nonbelievers (1Cor 6.1-8), they have cheered on a man who slept with his step-mother (1Cor 5.1-6), they have turned the Lord’s Supper into a feast for the rich who are found getting drunk and being gluttons (1Cor 11.17-34), they have cared little for their brethren (1Cor 10.24-33), and they have belittled the apostle who first brought them the gospel turning to others (1Cor 9); along with many other things that needed to be corrected in their outlook and conduct.

As I have said these Christians are immature and so Paul’s task in this letter is to teach them two primary things: 1) To learn not to go beyond what is written (1Cor 4.6), 2) To be imitators of him insofar as he imitates Christ (1Cor 4.16; 11.1). By submitting their lives to the Scriptures they will in turn be imitators of Christ as Paul is (cf. John 8.31-31; 17.17).

Knowing these things better prepares us for understanding what comes in 1Cor 13 in regards to the subject of love, and the characteristics we see described in the verses above. Notice that the things Paul speaks about regarding love are considered fruits of the Holy Spirit in another place: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5.22-23). And these are placed in contrast with that of the flesh (i.e. sinful nature): “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, fractions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…” (Gal 5.19-21a).

Therefore when Paul opens the 13th chapter of Corinthians up to his readers, he expounds a particular definition of love that surpasses all other things tied to earthly understanding:

  • “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1Cor 13.1-3).

The love that Paul is describing is not seated in the hearts of people; he does not describe it as something natural, but supernatural. This type of love is the fruit of the Spirit. What type of love? Better yet, love for whom? Who is the focus of this letter that Paul is writing? It’s not the Corinthians, although they are the recipients; and, it is not the apostle, although it is by his pen that this letter is given. Who then? The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of His Church, who is headed by the Father and He has gifted His people by the Spirit (1Cor 11.3; 2.9-13; 12.4-7) the One God, that is our answer. The love that Paul is describing is not seated in the minds of human beings, for the object of people’s love is not God, but the object of a Christian’s love is Christ.

How then do we demonstrate this love for God? That is the question we ought to be asking ourselves if we proclaim to love Jesus Christ. How are we to know how to love? How do we know in what we should love? How do we know who to love? We are taught that through the Law of God comes the knowledge of sin (Rom 3.20), but we are also taught the inverse (opposite) of this.

Far too many speak of loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength (cf. Deut 10.10), and of loving their neighbor as themselves, but cannot offer a prescription for what that love should look like.

  • “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5.1-3).

God’s Law may be used lawfully or unlawfully (cf. 1Tim 1.8-9). If we seek through it to obtain righteousness for ourselves by the things we do, then we err and deceive ourselves into thinking that we are saved when we are not (cf. Rom 3.28). However, if we through faith, trust in Christ and desire to walk in His steps, then we will be found keeping the very Law that He gave long ago.

We demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commandments (cf. Deut 7.9). The idea flaunted today in popular Christian thought that we are free from being obedient to the Law of God, saying that we are only required to live by the Spirit fails to see that the same Spirit (the Holy Spirit) that leads now has led in the past, and the direction He led back then is the same today (cf. Zech 7.12; Acts 7.51). God abhors a double-standard (cf. Prov 16.11; 20.10), so why would we assume that His mindset today is “different strokes for different folks”?

The answer is He doesn’t. The circumstances of God’s Laws have changed, but the underlying principle behind them has not. God’s Law is still in force for the believer, and as 1John 5:3 says they are not burdensome (harsh or awful).

NOTE TO READER: In the near future we shall look at some specific examples and their relationship today, as well as deal with a misunderstanding I often hear in regards to covenant and salvation, two terms most people conflate. Until then, have a great weekend.

_________________________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Version: 1995 update (NASB95).

Posted in Beliefs, Christian Living, Christian Perspective, Knowing God, Law, love, morality, Reason

A Dose of Humility is Needed

I find it a little perturbing when Christians attack God’s Law because they find it archaic, culturally bound, and overtly harsh. I’m always wondering to myself, “Is this accurate? Is this the sort of attitude that Christians ought to have towards what God has deigned sufficient and necessary for us to know how we ought to live?”

Let’s be honest, we don’t like being told what to do. I mean when we strip it down to the bear bottom the problem is not so much with what God has commanded to be done, but rather the idea that anyone would tell us how we ought to live. “Do we not have any say in this!?!” “Can we not decide for ourselves what is morally right and wrong?” “Are we not wise enough to choose correct path as we weigh the evidence before us in creation and in our own hearts!?!”

The answer is NO.

I remember when my kids were little (two of them are getting ready to graduate here in a couple of years) and the reaction that they would give when told “no.”

My youngest sister used to tease my parents dog (a Chihuahua) by telling it “no.” If the dog were close, she would point her finger at it and say “Minnie—that was her name—No…nooo….nooo.” The reaction of the little dog was comical, but you wanted to make sure that your finger wasn’t too close to its mouth or you’d get nipped. Minnie would turn her head ever so slightly and begin to snarl, eventually chewing you out with a shrill little bark.

This was similar, although not exactly the same, to one of my kids when they were told “no.” A temper tantrum would ensue. No I don’t know about how this was dealt with in your home, but judging from what I see sometimes at the supermarket not very many people today used the approach I did; punishment quickly came next. The age of the child determined the type of punishment they’d get.

When my oldest was about three years old he wanted to grab things on the coffee table that he didn’t need to touch. Some of you out there would probably just move it up to a higher area to avoid the problem altogether. If the items were dangerous to the child sure that makes sense, but there are some things that need to be left in our way in order for us to learn. We receive instruction and when we fail to abide the instruction we get disciplined.

So, when he wanted something on the table that he was not allowed to have I told him “No, you can’t have that. Leave it alone.” After a moment of consideration he went right back for what he was restricted from having. I’m sure his little mind thought, “If I see it, why can’t I grab it? I see you grab it, so why are you telling me no?” I warned him one more time, and the pause of consideration on his part was much shorter. As he reached his hand out to grab it—all the while looking right at me, to see what I’d do—I caught his hand and delivered a quick smack on it and told him firmly, “I said no.”

He looked up at me with his big blue-green eyes as they filled with tears, and then the flood gates opened up. He cried for a few moments, and then I brought him near explaining to him that it was wrong to do it, because I said so: “You’re not allowed to have it,” and then I hugged him and told him I loved him.

He didn’t know it at the time, but my heart was deeply moved by the scene. I hated that he cried as he looked at me heartbroken, but I also knew it was a necessary lesson. If more parents today took disciplining their kids seriously (notice I’m not saying abusing them), then many of the ridiculous attitudes we see on display at the grocery store or on the evening news would not be happening.

  • “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8.11).

The pain of that day taught my son to heed my word. He understood that when I said “no” that is what I meant. Temper tantrums were few and far between in our house. I’m not saying that they never happened, they did, but discipline helped curb the hearts and behavior of my kids. Even to this day my wife and I have had people come up to us in restaurants or in other places commenting on how well behaved our children are; polite and courteous.

Question, did I need to tell my child the reason behind my command? Did they have “a right” to know my rationale behind the law I had given?

The answer is NO.

Why then do we want God to give us justification for why He declares a certain behavior as off-limits? Why do we suppose to suggest that it is necessary for Him to tell me His reasoning why He says “NO?” Of course, this is not limited to the Law of God for we often want to question God for why He allowed this tragedy, or why He willed for this to happen when so many things from our vantage point seem horrible.

Listen to the answer we are given in Scripture:

  • “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9.20).
  • “Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it…Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40.2, 7-8)
  • “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!” (Isa 45.9)

It seems to me that we need to learn a little humility when we come before the Word of God. If He commands us in one way, do we dare go another? If He says this is the right course of action, do we dare say “tell me the reason!” Should we not rather say with the one we profess to be our Lord: “Not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42); and “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14.31).

Is this not heavenly wisdom rather than earthly wisdom when we bow the knee before our God and King, acknowledging His divine right over us? It is. And then, is it not utter foolishness when we challenge His Word or course of action because we fail to understand it? It is.

Let us choose Godly wisdom and pray for humility, before we open our mouths uttering blasphemies in ignorance.

Posted in Beliefs, Law, love, morality, philosophy, relationship, Theology

Looking at God’s Law in terms of Relationship and Morality: Interacting with a Popular Belief held by Some Christian Philosophers

NOTE TO READER

  • For this post I am going to do something different. Due to the nature of the article, I am going to give you my conclusion before you read the rest. This writing is a bit more…I don’t know…technical than normal. I am tempted to use the word scholarly, but I’m not fond of thinking of myself in that light so I want to refrain from using that label. In short, the work is heavily cited as its focus is on three works dealing with to some degree morality, the use of law, and the relationship those share with the Christian faith. If you find the conclusion interesting, read on. If you don’t, then I won’t force you (can’t anyway, lol!), but I am hoping that some may benefit from the read. Enjoy…or don’t…up to you….

Closing Remarks…

God is a covenantal God. And, as such He is a Law-giving God. He not only orders the workings of the universe, but the living of His creatures. Some find this distasteful and either reject it or water down the implications, but we find this truth perpetrated from Genesis to Revelation.

First God established His covenant with Adam and when Adam rebelled; his progeny fell with him. That was the inheritance he purchased for his children. God via grace reveals Himself to His people and rejoins them in a new covenantal status. This was done in the past in Israel and in the future (past to us) in Christ Jesus. One cannot pit the laws of God against His goodness, for they are a reflection of His holy heart. The only way to know the good and the evil and to be equipped to do them is to sit at His feet and draw from His Word (cf. Deut 8.3; Matt 4.4). Nor can one pit the laws of God over or under in significance to the relationship we might share with Him as His creatures. The Law of God defines the parameters of the covenantal relationship we share with Him. If we show little regard for the boundary markers He has given us for our good, then we have demonstrated our lack of love for Him. The point being that it is impossible to be in relationship with God without rules and it is an ignorant move to try and elevate one over the other—i.e. rules vs. relationship. This false distinction (relationship over rules) is believed by many professed Christians today, but it has no basis whatsoever in orthodox Christianity.

INTRODUCTION

Relationship, Law or Both: Interacting Some Written Works that Touch on the Subject

Years back I wrote a paper entitled “Reflecting the Image of God: Relationship, Law or Both?” for a class in biblical apologetics. In the paper I critiqued the views written in a couple of books assigned at the time of the course: “Is God a Moral Monster?” by Paul Copan and “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Overall, I would have to say that the books provided some helpful insight, but the authors viewpoints on God’s Law was suspect as they continually attempted to push the concept of relationship over rules.

For example, Richards and O’Brien write, “The Western commitment to rules and laws make it difficult for us to imagine a valid rule to which there may be valid exceptions. When we begin to think of the world in terms of relationships instead of rules, however, we must acknowledge that things are never so neat and orderly and that rules are not as dependable as we once imagined. When relationships are the norming factor in the cosmos, we should expect exceptions.”1

They continue, “In the ancient world, rules were not expected to apply 100 percent of the time…The covenant [with Israel]…was broken only when it became clear that the relationship was over (e.g., Hos 1.9). The end came when the relationship, not the rules, was broken.”2 In the end these two authors draw the conclusion that “…we have to learn to identify when the Bible is prioritizing relationship instead of rules or laws…[for] it often seems as if God is sovereign over everything except his rules.”3

Clearly, the emphasis that Richards and O’Brien stress is that of relationship over law. Laws are fine, but they are not universally binding to all people. That was never God’s concern and it shouldn’t be ours. That is their ultimate thrust, for to argue contrary to this position is to misread Scripture with Western eyes as their title suggests. Paul Copan as we shall see does not differ from this approach.

Copan asserts the following: “Keep in mind this statement that is worthy of full acceptance: the law of Moses is not eternal and unchanging.”4 My question at the time I was reading this was “worthy of full acceptance” on whose authority? God’s? Is that really how God desires us to look at His Law-Word as somehow limited in time and function? Jesus surely doesn’t seem to agree. For He stated, that “not one jot or tittle” (Matt 5.18) was to be done away with, and any who taught otherwise would be considered “least” (Matt 5.19) in the Kingdom. In fact, the scribes and Pharisees were notorious for doing that very things (supplanting God’s Law with their own), and he said that our righteousness needed to be greater than theirs (Matt 5.20).

This rationality is repeated again by Copan when he writes, “the Mosaic law is not permanent, universal, and the standard for all nations.”5 He goes so far as to say God’s laws given during the Exodus period were not perfect and therefore are not to be seen as universal ones for all people. They were an improvement from the rest of the nations, but apparently only slightly.6 Let me get this straight, God’s Law-Word is only a slight improvement over the rules, statutes and commands of unbelievers? Hmmm, interesting!

Like the previous authors (Richards and O’Brien), Copan seems convinced that relationship holds some sway over rules: “For one thing, God desired that Israel love him and cling to him (Deut 6:5; 10:20), which isn’t exactly reducible to keeping laws!”7 “For what law ever roused one to love another?”8 quips the skeptic of the underlying purpose and scope of God’s revealed law. My critical review of these presuppositions by the authors was met by resistance. The professor at the time labeled the work as straw-manning the authors, but would not provide me with where I had erred.

Similar Drum Beats From Some Other Philosophers

Later on I read another work by a couple different authors who were dancing to the beat of the same drum, bending over backwards to get as far away from God’s precepts as possible.

In their book “Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality,” David Saggett and Jerry L. Walls believe when it comes to what is morally right and wrong, “atheists make a good point when they stress that the fact that some moral truths may have been learned from Christian teachings doesn’t go to show that religion must necessarily be the ultimate cause or ground for those truths.”9 Besides the immediate problem with equating Christianity on par with all other religions, you may be wondering why the authors believe that truth does not necessarily start with the Triune God of Scripture? The solution they offer to their readers is this:

  • “The source from which we gain knowledge is one matter; what made the subject matter true and knowable is quite another. The former is an epistemological issue; the latter is a metaphysical or ontological issue.”10

Epistemological what? Metaphysical what? Ontological what? I know those words are a mouth full and if you are not familiar with such terminology don’t sweat it, most people aren’t. This is philosophical talk; the egghead’s casual manner of speaking to another person. Now to be fair I am to some extent one of those eggheads, what my wife calls the “Technically speaking” crowd. You have to say that phrase within the quotes with an English accent (a.k.a. to us country bumpkins as ‘British’). Let’s face it when “Brits” talk they do have an advantage of sounding much more polished than their “American” counterparts.

Anyway, those words above point to the study of knowledge (epistemology), the study/nature of reality (metaphysics), and the study of being (ontology). What Saggett and Walls are saying in the quote above is merely this, “These are all separate categories, and they do not necessarily have their sources in the same thing.” In fact, they argue that the knowledge of right and wrong (moral values acquired from ethical standards) in this world “springs [from] different sources entirely.”11 Essentially, what they seem convinced that morality can come from a variety of streams (specifically natural law) and does not have to come from our Creator.

Earlier in their work they propose the following Q & A: “How do we know what is right? If God is the Good and his commands constitute moral obligations, at some point we must ask how it is that we come to know his will.”12 One suggestion they offer is conscience13, the other that I have hinted to is nature (i.e. Natural Law Theory). An immediate problem arises, however, when one considers the noetic effects of the Fall and the unreliability of the conscience. Our minds have been darkened by sin (cf. Rom 1.21; Eph 4.18), and our consciences as a result are either seared or perverted (compare 1Tim 4.2 and Rom 12.2). Even Christians are said to have struggles in this area for they sometimes go to teachers that itch their ears rather than confront their hearts with the truth (2Tim 4.1-3). To be fair the authors allude to these truths disclosed in Scripture,13 but still believe in spite of this natural limitation placed on mankind, the individual in question will still be able to deduce what is morally right through a variety of sources not limited to God’s divine commands.14

One of the reasons Saggett and Walls suggest is that they “think there are compelling theological reasons to make room in our ethical theory for divine prerogatives when it comes to [God’s] commands…there’s excellent reason to think that some of his commands are optional or could have been different.”15 On this particular strain of thought it is suggested that the Scripture text that reads, “who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” (James 4.17), is better understood in this way, “A more sensible reading, both exegetically and philosophically, is that he who is genuinely led to do a particular good deed sins if he refrains from doing it.”16 This is offered in an effort to keep the personal and relational aspect of divine truth expressed in love and not merely command more palatable. But this sort of thinking ought to raise questions in the believer’s mind.

Looking at the Rationale of the Position Being Argued by the Authors

On what ground can I argue as a creature that the Creator could have commanded something differently, making the statute at the very least optional at times? Moreover, by what authority does the creature have in twisting the Word of God to better fit their sensibilities and feelings on an issue? Just because it doesn’t sit well with the creature that his/her Creator would dare determine something that is necessary and obligatory to all of His creation? If I see my enemy in need (his ox has fell in the ditch; Exod 23.4-5), then is my reaction towards this individual’s predicament dependent upon how I feel genuinely led? Is this command and general precept of living only applicable to the believer but has no bearing whatsoever on the behavior of the unbeliever?

Only when we reason that our conception “of goodness [comes] from the bottom up”17 do we find such faulty thinking good. Only when we believe that “nature’s laws” tells us something about moral reality can we come to such conclusions. Only when we believe that our conscience is, along with our personal state of being, essentially good can we be convinced that we need not be limited to God’s special revelation to know what type of person we should be.

What is the fear that drives such thinking? What is the objection that drives such reasoning to attack the concept of God willing and commanding what He knows to be right; what ought to be done? What makes a person, a professed believer, desiring to distance them away from the fact that when God speaks human beings must listen. Not should listen, not may wish to listen, not may want to consider listening, but ought to do exactly as the Creator has ordered us to do without giving us an answer to satisfy our ever drifting sense of right and wrong?

Although Saggett and Walls have many good things to say in their work the crux of the matter is here: “In general, what God can’t do is anything in diametric opposition, irremediable tension, or patent conflict with our most nonnegotiable moral commitments.”18 Notice the concern is weighted by creaturely insight. Logically this leads to the following scenario: “When a particular interpretation stands too much at odds with nonnegotiable moral intuitions, the interpretation has to go, or a high view of biblical authority has to go, or we must deny God’s goodness.”19 Refusing to deny God’s goodness that dismissal is laid at the feet of the interpretation or a high view of biblical authority. Not surprising, as much of liberal theology tends to go in this direction, when the human reasoner cannot accept the plain teachings of Scripture.

Let’s be honest sometimes the Bible hits us in the teeth. But, what should our response be? To dismiss it, look for an escape hatch, or submit to its tenets when our limitations are clearly seen? Obviously, it should be the latter. The problem we constantly run into is that we want to be god (cf. Gen 3.4-5). Rather than admit this Saggett and Walls, along with Copan are often found commenting that the laws of God (i.e. His action through or in response to others) in the OT is viewed as harsh20 and awful.21 Why? Because, to look at some of those commands of God in any other way infringes upon their view of Him as unconditionally loving all creatures the same, with the chief good being unwilling to violate His creature’s free will:

  • “A loving God would plausibly do more to offer his grace and salvation to the Canaanites, even if posthumously… A loving God would do no less than all in his power to bring about their eternal salvation, short of violating their free will…God, we contend, would give even those Canaanites a full and free opportunity to repent of their sins and be saved through Christ.”22

It is interesting how we will bend the Scriptures until it fits the mold that we find acceptable. We are already told in the Bible why the Canaanites had to die, they were justly punished for their sin (Gen 15.16). They were not peaceful, loving or kind people—they murdered their own children as an act of worship to their false gods (Lev 18.1-25, 27-28; 20.1-23)! Moreover, they had no desire whatsoever to know their Creator, for they rejected Him turning to created things (1Kgs 21.26)!

NOTE:
You may want to reread my closing now. More will follow in the future regarding some of the things discussed in areas of theology and politics. Thanks for reading.

___________________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 166. Italics in original.

2 Ibid, 166. A similar line of thought is expressed on page 169 when the authors again state, “Likewise, in the ancient world of the Bible (and in many non-Western cultures), rules did not necessarily apply to 100 percent of the people.” In order to justify their position they point to Rahab and her family as sharing in the inheritance of Israel, something the Canaanites were not supposed to do, when the land was conquered. What they seem to miss is the fact that Rahab and her family were grafted into Israel via their faith in God. She is identified in two NT books as having faith as a member of God’s people (cf. Heb 11.31; Jas 2.25).

3 Ibid, 174.

4 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 71. Italics added.

5 Ibid, 89.

6 Ibid, 136.

7 Ibid, 72.

8 Richards and O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, 173. The authors compare the desire of “many evangelicals [who] describe our standing before God in terms of forensic justification” as not inherently wrong, but severely missing the mark by pointing to analogy of a husband who promises to abide by a set of rules, as if that satisfies the relationship with his wife. They write, “Such a vow does not arouse love. Rules never do. While a loving husband may perform all those actions, they are the results of the relationship, not the rules that establish it.”

What the authors fail to see is that a husband that breaks his vows destroys the relationship. The marital covenant is established upon the binding arrangement of the vow-markers. Without the boundaries defining the terms of the covenant, not relationship is able to exist. Love is not defined by emotion, but is demonstrated through commitment. An uncommitted spouse will show little regard for the covenantal boundaries established on the day of their matrimony, and will be found destroying the relationship from the foundation up. The two (law/relationship) work together cohesively in a healthy union. Favoring one side over the other is disproportionate and will in time lead to disastrous results.

9 David Saggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: the Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 160, Kindle Edition.

10 Ibid, 160.

11 Ibid, 160.

12 Ibid, 159.

13 Ibid, 159.

13 Ibid, 165.

14 Ibid, 1

15 Ibid, 120. As their example they suggest God could have required an 11% tithe, rather than a 10% tithe. Such hypothetical conjecture is actually unwarranted and cannot be justified from a creaturely standpoint. How can one claim to know that God could have commanded something different, without providing a warrant for the claim? This amounts to mere opinion and is an utter waste of ink.

16 Ibid, 129.

17 Ibid, 129.

18 Ibid, 135. Italics added.

19 Ibid, 137.

20 Copan, Is God a Moral Monster, 90. He calls it “harsh” when he looks at the sons of Aaron offering strange fire (Lev 10), the men of Israel fornicating with Midianite women (Numb 25), and Uzzah attempting to steady the oxcart when it teetered (2Sam 6.17). It is possible that Copan would say that he is merely being tongue-in-cheek, and in some cases I would agree that this is the case. However, there is no mistake that he has some disdain for these laws, and the actions that followed when they were ignored/broken. If one attempted to reinstate their usefulness he would no doubt cry against it, claiming cultural irregularities—i.e. that was a different culture and time; a subtle form of relativism. Of course, to institute such laws today would require a reworked political system and a heart that truly reflected a love for God.

21 Saggett and Walls, Good God, 138. This comment was offered regarding the Israelite conquest narratives of Canaan.

22 Ibid, 139, 140.