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The Serious Nature of Sin

We live in a politically charged world.  There are few if any people, whether Christian or other, who would counter the validity of this statement.  At every corner, it would appear there is a new social justice movement for the masses to rally behind and bring to the forefront of consciousness.  Meanwhile, the issues which were previously of paramount importance fade away like phantoms, leaving only the wake of pseudo-importance behind them.  Why?

Now, before you become confused by the paragraph above and how it relates to the title, allow me to say there is a point where these two join in a nexus.  As we are drawn to new issues like moths to a flame we make great efforts to address the great injustices which are brought before us.  We want to make right what is wrong.  We want, no, we need answers for wrongdoing and seek to be the harbingers of justice and retribution.  Yet, with all the dreaming and attempting to right the numerous wrongs we seemingly spin our wheels until we are weary from the incumbent plight and quietly move on to a more relevant issue.  I want to explain why this happens.

The reason we, especially as Christians, continue to fail at fighting the issues of injustice is not that of a lack of diligence or fortitude, but rather it is because we persistently fight the symptom and ignore attacking the disease:  SIN.

Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, school shootings, sexuality, etc. are all symptoms of the disease of sin.  No amount of campaigning, crowd sourcing, or any other type of awareness can prevail completely against any of these issues either collectively or singularly until we acknowledge that all of the issues and problems in the world stem from sin.  However, it is not satisfactory to only acknowledge the sin problem, but an effort must be made to hate sin and actively engage in fighting against it.  So why do Christians, including myself, often have such a hollow view of the reality of sin and the consequences are in its escort?  I think honestly we do not quite understand how to adequately understand sin.

The Subtlety of Sin

Søren Kierkegaard’s definition of sin in his book,  The Sickness Unto Death, defines it this way, “Sin is: before God in despair not to will to be oneself, or before God in despair to will to be oneself.”[1]  What Kierkegaard is postulating is the essence of sin is placing the defining characteristic or identity from our own goodness or any other exterior thing.  When we seek to define who we are based on self-worth or any number of factors that are not God we commit sin.  Sin is not something we can escape either.  The Bible tells us all people, regardless of ethnicity, social status, political leaning, or any other possible factor are in fact riddled with this inescapable condition of sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).

Sin is an inexorable part our lives.  It is a relentless pursuer whose prize banner is destruction and whose prize is death.  Sin will not give up.  Even understanding our penchant for sin, it is still clear that often we either underestimate sin or worse, we are indifferent toward it.  I think both are true, but for the sake of this post, I am going to be mainly addressing the latter.  Sin seems to have the upper hand for large portions of the time in the battle of my own spiritual life.  I would be willing to surmise this is a true statement for many Christians.  It is not that we always seek to open the door to sin knowing the cost and finding comfort in it, and yet if we are indifferent or apathetic about our sin we might as well have giant neon signs above us proclaiming an open invitation of vacancy for sin to inhabit.

All sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), but somehow within the recesses of our minds, we determine that some laws are in fact not as great as others which results in concession.  The moment sin, even seemingly insignificant sin, is conceded and allowed, it has the foothold needed to do its clever and covert work.  When apathy is in our hearts and on our lips the subtlety of sin goes unnoticed, and soon without even knowing it has happened, we are consumed by the darkness.  As believers in Christ we know there is a spiritual battle being waged in our lives daily between the will of the Father and the will of self (Romans 7), and until we are willing to acknowledge our sin problem we will never fully crave what is good because we will find ourselves falsely satisfied by what is in reality quite bitter.

Sin has a deft way of making us believe that all pleasure can be derived only from it, and in fact, we should seek to be consumed with it in order to find true satisfaction.  It enters with a certain muted quality just beneath the radar and promises to sell a bill of goods which can never be delivered.  Sin invites us to imagine that true gratification can be elucidated by our own clever invention, but Ravi Zacharias offers a counterpoint when he states, “Once we glean what God invites us to, we find that the imagination harnessed by God can be a wellspring of enthrallment.”[2]  In other words, once we stop relying on sin and begin believing true satisfaction comes from God it takes from occasional fleeting pleasures to perfect and ever-present joy.  As Christians, we are yearning for the light, but we only find it when acknowledge we are in darkness and step out.  When this happens God replaces our desire for sin with a desire for holiness.

The Offense of Sin

It is one thing recognize our sin.  This really is the first step in this great journey.  We must be willing to acknowledge that all that is wrong with the world and with us is this awful issue stems directly from sin.  The next question we must attempt to understand is why sin really is so bad.  There is a whisper in our ears that sin, at least most sin, really is not as awful as we make it out to be.  After all, sin feels good and looks good, ergo it must be good.  This is the greatest lie of all time.  Sin is wildly egregious to God.  In fact, the late R.C. Sproul writes, “Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.”[3]  The reason sin is so despicable is that it is offensive and abhorrent to our Holy God.

The reason sin is so provocative and vulgar to God is that sin seeks to rob Him of the glory that He alone is worthy of.  Let me explain further.  God’s holiness and our sin are incompatible.  God cannot tolerate sin on any level.  If He did it would quite literally violate His character and He would be unable to be God.  This makes us (before or without regeneration) quite literally enemies with God (Ephesians 2:3-5).  Sin is a serious point of contention because sin makes gods of us and seeks to make little of God.  This holiness that God alone possesses is the lens by which our sin must be truly viewed.  Anything less will continue to placate our view of sin as something minor.  When we look at our sin compared to the holiness of God we not only recognize the great offense of sin to God, but we further understand our absolute need of Him.  Again to quote Sproul:

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness.  Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.  Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. [4]

The response for the Christian is to hate our sin.  It is not enough to affirm the existence of sin.  That much is undeniable according to Scripture, but we must also “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) which will cause us to have a holy hatred toward our sin in the same way God does.

A Proper Response Toward Sin

We must actively fight against and abhor sin.  So often I know that I am content to merely brush my sin aside as something that even though I know is offensive to God, carries little weight for me.  I am guilty of viewing my sin as something external and not something internal.  I am guilty of apathy and not active enmity for my sin.  This is not the way it should be.  All Christians, including myself, should be grieving over our sin.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).  James tells us to let our “laughter be turned to morning,” (James 4:8-9) and yet continually we find our hearts are not breaking for the things that break God’s.

If we find a lack of grief or heartbreak when we commit such grave offense against a holy God then we should be concerned.  Our only response when we encounter our sin and see it rightfully for the despicable thing it is before God Almighty should be mourning and repentance.  This does not mean just a casual acknowledgment of sin, but rather it means a recognition and confession that there is but one God in our fallen state we have tried to (and failed) be Him.    Our hearts should be troubled that we would dare seek to find true and lasting satisfaction in any place, person, or thing other than Jesus.  Only He is all-satisfying.

The bottom line is not only is our sin repugnant to God, but it leads to an absolute certainty of death (Romans 6:23).  Our sin and rebellion against God can only lead to destruction.  The response for all people needs to be a recognition of sin, a repentance of sin, and the realization that only Jesus is capable of abating our sin by the blood of His cross.  Our responsibility when sin rears its head is to confess it is there, confess the need for a savior, acknowledge that only Jesus is sufficient to be that savior, and repent.  It does not mean we will cease the endless and age-old struggle against sin, but it does mean that your sin was nailed to cross of Christ and it has been killed.  You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  None of this happens though until we come to a place where we acknowledge just how serious sin is.

Do you want to make a difference?  Do you want to see justice enacted?  Do you long to see change?  If the answer is yes then you must first understand that we can no longer fight the branches, but we must instead attack the root.  Until sinfulness is addressed then the actions of sin will remain hostile and prevalent.  I urge you today to understand the absolute perilous nature of sin.  It is a powerful thing, but take heart, because Christ has already won (John 16:33; Revelation 1:18).

  1.  Søren Kierkegaard and Walter Lowrie, The Sickness Unto Death (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 81.
  2. Ravi K. Zacharias, Cries of the Heart: Bringing God Near When He Feels So Far(Nashville: W Pub. Group, 2002), 126.
  3. Sproul, R.C., Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, Inc., 1998), 144.
  4. Sproul, R.C., The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), 179-180.
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Should Pastors Be Held to Higher Standards than All Other Christians?

This has been a long debated and often contentious question that has been asked by pastors and congregants of the local church alike.  It’s a question that I have personally wrestled with and wondered about, but it is also a question I have never full addressed with any sort of real clarity. That has changed recently as I was asked to convey my thoughts on this subject by a dear friend of mine.

My friend’s are Chip and Halee Anthony.  Chip is the head pastor at North Orange Baptist Church in Orange, TX.  Chip has been in pastoral ministry for a substantial amount of time, and because of this he, Halee, and their four children have been under the microscope of peer scrutiny for some time.  It’s part of the territory for pastors.  When we respond in the affirmative for God’s call to be ministers, there is no question that we are responding in the affirmative to take on much of the baggage which comes with ministry.  Does it mean all pastors/ministers are supposed to be held to higher standards than other Christians?  Keep in mind, I’m not asking whether or not pastors/ministers should be held to high standards, but rather I’m asking should they be held to higher standards just based on their position than all other Christians within the body of Christ.

This is the question I will be addressing.  Halee, in addition to being a dear friend and someone who lives in the public eye as a pastor’s wife, also has an amazing blog of her own.  In fact, the tagline of her blog reads, “Pastoring and Parenting In the Public Eye.”  Halee asked if I would be willing to write a guest post on her blog, and I eagerly accepted the invitation.  My thoughts on the question of pastors being held to higher standards than those of other Christians can be found on her blog by clicking the link below:

The Fishbowl Family

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Spiritual Warfare: An Examination

The Deceiver.  The Accuser.  The Dragon.  The Devil.  The Adversary. The Tempter.

For Christians, these titles correspond to one individual, Satan.  For many, his name strikes fear into hearts and brings about images of evil and frightening faces clad with horns, sharp teeth, and awful eyes.  For others, the imagery of the devil brings about a visage that is cartoonish with a goatee, pitchfork in hand, and a pointy tail.  The problem with both views is that they overly simplify and make light of Satan’s very real existence. This post is certainly claiming to be comprehensive, but I do think there are some important things to note here. So let’s look at the bad news first and then the great news.

The Bad News

Satan is not an impotent foe with ambitions simply to detour you and make you have a bad day.  In fact, the Bible teaches that Satan is a very real and formidable enemy.  John says he (the devil) comes to destroy (John 10:10).  He is referred to as our adversary and that we need to keep watch and be wary (1 Peter 5:8-9).  The imagery that is used in this picture is one of a hungry lion who is seeking weak and easy prey.  If you know anything about nature, or if you’ve ever watched Planet Earth or anything on the Discovery Channel, you know that lions are not in the wounding business.  When a lion stalks prey it is because they are seeking to kill and devour.  This is precisely the aim of our adversary, Satan. He is not seeking merely to hurt us, but rather he is seeking to eliminate us.

But what does that mean and what do we do this knowledge?  In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes some very interesting words:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:21-25

Paul conjures up images of a war, but this war is unlike any great battle that mankind has faced in some field or with tangible weapons.  This battle is spiritual.  Paul alludes to this again when he says that we are not fighting in the flesh nor are the “weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  There is a battle raging and you and I are right in the midst of it.  The interesting (and rather terrifying) truth is that we often do not even realize we are engaged in such a struggle against flesh and spirit, and I posit that is precisely where Satan wishes us to be.  If we look at how Satan works in the Bible we never find an aggressive and heavy-handed approach.  Why?  If we see evil for what it truly is we would surely flee, but if what we see is nuanced and seemingly unharmful to anyone else then our guard is down and our defenses are lowered.  In our spiritual vulnerability, Satan creeps in and uses his best (and most infamous) tool, deception.

One need only look back to the Garden of Eden to see deception played out from the beginning.  He used deception to manipulate and bring about rebellion against a Holy God (Genesis 3:1-6).  Satan even attempts to deceive Jesus by offering him bread after Jesus had fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11).  He is a master deceiver and as long as he can continue to deceive mankind, he will convince us that our sin really isn’t a big deal and that we really are in control.

In his phenomenal work of fiction (that reads very much like non-fiction) The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis paints this same picture as one demon (Screwtape) pens letters to his nephew and protogé (Wormwood) to showcase just how to keep humans in the dark.  In one of these letters, Screwtape says to Wormwood, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…”[1].  Spiritual warfare is quite real and deception from the evil one keeps us caught unaware.  Satan will use the arsenal of deceit to make us think that we are better gods than our Father.

Now, most Christians would never make such an audacious declaration that we are a better god (at least not using those words), but our actions tell a different story.  As we remain deceived we truly begin to disengage from seeking God’s holiness and righteousness and we easily and tragically began to settle for our meager attempts to be holy and righteous on our own.  We become the rulers of our worlds and the captains of our ships, and in our arrogance and pride we completely shut out the things of God and embrace the wicked nature of our flesh.  Deception is powerful, but unfortunately, it is not the only tool Satan has at his disposal.

Perhaps as powerful as deception and used with the same (or more) frequency is the tool of shame.  Again let’s travel back to Genesis 3.  Satan had only just used deception when he then uses shame to continue the fight.  God asks Adam where he is and Adam’s response is that he was hiding because he was “ashamed” (Genesis 3:10).  Shame is a powerful agent that causes all who are caught in its grasp to feel powerless, worthless, dirty, fear, and hopelessness.  It’s no wonder Satan loves this tool so much.  In his book, Devoted to God – Blueprints for Sanctification, Sinclair Ferguson writes,

As the masters of the spiritual life have believed, there may be times in our pilgrimage when Satan engages in blackmailing us. We have secretly given in to sin. He whispers that we have failed; we are unworthy. He will keep our secret — so long as we keep it a secret too, and hide or disguise it. No one else must be told.

We are already ashamed, but now, in addition, we fear what others will think and say. The result? We become isolated within ourselves; we feel there is a secret nobody else must know, we fail to deal biblically with our sin; we develop habits of despair about it. We thus hide our sin; we do not admit it even to God.

This, insinuates the evil one, is the only safe way.

All very subtly we have begun to lose sight of the fact that there is forgiveness. Satan will make sure that we continue to feel our guilt and shame. What would others in the church think of us?[2]

Satan knows what you’ve done.  He keeps it in his pocket and pulls it out at the precise moment of weakness for you and for me.  He is the accuser, and if we are particularly vulnerable he will use shame and deception together to make us feel like God is the one causing these feelings within us that we are now altogether unworthy of any love or forgiveness by a truly Holy God.  What we must remember at these moments is “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God is not our accuser.  That mantle belongs to Satan.  The fight is real, and it is for this reason the Christian is told to get ready and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).

The Great News

So now that we’ve gotten some bad news, let’s take a minute and rejoice in the best news, and that news is that even with all his craftiness and cunning, Satan does not get the victory (Isaiah 54:17).  As the sons and daughters of God, we have been promised not only an inheritance as heirs to God, but we’ve been promised that the Lord is victorious.  Satan is powerful certainly by our standards, and I don’t think any Bible-believing Christian disputes this, but in comparison to the power of Jesus, the enemy loses his power (1 John 4:4).  Go back once again to Genesis 3 with me.  God tells Satan that the seed of the woman shall crush or bruise his head (Genesis 3:15).  That seed would be and is the person of Jesus Christ.  It is he who has the authority, power, and ability to destroy and defeat the enemy.

There is no greater time than this Easter season to celebrate and proclaim our hope in life in death as we remember the great sacrifice made on the cross where the blood of Christ was spilled, but thanks be to God, Jesus did not stay in the grave, but He is risen and we have hope and victory!  All we need to do is confess our sin before a Holy God, acknowledge that Jesus alone can save (John 14:6), and call on him to deliver us, and he is faithful to do just that (1 John 1:9).

This is the hope and the salvation of Christians.  Satan wars and seeks to kill and destroy, but the great promise of Jesus is that those who put their hope and faith in Christ will not be overtaken (Matt 16:18).  Jesus came to bring glory to the Father, to reconcile fallen man, and to destroy the father of lies (1 John 3:8).  It is only because of and through Jesus that the Christian can rejoice and proclaim boldly and loudly that there is victory in Jesus.

Be aware.  Be on watch.  Be sober-minded.  Be ready.  We are engaged in an ongoing and serious spiritual battle, and if we are depending on ourselves or anyone else (outside of Jesus) to deliver us we will find ourselves flailing aimlessly, but for those who trust in the Lord, they will not be moved (Psalm 125:1).  We can rest confidently knowing that even though our trials are not over, and even though the adversary will continue to attack we can put our hope and trust squarely on He who is greater and not in our own wisdom (Proverbs 3:5).  I’ll leave you with a final note of courage and good news.  Remember that no matter how fierce the battle gets or how strong your enemy may appear to be Jesus’ promises are to be trusted and what he says is this:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 

 

1.  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Ireland: CrossReach Publications, 2016), 61.
2. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 159-160.
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Can We Be Good Without God?

This is a question that has often been raised by those who are opponents to the Christian worldview.  When answering this question there are many factors to consider and many different viewpoints from which we must look.  The answer is not easy, but still we must wrestle with this and other questions of morality from a delicate place.  My initial response would be that according the Bible there is no one, regardless of religion, race, creed, etc. that inherently is “good” (Romans 3:9-23).  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even if we do something “good,” the measure of our goodness or righteousness before Almighty God is still not up to His standards (Isaiah 64:6).

This states clearly from the Christian worldview that each and every person has hardwired within them a bent toward sin over righteousness or goodness, and even if something good does come from us, it is still by all intents and purposes not really good. Yet the question remains, does this mean that no morality can exist apart from God?  Are atheists incapable of being moral?  The simply answer is no, and it reminds us that even the Christian or religious person can also be immoral at times.* In fact any Christian who insists they have no sin problem is a liar according the Bible (1 John 1:8-9).  I would argue that man in fact apart from God (whether again religious or irreligious) may attempt good deeds, but without Him and His purpose in mind even those things are only extensions of self-righteousness.

So the better question to ask in my opinion is:  what defines morality and why is it important?

You see, everyone at their core understands that some things are morally right and others are wrong, but where did this come from?  My argument is that only the Christian worldview provides enough ground and evidence to satisfy an answer to this question.  No reasonable person, regardless of religious or nonreligious persuasion can rightfully say that all morality is subjective.  In other words, there are things that all can agree are absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  For instance, no rational human being would say that the Holocaust was ok or good.  But from where did this idea of right and wrong stem?

The Christian worldview answers this question in what is known as the Moral Argument for God.  It states:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. *

What this position is arguing is that all moral absolutes depend on an absolute moral law giver, and only the God of the Bible and of Christian theism meets this criteria.  Relativism is simply not possible.  If one is a relativist then they will either say that all truth is relative and therefore no absolutes exist (which of course is an absolute statement) or morality is relative and what may be right for you may in fact be wrong for me and visa versa.  The problem with this view of course is that if I wrong you, you still get angry or sad or hurt, but why?  Because morality cannot be merely relative.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a fascinating piece of conversation that states, “You mean everything is permitted?  Everything is permitted, is that right, is it?”* This line of thinking would lead to destruction and outrage.  If all things are relative and anything is permitted then nothing would be truly evil or good, but again, we know that there are things that are good and evil inherently so the argument of relativism is defeated.  To put it another way:

Biblical Christianity not only articulates the common ethical standards that transcend culture, it also explains the origins of mankind’s moral awareness.  It “helps make sense out of how [our] moral faculties could have come about in the first place,” notes Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland.  “How is it that humans can have intuitional insight into the nature of morality? God has created us to know moral values.”*

The reason we have a concept of a moral law built within each of us is because the God of the Bible created us with this moral law hardwired within each person.  Without the Law Giver, the law itself would be rendered useless and empty (Romans 2:15).  So can man be good without God?  The answer must be obtained by the definition of morality.  Only the Christian worldview satisfactorily answers the question of where our moral values originated.

 

SOURCES

* “Can Atheists Be Moral? That’s the Wrong Question,” ReasonableTheology.org, June 05, 2015, , accessed March 14, 2018, https://reasonabletheology.org/can-atheists-be-moral-thats-the-wrong-question/.

*”Moral Argument,” AllAboutPhilosophy.org, , accessed March 14, 2018, https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/moral-argument.htm.

*FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (S.l.: SC ACTIVE BUSINESS DEVELO, 2017), 263.

*Nathan Busenitz, Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence that Confirm the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 53.

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The Prosperity Gospel: Cancer of the Church

There are many preachers in America today who have sky rocketed to nearly rock star level notoriety.  They lead huge congregations, write books, appear on TV, and reach a wide audience.  As Christians, shouldn’t we be thankful for this kind of exposure?  If the cross of Christ is being preached and the gospel is at the forefront, the answer is a resounding yes, but the problem is that with these giant audiences, many of these preachers are simply not preaching the gospel at all.  They preach what has been coined as the prosperity gospel and, and in doing so a great multitude of people get the wrong ideas about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

The idea behind the prosperity gospel is that if a Christian has enough faith or believes hard enough, they can ask for and receive literally anything, but specifically wealth, health, and prosperity.  The claim is that the promise of prosperity and health are given in the Bible.  They cite verses like Malachi 3:10, Jeremiah 29:11, and John 14:14 and assert these verses indicate Christians will have whatever they desire if their faith is strong enough, and therefore if the Christian does not receive these things then their faith was clearly too weak.

This is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture.  All of these verses, and the other verses, used by the prosperity pastors/preachers are taken severely out of context.  There is no place in all of the Bible that affirms any Christian will have security, wealth, or health if they have enough faith.  It’s a false doctrine that needs to be eradicated.  I have three reasons why the prosperity gospel is not be believed, practiced, praised, or spread.

It’s Not Biblical

Not only will you not find any passage in all of the Bible that promotes prosperity, health, money, or even happiness, but in place of this you will find instead that the Bible speaks much more of suffering.  The Christian is not promised an easy life or that suffering are eliminated simply by calling on Jesus.  The opposite is in fact true.  James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).  Suffering for Christ is not only possible, but for the Christian is unavoidable.

Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (1 Timothy 3:12).  The truth is that if one is truly a believer in Jesus, they should expect hardship.  This can of course take on many manifestations.  It’s possible for a person to wealthy and still be a Christian obviously, but just being wealthy does not assuage all hardship.  The Bible speaks repeatedly about suffering or enduring hardship for the cause of Christ (Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, etc.).   Our suffering is not pointless.  It magnifies and makes much of the name and power of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:17). If this is true then the prosperity gospel must be false.

God often uses the most awful circumstances to make much of His glory and power.  We have hardship not because God is a cosmic bully, but because it teaches us to completely rely upon Him.  C.S. Lewis famously writes:

We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (Lewis, Clive S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014.)

We rely on the old philosophical law of noncontradiction.  The gospel of Christ and sharing his suffering and the prosperity gospel cannot both be true.

It Makes Much of Us and Little of Jesus

One glaring problem with this prosperity gospel is how much power and elevation it gives to people.  John writes famously, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  What this means for the Christian is we are to lift up and make much of Jesus.  We submit to Him as the ultimate authority and Lord of our lives.  We crawl on the altar and lay down our hopes, wills, dreams, desires, and rights and acknowledge that apart from God we are absolutely incapable of holiness (Romans 12:1-2).  Our goal is glorify Him and point others to Christ, but the “name it, claim it” prosperity gospel says the opposite.

If the prosperity gospel is true then everything really is about us.  It is OUR faith that grants us these elaborate gifts, it is OUR will to have health and wealth, it is OUR ambition to have much in this world, and this makes everything about OUR desires.  What we want becomes key.  Our lives are lived not to make much of Jesus, but rather we live in order to gain more of what can ultimately not satisfy.  We rely not on Jesus as the all satisfying necessary component of life, and we trust in the power of self.  Keep in mind, your “self” is a rebel against Almighty God and a slave to sin (Romans 6:16).  The goal of the Christian is to look less like self and more like Jesus (1 John 2:6), but this cannot happen if the prosperity gospel is true.  The gospel, life, or anything else has ever been, is, or will be about you.  Every aspect of the Christian’s life is about glorifying and pointing Jesus, not self.

It Robs Us of Affection for Jesus

If the prosperity gospel is indeed true then our satisfaction and joy are cheap and can be easily purchased by wealth and health.  This is incompatible with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  If Jesus is not enough for us then we have made idols and gods that are weak, powerless, and unsatisfactory.  As stated earlier, the prosperity gospel makes much of us and what we can gain, but the gospel is not about what we can get.  If we find that we are pursuing Jesus because of what he can give us then we are not pursuing him at all.

What happens is the Christian begins to love the gift over the giver.  We create countless idols and gods that leave us wanting and joyless.  When we find our ultimate hope and satisfaction in Jesus however, we find our affection for him deepens and we are filled with insatiable thirst that only he can quench.  While things life health or money can no doubt be a good gift, they are void of any real power and are cheap and terrible gods.  Jesus wants all of us. He wants our affection.  We cannot give our affections to what we obtain and to Jesus at the same time (Matthew 6:24).  Everything we do as Christians will either stir our affection for Jesus, or it will rob our affection for Jesus.  The prosperity gospel does the latter because creates affection for stuff instead of affection for Jesus.  We would love and follow Jesus because of what we gain rather than just for who he is, and this is a fundamental problem.

The Response for the Christian

The mark of a believer is not in health or wealth, but the mark of a Christian is in obedience in Christ.  We will not make much of Jesus by peddling a false gospel with no power to transform to those who are in desperate need.  Christ is not magnified by what we have, but Christ is magnified in that we point a broken world to the only one capable of change.

The reason the prosperity gospel is so dangerous is it teaches that joy and hope can come from something outside of Jesus.  This is categorically false.  We cannot sit by and mutter things like, “well at least people are hearing something positive so it’s not all that bad.”  It really is that bad.  If we preach anything other than Christ crucified and the grace and mercy that are offered by him then we are not preaching the gospel.  It is a dull heresy that not only offers no hope, but it enslaves us to the master of self.  As Christians we must war against the prosperity gospel, and instead wave the banner of truth that apart from Christ we have and can do nothing. (John 15:5).  Our faith is not about what we gain or how it benefits us, but rather our faith is the mark that we are completely and utterly dependent on the work of Christ.  It cannot be both.

Clive S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2014), 90-91.
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Valentines Day – What Is Love?

It’s February 14, 2018, and here in the United States that of course means it’s once again Valentines Day.  It is a day for many when they receive amorous notes, flowers, candy, gifts, and all manner of special attention.  It is a day that greeting cards are passed around like currency and the lines at all stores are replete with hurried customers purchasing their last-minute items for their significant (or what they hope to be at least) other.  It is a day where candy is given and consumed, where florists earn their wages, and when romance efforts are on display.  It can also be a day full of sadness, fraught with loneliness, but most importantly, it is a day that is dedicated one very special thing – love.

Love is uniquely human.  Love is a feeling, yes, but it’s more than that.  Love is an action, but it is more than just this as well.  Love is also sacrificial by nature.  Love says to someone, “I value you more than myself,” and because of this great expressions are exhausted to show the worth those we care about just how significant they are to us.  But why does any of that matter if God does not exist?  In other words, without God isn’t love merely an illusion, or does love actually point to God?

For the sake of time I want to focus mainly two schools of thought: 1. The Christian worldview and 2. The Atheist/Naturalist worldview.  I want to begin with the latter.  Most atheists and all naturalists by definition believe that the sum total of all things can be explained by the natural world with observable phenomena.  This means that in essence everything can be observed and broken down to be proven by what is natural.  This certainly may be (and is) true for some things, but the problem with naturalism is that it cannot account for philosophy.  In fact, one of the most revered and brilliant scientists ever, Dr. Steven Hawking, recently said “philosophy is dead.

This presents quite a problem however.  Love is not something that is purely natural.  There is an element to love that cannot be explained.  Yes, we know that neurons fire and our brain reacts in certain ways that spawn emotional responses, but is this all love is?  Is it just cold and scientific?  Richard Dawkins once famously said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (Dawkins 2015, 133).  This of course would mean that love too would have these same natural attributes, but we know this isn’t true.

Love is not apathetic.  Love in fact is the opposite of apathy.  As stated earlier, love is at its core putting someone else ahead of yourself, but if love is just indifferent there would be no reason or need of such a thing.  We know without doubt that love is much more than series of natural chemical reactions, and if that is true then certainly naturalism cannot be the reigning contributor for what our definition or explanation of love is.

So what then does the Christian worldview tell us.  The Bible tells us that God created all people in His own image (Gen. 1:27).  If this is true then it means all people have worth, value, meaning, and a capacity to think and feel.  If we are made in His image then it means we are crafted carefully to showcase our Creator.  The Christian worldview believes that not only does God define love, but He defines love because He is love (1 John 4:8). The Christian worldview accounts for love as much more than just chemical process, and gives it actual meaning.  It gives love significance.  It gives love purpose, and it tells us the reason we able to experience love and all the complexities that come with it.

For the Christian, God demonstrates His perfect love (Romans 5:8) for us as a way to bring our rebellious hearts back to Him, but He uses His love as a model for us to follow (Mark 12:30-31).  Love is an enigma, but love also has an origin, and that origin is in the God of the Bible.

Of the two worldviews discussed here there are clearly opposing views.  One says love and everything else can systematically be explained through natural causes, but there is nothing natural about loving others enough to be willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice (John 3:16; John 15:13).  Giving one’s life for the sake of another is direct conflict with the idea naturalism.  The Bible is the only source that accurately explains the way in which we are to understand and show love to others (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

This Valentines Day as you celebrate those significant others remember that love is more than flowers and candy.  Love is a direct result of a gracious and loving God.  As such, let’s not ony love the ones in our lives that we know, but let us also love the estranged and the ones we don’t always feel like loving (1 John 3:23).  Love.  It’s more than a feeling, it is a gracious gift of God.

 

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden. Orion, 2015.

Warman, Matt. “Stephen Hawking tells Google ‘philosophy is dead’.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 17 May 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html.

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The Greatest Showman: An Apologist’s View – Part 2

photo © 20th Century Fox

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The Greatest Showman teaches us so much as I alluded to in my previous blog about the value and worth of each person based not on what a person looks like, believes, their language, or their culture but purely on the fact that each person has been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  It reveals that because the nature of God (and when I say God, I am speaking of the God of the Bible as recognized by the Christian worldview) is good that everything He created(s) is good (by rebellion it is people who pervert and taint the good things) so each person has intrinsic worth.  This truly is a worthwhile lesson that each Christian must learn about when it comes to the horrors of racism, differing worldviews, and a host of other things.  This film does an excellent job at pointing to this, but there is more than can be extracted.

The main character in this film is P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), and he like most entertainers, businessmen, and frankly speaking most people finds that with each great endeavor and success he is left with a wanting for more.  Doesn’t this sound all too familiar?  For Barnum he finds a new desire at every success beckoning him to something greater.  It’s not enough that his family is proud so he continues to strive to be successful.  Once he achieves success he wants success to a higher end clientele.  The trend continues until has utterly lost everything.  It’s easy to watch a movie and point fingers at how crazy this is, and yet if we are honest and introspective, we find that we are the same at our nature.

People are messy and greedy creatures.  No matter how satisfied we are at any particular moment, we can be assured that just around the corner that the monster of “more” is lurking with an insatiable appetite and we walk blissfully into its waiting jaws.  If we are looking at successes to satisfy or fill some void that it was never created to do then we will have spent our fleeting moments on this earth pursuing pleasures that are fruitless and meaningless.

People are fragile.  Our pursuits and dreams even more fragile still.  This is best summed up in the film with a song that is performed by Jenny Lynd (Rebecca Ferguson & Loren Allred) entitled “Never Enough.” I’ve provided an excerpt from the lyrics below:

All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
Never be enough

Written by: Justin Paul, Benj Pasek

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

No matter what we attain or obtain, if we do not find our identity and our satisfaction in Jesus, there will be no real relief for unending desires.  The pleasures that this world offers may certainly be good gifts, but they will always be failures as gods.  In fact only the God of the Bible is able to fill this great delta of emptiness that we seem to always find within ourselves. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV), and the Psalmist writes, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

Jesus alone satisfies. He cannot be duplicated or replaced.  With so many things begging us for our approval and desire there is ceaseless supply of gods that want us to make much of them, but all the gods of this world fall by the wayside and into the abyss when compared to the unending joy and satisfaction that is found only in Jesus.

The great C.S. Lewis in his magnum opus, Mere Christianity, writes, “If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Lewis 2002 114).

The Christian worldview is the only one that has the ability to answer why we are constantly left wanting.  Every other worldview wrestles with purpose, but none can wrangle this beast because apart from God there is no purpose in life.  This leads to an interesting discovery.  There is a law in logic referred to as The Law of Noncontradiction which simply states that two mutually exclusive contradictory statements cannot both be true.

In this case the law effectively points to either the God of the Bible alone is enough for us, or everything else has the potential to be enough for us.  They cannot both be true.  My argument is that one need only see the greed that permeates our hearts at every turn to see the evidence that not only can the world not satisfy us, but we are found with only one possible solution, Jesus must be enough.  You have two options set before you, an all satisfying God who in His infinite love and mercy offers you unending joy (which must be noted is not the same thing as happiness) or an interminable array of impotent gods that will rob you of joy and hope.

 

#GreatestShowman #Apologetics

 

Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. HarperOne, 2002.