Causality and God’s Will

October 28, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 1 Comment
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Although God’s will is sovereign, there are passages of Scripture that make it appear as though He sometimes chooses to sovereignly blend together His divine will with the will of human beings. To put it another way, God, as the primary agent of cause, uses man’s will as a secondary cause to work out His decretive, absolute sovereign will.

For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

II Corinthians 8:3

Here, the Bible acknowledges that human beings have a “will” and that our will does exercise a certain power.

Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

II Corinthians 8:4

These Christians wanted to financially support Paul and his missionary team, even though they couldn’t “afford” it.

And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

II Corinthians 8:5

The wonderful thing is, they didn’t just give money – they gave themselves. These may be the two hardest things for Christians to give, and yet they did it willingly, or “voluntarily” we would say, but also, at the same time, they did it by the will of God.

So, regardless of how “spiritual” the issue is – from putting a check in the offering plate all the way to deciding to trust Christ for eternal salvation – we recognize the Biblical reality that God’s will is at work, and it may well be said to overrule, but it does not obliterate man’s will when it comes to obedience to Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-9 is another example:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Ephesians 1:1

Paul did not become an Apostle because that was his goal and he worked hard for it. He recognized that God’s decision and God’s action caused it to happen.

Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

Ephesians 1:2-5

If you are truly a Christian, God chose you to be His child in Jesus Christ way before you ever did anything – even before you exercised your own will. He did it because it pleased Him – but not because it “arbitrarily” pleased Him. Rather, it was done according to His good pleasure. In other words, if you are truly a Christian, He chose you despite the fact that you were undeserving and ill-deserving, and yet it was still good and right for Him to do it.

To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Ephesians 1:6

It’s for His praise that we were chosen, not for our praise.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

Ephesians 1:7-9

Beyond saying that His choices were and are “good,” we must be content to accept them as “mysterious” to us. Usually, a “mystery” in the Bible is something that was hidden, but is now revealed. It is when the absconditus becomes the revelatus, but it is not revealed so that we can subject it to human scrutiny or criticism. It is revealed so that we can rejoice and glorify God for it.

Authority vs. Empathy

October 26, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Social Media Shares and Mass Emails | 1 Comment
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Question: People always use that same Bible verse when saying homosexuality is a sin. Is that the only place that addresses the topic? What is the context of it? Having memorized the 10 Commandments in Catholic school, I know they don’t address homosexuality. I don’t think homosexuality should be called sinful because I empathize with people who aren’t hurting anyone. I understand that for a gay man the thought of being with a woman is disgusting, and that, for him, being with a man feels normal. So what should a gay person do? And when gay people fall in love and have sex what do you think will happen to them?

Response: You say: “People always use that same Bible verse when saying homosexuality is a sin.” I’m not sure what people you’re referring to who always use the same verse. There tends to be a big difference between real-life face-to-face discussion and internet polemics, but I’m assuming you mean Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. I’m only assuming that because you listed some of the other things that Leviticus elsewhere prohibits, which have to do with clothing and unclean foods and tattoos and beard-grooming and so forth. As I stated before, dietary, grooming, clothing, and things having to do with hygiene and tabernacle worship were specific as to time and place and location. The moral laws – against things like lying and stealing and cheating and adultery and fornication (including homosexual activity) and bestiality and incest and dishonoring your parents and murder – were of a different nature, and are reiterated as being sinful in the New Testament. Romans 1:20-32 are especially graphic and clear on this topic, along with I Corinthians 6:9-10. Anyway, those are some, but not all, of the passages that address the topic – which was one of your questions – so I hope that helps. But I can elaborate more if you’d like.

You say: “Having memorized the 10 Commandments in Catholic school, I know they don’t address homosexuality.” Actually the 7th Commandment (prohibiting adultery) does. The Bible’s definition of adultery would include having sex with anyone outside of your own marriage, and the Bible’s definition of marriage is what people are now calling “traditional marriage.” In other words, people of opposite genders – you know, male husband and female wife (readers are free to hurl epithets such as bigot and Bible-thumper at me for saying that, but that is what the Bible teaches). Your Catholic school teachers – sorry to be critical of them when they’re not here to defend themselves – may have taught the 10 Commandments merely as a list of rules to follow, which is a common mistake, rather than as a mirror in which we can look and see how truly wicked we are, despite our smug feelings about our own goodness, so that we can then humble ourselves before our kind and loving Maker and admit we need His Son. And that is a great segue into another one of your questions!

You say: “So what should a gay person do? And when gay people fall in love and have sex what do you think will happen to them?” That question is begging me to be all “preachy,” which people typically can’t stand, especially when I’m not in their shoes, but, since you asked, I’ll tell what the Bible says about it. A gay person who truly repents and trusts and receives the Savior, is “born again” (John 3:3-7). The Bible describes this in different ways. It means an “ontological” change – a change in the essence of who you are on the inside. You get a new “heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). It makes you a “new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17). You no longer love sin more than God. The sinful stuff you used to love, you begin to hate. You still struggle with desires and sinful tendencies but now God’s Spirit will live in you, and will remind you of the love of Jesus who shed His blood for your soul, and you will want to please Him more than satisfy those desires and tendencies, and they will be replaced by new passions. Some people fake it for money or parental approval or whatever, but Jesus – the only One ever to get up from the dead by His Own power – certainly has the power to transform a kleptomaniac, a heroin addict, a compulsive liar, a prideful jerk, a Satan-worshiper, a womanizing sleazebag, a person who likes to have gay sex, someone who self-righteously thinks he’s a good person – even IRS agents, lawyers, and those awful Westboro fake-Baptists!

One more thing. You say: “I empathize with people who aren’t hurting anyone.” I think by this you mean that your own personal moral compass points to murderers and thieves as being “bad” because their sins hurt others, but that gay people aren’t hurting anyone by having gay sex, so your personal moral compass departs from God’s right around that point? Tell me if I’m wrong, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I hear that line of thinking a lot. It sounds good – except: all sinners – all those who break God’s moral laws – are hurting someone. They are hurting the very God who is causing their hearts to beat, Who gave them life, Who is giving us air and food and water and children and families and friends and jobs and homes and brains that could be used to glorify Him rather than defy Him, and Who proved His love by giving up His Son for the people who hated Him. I know it sounds mean, and I know that few people will want to hear it, but no one has ever been kinder to us than Jesus. If He forbids us some things, even if we don’t fully understand why, and if He promises to change us so that we don’t want those things any more anyway, and if He’s really in charge of eternity – which He demonstrated by rising from the grave – then it is perfectly reasonable and right to do what He says.

The Power of the King

October 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Matthew | 1 Comment
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So far in this Study of Matthew we have seen the King’s genealogy, and historical proof of His kingship. We have also looked at the principles of His Kingdom, and have seen the King and His followers begin to put those principles into practice, and to display the power of the King.

If anyone should have recognized Jesus as the King – the anointed Messiah – it would seem like it should have been the Jewish scholars, for they knew the law and the prophets of the Old Testament so well. Sadly, because of the childish hardness of their hearts, they allowed their pride to blind their eyes and block their ears. Christ the King, knowing that these Jewish hardliners would require a sign, performed many great works and miracles in their midst. However, in the places where the power of the King was most prominently displayed, He found the least faith.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:

Matthew 11:15-20

When the Foundation Ceases to be Cute

October 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Hebrews | 3 Comments
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Most people, for the most part, claim to love babies. For some people, this is a basic emotional response. My wife and daughters, upon seeing a baby, will often say, “That baby is SOOOOOOOOO cute!” When I hear this, I take a look and see that the baby in question has one ear that is bigger than the other. He is screaming like a banshee. His diaper is leaking down one leg and onto his pacifier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful he’s healthy and full of life and he’s a wonderful little fellow, God’s creation, created in God’s own image. But is he cute? My wife certainly thinks so, and when I ask her why, she says, “But he’s so little.” Apparently, for most women and girls, little things = cute – except for when it’s a “giant” spider.

Babies are generally considered adorable, even when their behavior is somewhat annoying or inconvenient. Babies wearing diapers are cute, but an eight year old wearing a diaper – not so much. Babies sitting in high chairs are cute, but finding a high school student sitting in a high chair would not be so cute. Similarly, a 47 year old living with his mother who can’t balance a checkbook, doesn’t know how to go grocery shopping, and sometimes calls late at night to say, “Mom, come bail me out of jail,” has zero cute factor.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2

New believers are still cute when they are still questioning some of the fundamentals of Christianity: how we were saved, why we’re supposed to be baptized, etc. When I coached tee-ball, we started with the fundamentals. It’s sort of cute when a four year old hits the ball and takes off running for third. It’s not cute at all when a when a ten year old does it.

Hebrews Chapter 6 starts off with six things you need to get straight, as a Christian, so you can start moving toward maturity:

1. Repentance
2. Faith
(Both of these deal with our relationship to God.)
3. Baptism
4. Laying on of hands (This deals with our relationship to each other.)
5. The resurrection of the dead
6. The final judgment (This deals with our relationship to the future.)

Douglas Wilson on Why We Must S.W.I.M.

October 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Quotes | Leave a comment
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There are Christians who say that we ought not protest abortion, but rather preach the gospel. We ought not to oppose the official degradation of marriage, but rather preach the gospel. That is like training lifeguards to rescue people without any references to water. That is like watching millions of people drowning in the same ocean, and holding pep rallies on the beach.

And this brings us back to the point about story. The old stories train us to recognize scribes who speak with no authority, lifeguards who never swim out to anybody, cancer surgeons who are scared of scalpels, firemen who never jump on a truck, jet pilots who never scramble, guardians who will not guard, and gospel preachers who keep muttering peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Douglas Wilson

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:16

And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

Jude v. 23

Think Again

October 12, 2015 at 9:55 am | Posted in Common Expressions | Leave a comment
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Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.

II Corinthians 10:7

In Chapter 10 of II Corinthians the Apostle Paul is writing to the believers in the church at Corinth, and in some ways defending himself. He’s saying, “Look, if these people who speak out against me are bringing my outward appearance into it, that should be a warning right there.” So, he’s refuting the false teachers, but he’s doing it in gentleness and meekness. If the church members at Corinth claimed that they belonged to Christ, then they should not have been against Paul, for he certainly belonged to Christ, too.

The expression, “What I think…” too often really means, “I’m right and you’re wrong, and here’s why.” We must remember that, in order to draw near to God, it is never necessary to push someone else away from Him. There is room near God for the people with whom we are not in total agreement about every single secondary issue.

When I start to say, “Well, I think,” in a negative way, I need to “think again.” If I’m speaking to a brother or sister in Christ, we are in this together.

Syncretism and Sexual Sin

October 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Exodus | 4 Comments
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And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord.

Exodus 32:5

Aaron, pressured by the people and doubtful concerning the return of Moses, tried to straddle the fence. He built an altar before the golden bull, but he proclaimed that the next day’s worship activity would be a feast “to the Lord.” This is called “syncretism:” attempting to combine the worship of Yahweh with false gods. It is nothing less than idolatry. In God’s eyes it is exactly the same in terms of its sinfulness. It is the spiritual equivalent of adultery. Aaron’s attempt to lessen its offensiveness to God is analagous to a husband defending his adultery by saying, “At least I didn’t dump my wife; I just two-timed her.”

The next verse explains the reason for the altar.

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:6

Sacrifices were necessary to make the false worship seem legitimate. False worship will often have an element of truth in it. But the second half of the verse – “to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” – reveals the real selfishness at play in this show of “sacrifice.” When people make idols or construct false ideas of God, they are not trying to be accurate, and just falling accidentally into error. No, they are fashioning a god to please themselves. What would a young bull care if they wanted to get drunk, gorge themselves at a party, and have an orgy?

“To drink” denotes alcohol and “rose up to play” is probably (although not definitely) a euphemism for sex. Most commentators think the phrase has a sexual connotation not because the Hebrew word always means that. Hebrew language in the Bible tends to be modest, preferring euphemisms when possible (like saying that Adam “knew” Eve), but usually the context clarifies it. Here it doesn’t make it crystal clear. The word translated as “play” could be dancing, fighting, roughhousing, lesser forms of debauchery, or general partying. One of the reasons for the traditional belief that it here connotes sexual partying is that, in other instances when people engaged in this type of pagan worship it did involve drunken sex parties. In fact, that was one of the most prominent features of pagan worship, and, tragically, the people who worshiped the golden bull were almost surely imitating that.

The worship of Yahweh (conveniently just described for us in the details of the Tabernacle in the chapters preceding Chapter 32) was more somber, serious, holy, modest, and chaste. It was focused not on the flesh – although it did involve having an enjoyable meal – but rather on serving the Lord. Christian worship should likewise be spiritual, not carnal. This is one of the early instances in Scripture where this is highlighted for us. Worship of the real God is distinct from the worship of pagan idols, and the distinction should be obvious to a lost world, because our God is real, not an invented excuse to party like it’s 1999 (or in this case 1499 BC).

God’s Will concerning Your Joy

October 5, 2015 at 11:36 am | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 1 Comment
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Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Colossians 2:23

The heresy in the church in Colossae was an early example of what would later become called Manichaeism. Manichaeism was started by an Iranian false prophet named Mani. It taught that the “spirit of the world” must be denied to the point where misery was a necessary ingredient of Christian service. Originally, its ideas competed with Christianity, but its principles appealed to some Christians, and the Gnostics attempted to sort of “adopt it into” Christianity, although it was quickly denounced as a heresy.

The truth is that God’s will for your life is not that He simply wants you to be miserable. However, in an attempt to counteract the false teachings of Manichaeism, it may be that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The crisis in the modern Church is that we have a tendency to associate God’s will only with our temporal happiness. We fail to take into account the eternal weight of glory (Romans 8:18) which might be built, and we devalue perseverance and discipline as means of sanctification.

God does not get a kick out of you being unhappy in your marriage or on your job or from any physical or financial limitations you might have, but neither does He give carte blanche to be guided by your feelings. God is God of the decretive and He’s God of the absconditus, but He’s also God of the circumstances and the details.

As Christians, we are soldiers, so we have to train (unpleasant but necessary); we have to go to battle (excruciating but necessary); and we will eventually get to enjoy the spoils of victory (have a feast and ride in a parade), which is joyful while still being God-glorifying.

So, you may get the joy of helping people on a job you hate, and you may experience the ecstasy of “making up” (or the virtues of patience and contentment) after enduring mistreatment by your spouse. Either way, God’s will for your life is sanctification and joy in Him. Don’t get too caught up trying to demonstrate your “free will.” We are terrible judges of our own summum bonum. We are “settlors” when God wants us to be “overcomers.”

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

This reference to the spirit of “the world” includes Manichaeism (let’s hurt ourselves to prove our own will power) and Libertinism (let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

Romans 8:35-37 (emphasis added)

Bible Verses Don’t Always Feel Good

October 1, 2015 at 11:44 am | Posted in Social Media Shares and Mass Emails | Leave a comment
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Question: Why would you throw Bible verses at gay people? It doesn’t feel good to be accused of something you can’t help. You need to research how many “ex-gay Christians” struggled to be heterosexual, but then returned to a gay lifestyle because that’s who they really are.

Response: If you want to state that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual practices must be wrong because some professing Christians are hypocritical, or because it just doesn’t feel good to hear the Bible verses that you don’t happen to like “thrown at you,” then I would like to point out that such an opinion makes no logical sense. The existence of hypocritical professing Christians doesn’t change the truthfulness of the Bible any more than the hypocrisy of some gay people changes the fact that gay people do exist. And as far as our “feelings” being the barometer for truth, think about it this way: It never “feels right” to your toddler when you tell her that she can’t have as much candy as she wants, but, let’s face it, the occasional denial of candy-all-the-time is good – objectively good – for a toddler, despite her strong feelings. In other words, nobody likes being told what to do when we are told we can’t have something we want really badly, or when it’s something we feel like we have to do, or something that we think we were born to do. We live in a culture deeply affected by what is known as “postmodernism” and it has become very common for people to horribly confuse “preferences” with “truth.” However, there is such a thing as absolute truth. If you love someone who is in danger, you warn him or her of the danger. If you don’t really care for the person, you just let him do what he wants, or, worse, encourage and celebrate his “right” to do it.


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