Hope For Those Who Fall Short

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Hope is birthed out of a knowledge of something greater than ourselves and greater than our present circumstances. To really understand the good news that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must first understand the bad news that is sin. Consider the idea of receiving the good news of deliverance. However, to receive such news must mean you needed to be delivered from something. If you were in prison and you were to be executed in the morning, and your attorney dropped by with the information that the governor had just signed a pardon, this would be very good news, would it not? But think about it for a moment. If you received news that the governor had signed a pardon, but for some reason you did not know that you were on death row, the good news could not be received by you as really that great of news. It would just kind of bounce off, and have a much less impactful affect.

Due to the Fall, even our good deeds, our very best works, are consider but dirty rags, filthy garments, bloody cloth, and piles of crap in comparison to the righteousness of Christ that has been imparted to those who believe in and follow Him (Isaiah 64:6; Luke 18:9-30; Romans 3:10, 5:15, 6:23; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; among many verses that would substantiate this). I know that language may come off as a little strong, but God says to be holy as He is holy… and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). David even says he was brought forth in iniquity, that in sin did his mother conceive him (he is not referring to her having cheated on her husband, Jesse… Jesse’s girl wasn’t running around on him) and even our good deeds fall short of that impossible standard. With that being understood, we can better understand why we desperately need the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Some passages to consider when questioning how corrupted and depraved we are from birth:

Psalm 51:5
Jeremiah 17:9
John 3:20-21
Romans 3:9-12
Romans 3:23
Romans 8:5-8

1. We have darkened minds.

Romans 8:7
1st Corinthians 2:14
Ephesians 2:3
Ephesians 4:17-18
Colossians 1:21

2. We have darkened hearts.

Romans 1:21
Ephesians 4:18-19

3. We are enslaved to sin.

John 8:34
Titus 3:3

4. We abide under futility.

Ecclesiastes 1:15-18
1st Peter 1:18

5. We are already spiritually dead.

Psalm 51:5
Ephesians 2:1-5
Colossians 2:13

In the beginning, man was created good (Genesis 1:31). Having taken of the forbidden fruit and eaten of it, he committed idolatry and tried to make himself god, he was subjected to the curse of death, pain, and futility. By one man’s transgression, sin and death spread to all men and women (Romans 5) and mankind has been henceforth born into a fragmented existence. No longer does he enjoy fellowship with his Maker or the rest of creation. Man experienced division from His Creator, his spouse, himself, his fellow man, and the creation over which he was to work. This curse spread through men by nature and not merely through an environmental influence, as all were and are born into sin. We are all stillborns, utterly devoid of spiritual good. (This does not mean that man can do no social good, but rather it is a recognition that even our righteous works are as filthy rags in God’s sight. As Romans 14:23 tells us, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.) We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

Because of the Fall, the whole of creation has been subjected to futility. The entire universe and all it contains has been fractured from its originally created state. I believe that includes DNA, the biochemical and biological makeup of humanity has been affected as well.

Have you ever seen a two year old bite when they don’t get there way? Have you witnessed a toddler become violent when they want a toy that another child has? Ever seen a little kid quickly shove all their candy in their mouth if someone asked for a piece? I don’t see too many adults demonstrating those particular behaviors. Where does that seem to instinctively come from? Would you disagree that some people seem more prone to alcoholism, addiction, violence, anger, depression, etc. And that may not just simply be reactions to their environment or behaviors they’ve seen displayed?

Does that merely excuse any bents anyone may have toward certain sins? No, of course not. Is every sinful action predestined and purposed by God? I am certainly making no such claim. When we sin, regardless of genetics, age, gender, ethnicity, race, culture, society, environment, etc. we are still sinning, and we’re still responsible for our actions. It is too reductionistic though, and ignores much of scientific discovery (which helps serve to reveal God’s created order), that shows humans are more complex than simple action and reaction free-willers. People are not simply stimuli-response organisms. We do not act and perceive the world strictly based on our brain stimuli; just “free will” responding to any and all experiences and environment. How does one explain human personality? Ever meet people with an oddly optimistic disposition, or someone who can’t seem to find a positive thing to say no matter how well their life seems to be going?

How would you explain the differences in what people find beautiful? Are our aesthetic appetites merely reflections of our experiences and environments that we’re able to express once we reach some mystical age of accountability? Are we pre-determined genetic robots, so-to-speak? Do humans simply react to all perceived experiences only according to the way their biochemical make-up has been hard-wired to allow them?

I believe we are born with the proclivity towards certain types of sin; that our hearts are little idol factories. Our environments and experiences help serve to shape and manipulate the way we express our sinful idolatry. The Bible teaches that one has only the choice between God and idolatry. For if one denies God, they are worshipping some created thing(s) of this world; while thinking of said thing as not that big of a deal, their actions demonstrate the belief that they see it as deity. (Because though it is often unknown to an idolater, they’re imagining the attributes of divinity in the things they pursue.) We often think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life. Everyone is building their identity on something and must find some way to justify their existence in order to stave off the universal fear that they have no purpose. In more traditional cultures, the sense of worth and identity comes from fulfilling duties to family and giving service to society, while in our contemporary individualistic culture, people tend to look to work or educational achievements, social status, talents, or love relationships.

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.” – Paul Tripp

I’m not saying everyone is born pre-programmed to act out specific sins, but we are predisposed to being more likely to sin in certain ways. I’m also not saying both genetic and environmental influences are equal by any means either, just that genetics does indeed serve at least a small part in it all. I believe we all have bents more toward certain types of sin and idolatry and then our society, culture, environment, experiences, and whatnot help serve to shape and grow those.

In college, I actually had a philosophy professor who used to joke that when you look in at the sweet, cute little babies in the baby ward at the hospital, they are just as depraved in their heart as any adult, and if they had the coordination and cognitive ability, some might even try to steal your car keys and leave. Basically that we’re all prone to wander, prone to sin, and as we age, we’re more apt and able to express the depravity that resides in our hearts. But like I said, I’m not making any claim that some individuals are going to grow up and rape, murder, steal, drink excessively, do hardcore drugs, beat women, verbally assault others, etc. and there’s nothing that could ever be done to stop them from doing so. I just believe genetics and one’s biological make-up does play some kind of role or small factor in things.

So in light of the horribly extensive ramifications of sin (which I have not even begun to scratch the surface in explaining the vast personal and cosmic affects in this article), we can better see why the gospel really is such good news. It is the news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Jesus Christ is the gospel. Jesus isn’t part of the story, He is the point of the story; from Genesis to Revelation. The good news is revealed in His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return. If righteousness could be obtained through the law in any way, then Christ died for absolutely nothing. Christ’s crucifixion is the heart of the gospel; His resurrection is the power of the gospel, and His ascension is the glory of the gospel. Christ’s death is a substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice to God for our sins. It satisfies the demands of God’s holy justice and appeases His holy wrath. It also demonstrates His mysterious love and reveals His amazing grace.

Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true, there is no alternative but to bow the knee to Him. He is the only mediator between God and man. There is no other name by which men must (or can) be saved. At the heart of all sound doctrine is the cross of Jesus Christ and the infinite privilege that redeemed sinners have of glorifying God because of what He has accomplished. Because of this, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

12 Years a Slave

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I don’t normally write film reviews. Never have actually… but this film was just exceptional enough to inspire me to want to write something. As anyone will say, this was not the easiest movie to watch, not in the least bit. However, I’ll begin discussing it by stating that it is one of the best movies of the year and one of the greatest stories ever told on screen.

Again, the movie isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be; because it’s one man’s immense tragedy, and it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of other souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically. The film, which is based on a memoir written by Solomon Northup after his 12-year ordeal, begins with a glimpse of the Northup family’s happy life in New York, where he was a musician, craftsman, and a free man. Those beautiful moments with his family are over quickly, as a pair of low-life scam artists pull off the wicked guise of hiring Northup to play for a party out of town, the pair of crooks drug him, kidnap him, and then turn him over to a slave trader (played by Paul Giamatti). Soon after that Northup, along with other would-be slaves stand naked in a grandiose home’s parlor, as customers are invited to inspect the “property for sale” at their leisure.

12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as effective in its delivery on the big screen if it weren’t perfectly cast (with Chiwetel Elijofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o) performed with searing honesty, smoothly written (by John Ridley, from Northup’s own memoir), and unflinchingly filmed without holding back the disgusting depravity of the era; you’ll want to look away, particularly during a sequence involving Patsey near the end, but you won’t. You will painfully watch and feel your heart being broken for these men and women. It’s a chapter in American history that’s still seen too little screen time, too little honesty, and it will haunt you long afterward.

“I don’t want to survive,” says Solomon Northup early on, refusing to accept his horrific change in circumstances after he has been tricked and sold into slavery. “I want to live!”

Some critics seemed to have gotten too caught up in the character of Samuel Bass having come into the picture abruptly (and even more distracted by Brad Pitt starring in the role), that they seem to neglect taking the time to reflect on all the truth that was spoken during the scenes involving Bass. Truth is truth, no matter who is saying it. The Bible even tells us that God once spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22:22-41)… so we should probably still reflect on the profound truth being uttered by Brad Pitt’s character, Samuel Bass.

One comes away from watching 12 Years a Slave, which ends with Northup restored to happiness and liberty, filled with some joy for his eventual return to his family, but also with a surpassing sorrow for all that he had to endure. It seems simply incredible that any man could endure even one day a slave, much less that the human mind could pass through such an ordeal for 12 years and emerge not only intact but capable of generous, lucid, and occasionally artful prose. Though the film adaptation ends at the same place the book memoir does (with Northup reunited with his family in New York) the film strikes a decidedly different note. When Ejiofor’s Northup, now dressed in a freeman’s clothes as he had been before his ordeal, walks through the door of his home and is greeted by his family dressed in their Sunday best, his face appears similar to what Job’s must have looked like when he was presented with his new, replacement family. The sensation is no longer one of amazement that a man’s mind could survive such an ordeal intact, but the hard realization that in some ways it cannot.

It should be noted that I viewed this movie through the lens of a particular worldview and left the theater deeply moved. In the end, we must cling to the promises of God, and the hope that for those who love God all things really do work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.** Because some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

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Movie Trailer for 12 Years a Slave.

Christians are weak and stupid…

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There was an article published rather recently that went a little viral with other articles explaining the findings of a research project. I’ve read and seen multiple versions of basically the same article (for example: New Meta-Alnalysis Checks the Correlation Between Intelligence and Faith), explaining the same information to various degrees. The gist of many of these articles was the apparent conclusion of a study which essentially found that on average those who would classify themselves as theists are less intelligent than atheists.

Now this reaction does have some empirical justification. Because the recent meta-analysis of studies on religion and intelligence did indeed “find” that yes, overall, people with higher IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious. Researchers analyzed 63 studies on religion and intelligence from the past 80 years with differing results to discover the slightly negative correlation between the two.

This particular article even quotes the Greek playwright Euripides in an interesting manner, and mentions that it was penned 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (at least they admit His existence… see the mind-numbingly bad “documentary” Zeitgeist: The Movie for some alternative “theories”). This quote reminds me of some contrasting words also written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and even hundreds of years before Euripides too. They are the words of the Jewish king David, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1; cf: Deuteronomy 32:21, Ezekiel 13:3)

The Irony of the Study

Everyone has faith in something or someone. It is an impossibility to be faithless. Even the most ‘secular’ mind, even the most staunch atheist has a tremendous amount of faith. So, before we get offended or give this study more weight and credit than it deserves, we should consider some other knowledge that has been available for much longer. Let’s start by looking at Romans chapter 5, verse 6… “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I just want to stop there for a second… At the right time… while we were weak…

Some of us were weak, and at the right time, God came and grabbed us; He opened our blind eyes and softened our hard heart. This didn’t just happen in second grade Sunday school or at VBS. He came and grabbed some of us in high school, in college… in our 20s, in our 30s, in our 40s, a few of us even in our late 60s, 80s, etc. God showed up. The common theme for when He showed up is when we were weak. This is one of the things I’ve heard the world say, which is evidenced clearly in the above articles mentioned, many related articles, and the recently published meta-analysis research study: that Christians are more likely to be weak minded or less intelligent. Well, I just want to agree with it… I mean, they’re trying to slam us, but it’s true…

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

“Christianity is a crutch.” We should just be like, “Absolutely! I am weak. Because my legs are broken. My legs are busted. I need that crutch.” “Religion and faith (including Christianity) is for the weak-minded.” Yes. I have a weak mind. Give me a right mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). “Weak people need it.” Absolutely, weak people need it. My skeptic brothers and sisters, you just don’t know you’re weak. So ultimately, is Christianity a crutch? Yes. Are we crippled? Absolutely. Because, “… while we were weak, at the right time…”

In fact, as Christians we should be earnestly praying that God would open up our eyes to our weakness, and we would finally lean on the crutch instead of hobbling around on our busted femur and blown-out knees (Hebrews 12:12). Right? Because “… while we were weak…” God loves the weak. He oftentimes saves and uses the weak to shame the strong. Do I even need to cite all those examples here? For the fun of typing some names: Moses, Leah, David, Paul, Timothy, even Jesus Himself on the cross… God even says multiple times, things along the line of “give justice to the weak and fatherless,” and that He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy; that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven you must come as a child (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight (Psalm 72:13, 82:3-4; Acts 20:35; Hebrews 4:15). See, God loves weakness. In our culture, we hate it. That’s a huge problem. Do you understand? It’s a huge problem for us to despise weakness like we do.

We seem to think we should not be seen as weak. No, brothers, be seen as weak. God’s power flows most vividly and most powerfully through the weak vessels (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:3-11, 26-30). Paul goes on to tell us this more than once, and in more than one epistle:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1st Corinthians 1:17-31 (ESV)

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” – 1st Corinthians 4:10 (ESV)

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” – 2nd Corinthians 11:30 (ESV)

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:4 (ESV)

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:9 (ESV)

Paul wants to continually remind us; therefore, God in the Scriptures wants to continually remind us of our weakness and need for Him. It becomes imperative for us to know this. While we were enemies, Christ died for us (Ephesians 2:1-10). While you were an enemy, Christ died for you. When you were weak, at the right time, God saved you; or for some He is working to show you His saving grace. That means God has a plan for you.

God has a plan for those of you in your weakness. That may have been depression, violent anger, illness, severe anxiety, struggles with grades in school, pornography, eating disorders, addiction to drugs and alcohol, stealing from others (be it stores, neighbors, family, or the company you work for), and all sorts of other deviances in that moment and at your weakest, when God saved you. God, by His life, by His resurrected life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will transform your life, and He’s going to use you in magnificent ways. This is the gospel. The gospel, the good news, is that while you were an enemy of God, while you were weak, Christ died for you.

When you were at your weakest, at the appointed time, God rescued you. This is the gospel. This is good news invading dark spaces. Are you in rebellion? Absolutely, me too. God’s response to your rebellion is to rescue you out of that rebellion, to snatch you out of your rebellion against Him. So, here is where it gets even more beautiful, that God came to save that which we might deem weak, unwanted, unintelligent, unloveable, and unworthy.

Old people just don’t understand…

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Do you ever remember telling a friend how your parents just didn’t understand the way things were these days? Have you ever sat down and tried to explain to your parents how they just don’t know what it’s like to be in school, play on a sports team, to work a certain job, have a lame curfew, to date a special someone, listen to a more authentic style of music, to consume a particular substance, or deal with the social pressure of your peers?

Perhaps instead of perpetuating our own sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with constantly hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before?

So much of what we hear and see today perpetuates this idea of “adapt or die!” Even many churches and parachurch organizations are consumed with figuring out what this generation’s youth want churches, clubs, groups, associations, etc. to be like and then adjusting their organization accordingly… Should we really believe that today’s #hashtagging, YOLO-oriented, chronically-updating, consistently fickle, selfie-obsessed generation of “Millennials” has way more wisdom to offer about a church, club, group, organization, association, business, society, etc. than any of those who have thought about, dreamed of, bled for, and faithfully served in any of those entities decade after decade, amidst all its hiccups, twists, turns, failures, changes, challenges, ups and downs?

A major source of the problem is the ever-growing hubris of every generation, which thinks it has finally discovered, once and for all, the right way of doing things. C.S. Lewis very wisely called it “chronological snobbery,” defining it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

I remember reading The Wise Old Woman (a Japanese Folk Tale retold by Yoshiko Uchida) when I was in elementary school. The crux of the story was how a ruthless and cruel young king who had declared old people to be useless was later shocked and surprised by the wisdom of an old woman who saved them from potential invasion.

After having his village threatened by an even more ruthless king and being given the chance to save the village only by solving some difficult task-based riddles, the young king slowly realized how much wisdom old people possess and how important that wisdom was to everyone else in the village. After the once cruel young king sees the error of his ways and faults in his thinking, he apologizes to the elderly and seeks the forgiveness of the wise old woman, as well as the entire village. He then proclaims that older people must be treated with the respect and honor they deserve; for they have much wisdom that has been built up over the years to share with the younger generations.

After all, it is said that King Solomon was the wisest man to ever live, and he left us with many words of wisdom in the book of Proverbs calling us to listen to and adhere to the wisdom of our fathers and mothers. Particularly the passages 1:1-9, 2:1-22, 3:1-7, 3:11-12, 4:1-27, 5:1-2, 9:10, 14:27, 15:33, 19:23…. really, pretty much the entirety of the book.

If we’re truly honest with ourselves, what we really need from the church (and every other group of people) is not another “yes-man” entity enabling our excessive pride and self-confidence, and merely giving us what we want. Rather, what we need is something bigger than us, older than us, bound by a truth that transcends us and a story that will outlast us; basically, we desperately need something that doesn’t change to fit ourselves and our whims, but changes us to be the Christ-like person we were created to be. What we need is the gospel.

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“God is love.”

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There is an all too common thought being proclaimed, embraced, and believed throughout our culture today: that all we need is love, that God is love, that God loves everyone unconditionally no matter what, and love is tolerant and accepting of any behavior or belief; because truth is relative and love would never discriminate. This sounds sweet, even almost Biblical sometimes, but is it true? Does God tolerate, accept, and love everyone?

Yes.

And no.

The question of the validity of that statement is actually deceptively difficult. Some like to use the statement as a catch all, end all blanketing statement, but the Bible speaks of God’s love in several different ways. There are at least five (which are outlined in greater detail by D.A. Carson in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and mentioned by Kevin DeYoung in a blog on the Gospel Coalition website):

1. God’s trinitarian love. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. The love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit for the Father. Yes, it can be confusing. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22; John 3:35, 5:20, 10:17, 14:31; 16:26-28; Colossians 1:13; 2nd Peter 1:17)

2. God’s providential love over all that He has made. (Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 6; John 1:3; 1st Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)

3. God’s salvific stance toward His fallen world. (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16, 15:19; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15; 1st John 2:2)

4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward His elect. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7-8, 10:14-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Matthew 25:34; Romans 4:4-8, 8:28-39, 9:8-29; 1st Corinthians 7:17; 2nd Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:4-19, 2:1-10, 5:25; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12, 2:13-14; 2nd Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 3:3-8; Hebrews 12:2; 1st Peter 1:3-5)

5. God’s love toward His own people in a provisional way, conditioned upon obedience. (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17-18; John 15:9-10; Ephesians 1:15-19, 2:8-22; 2nd Peter 1:12-25; Jude 1:21)

There are often ignored complexities and overlooked dangers of emphasizing one aspect of the love of God over the others.

First: If God’s love is defined exclusively by His intra-Trinitarian love, which is perfect and unblemished by sin, we won’t grasp the glory of God in loving rebels like us.

Second: If God’s love is nothing but His providential care over all things, we’ll struggle to see how the gospel is any good news at all because, after all, doesn’t He love everyone equally already?

Third: If God’s love is seen solely as His desire to save the world, we’ll end up with an emotionally charged God who doesn’t display the same sense of sovereignty and justice we see in the pages of Scripture.

Fourth: If God’s love is only understood as His electing love, we’ll too see easily say God hates all sorts of people, when that truth requires a good deal more nuance.

Fifth: If God’s love is bound up entirely in warnings like “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we’ll fall into legalism and lots of unwarranted self-doubt.

Talking about God’s love sounds like a simple theological task, but it’s actually one of the trickiest. I’ve actually heard of people debating about whether their kids should be taught “Jesus loves me” (some of the children might not be saved after all, you never know). I know many more people and churches which so emphasize God’s all-encompassing love for everyone, everywhere and always, that it’s hard to figure out why anyone should bother to become a Christian and follow Christ. The fact is that God loves everyone and He doesn’t. He hates the world and He loves the world. He can’t possibly love His adopted children any more than He does, and He is profoundly grieved by our sin. (Seriously, can some of us stop pretending sin/idolatry [or whatever you want to call it] isn’t that big of a deal… how would we even begin to explain or understand the cross in any way that makes any sense at all if we ignore the seriousness of sin.) The challenge of good theology is to explain how the Bible provides warrant for all those statements and how they all fit together.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.” – Tim Keller

True love is not exactly tolerant and ever-accepting, for rather true love would call the other person out and remind them that it is ok to not be ok, but it is not ok to stay there. Genuine love warns someone when they believe they are in danger. True love wounds more like a physician, not a criminal, because while discipline, rebuke, and honesty can hurt, it may be just what the person needs to save their life; and regardless of whatever cost, we should seek reconciliation and repentance for our greater joy. So, when God wounds, He wounds like a purposeful surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to us. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts.

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

The Scriptures help to make this abundantly clear:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:5-6

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1st John 3:16-18

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who judges people, would condemn people to some kind of hell, and send people to suffer eternally. God is love and no loving God would get angry or be filled with wrath.” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

“Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (page 97)

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. And that’s the hope and change we all really need. We need the hope that we have been justified by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And we need the hope of the promise of Romans 8:28, that God will work all things, even the fallout from our past sins, together for good for us; for His glory and our joy.

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Related Articles/Videos:

“Three Things We Should Know About God” by: Jonathan Parnell

“The Doctrine of the Wrath of God” by D. A. Carson (Desiring God Theology Refresh blog)

“Will All Be Saved?” by Gerald R. McDermott

Include everybody, or you’re out!

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In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:

“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”

Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…

This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”

One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.

“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?

Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?

The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.

What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.

C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?

In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”

“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton

In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).

In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.

The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?

You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.

After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)

So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.