Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

It is hard to claim that twenty-first-century America is a happy place. Anger and bitterness abound, and joy and peace are in short supply. A sense of despair hangs over us. As a people, we seem to have no sense of purpose.

We try to alleviate this despair with busyness or toys, so we distract ourselves with work and social media and television and smart phones. Such things, though, do not solve our basic issues, so we seek therapy, believing that a psychiatrist and perhaps the right drugs will get our minds balanced to deal with the problems of contemporary living.

In many churches the pastor is the spiritual therapist, and his sermons are therapeutic, giving attention to hearers’ felt needs. People flock to such churches because life is all about them and their issues, and they know that this particular pastor is going to deal with human concerns and give them some spiritual therapy to apply to their psychological sore.

Unfortunately, we miss the root issues while trying to fix the surface ones. The primary reason for our despair is sin, and the solution is not a pseudo-psychiatrist masquerading as a preacher.

Fallen man and woman live in selfish sinfulness. They live outside of God and in rebellion to his will. This man or woman may attend church periodically, perhaps even every Sunday morning. Perhaps he or she recognizes that something is out of order in life and considers church as the place to get it right.

While the therapeutic salve or always being on the go may distract momentarily distract us, in the dark of night and the quiet of one’s soul the despair continues. It may be dulled, but it is not removed or replaced. Unfortunately, many stumble through life, day by day, pushing their despair aside with the distraction of entertainment or social media, work or recreation, or alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Anthony Burgess [1600-1663] observed this about the nature of man centuries ago: “Oh, it is to be feared that there are many that give themselves lusts, and carnal pleasures, that so they may put a foggy mist between their conscience and themselves. Others dig into the world, labouring to become senseless, that so there may be an eclipse of this light by the interposition of the earth. Others run to damnable heresies, denying Scriptures, God, heaven, hell. . . . What are these but refuges of guilty consciences? We must distinguish between our carnal concupiscence [desire], and conscience; between deluded imaginations, and conscience; between an erroneous and scrupulous conscience, and a well grounded and truly informed conscience, and when we have done so, we must follow conscience as far as that follows the Word.”

The despair remains because the condition of the fallen person remains. Scripture instructs that, as fallen humans, we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” that we “follow the course of this world, . . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” that we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We are helped only when we recognize that despair is a God-given gift to alert us to the fact that we are not what we were intended to be. God created us to live in fellowship with him, but like the fish longing to live on land, we rebelled and find ourselves out of the environment unto which we were created.

God has graciously gifted us with despair so that we will grow weary of living in an alien environment. Our conscience convicts us of our waywardness, and the Word of God and the Spirit of God point us to Christ. Only in Christ will our lives find the peace and sense of purpose unto which we were created: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” [Romans 14:17 (ESV]). Despair arises from living in the wrong environment, but despair is God’s gift to drive us to Christ, the One who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

John Lennon’s 1971 mega-hit “Imagine” enjoys international acclaim as people sing the hymn-like call for a perfect world. Believe it and it will be. “Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No Hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Livin’ for today.”

Many today live according to Lennon’s dream. Western culture has managed to rid itself of the old restraints that have supposedly kept us from experiencing a utopian society. Let us imagine what we want reality to be, and it will be! And “livin’ for today”? Yep—we’ve got that down.

We have a culture that is trying to reconstruct humanity along the lines of imagination. Imagine a world where there are no consequences for promiscuous sex. We’ve made abortion safe (so we’re told), legal, and not-so-rare. And those unborn babies? They wouldn’t want to be where they’re not wanted, right? They don’t have a say in the matter, but we can imagine, can’t we?

Yes—let’s live as though reality will follow our imagination. Same-sex marriage? Why not? We can imagine that homosexual couples will as able to rear psychologically-healthy children as heterosexual couples, right? We can imagine.

And what’s with this business about our sexual identity being determined by our physiology? If Bruce Jenner imagines he is a woman, then who are we to say otherwise. Mom, what if your little boy thinks he’s a girl? And you’ve always wanted a little girl. . . . A bit of makeup and surgery and drugs and . . . voila!

If we all would only imagine, what a wonderful world this would be! “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharin’ all the world.” The reason for so much suffering, we are told, is that the few have almost everything and the most have almost nothing. What’s the solution? Increase taxes on the wealthy. They must “pay their fair share.” Now everyone will have plenty, right? After all, poor people with more money will now create jobs for others, won’t they? Hey, we can imagine.

The problem with utopian dreamers is that reality simply refuses to follow dreams. God has established certain laws that will not heed the futile dreams of depraved minds. That is really the issue, isn’t it? Who is sovereign?

The Scriptures reveal and history affirms that God made man and woman–two sexes. People may be confused about that, but confusion does not create a new reality. Some people are confused about aspects of math, but that doesn’t change the reality of numbers.

But humans will not have this God reign over them, and that is the bottom line. We would be the director of our movie, the captain of our fate. And nothing has really changed throughout all history.

The serpent tempted Eve with what is the bottom line for all sin: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). “You will be like God”—that’s what people want. Humans want to be in charge, to call the shots, to decide what “is” is, to make their own utopias.

The reality is that when humans call the shots, their innate depravity permeates everything. People are naturally greedy, and everyone’s greed mutually conflicts. When people want to be sovereign, others disagree with their view of sovereignty, and fights and wars ensue. When people choose to change their sexual orientation, their confused mentality conflicts with biological and psychological reality. Attempts at human-envisioned utopias give way to hell on earth.

There is only one answer, and that answer is submission to the divine Creator, the One who knows the way to joy and happiness and fulfillment better than we ever will. Moses clearly laid out the alternatives: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). And the apostle John points us directly to Jesus Christ: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

The reality is that we all need a radical makeover, much more radical that what Bruce Jenner envisions, one that cannot be produced with psychology, surgery, or drugs. We need new hearts; we need Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Read Full Post »

One of the forbidden things in Western culture is to question the reality of a person’s faith. “How dare you? I say that I’m a Christian,” he protests, as though an assertion settles the matter.

This has come to light recently with another minor flap concerning President Obama’s religion. The president claims to be a Christian, and those who question his assertion are roundly criticized. For most people, if the president says that he is a Christian, then that’s that. Case closed.

Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner, addressed the matter last week with his article “Why are Americans confused about Obama’s religion?” It seems that the current media sport is to trap Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker with a “gotcha” question. After all, he may be the Republican nominee for president, so many journalists relish the opportunity to reveal publicly a stumble. York writes, “On Saturday, two Washington Post reporters asked Walker, in the nation’s capital for a governor’s meeting, whether Obama is a Christian. Walker said he didn’t know.

“Informed by the reporters that Obama is in fact a Christian, Walker replied, ‘I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,’ protesting that the president’s religion is not a topic of great interest to voters. ‘I would defy you to come to Wisconsin. You could ask 100 people, and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue,’ Walker told the Post.”

What is striking is York’s statement, “Informed by the reporters that Obama is in fact a Christian.” How do the reporters know that “Obama is in fact a Christian”?

York notes that confusion about President Obama’s faith goes far beyond Gov. Walker: “In June, 2012, Gallup asked, ‘Do you happen to know the religious faith of Barack Obama?’ Forty-four percent said they did not know, while 36 percent said he is a Christian, 11 percent said he is a Muslim, and eight percent said he has no religion. The ‘don’t know’ group included 36 percent of Democrats.”

Why is there so much confusion? Despite his assertions that he is a Christian, the president makes little effort to attend corporate worship. York notes, “Few people see Obama openly practicing any religious faith. After the president did not attend church on Christmas 2013, the New York Times, citing unofficial White House historian Mark Knoller, noted that Obama had attended church 18 times in nearly five years in the White House, while George W. Bush attended 120 times in eight years. Yes, there are a variety of reasons some presidents don’t go to church very often, but in Obama’s case, absence does nothing to change existing public perceptions of him.”

Frankly, I suspect that only a few of America’s forty-four presidents would be classified as Christians in the biblical sense. Most have claimed to be Christians, but the reality would probably be that they were Christians in a cultural sense, not a biblical one, perhaps nominal Christians at best. Regardless, how should a person respond when his Christian faith is questioned? Should we respond as though we’ve been insulted? Should we simply protest that we are indeed Christians?

Warren Wiersbe, in his Walking with the Giants, relates a situation involving the Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte: “A friend told Whyte, ‘The evangelist said last night that Dr. Hood Wilson was not a converted man.’ Whyte jumped from his chair. ‘The rascal!’ he cried. ‘Dr. Wilson not a converted man!’ Then the friend reported that the evangelist also said that Whyte was not converted. At that, Whyte stopped short, sat down, put his face in his hands, and was silent for a long time. Then he said to the visitor, ‘Leave me, friend, leave me! I must examine my heart!’”

The question is not whether President Obama is a Christian. The question is whether we are: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5 [ESV]).”

Read Full Post »

When you hear the term “moralism” and it is used as a negative thing, what is your reaction? After all, what can be wrong with morals? Isn’t a lot of the problem with our culture due to a catastrophic slide in morality?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with good morals and, yes, we have witnessed a tragic decline in morality in America. A culture which fights for the “right” of a boy who thinks he is a girl to use the girls’ restroom and tells the offended girls that they need to learn to deal with it is a culture which has lost almost all sense of morality, not to mention common sense.

People are rightly concerned about the abysmally low level of morality in America. The problem, though, occurs when a concern for morality is confused with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Moralism is a belief system when emphasizes the overarching importance of morality. Being a good person, emphasizing morality, being with like-minded people, and seeking to convert others to your view of morality are all characteristic of moralism. In truth, moralism is another gospel, and that should be a cause for great concern.

Moralism is what characterizes most churches in America today, and we Baptists are no exception. All moralists do not hold to the same set of moral values, but they all see morality, at least their conception of morality, as fundamental. When someone tells you, “We don’t need to get hung up on doctrine. We just need to be good people and have great relationships,” you are listening to a moralist, and that’s not a good thing.

The great danger of moralism is that it replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, moralism is the antithesis of the gospel because the moralist essentially believes that he is right with God because he is a moral person, though he may deny that and invoke his need for Jesus. The gospel, however, reveals that our efforts at self-reformation and our seeking to be righteous are fraught with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our being accepted by God is due solely to God’s counting us righteous through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ (see Romans 4 and 5; also 2 Corinthians 5:21).

In a September 11, 2012, blog post entitled “Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone,” Al Mohler writes: “Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Mohler goes on to explain: “Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of ‘values’ is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism . . . . This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.”

“Christian moralists” will attend worship services, get involved in Bible studies, go on Christian social trips, and do short term missions. There is enough “Jesus-talk” to make it all seem Christian, but it’s not biblical Christianity. It is moralism. And it is eternally deadly: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Read Full Post »

To state that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is central to Christianity is to state the obvious. The Bible abounds with testimony concerning the importance of the cross. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter wrote that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus, pointing to his forthcoming crucifixion, said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Likewise, the apostle Paul taught that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The question, however, is often asked: Could there have been another way for God to save sinners? Did Jesus have to die?

A lot of people have a real issue with the cross. While they see Jesus’ death as a sacrifice or an act of love, they wonder not only why he himself had to die but also why anyone has to be punished for sin.

One popular blogger has stated unequivocally that Jesus did not have to die for humans to be reconciled to God. God could have done things a different way.

The logic goes something like this: God is capable of doing whatever he wants. After all, he is God. Consequently, God did not have to require the crucifixion. As a matter of fact, God did not have to allow the Fall, Adam and Eve’s sin that got humanity into its sin predicament.

Such thinking goes on to say that there is no “must” or “requirement” with God. Saying that God “must” or “is required” to do something violates the concept of God. God is totally free from any requirements. To say that his justice requires the punishment of the sinner is nonsensical. In fact, God could have simply waved off sin, pronouncing that it is forgiven and all is well.

Orthodox Christianity has said that God’s justice requires that sinners be punished for their sin, but some professing Christians return to the idea that God can do what he wants because he is sovereign. Such an idea, though, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of God.

The fundamental mistake with such a notion is understanding what it means to say that “God can do whatever he wants.” That is a true statement, but it must be rightly understood. God’s sovereignty never conflicts with his nature. While God can do anything he wants, he cannot violate his very nature. In other words, God would never want to do that which is contrary to who he is. God can do whatever he wants to do, and he always wants to do that which is according to who he is.

God is in essence holy. Isaiah saw the seraphim announcing the absolute holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-3). That which is unholy, that which is sinful, violates the very nature of God. Sin is rebellion against God because it violates who he is. Consequently, the sovereign of the universe must punish sin because allowing it to go unpunished would be for God to contradict his very being.

Therefore, Christ had to die or else all of humanity would face the judgment of God. God cannot allow sin in his presence. To do so would violate his very nature. He cannot simply wave off sin. Again, justice would not be served. Holiness would be contradicted. Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to die upon the cross (Matthew 16:21).

Could there have been another way? Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Were there any other way, the inexpressible spiritual agony of the cross could have been averted. There was no other way.

Read Full Post »

If there is a doctrine which makes many Baptists apoplectic, it is the doctrine of election—that God sovereignly chose who would repent and believe on Christ. Suffice it to say, preaching the doctrine of election does not positively arouse the interest of the pastor search committee from a larger church seeking to fill its pulpit. “Why, that’s not Baptist—that’s what Presbyterians believe!”

Let’s pretend for a moment that Baptists historically have not believed in the doctrine of election. I have to pretend with a lot of effort because I’ve been afflicted with too much Baptist history. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, I’ll pretend.

Whether Baptists in great numbers historically did or did not hold to the doctrine of election is ultimately irrelevant. We hold to particular doctrines because we believe the Bible teaches them.

The doctrine of election stands upon the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. If God chooses who will be saved, then God is sovereign. On the other hand, if man chooses whether or not he will be saved, then man is sovereign. After declaring the Lord’s acts of benevolence, the execution of his righteousness and justice, and the bestowing of his mercy and grace, David proclaims, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:10). The sovereign God freely chooses to do as he desires. The apostle Paul leaves no doubt concerning the extent of the sovereignty of God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). That this sovereignty includes salvation is evident in Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Though God is sovereign, he does not choose arbitrarily. Nineteenth-century Southern Baptist theologian John L. Dagg explains: “When God acts, it is according to his good pleasure. His pleasure is good, because it is always directed to a good end. He is sovereign in his acts, because his acts are determined by his own perfections. He has a rule for what he does; but this rule is not prescribed to him by any other being, nor does it exist independently of himself. It is found in his own nature. In his acts, his nature is unfolded and displayed” (A Manual of Theology [1857; reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990], 305).

God’s sovereignty is exercised in harmony with his other attributes, such as his omniscience, holiness, wisdom, grace, and love. Paul writes that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

The Bible teaches that God must choose in order for any to be saved because no one seeks God on his own (Romans 3:11). Those who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) are unable to reach out to God. “Without strength” (Romans 5:6) and “slaves of sin” (Romans 6:17), their minds have been blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). It is not through natural desire or ability that one becomes a child of God—it is only by the power of God (John 1:12-13).

God determined before the foundation of the world to save individuals. This election of individuals is implicit in Luke’s account of the response to Paul’s preaching in Antioch of Pisidia, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

God determined to save these individuals from his wrath and for his glory (Jude 24-25). Without Christ, all are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). As such, they are “by nature children of wrath” (2:3). Yet, Paul writes, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:5). Paul writes to the Thessalonians that God “chose you as the firstfruits to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

A person has to do some fairly fancy exegesis and hermeneutics to get around the biblical teaching of the doctrine of election. The question is not whether Baptists have held to this understanding of election historically. The Bible teaches it, and that is all that ultimately matters. Oh, and by the way, the majority of Baptists at one time believed it also, but that day has unfortunately passed.

Read Full Post »

David Garner:

Common misconceptions of the gospel (and/or of the Reformation) can come by consuming evangelical soft-drink theology. Epithet-driven, self-absorbed, and emotively drenched, this soda-fountain ‘gospel’ syrup offers high fructose spirituality – addicting and compelling, but ultimately devastating and destructive for heart health. A flip ‘Bible promise’ calendar or a daily devotional pick-me-up supplies my spiritual sustenance, a soda for the day that keeps the devil (of my troubled conscience) away. Such tonic may be ‘just what the doctor ordered,’ but it is not the provision from the Great Physician.

Read Dr. Garner’s entire post for a needed corrective to our evangelical culture’s superficial understanding of the gospel of Christ: Salvation is by Works Alone.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: