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Archive for July, 2008

I love you, Lord. Really?

In 1974 Laurie Klein wrote the popular song “I Love You, Lord.” The words are doubtlessly familiar to all of us:
I love, Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you,
O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what you hear.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.

A seminary professor whom I esteem did not care much for the song, though. He was concerned that to claim that one loves the Lord is an expression of arrogance. We are reminded that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

I think I understand his sentiment, though I respectfully disagree with not singing the song. I do fear we think too lightly concerning what it means to love the Lord. We confuse love with emotions. In a worship service when the music is “just right” and things are going fairly well in our lives, we may say “I love you, Lord” based only upon such positive vibes and emotions.

We are, of course, commanded to love the Lord. Moses instructed the Israelites: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus commanded similarly in Matthew 22:37, adding that “this is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). It is certainly not wrong to say “I love the Lord.” The psalmist rejoiced, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).

We must be careful, however, about our declaration of love to God. Love is not simply emotion. It is inextricably linked with obedience. Jesus pointed out, “”If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He further maintained, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Therein lies the rub, don’t you think? This is what the professor was getting at. Who among us loves the Lord as we ought? Who among us is as obedient as we ought to be? To claim that we are what we ought to be would clearly be arrogant.

When we are honest with ourselves, when we have some quiet time to reflect and meditate (does the television always have to be on?), we know that too much sin, too much disobedience, too much selfishness, too much of “me” remains within us. We don’t want to claim to love the Lord when we know that our lives too often display ambivalence, at best, about him.

And yet we are here brought face to face with grace. We are reminded that our saying we love God is not amazing at all. Why should we not love him? The amazing reality is that God loves us. Do you think that is too strong? Consider the words of the apostle John: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2). And then John shows us what is really amazing: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Be God’s grace we sing “I love you, Lord.” Though not a perfect, complete love, it is a real love, nonetheless. And it is a love wrought completely by his grace.

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If a woman takes her child’s life after he is born, it is murder and she can be prosecuted. If she has her child’s life taken by a certain point after conception, then it is a legal abortion and she is defended for having exercised her “right to choose.”

Check out this report from foxnews.com:

A British student has been accused of suffocating her newborn son while on vacation with her sister and girlfriends in Crete, The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.

Leah Andrew, 20, allegedly gave birth to the boy–5lbs 8ounces–in a hotel room and then killed him afterward. His body was reportedly wrapped in a towl, according to The Mail.

Andrew was vacationing with her sister Lydia, 24, and a group of friends who were unaware of her pregnancy. According to The Mail, Andrew went out the night before, but later complained of stomach pains. Her friends later found her bleeding heavily in the hotel room, The Mail said.

Andrew reportedly told police the baby was stillborn and was wrapped in a towel because she believed he was cold. A Greek coroner disagreed however, arguing that the child had been born healthy but had been suffocated, The Mail reported.

According to The Mail, Andrew, who has two other children, may face up to 20 years if convicted.

What many people refuse to recognize is that we are dealing with a distinction without a difference. The child is dead, regardless of when his life is taken. People are appalled that a young woman may have intentionally suffocated her child. People yawn if the child’s life is taken prior to birth by an abortionist.

Only a barbaric people would claim that it’s ethical to take a child’s life prior to birth. Only a hypocrite would condemn the woman who suffocates her born child while exonerating the woman who ends the life of her child via a legal abortion.

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The apostle Paul provided this declaration which, I fear, serves as an indictment against many of us who are ministers of Christ’s gospel: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27 [ESV]). While I doubt that Paul had his body mass index in mind, surely one’s weight would come under the need for self-discipline in our increasingly sedentary society.

Being a disciple of Christ, by definition, requires self-discipline. There is much we should do which at times runs counter to our inclinations. Bible reading and meditation, prayer, personal evangelism, and study necessitate our doing what we may not want to do. We must discipline ourselves to do what we need to do, and there is always a struggle in some area.

What about one’s weight? Does it really matter if a minister is obese? I think it does. A minister of the gospel noted for his refusal to deny his appetite for food can hardly impress others when he preaches the need to reign in one’s inclinations in order to practice spiritual disciplines.

When a congregation hears its obese minister waxing eloquent about their need to discipline themselves in the practice of some spiritual discipline (fasting, anyone?), members can be forgiven if they respond with a collective “get real.” Folks may not make it an issue publicly, but you can be sure it’s fodder for many private conversations and snide asides.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that a minister has to look like a well-trained athlete. I’m not talking about one’s being a bit overweight. I am calling attention to what few want to point—obesity. Away with excuses; away with “who cares?”

What to do? It’s not rocket science. It’s a matter of taking charge of our lives, making some lifestyle changes, and being an example for others. What must not continue are attitudes of indifference or making excuses.

Paul’s admonition concerning sexual purity doubtlessly is applicable to one’s weight: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV).

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One of the main arguments against the Calvinist position on the sovereignty of God in an individual’s salvation is that the Calvinist position violates the principle of free will. After all, God gave every person the right and ability to choose Christ or to reject Christ, right? If God chooses who will be saved, then that reduces a person to a mere robot, doesn’t it?

The concept of free will assumes that people are endowed with the ability to make either righteous or unrighteous moral decisions. The problem, though, is that there is no such person. Each one of us is a part of fallen humanity. Our nature is corrupted. After all, the Bible states, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, ESV).

If by “free will” one means the ability to choose according to one’s inclinations, one’s proclivities, then every person does have free will. Notice, though, that one will choose according to one’s inclinations, and our inclinations run contrary to God and righteousness: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).

Left to ourselves, none of us would choose Christ. Were God to leave us to our own inclinations, we would all reject him. It is his changing our hearts, changing our inclinations, which leads us to repent of our sin and believe on Christ. The apostle reminds us that all of salvation is by God’s grace, not our efforts or even self-generated faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).

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A danger for many Christians is they worry they do not believe in Christ intensely enough. They worry that their faith is not strong enough.

The Bible, though, does not speak of the quantity of our faith. Faith is a resting, a trusting in Christ, a belief that Christ died upon the cross in the place of the repentant sinner. Christ took upon himself the wrath of God and counted the believing sinner righteous. The apostle Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). We do not have faith in our faith; we have faith in Christ.

Unfortunately, this is not the greatest problem facing the church today. A far greater problem is the great number who take salvation for granted. They are certain that God will accept them after death because they’ve responded to a call to be saved or perhaps decided to join the church or to reform their living. When questioned about their coming to Christ, they may respond with something like this: “I recognized that I was a sinner and destined for hell, so I asked Jesus to come into my heart.”

I hope they are simply stating poorly what took place. Being right with God is not merely a desire to circumvent hell, and “asking Jesus into one’s heart” is a most unfortunate, not to mention “unbiblical,” phrase. Where is repentance? Where is faith? Where is the cross? Where is the atoning death of Christ in this understanding?

I fear that multitudes who have responded to an invitation to receive Christ and have subsequently joined a church are living in self-deception. They’ve not repented of their sin. They’ve not believed upon the crucified Christ as their only hope of being right with God. Their lives are much like their unchurched neighbors. They pay their bills, mow their lawns, vote on election day, and obey the laws. They know nothing, however, of forgiveness and justification because they really do not know Christ. They simply want to avoid hell.

Nothing is new, of course. In his Alarm to Unconverted Sinners, seventeenth-century English minister Joseph Alleine wrote:

All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert; he loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ; not only the benefits, but the burden of Christ; he is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke; he takes up the command of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ.

The unsound closeth by halves with Christ: he is all for the salva­tion of Christ, but he is not for sanctification; he is for the privileges, but appropri­ates not the person of Christ; he divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Whoso loveth life, let him beware here; it is an undoing mistake, of which you have been often warned, and yet none is more common.

Jesus is a sweet name, but men “love not the Lord Jesus in sincerity.” They will not have him as God offers, “to be a Prince and a Saviour.” They divide what God has joined, the king and the priest; yea, they will not accept the salvation of Christ as he intends it; they divide it here.

Every man’s vote is for salvation from suffering; but they desire not to be saved from sinning; they would have their lives saved, but withal would have their lusts. Yea, many divide here again; they would be content to have some of their sins destroyed, but they cannot leave the lap of Delilah, or divorce the beloved Herodias; they cannot be cruel to the right eye or right hand; the Lord must pardon them in this thing. O be carefully scrupulous here; your soul depends upon it.

The sound convert takes a whole Christ, and takes him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserve. He is willing to have Christ upon any terms; he is willing to have the dominion of Christ, as well as deliverance by Christ; he saith, with Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Any thing, Lord. He sends the blank to Christ, to set down his own conditions.

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With his sights focused upon Christianity, noted 19th-century revolutionary Karl Marx famously railed that “religion is the opiate for the masses.” Psychologist Sigmund Freud contemptuously opined, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.” To Marx and Freud, Christianity is only wishful thinking. It merely serves to get people through life, helping them cope with their inability to overcome perplexities and problems too large for them to grasp.

Are Marx, Freud, and like-minded critics of Christianity right? I think they are, at least in the case of many professing Christians. Before you have an apoplectic reaction, please carefully consider the following. For too many, Christianity is simply wishful thinking, with its adherents living life as they choose while having their religion to support them in times of crisis or distress. In other words, their “Christianity” really has little to do with their daily living.

Consequently, they pay little attention to biblical commands which they find unpalatable. If they cannot get along with their spouse, they see divorce as the solution. After all, God wants them to be happy, doesn’t he? If the political candidate of their party favors abortion on demand, that’s not a problem. After all, he promises to take care of the poor and the middle class, and God wants them to be financially secure, doesn’t he? If a fellow church member is living in open sin, we must simply love that person and pray for him, mustn’t we? After all, if we confront him about his sin, he will leave the church and we will never reach him. Surely God doesn’t want that, does he? The Bible commands believers to worship together on the Lord’s Day, but it won’t hurt to miss on days when our son has a soccer game scheduled, will it? After all, we need to teach our son the importance of being committed to his team, don’t we?

Twentieth-century literary scholar C. S. Lewis observed,

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Unfortunately, for too many professing Christians, their religion is only moderately important in their lives. While they may go to church on Sundays and proclaim their love for God, their faith plays little role in their work, their recreation, their home, and their politics. While claiming with their lips the infinite importance of Christianity, they proclaim with their lives that it is of no real importance.

What H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about Protestant liberalism could be applied to too much of twenty-first-century evangelicalism:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Theological liberalism reshapes the God of the Bible into an idol of its own imagination. If we justify our failure to obey biblical commands and principles, we do the same.

How important is the faith to you? Jesus cares nothing for our tepid discipleship:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

No one and no thing must come between the follower of Christ and his Lord. Christ is not merely added to one’s life; he becomes one’s life. While we will never be all we should be for God, let’s not join those whose Christianity is little more than a crutch to get them through the distresses of life.

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Many evangelical Christians verbally affirm the sovereignty of God in all of life, until, that is, the topic of election arises. Then a bit of hedging starts to take place, with something like this being said: “I believe that God is sovereign over all things, but when it comes to election, God has chosen to allow man the free will to choose or reject Christ.”

A person can parse his words however he desires, but the result is the same: the claim that God is sovereign but has given persons free will in the matter of salvation is a claim that God is not really sovereign after all.

Is every person required by God to repent? According to Acts 17:30, God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”  Then a person has the free will to repent, right? Ephesians 2:1 declares, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” A person need not have a degree in biology to recognize that a dead person isn’t able to do much! Dead in trespasses and sins, there is nothing within a person which desires the one true and absolutely holy God. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus that a radical change in a person’s life brought forth by the Almighty has to take place before that person will believe on Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, ESV).

Serving as pastor of a church associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, I recognize that my view is in the minority. I remind fellow Southern Baptists, though, that our own “Faith and Message” places these statements under “Salvation”:

Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior.

Notice that regeneration, being “born again,” precedes repentance and faith. God makes the person of his choosing “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) before that person is able to believe on Christ. Speaking of choosing, the apostle Paul writes of this undeserved blessing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6, ESV).

Under the heading “God’s Purpose of Grace” in the Baptist Faith and Message, we find:

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

Again, note that regeneration precedes justification, sanctification, and glorification. This order is intentional. That man is responsible is seen in the words “free agency.” God regenerates a person so that he will freely repent of his sin and believe on Christ.

I realize that attacks are made against those of us who believe that God is sovereign in salvation. We are called “Calvinists,” though we do not believe in infant baptism. If one wants to call me a Calvinist because of what I’ve stated above, then that is fine. I do not run from the charge and will happily discuss the matter from the Scriptures.

It will be charged that we do not believe in evangelism and missions. Such a statement betrays the ignorance of the one making it. A Baptist Calvinist by the name of William Carey (1761-1834) is often called the “father of modern missions.” A Baptist Calvinist by the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) saw multitudes come to Christ.

“Well,” our friendly Southern Baptist antagonist will venture, “Calvinism is just not Southern Baptist.” Just for starters, the first four presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention (W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell, Richard Fuller and P.H. Mell) were Calvinists, as were the first four faculty members of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr. and William Williams), as is the current president, Dr. Al Mohler.

I believe God is sovereign in salvation, however, not because it is popular and not because of my Baptist heritage in the early Particular Baptists and not because of the early history of the SBC. I believe in election and God’s sovereignty because I am convinced that this is what the Scriptures teach about salvation. It would be easier not to believe such things in the current climate of the SBC, but I am constrained by the Word of God.

With Calvinist (though not Baptist!) John Newton, every Christian who understands something of God’s absolute holiness and man’s total depravity can sing from his heart the words of that converted slave trader:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

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