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Tag Archives: Theology

The Key to the Christian Life: Pleasing God

One thing I’ve been learning recently is that rule-based obedience doesn’t really work. When we follow God because we feel obligated to do so, we only obey reluctantly. I know from personal experience that there is no joy in following God because you have to. When we see God as a friend we want to please, it absolutely transforms obedience. It is hard to keep this outlook, but when we live like we want to bring joy to God, obedience is more joyful. This type of obedience is based on the grace God has given us, and not the law. If you look at the life of Christ, he showed this type of obedience. He said that he only did what pleased the Father, and submitted his will to that of the Father. He is our model of total dependence upon God. This dependence is not abstract morality but a living relationship.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Theology

 

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If God is so powerful…

The following is a speech I gave as part of a video compilation produced by my speech and debate club. I answer the question, “If God is so powerful, then why do people suffer?”

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Theology

 

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How does God work?

Perhaps the biggest question in debates about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not a what question, but a how question. We know that God is sovereign and in control of all things. Scripture is very clear on this, and very few are willing to question his sovereignty. The real question is: how does God express his sovereignty? Of course God works in many ways, but are there general trends? Of course we cannot understand exactly how God works, but has he revealed anything to us?

I believe the conflict is mainly between those who see the majority of God’s work accomplished “directly,” who either do not believe in intermediate causes or ignore them as unimportant, and those who see God sovereignty expressed through his knowledge of free human choices.

Let me give an example. Take the issue of the inspiration of Scripture. Some would say that God planted the thoughts in the authors’ minds and they wrote them down. Others speculate that God, in his wisdom and foreknowledge, worked out events in such a way that the writers would freely write what God wanted, under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. Providentially, God ensured that Luke would have access to accurate historical documents, etc. God, using his knowledge, worked out things so that, through his Spirit and the circumstances and personalities of the author, his message would be communicated. Scripture speaks of how the authors were borne along by the Spirit.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21

The word picture is that of wind that powers the sails of a ship. God is behind the scenes, controlling the authors indirectly.

Let’s look at another example: God’s grace in salvation. Some see the Holy Spirit secretly changing the hearts of the elect. Although the gospel goes out to all, there is a secret inward call that is effectual. The means is direct, but it is also mysterious. Others believe that the Word of God is the means that the Holy Spirit uses. While God in his foreknowledge and sovereign plan has chosen some, the method is his providential use of indirect means. The gospel is genuinely offered to all, although God knows who will respond to his grace. This once again fits the narrative. The Word is what God uses in salvation.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

The Bible does affirm God’s use of foreknowledge in election.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 1 Peter 1:1-2

God’s foreknowledge is not based on him looking down the tunnel of time, but based on his knowledge of how people will react to his sovereign plan.

The death of God’s Son is a final example of how God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge work together with man’s choice.

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. Acts 2:22-23

Peter affirms that God was behind it all, even though the perpetrators are still to blame. Only when we recognize God’s indirect methods of accomplishing his plan can we see how divine sovereignty and human responsibility can go together.

As these examples show, the great issue for theology is not necessarily what does God do, but how he does it. When we begin to look at how God in his sovereignty and foreknowledge works through immediate causes and human free choices, we are struck with God’s awesome wisdom and plan.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Theology

 

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“We don’t have Jesus’ words”

I have recently been studying the doctrine of inspiration. While talking with a pastor at our church, he made the initially shocking statement “we don’t have Jesus’ words.” This at first seems almost heretical. He went on to say, “We have Matthew’s words, John’s words, Mark’s words, Luke’s words.” At this point, he seemed to be advocating a low view of inspiration. However, as he began to explain, it began to make more and more sense. What he meant is that Jesus’ sermons have not been given to us in full, but the biblical authors, inspired by God, reported portions of them in the words God desired for them. As he put it, “Do you really thing Jesus stood on a hill in front of thousands of people and spoke for seven minutes?” (the length of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.) This explains so much.

Have you ever wondered why the Gospel writers record the same speech in different words, or describe the sign on Jesus’ cross in four different ways? The answer is that, supervised by the Holy Spirit, they communicated the words God wants us to know, edited and selected by the Holy Spirit. Did Jesus give a sermon on the mount that contained what is said in Matthew? Absolutely. However, he most likely went on for hours. Everything recorded in Scripture is an accurate account of what Jesus said, though not necessarily a comprehensive one.

If you still have doubts, or believe that this somehow damages the doctrines of inerrancy or inspiration, consider this example. When you read the first paragraph of this post, where I recorded the pastor’s words, did you doubt that I represented what he said accurately? Probably not. However, did you assume that I reported his statements word-for-word? I hope not.

In the case of the biblical writers, they recorded Jesus’ words just as God wanted them to, and as a result, we have everything God wants us to know about Jesus and his teaching.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Theology

 

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Evangelicals and War

The newest trend on libertarian websites is to invent names for evangelicals who join forces with the “hawks” in our government. Some have thrown out terms like warvangelicals, or relligerents (religion and belligerents). Name-calling is never the answer to our problems, but Christians should always be concerned with how the world sees us. It will hate us for following Christ, but at the same time should be profoundly affected by our godly lives. However, the derision that many have for conservative evangelicals comes not from their association with Christ, but from their association with war. Conservative evangelicals have had two main approaches in dealing with war. One is enthusiastic endorsement. An example of this is Jerry Falwell’s statement that God is pro-war. Others have passively supported the wars without the thinking about the ramifications for the gospel. I am not criticizing anyone who supports any specific war. However, I do want to encourage people to carefully consider the ramifications for the Christian, and only support a war after careful and skeptical consideration.

I would like to highlight two reasons why Christians should take care when supporting or engaging in military conflict. The first is Jesus command to seek peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12:14

This does not mean that force can never be used, or that all wars are evil. It does mean that Christians should seek peace first. God is not pro-war. In the past, he has used war to punish evil men, but that was only at his express command and authority. We are not the nation of Israel. We are a spiritual nation and our weapons are not physical. The Christian must consider wars with suspicion, realizing that God has called us to peace, and also realizing than men are evil and often go to war for unjust reasons.

The second reasons Christians should be very serious when contemplating war has to do with Jesus’ final command to his disciples. Perhaps the most important mission for Christians is to bring the gospel to the unbeliever.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

The gospel is the Christian’s number one priority. War presents the Christian with a tremendous difficulty. Christianity teaches that there are two types of people in the world. Those who have accepted the gospel and those who are still in unbelief. War is about killing. There is no way around it. A Christian involved in a war is doing one or both of two very solemn things. Either the Christian is killing a fellow Christian, or an unbeliever for whom Christ died and to whom he is to bring the gospel.

If the Christian kills a fellow Christian he is going against some serious commands in Scripture and seriously compromising the testimony of the church in the world.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12

Christians were not even supposed to have lawsuits against one another.

I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:5-7

On the other hand, if a Christian kills a non-Christian, he is sending him to face God’s judgment without telling him the gospel. How can a Christian carry out the Great Commission in Afghanistan.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  1 Peter 2:12

Either way, a Christian involved in war is taking a very serious action that has an effect on the gospel. This does not mean that a Christian can never participate in war, just that it should never be taken lightly, and that the Christian must weigh the justification of the war against the effect on the gospel.

The church must commit itself never to blindly follow anyone or anything except Jesus Christ. When the church becomes affiliated with war in people’s minds, whether justly or unjustly, this is a very serious matter. The church must seek peace and the communication of the gospel of first.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Church, Government, Theology

 

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1 John 2: WWJD?

The phrase “What would Jesus do?” has been robbed of almost all meaning. This is unfortunate, because the question is at the very heart of the Christian life. This concept is one that should be discussed and contemplated by all Christians, not printed on a bracelet and worn mindlessly. 1 John reminds us of the importance of Christ’s example.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Verse 6 is the critical Scripture here. Jesus did not come to give us laws or rules to tell us how to live. He came to earth to show us how to live. This is what it means to be a disciple,. One must follow the rabbi everywhere, and do what he does. Dr. Randall Smith has done a fantastic job explaining how the rabbinic system worked. At a very young age, disciples would follow a rabbi and learn from him. This could go on for years. Their goal was to be like him. Examine the life of your Master and do likewise. 1 Peter 2 explains this concept in more detail.

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[e23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Often, if not always, Christ’s example is counter-cultural. In this case, it was patient endurance of persecution without seeking revenge. When our focus is on Christ, we point others to him. My uncle recently put it this way: when we develop relationships with those who are often rejected by society, the church becomes an echo of Christ, who was God, but humbly came to earth. We reenact the incarnation on a smaller scale. We are Christ’s body, his ministers on earth. The Christian life is not about rules. It is about following Christ. After all Jesus’ words to his first disciples were simple: “Come, follow me.”

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Theology

 

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Liberty and the Bible: The Golden Rule

The heart of libertarianism is an ethic known as the non-aggression principle. This basically states that no one should initiate force against another. This principle fits in well with the Golden Rule.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12

The principle is this. In everything you do, keep in mind that your viewpoint is not supreme. Flip the issue around and look at how you would feel if it were done to you. When we take this to the issue of aggression, clearly this means that you should not initiate force against another. Not only does the Bible teach the golden rule, it further clarifies it by showing that the non-aggression principle is the very heart of what law should be about.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b]10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

Love here is acted out by doing no harm to your neighbor. Liberty means that citizens of a nation should not harm one another. However, if the government is not above the law, this also means that the nation’s government must not harm its people.

The Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression Principle teach the same thing. The foundation of civil society and good law is the rejection of force or harm in our relations with others. The Bible takes it a step further, basing this conduct on love for your fellowman. The Bible teaches that truly following the Golden Rule necessitates a changed heart. However, this principle still can form the basis for law in a nation. In fact, when the people’s hearts are wicked, the need for the Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression principle becomes more obvious. Liberty will flourish when freedom is law of the land, conditioned by respect for the rights and value of others.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Government, Theology

 

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Liberty and the Bible: Tyranny

The Bible is full of examples of the tyranny that can easily come from government. One prominent example is Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Israel was oppressed by Pharaoh because he was afraid of them. God came to their aid and rescued them from the repressive ruler.

The foremost example is the warning Samuel gave Israel when they asked for a king. Whether by prophetic insight or understanding of how kings rule, he told them that the king would oppress them.

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle[b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. 1 Samuel 8:10-18

Samuel knew that rulers will assume more and more power. Since they live off the people, they will do their best to take more and more. We have seen examples of this in every era from the Israelite kingdom to now.

Jesus told his disciples about this same tendency.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45

The secular rulers always try to abuse their authority. This is a fact of history. Jesus told his disciples that his kingdom and his disciple base their authority on their service. Jesus rejected tyranny in his kingdom.

The Bible includes many examples of tyranny and its dangers. The Bible is not about political liberty. However, it does show us that Christ’s example is service, and that kings tend to oppress their people. His followers should always be aware of the hunger for power that reigns in many who have positions of authority.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Government, Theology

 

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Liberty and the Bible: The Role of Government

The Bible is the most comprehensive and profitable book known to man. In it God reveals himself. He does not always explain his plans and purposes to us, but he often does. In the area of liberty and government, he has laid down many principles. God instituted government among men, and he has told us its purpose.

The first place to go is back to Genesis. God laid down the framework for the first government in Genesis 9. Before that, God had handled the earthly punishment of sin directly. He dealt with Cain, and brought judgment on the wicked world. After the flood, things had changed, and God gave instructions to Noah and his descendants.

And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. Genesis 9:5-6

Notably, God did not explain a form of government or any specifics. However, he did tell us what it was for: to punish murderers. The reason was the value that God had set on man, the image in which he had made him. In our day, we might say that the government was protecting the right endowed by the Creator to life.

The second passage is in Romans 13, although the same though can be found in 1 Peter. It tells us explicitly the purpose of government.

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:3-4

The purpose of government is to punish evil. It is not to ensure that society is prosperous. It is not to manage the lives of its citizens. It is not even to preserve the health and morals of society. It is to punish the evildoer, not because his deeds are dangerous to society, but because they deserve retribution and he is an agent of God’s wrath. The primary purpose of government today is totally misguided. Government has expanded far beyond the biblical mandate of protecting life and punishing evil. We can dispute what is meant by wrong in this passage, and argue about which wrongs should be punished by government, but one thing is clear: government should focus on punishing evil within its own territory or sphere of authority, not on managing the economy, regulating our daily lives, or making the world safe for democracy.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2011 in Government, Theology

 

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1 John 2: Atonement

In the second verse, John comes to the very heart of the gospel – the atonement.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Jesus has atoned for our sins. This meant that he became the final sacrifice for sins. As Hebrews points out, although lambs and goats could symbolize forgiveness of sins, only Christ could truly wipe them away. Christ became sin on the cross. He suffered the worst that sinful men could inflict on him. Worse, it pleased the Lord, his father, to crush him. Jesus cried out, asking why he had been forsaken. Amazingly, this atonement is sufficient and offered to all people. Although this passage has been the source of much controversy, the text seems clear: Jesus atoned for the sins of all people, believers or unbelievers. This passage and many others (1 Tim 2:3-6; 1 Tim 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 19:10; Isaiah 53:6) indicate that Christ’s death was not limited in intent or sufficiency. According to God’s foreknowledge and sovereign plan, not all will accept it, but that in no way diminishes its glory. Christ died for all. Our sins are forgiven. We are free! The atonement is a glorious doctrine. God’s wrath toward sin and his love for the world intersected in the person of his Son.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Theology

 

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