Monday, April 30, 2007

The Believers Security in Christ

Pyromaniacs: Relishing believers' security in Christ

Dan Phillips has posted a great bit of Spurgeon this morning over at Team Pyro, regarding the security of the believer in Christ. Read and think and enjoy.

This is one of those issues that I see many Christians struggling with. They speak of God's grace and Christ's all sufficient sacrifice for them as the only means of attaining salvation. But when it comes to the question of remaining saved, they seem to waffle and fall back to thinking they must do something or perform some way to remain in a state of salvation. Why is this? The Scriptures are so clear on this issue. Could it be that we have too small a view and understanding of God's sovereignty? Could it be that our soteriology is a bit too unformed and therefore influenced by the pop-Christian views that are at best Arminian and at worst Pelagian?

Rest today, believer in the Risen Christ, in the sovereign grace of God who has redeemed you and will keep you in His care all the way to glorification with Him - and even past that. Paraphasing Buzz Lightyear: "To Eternity, And Beyond!"

Friday, April 27, 2007

Homosexual Bishop: Oxymoron

I noted a news story today regarding the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson and his plans to enter into a civil union with his male partner under the pending New Hampshire law allowing such. This whole thing is wrong on so many levels, starting with the tolerance agenda to gain mainstream acceptance of the sin of homosexuality and the acquiescing of the state in sanctioning such abominal relationships. What really pains me, though, is the way that this supposed man of God flaunts his sin, revels in it, claims to be taking the moral high ground in it, and continues to claim that he is on a mission from God as a bishop in the church of Jesus Christ. And when I go to the Word of Christ to see what the requirements are for a man to hold this office of bishop, here's what I find:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer (KJV: bishop), it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Timothy 3:1-7)

So what does the Head of His church have to say about these matters? I see no room in this or any other passage of Scripture, either Old or New Testament, that supports the Rev. Robinson's lifestyle, opinions, practices or his holding the office of bishop. I see instead disqualifications on a number of fronts, and in fact I see a man judged and found guilty of a heinous sin against God. Much more so as a purported under-shepherd of the flock of Christ.

Does this bother you? As much as it should? I have a huge commitment to the Body of Christ and its purity and growth. Think of the words of Paul to the Ephesian church regarding the price that Christ paid for His bride, the Church, and the reason He paid that price:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The church is to be sanctified, cleansed, with no spot or stain of sin but rather holy and blameless. But when the shepherds of the flock of Christ are themselves unholy, stained and spotted, how can they lead and pastor their flocks to the fulfillment of Christ's plan for the church? How can they claim to represent the authority of Christ when they openly disregard and show disdain for His truth and words? How can they have a good reputation to those outside the church, when they are indistinguishable from the worst of rank pagans in their practices? Yes, we Biblical evangelicals can try to take refuge in saying that, well Robinson really isn't a Biblical Christian, he is just a figure in a dying institutional church. But when we say that we deceive ourselves, since we have to take him at his words and his deeds. The Episcopal tradition certainly includes many, many true believers in Christ. Whether the Rev. Robinson is part of the true Body of Christ or not is irrelevant - he claims to be and has been recognized as such and as worthy of a leadership position.

When the church of Jesus Christ fails to discern sin in her midst, and especially in her leaders, she is no longer the church. She is a harlot that her Husband does not even recognize. Lord, we trust that by your grace you have and will sustain a remnant that is faithful to You.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sovereign Over All, Even the Tragic

I've been thinking this week about how our belief in the sovereignty of God is tested during times of tragic events, like the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The sovereignty of God is a blessed and encouraging doctrine, one that reassures us that our Lord is completely and absolutely in authority and control of all that happens in the universe. It's a doctrine that we cling to, that gives us confidence in our salvation and the future. God's sovereignty is the power and reality behind the great promise in Romans 8 that tells us that He causes all things to work together for the good of those whom He has called and that love Him. I for one am totally sold out to the doctrine of God's sovereign grace. Apart from it, and from Him, all is lost.

But when we see events like this happen, that seem so senseless and evil and that are not so far away that they seem distant and isolated, then our belief in God's sovereignty and our confidence in His character are easily tested and in some cases shaken. How can the God that we know and love and serve, the God that has saved us because of His love and self-sacrifice when we didn't deserve it - how can He allow something like this to happen? Indeed, if He is sovereign as we say and believe, how can He decree such a thing to happen? How do I reconcile what I know to be true of the character of my Lord and Savior, and the evil of such an act of violence? The unbelieving world struggles with this greatly, and for many it is this seeming dichotomy in the nature of God that they cannot accept. But if we're honest, even we Biblically-enlightened evangelical Christians have the same nagging questions.

There are a lot of ways to answer this question Biblically, but for me I see it as one of perspective. From our human-centered view of the world and events, this is a great tragedy. It is evil, and resulted in the sudden snuffing out of 32 lives for no apparent reason. We see these people as innocent, having committed no deed deserving of this treatment. We view the event from our relative value viewpoint, with no possible way that this tragedy could accomplish a good purpose.

But God calls us to look at the world and the events around us from His perspective. And His perspective is much different than ours. Even a cursory look at the Bible shows us that God has purposes that are far beyond what we can see, and that He decrees and uses events and people that are evil to accomplish these purposes. His value viewpoint is not relative like ours, but absolute and true. And His character is righteous, so that all His purposes are good. And those good purposes find their ultimate objective in bringing glory to Him.

Consider the perspective of the writer of Lamentations: "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?" (Lamentations 3:37-38). Or that of the psalmist: "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." (Psalm 115:3). Or consider God's statement that Paul quotes regarding His purposes accomplished through the person of Pharaoh and the tragedies of plagues and judgements: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Romans 9:17-18). God can and does ordain that evil people and evil deeds will come about to accomplish His purposes. Does He view them as evil and sinful? Absolutely, because they are. Are they beyond His control? Absolutely not, as He decrees them to come about. Is this an easy perspective for us to get a grip on? No, not really. But it's the one that we need in order to continue trusting in the goodness, the faithfulness, the righteousness and sovereign grace of our great God and Savior.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Needs To...?

I've caught myself several times recently in prayer starting a request for His assistance with teaching a class, working on a lesson or the like by saying or thinking: "Lord, you need to _____________." I usually stop at that point as I realize how presumptuous that way of addressing God is. Rather than seeking His gracious help, I am essentially ordering Him to do something for me. Consciously I would never say that I am doing that, but my words and thoughts seem to give away my real heart attitude. So I will restart my request with "Lord, I need you to ___________ ." This expresses the fact that God is not the one who has the need, but rather I am the needy one. A minor change in wording, but a major change in attitude and approach to the Lord of the Universe. One much more appropriate for me as a dependent slave of His.

This then started me thinking - what does God need to do? Are there things that God must do, that He is bound to do and cannot do otherwise? As the only self-existing and self-sufficient being in the universe, God has no needs. He is the I AM, who is complete and totally fulfilled within His own self. And He is the only being in the universe with a will that is totally free. As Tozer says, He must be the only totally free being in the universe or He would cease to be the only true God. But is that totally free and sovereign will bound by anything? Obviously not anything external to Him, for then He would fail to be sovereign. If there is anything that in any way limits the free will of God and results in actions that He must do, it has to be internal to Him. In other words, that which determines what God must do is the character and nature of God Himself. For example, God must be holy, for to act in an unholy manner would be contrary to His person and character. God must be loving and gracious and just and merciful and wrathful toward sin, because to be otherwise would be to violate who He is. God's perfect free will is bound by His perfect person and character. In other words, God's will must always act in a manner consistent with His righteous and perfect person.

So the question then becomes: are there things God wants to do that He cannot because of this binding of His will? As Paul might say, may it never be! For God, as the perfect moral being, never has a desire to act or behave in a manner contrary to His perfect character. So in one sense God's will is bound by His character and He needs to act as such. But in reality, His will is perfect so that He is not really restrained by this fact. Again, as Tozer notes, He is the only truly free being in existence.

I guess maybe the passage we've been looking at in 2 Timothy 2:13 has been on my mind, that deals with these subjects: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." God's faithfulness and trustworthiness does not depend on me, but rather on Him and His steadfast and perfect character. For those who have trusted Christ and are in a faith relationship with God, He will be faithful and fulfill His promises to us, for to do otherwise would be to act contrary to His character. As Paul states, it would be to deny Himself. And this is something that God cannot do. He needs to be God at all times and in all His ways.

Isn't that ultimately a very comforting thought?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I came across a reference to a study that was done a few years ago and documented in a book named Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. The study interviewed 3,000 young people from a variety of churches and denominations across the country to determine their beliefs and understandings of their faith. The researchers summed up the dominant beliefs of the next generation of the Church with the following points:

  • "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
  • "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
  • "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
  • "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
  • "Good people go to heaven when they die."

The researchers, even being secular, recognized that these beliefs are not even close to being Christianity, or any other existing religious system. Hence they coined a new term to describe this current cultural brand of religious belief that exists at large among our nominally-Christian youth: “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” In short, a works-righteousness based belief in a distant and impersonal God that exists only to make our lives better.

Does this bother you? It does me. Perhaps because of my current stint teaching our high-school youth Sunday school class, I am sensitized to this topic. And frankly because I see this kind of pseudo-Christian belief among our own teenagers in that class. I am seeing that most of these young people, even those who have grown up in the church their whole lives and been the recipients of years of ministry and teaching, are unable to define even key terms of Biblical Christianity. For example, I was using the term grace a few weeks ago in class and realized that I was not connecting with them, so I asked for a definition. The responses I got were not encouraging. And if our youth do not have working definitions of the basic language and foundational principles of the gospel like grace, mercy, justification, righteousness, atonement, etc – how can they put these pieces together to make sense of the person and work of Jesus Christ in their own lives, how can they live these truths out, how can they communicate them to others?

So how can this be? With all the variety of youth ministry, programs, conferences, resources, etc that are in place, how can this next generation of the Church be so – well, Biblically clueless? Remember, we are talking here about teenagers that are actively engaged in their churches, not the fringe kids or the pagan youth culture. Is it because they haven’t learned what has been taught them? Or is it because they have learned what has been taught all too well? I can’t say, although I think the latter is more likely, since my guess is that if a similar survey was done in churches across the land asking adults these same questions, we would find that the dominant belief system of my own generation would also be Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In other words, we are reproducing ourselves in the next generation.

I have also been thinking on these things in light of our current study in 2nd Timothy, where Paul is passing on the baton of the ministry of the gospel to the younger Timothy. He exhorts him to retain the standard of sound words, to guard the trust of the truth of the gospel, and to do so by entrusting these teachings and truth and doctrines to other faithful men. We can only guard the treasure of the Biblical truth of the gospel by passing it on correctly and faithfully and fully to others, and to the next generation. I have to ask - are we doing a good job of passing the torch on?

On a positive note, however, I have seen a few of these young people that are actively seeking to be taught straight Biblical truth and doctrines and have told me so. One of the young men in the class told me, “I really want to be fed and challenged.” So I don’t think it is a lack of desire to work through the hard stuff of Christian theology and doctrine, and that is encouraging. In fact, I have heard stories of churches around the country that have returned to teaching the Bible and doctrine in their youth ministries, and they are packed out with kids that want to learn and grow rather than be further entertained.

I know there are a number of you readers out there that minister to our youth. Do you see these trends, both negatively and positively? What are your thoughts?