Science and Religion: The Two Must Meet

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

The relationship between science and religion has always been complicated. The scientific revolution featured tension and collaboration between religious viewpoints and innovative scientific theories.

ALISTER McGRATH SAID, “HISTORICALLY, the most significant understanding of the relation between science and religion is that of ‘conflict,’ or perhaps even ‘warfare'” (1). As human beings, we strive constantly to determine origin, purpose, morality, and destination. Gottfried Leibniz and other Christian theologians have identified the fundamental philosophical question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Those who claim to be nihilists (rejecting all religious and moral principles, and believing life is meaningless) are rare. But believers in the purposeless, random, chaotic origin of the universe and its inhabitants abound. Cosmological arguments come in several forms, but all believe the mere fact that the universe exists suggests a cause. Theists argue everything that exists must have a cause; the universe exists, so it must have a cause; therefore, the universe is caused by a first cause (i.e., God) (2).

Lang Craig, J.P. Moreland, and others believe the adage, “out of nothing, nothing comes” (ex nihilo nihil fit). David Hume said, “But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a Cause” (3). “Nothing” lacks all causal power, because it has no properties at all! Nothing is no thing. Groothuis tells us the “nothing” before the Big Bang is not a subject that can have properties, but is rather an absence of all properties. Zero, divided or multiplied by zero, is zero. I believe the mere vastness and mathematical precision of the cosmos belies a causeless beginning. An actual infinite (which itself sounds like an oxymoron) can never be transversed through successive addition—that is, through incremental steps. We can neither count from one to eternity nor count down from eternity to one (4). Hawking said “…almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang” (5).

The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. —Stephen Hawking

Jeremiah wrote, “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jer. 10:12). The universe is a manifestation of the power, wisdom, and love of the Father. In this regard, it is teleological: relating to or involving the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arose. The universe is contingent (inexplicable by natural processes); is complex (the greater the complexity, the less the likelihood an event came about by chance; and, it is made according to specification (featuring a pattern of design which is independent of mere probability). I believe the existence of natural laws is evidence of intelligent design. A complex system cannot assemble itself. Lennox writes, “The design inference is not based on ignorance of the natural world but on knowledge about it, especially given recent discoveries in physics (fine-tuning) and biology (the cell and DNA)” (6).

C.S. Lewis says, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator” (7). Lennox notes that the laws of nature describe the universe, but they actually explain nothing. We were designed to be curious, inquisitive, imaginative, determined. It is natural for us to ask questions. But it is extremely important to realize not all questions (especially regarding origin, meaning, morality, and destiny) can be answered by science alone. Feynman writes, “The fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done” (8).

Myth: Science Depends on Reason but Christianity Does Not

While there are religions that feature an anti-intellectualism, Christianity is not one of them. Science is a progressive human undertaking. It is built squarely upon the cumulative observation of a cause/effect paradigm, and verified through the scientific method. The basic steps of the scientific method are: (1) make an observation that describes a problem; (2) create a hypothesis; (3) test the hypothesis; and (4) draw conclusions and refine the hypothesis. Critical thinking is a key component of the scientific method. But this way of thinking is not limited to science. We use common sense (rational) thinking in nearly every situation. Remarkably, this model of inquiry is featured in Scripture. Jesus referred to mental faculties in Mark 12:30: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (italics mine). Notice the reference to mind: God is not anti-reason. Merriam-Webster defines reason as “a statement offered in explanation or justification;” “a rational ground or motive;” “the thing that makes some fact intelligible (cause);” “a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense.” It is because of these features that the universe is teleological.

As Christians, we are charged with the responsibility of “…being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). We are to be ready with an “apologetic” for anyone who asks us for a reason for our Christian beliefs. Paul also mentions “…the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7). He adds, “…I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (1:16). Significantly, the apologetic of which Peter speaks is a defense of Christian hope. Indeed, as Christians our lifestyle and confession are “on trial” everyday. The key element here is that our defense is one that is reasonably sustained, accessible, and well articulated—as any courtroom defense would be. The Greek word for reason is logos, referring to a universal, divine reason—or the mind of God. The transliteration of 1 Peter 3:15 is, “But as the Lord Christ, sanctify in the hearts of you, ready always for defense to everyone asking you a word concerning the in you hope [sic]” (9). Paul writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).

Speaking from the position of science, Lewontin says, “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science… because we have a prior commitment to materialism… we are forced by our a priori* adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive… moreover, that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door” (10). You may remember from my article Dark Matter and Other Phenomena (Sept. 15, 2021) that God has written two books: the general revelation of creation and the special revelation of Scripture. This provides an excellent means of comparing the rational scientific activity of interpreting nature and the rational theological activity of interpreting the Word of God. In essence, we have two sets of “data.” The first comes from our observations of nature and the cosmos, and the second comes from systematic study of the Bible. As with Scripture, nature also requires interpretation. Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words, “You must have faith.” It is a quality which the scientists cannot dispense with. —Max Planck.

Huxley said, “The one act of faith in the convert to science is the confession of the universality of order and of the absolute validity in all times and under all circumstances, of the law of causation. This confession is an act of faith, because, by the nature of the case, the truth of such propositions is not susceptible proof” (11). Scientific theory admittedly offers “the best account” of currently observed phenomena. But unless we have a crystal ball that projects observation into the future, it is impossible to take an absolute position on whether a scientific theory is right. Instead, ours is a provisional view of science, which necessarily undermines the outdated positivism of the “warfare” model of science versus religion. It is much wiser to state, “There is a broad consensus within the scientific community that this is correct, but this will probably shift as and when more evidence accumulates” (italics mine). Not to worry, because this is precisely how scientific method works.

Dinesh D’Souza reminds us that faith is not a highly acclaimed word in the scientific community. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “The claims of religions rely on faith [but] the claims of science rely on experimental verification” (12). Science is based on what Trefil calls the principle of universality: “It says that the laws of nature we discover here and now in our laboratories are true everywhere in the universe and have been in force for all time” (13). Admittedly, there is order in the universe. Its complexity cannot subsist without it. Scientists have discovered laws, physical principles, and structures that aid in deciphering the universe.

Science was not founded in the seventeenth century as a revolt against religious dogma. Rather, it was founded earlier, between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, through a dispute between two kinds of religious schools of thought. The first belief held that deductive reasoning was the best way to discover God’s hand in creation; the second promoted inductive experience (including the use of experiments) to properly evaluate and define nature. As a result, the scientific method emerged in the thirteenth century, and the professional position of “scientist” was established in the late Middle Ages, with a great number of scientists being Christians who viewed their work as a fulfillment of Christian objectives. As a result of the rejection of papal hierarchy, the so-called “priesthood of the individual believer” became immensely popular. The “protestant” Christians did not realize they were introducing new theological concepts that would have a huge impact on the emerging scientific culture in Europe.

Quantum Physics and New Interpretations

There have been a number of paradigm shifts in science over the decades, but none as remarkable as discovery of the sub-subatomic world of quarks and leptons. Quantum mechanics, deemed the hardest part of physics, is helping to redefine how the universe operates. The seeming regularity of the universe is based on anomaly, pathology, and holes in the spacetime continuum. At the foundation of quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states: there is a fundamental limit to what one can know about a quantum system. At a basic level, quantum physics predicts very strange things about matter that are completely at odds with how things seem to work in the real world (14). For example, the more precisely one knows a particle’s position, the less one can know about its momentum, and vice versa. Systems with quantum behavior don’t follow the rules that we are used to, they are hard to see and hard to “feel,” can have controversial features, can exist in several different states at the same time, and even change depending on whether they are observed or not.

Hawking addressed the plausibility of predicting the position and speed of all of the particles in the universe. He writes “Our ability to predict the future is severely limited by the complexity of the equations, and the fact that they often have a property called chaos” (15). Thus, a complete prediction of the future cannot be realized. Although scientists stand a good chance of being right about events anticipated over the next few decades, the rest of the millenium will be wild speculation. Quantum mechanics shows that energy comes in discrete packets called “quanta.” This new theory suggests that things do not have a single unique history, but have every possible history each with its own probability (16). Even what we understand as empty space is full of particles moving in closed loops in space and time. Kuhn writes, “Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergency of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity” (17).

There must be a meeting of the minds between science and religion if we are ever to grasp how a created universe behaves: by what rules, and to what degree of predictability. One such focus relates to paradigms, and how they gain status because they are more successful than competition from existing theories. Paradigm shifts can be rather untidy. Few people who are not involved in the daily practice of scientific method realize how much mop-up work results in this sort of critical change. The dance of science and religion tends to be choreographed by the religious belief itself. For example, there are philosophical, biological, and scientific aspects of Christianity. Moral philosophy asks whether the natural sciences can establish moral values. What role does human cognition play in religious beliefs and actions? Some philosophers argue that religious beliefs are impositions upon mankind. But surely God has implanted is us a hunger for filling our “hole in the soul.”

Religion has always played a role in science. It is no accident that we tend to “look to the stars” for answers. New research has shown us that science and religion need to work together in order to explain origin, purpose, and destiny. Many Americans believe religion and science are compatible on a variety of issues, and the two should not battle each other all for the sake of trying to help people with their lives. The relationship between science and religion must address a number of issues: so-called “conflict,” independent thought, dialog, integration. Although the lion’s share of secular scientists believe science and religion inevitably conflict—as they essentially discuss the same domain—a vast number of authors who cover the subjects of science and religion are critical of the “conflict” model, stating that it is based on a shallow and partisan reading of the historical record. God has written two books: the general revelation of creation and the special revelation of Scripture. I believe we cannot achieve a complete understanding of the universe by focusing on only one of these books. Our knowledge of the world must be grounded in matter and in precepts.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

References

(1) Alister E. McGrath, Science & Religion: A New Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2020), 8.
(2) Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 208-09.
(3) Ibid., 215.
(4) Ibid., 219.
(5) Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.
(6) John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford, UK: Lion, 2007), 168-71.
(7) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 140.
(8) Richard Feynman, The Meaning of it All (New York, NY: Penguin Publishing, 2007), 23.
(9) Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 916-17.
(10) Richard Lewontin, “Adaptation,” In Evolution:A Scientific American Book (San Francisco, CA: Freeman, 1997), 114-25.
(11) Thomas H. Huxley, in McGrath, Science & Religion, Ibid., 97.
(12) Neil deGrasse Tyson, “An Astrophysicist Ponders the God Question,” in Paul Kurtz, ed., Science & Religion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003), 74.
(13) James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1989). 1.
(14) Richard Webb, “Quantum Physics: Our Best Basic Picture of How Particles Interact to Make the World,” NewScientist (n.d.). URL:
https://www.newscientist.com/definition/quantum-physics/
(15) Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2018), 91.
(16) Ibid., 154.
(17) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2012), 68.

*a priori knowledge is knowledge that is absolutely independent of all experience.

“To Autumn” by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Dark Matter and Other Phenomena

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

Religion and science are two of the most significant and contentious cultural and intellectual forces known to man. Leading Christian thinkers at the time of the Renaissance used the metaphor “God’s 2 Books” as a way to illustrate allowing both science and religion to tell us about reality. Theologians delineate God’s revelation as General (the physical universe and all its inhabitants) and Special (the Bible as God’s written revelation). It was believed that we must “read” both books to understand Creation. I often use the phrase “all truth is God’s truth.” Albert Einstein remarked, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” As a theologian and student of the Bible, I choose to study science and religion because these subjects are interdisciplinary: neither science nor religion can provide a comprehensive view of the world. We simply cannot achieve a “complete picture” without integrating these two worlds.

We know the Milky Way is a barrel-shaped spiral galaxy, one of hundreds of billions in the observable universe. It’s also our home. Like other galaxies, the Milky Way is comprised of stars and other material bound together by gravity. Scientists estimate our galaxy to contain 100 billion to 400 billion stars; a similar number of planets likely exist in the Milky Way—some of them are part of solar systems and others are free floating. In addition to stars, the Milky Way contains innumerable nebulae, which are clouds of gas and dust. The vast majority of interstellar gas is made up of hydrogen and helium. Evidence seems to suggest that material in the Milky Way orbits the center far too quickly to be held together by gravity between the orbits of visible objects. Accordingly, most of the mass of the Milky Way is made up from a form of matter that does not interact with light. Astronomers have labeled this phenomenon dark matter (1).

What is Dark Matter?

Dark matter is the name theoretical physicists give to all the mass in the universe that remains invisible. Research suggests that about 70% of the universe is composed of dark energy, while the remaining 25% is composed of a mysterious substance known as dark matter. Unlike normal matter, dark matter does not interact with electromagnetic forces. This means it does not absorb, reflect or emit light, making it extremely hard to spot. In such instances, we typically look for the “result” of the presence of dark matter. All matter around us is made of elementary particles, the building blocks of matter. These particles occur in two basic types called quarks and leptons. Each group consists of six particles, which are related in pairs, or “generations”. The lightest and most stable particles make up the first generation, whereas the heavier and less-stable particles belong to the second and third generations. All stable matter in the universe is made from particles that belong to the first generation; any heavier particles quickly decay to more stable ones. Dark matter isn’t the same thing as dark energy, which makes up some 68% of the universe, according to the Standard Model.

The prevailing theory of today’s astrophysicists identifies four fundamental forces at work in the universe: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. The idea of a “cosmological constant” was first proposed by Einstein as a means of explaining the concept of a static universe. His formula used dark energy to balance gravity. We later determined that Einstein was wrong: rather than the universe being “static,” it is expanding at a uniform rate. Amazingly, gravity is the weakest of the four forces, but it has an infinite range. Electromagnetic force also has infinite range, but it is much stronger than gravity. The weak and strong forces are effective over a very short range, operating at the level of subatomic particles. It may sound counterintuitive, but the weak force is much stronger than gravity. Bentovish believes theoretical physics is in a state of paradigmatic crisis. The two pillars of theory for the material-causal paradigm—Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics—seem “inconsistent,” as up to 95% of all the energy and mass in the universe cannot be directly accounted for. Hence the terms “dark energy” and “dark matter” (2). This paradigm was shown to “replicate” or account for all major relativistic or quantum phenomena, and offered a satisfactory alternative explanation for the unexplained accelerated expansion of the physical universe. Relativity and gravity alone cannot explain this feature.

What about these “Black Holes?”

The first scientist to talk about black holes was John Michell of Cambridge in 1783. Keep in mind this was theoretical, as no one had observed a black hole in space. Michell broached the subject by explaining how gravity works: If you fire a cannon ball straight up in the air, it will eventually be slowed down by gravity; it will stop moving upwards, and then it will fall back to Earth. However, if the initial upwards velocity were greater than what is called the “escape velocity,” gravity would not be strong enough to pull the object back to the ground. Escape velocity is governed by mass, with the escape velocity for the Earth at 11 kilometers per second. Our sun is far more dense than Earth, with an escape velocity of 617 kilometers per second (3). You may have heard about this phenomenon in relation to launching rockets into space. Hawking states, “During most of the life of a normal star, over many billions of years, it will support itself against its own gravity by thermal pressure caused by nuclear processes which convert hydrogen into helium. Eventually, the star will exhaust its nuclear fuel” (4).

Hawking tells us Einstein’s equations can’t be defined at a singularity, adding “…at this point of infinite density one can’t predict the future” (5). The most drastic consequence of Einstein’s description of gravity in terms of curved spacetime geometry in the framework of his general theory of relativity is the possibility that space and time may exhibit “holes” or “edges,” or spacetime singularities. In general relativity, spacetime itself behaves pathologically, and it can do so in several ways. According to the present standard, a spacetime singularity can be identified by examining particles in free fall—both ordinary matter particles and massless particles like photons. All singularities formed by the collapse of stars or other bodies are hidden from view inside black holes. Naturally, we cannot tell what’s inside a black hole from the outside. But we do know a black hole has a boundary called the event horizon, where gravity is just strong enough to drag light back and prevent it from escaping. As Hawking notes, because nothing can travel faster than light, everything else will get dragged back also.

I am mesmerized by Hawking’s example:

“It is a bit like going over Niagara Falls in a canoe. If you are above the Falls, you can get away if you paddle fast enough, but once you are over the edge you are lost. There’s no way back. As you get nearer the Falls, the current gets faster. This means it pulls harder on the front of the canoe than the back. There’s a danger that the canoe will be pulled apart. It is the same with black holes. If you fall towards a black hole feet first, gravity will pull harder on your feet than your head, because they are nearer the black hole. The result is that you will be stretched out lengthwise, and squashed in sideways. If the black hole has a mass of a few times our Sun, you would be torn apart and made into spaghetti before you reached the bottom. However, if you fell into a much larger black hole, with a mass of more than a million times the Sun, the gravitational pull would be the same on the whole of your body and you would reach the horizon without difficulty (6).”

Michell believed there are stars more massive than our sun that might have an escape velocity at or faster than the speed of light—186,282 miles per second. In this scenario, we would be unable to see the star because any light it might emit would be dragged back inside by gravity. Michell called these entities “dark stars,” or what we now call black holes. It is mind-boggling to imagine a star so dense not even light can escape its gravitational force. Gravity acts over great distances, which is perfect for our universe. The Earth is held in orbit by the Sun, 93 million miles away, and the Sun is held in orbit around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 10,000 light years away!* Gravity is only attractive in nature; it never repels. Science has discovered gravitational energy as a byproduct of gravitational collapse—the gravity of a collapsing star draws all its surrounding matter inward. This is believed to lead to a point of infinite density: a singularity.

I cannot help wondering how matter can be squeezed further and further in on itself without reaching a specific value of density. Would not such a never-ending singularity eventually suck everything in? If so, does this represent Creation at its primitive stage prior to God calling things forth? Scripture says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2, ESV). More intriguing is the problem of “information,” or the idea that every particle and every force in the universe contains data. However (at least from a theoretical point of view), there is a limit to the amount of information one can pack into a region in space. Hawking says “information” in this instance requires energy, and that energy has mass in accordance with Einstein’s famous equation E=mc². Consequently, if there is too much information in a region of space, it will collapse into a black hole, and its density will be in direct proportion to the amount of information being compressed. But what is meant by information in a black hole? Theoretical physicists believe it is the puzzling result of combining quantum mechanics and general relativity. Calculations suggest physical information could permanently disappear in a black hole.

Are Science and Christianity REALLY Incompatible?

Sadly, the study of science and religion continues to be a “battle” or conflict. Atheists tend to follow a zero-sum model—relating to or denoting a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. Reality cannot be properly studied under this model. John Lennox said about scientists, “They view themselves as the voice of reason. They believe they are working to roll back the tide of ignorance and superstition that has enslaved mankind since we crawled out of the primordial slime” (7). Yet, many of science’s key pioneers were firm believers in God—Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday. Bertrand Russell said, “Most sciences, at their inception, have been connected with some form of false belief, which gave them a fictitious value. Astronomy was connected with astrology, chemistry with alchemy [but] mathematical knowledge appeared to be certain, exact, and applicable to the real world” (8).

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? —Tertullian.

At the core of the “science over religion” argument lies observable, verifiable phenomena. Plato’s worldview sprang forth from this axiom, asking Is there any standard of “good” and “bad” except what the man using these words desires? Russell conceded that religion has, at first sight, a simple answer: God determines what is good and what is bad. Accordingly, the man whose will is in harmony with the will of God is a good man. This naturally led to a discussion on the standard of goodness. Is there “objective truth” in such a statement as “pleasure is good” in the same sense that “snow is white?” These thoughts are extremely important, for we are speaking of ontological truth; ultimate standards of morality. Science certainly strives for resolving scientific query through the scientific method: a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

“Athens” refers to the mathematical, observable, natural realm. Indeed, formulas and equations regarding thermodynamics, gravity, relativity, electromagnetism, subatomic particles, dark matter, black holes, and physics are used to decode the physical realm. “Jerusalem” refers to the theological, religious realm. For the most part, the search for “objective” or “ontological” truth is avoided under the Athens model. Instead, we hear, “I shall consider a statement true if all, or virtually all, of those who have investigated it are agreed in upholding it.” At the risk of engaging in hyperbole, we must not allow “mob rule” to answer vital questions like What is the meaning and source of morality”? or Where did we come from? Admittedly, almost everything that distinguishes observances and theories in the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science. Scientific discoveries led to theories and paradigms meant to govern or instruct society. Kuhn writes, “Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science at all” (9). He adds, “At least in the mature sciences, answers (or full substitutes for answers) to questions…are firmly embedded in the educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice. Because that education is both rigorous and rigid, these answers come to exert a deep hold on the scientific mind” (10). A hold that is quite difficult to shake free of later in life.

In light of the foregoing, I would like to address scientism—an excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. A basic (dogmatic) tenet of scientism is that science itself is the only means by which a thing or a condition can be explained or defined. This is not “scientific” thought; rather, it is the expression of a philosophical orientation or worldview. Ian Hutchinson of MIT says, “I think science has some very distinctive characteristics. Most of which, we are all kind of familiar with, though we perhaps have not made a list of them…things like observation, experimentation, measurement, systematization, mathematization, and so forth. These characteristics of science, I believe, can be brought together in two primary abstract categories, so we can really, in a certain sense, boil down what we mean by natural science into the insistence upon reproducibility (science depends on repeatable experiments or observations) and clarity (the unambiguous descriptions of things like measurements or sometimes mathematics that science insists upon). These characteristics, I would say, imply that science’s scope of application is limited” (11).

Moreland defines scientism as, “…the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality” (12). According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore can be affirmed like scientific findings, is seen as a sign of narrow-mindedness or elitism at best, and bigotry and intolerance at worst. Marilyn vos Savant famously said, “Religions cannot be proved true intellectually. They come from the heart—and your parents—and, if you choose to believe it, a soul” (13). Incidentally, she has an IQ of 228, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest IQ recorded to date.

Scientism presupposes that the only true knowledge about reality comes solely from science, and empirical knowledge claims derived from “hard” science are the only claims that deserve the backing of public institutions. This has been the worldview of public education for decades, implying that religious and philosophical claims are matters of personal belief. Moreland says, “Words such as conclusions, evidence, knowledge, no reasonable doubt, and intellectual heritage become associated with science, giving science the ‘right’ to define reality, while words like beliefs and personal reservations are associated with nonempirical claims, framing religious beliefs as mere ungrounded opinions” (14).

A Most Amazing Creator

I place a great deal of value in science, and particularly in scientific method. As a Christian, I believe in ultimate or ontological truth: a belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity (a fact) to which it corresponds. If there is no such entity, the belief is false. Facts, for the Neo-classical correspondence theory, are entities in their own right. Pythagoras is given credit for the first discussions on the ontological categorization of existence—the philosophical study of being in general, or of what applies neutrally to everything that is real. Essentially, ontology addresses the question Is there such a thing as objective reality? Ontology is closely associated with epistemology, which is concerned with the nature of knowledge itself, its possibility, scope, and general basis: How do we go about knowing things? or How do we separate true ideas from false ideas? or How do we know what is true? or “How can we be confident when we have located ‘truth’?”

McGrath addresses the concept that “…a plurality of methods was required to engage our world…we cannot reduce all cognitive activity to a single fundamental method, but must rather make use of a range of conceptual tool-boxes, adapted to specific tasks and situations, to give us as complete an account as possible of our world” (15). For example, consider the five different ways to explain a frog jumping into a pond: physiological, biochemical, developmental, animal behavioral, and evolutionary. All five explanations are part of a bigger picture. McGrath reminds us that the term “science” is often misused. The general (accepted) definition is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

Hypothesis. Theory. Law. These scientific words get bandied about regularly, yet the general public usually gets their meaning wrong. Both natural science and social science are known as empirical sciences. This means that any theories must be based on observable phenomena, reproducibility of results and peer review. Of course, science is never really finished. It must constantly collect and interpret new empirical evidence and determine if such new findings cause a shift in the paradigm.

Christianity remains the religion who is said to have the most run-ins with science. The chasm between science and Christianity seems to be perpetrated by those who have no personal standing regarding faith in God. Skeptics tend to ride the middle of the road on the subject. Rather than prosecute this war of faith and science, perhaps it is wiser to establish a dialog that can lead to enhanced understanding. Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish” (16). I have made it my life’s mission to help increase the dialog between science and Christianity. I see a need for improved dialog and cooperation; indeed, for a new apologetic. It is for this reason that I will follow this article with Science and Religion: The Two Must Meet.

References

*Traveling at the speed of light, it would take 10,000 years to reach the center of the Milky Way.
(1) Paul Sutter, “What is the Milk Way?” Life Science (June 10, 2021). URL: https://www.livescience.com/milky-way.html
(2) J. Bentovish, “G-d’s Physics: On the True Nature of Dark-Energy & Dark-Matter,” Journal of Physics and Chemistry Research (May 23, 2021).
(3) Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2018), 101-102.
(4) Ibid., 103.
(5) 104.
(6) 106.
(7) John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (UK: The Good Book Company, 2019), 9.
(8) Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1954), 34.
(9) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2012, 1962), 4.
(10) Ibid., 5.
(11) Ian Hutchinson, “What is Science and What is Scientism?” The Veritas Forum (January 20, 2010). URL: http://www.veritas.org/what-is-science-and-what-is-scientism/
(12) J.P. Moreland, Science and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 26.
(13) Michael Kinsley, “If You Believe Embryos are Humans,” Time (June 25, 2001), 80.
(14) Moreland, Ibid., 28-29.
(15) Alister E. McGrath, Science & Religion, 3rd. ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2020), 66.
(16) In Science & Religion, Ibid., 10.

2020 Drug Overdoses Were “Horrifying”

August 31, 2021

Dr. Nora Volkow, Executive Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse

The provisional drug overdose death statistics for 2020 confirmed the addiction field’s worst fears. More people died of overdoses in the United States last year than in any other one-year period in our history. More than 93,000 people died. The increase from the previous year was also more than we’ve ever seen—up 30 percent. These data are telling us that something is wrong. In fact, they are shouting for change.

The provisional drug overdose death statistics for 2020 confirmed the addiction field’s worst fears. More people died of overdoses in the United States last year than in any other one-year period in our history. More than 93,000 people died. The increase from the previous year was also more than we’ve ever seen—up 30 percent. These data are telling us that something is wrong. In fact, they are shouting for change.

It is no longer a question of “doing more” to combat our nation’s drug problems. What we as a society are doing—putting people with drug addiction behind bars, under-investing in prevention and compassionate medical care—is not working. Even as we work to create better scientific solutions to this crisis, it is beyond frustrating—it is tragic—to see the effective prevention and treatment tools we already have just not being used. The benefits of providing effective substance use disorder treatments—especially medication for opioid use disorder—are well-known. Yet decades of prejudice against treating substance use disorders with medication has greatly limited their reach, partly accounting for why only 18% of people with opioid use disorder receive medications. Historical reluctance to provide these treatments and of insurers to cover them reflects the stigma that has long made people with addiction a low priority.

We must eliminate the attitudes and infrastructure barring treating people with substance use disorders. This means making it easier for clinicians to provide life-saving medications, expanding models of care like digital health technologies and mobile clinics that can reach people where they are, and ensuring that payers cover treatments that work. The science of the matter is unequivocal: Addiction is a chronic and treatable medical condition, not a weakness of will or character or a form of social deviance. But stigma and longstanding prejudices—even within healthcare—lead decision-makers across healthcare, criminal justice, and other systems to punish people who use drugs rather than treat them. That approach may be simpler than asking us as a society to have compassion or care for people with a devastating, debilitating, often fatal disorder. But the risk of incarceration does not deter drug use, let alone address addiction; it perpetuates stigma, and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable communities.

Evidence-based harm reduction, such as syringe services programs, also need to be a part of any solution to our drug crisis, as these have been shown to reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission, and help link people to treatment for addiction and other conditions. While the federal government has embraced evidence-based harm-reduction programs, many communities continue to resist them, erroneously thinking they sanction or encourage drug use. Multiple independent studies have shown that they don’t. Researchers are also evaluating innovative but historically controversial strategies operating abroad like overdose prevention centers, where people can use substances under medical supervision and access other health services, to evaluate cost-effectiveness and ability to reduce deaths and improve health.

Part of the failure of the current approach to the drug crisis arises from the unrealistic expectation that people should—and can—just stop using drugs. Little concern is shown for people with addiction unless and until they are drug-free, but the reality is that difficulties and resumed use typically mark the recovery journey. Compassion, care, and support need to extend to those still using drugs and those who return to drug use, not just to those who can satisfy the stringent standards of abstinence. Everyone with a substance use disorder, regardless of whether they are currently using drugs, needs good healthcare and may also need help with housing, employment, and childcare needs.

To prevent young people from misusing drugs and to keep people from all ages from developing substance use disorders, our nation must address the social and economic stressors that increase the risk of drug use, such as poverty and housing instability, unsafe neighborhoods and schools, and other effects of a changing economy including social isolation and despair. Drug overdose deaths are one component of the “deaths of despair” that, along with suicide and alcohol-related illness, have caused life expectancy to decline in the U.S., even before the 1.5-year drop in 2020 caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the ground, evidence-based interventions can make a big difference: Universal prevention programs as well as interventions targeted to the most at-risk families and youth not only reduce the risk of later drug taking and addiction but have radiating benefits on other aspects of mental and physical health.

This poses a question of collective willingness to invest in these measures. The long-term savings in healthcare and justice costs relative to the costs of prevention interventions can be substantial. But they are long-term investments with benefits that will take time to accrue, and the nature of our society is to look at short-term bottom lines and expect immediate results. Radical change to save lives is long overdue. It is crucial that scientists help policymakers and other leaders rethink how we collectively address drugs and drug use, looking to the evidence base of what improves health and reduces harms across communities, and funding research to develop new prevention and treatment tools.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on the Treatment page.

The Devoutness of Islam

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

NO DOUBT THE ABOVE TITLE strikes you as a bit odd coming from a Christian theology blogger. Please know that I believe Islam to be a false religion; that there is only one God, in three persons, and that Jesus Christ is wholly God and wholly man. I steadfastly trust the inerrancy of the Bible. I wholeheartedly believe in the virgin birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I strive to study and adhere to the doctrines of Christianity.* However, I am most assuredly impressed by the unfailing loyalty and discipline of Muslims to the faith—devotion to daily prayers and to memorizing the Qu’ran. There is much correlation between Islam and Old Testament Judaism relative to devout reverence. In each of these faiths ceremonial observance of laws is regarded as superior to heart-felt faith.

“I lay prostrate in a large Muslim prayer hall, broken before God. The edifice of my worldview, all I had ever known, had slowly been dismantled over the past few years. On this day, my world came crashing down. I lay in ruin, seeking Allah.” — Nabeel Qureshi

In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes a regimented and consistent life of devotion in Islam, beginning each day with the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. Daily prayer serves to acknowledge Allah each day from sunrise to sunset. Muslim worship is similar to the Jewish tradition, with a dedicated ion to following every edict and tradition.

Spirited Devotion

Muslims rise each morning to adhan, or the call to prayer, intending to arouse themselves and one another to the presence of Allah. Traditionally, every Muslim child must hear the adhan the moment they are born. Accordingly, fathers recite it softly in the ear of their newborn children. The primary purpose of attendance at mosque is for corporate (or “congregational”) prayer, called salaat. There are five obligatory prayers in Islam: fajr (sunrise), dhuhr (noon), asr (afternoon), maghrib (sunset), and isha (night). Each prayer has a specific window of time in which it must be completed. There is much dedication regarding facing Mecca, standing, bowing, genuflecting, and lying prostrate, before sitting on the heels to continue praying. Each repetition is called rakaat. Seventeen rakaat are required daily as a minimum obligation, and optional prayers can be offered as well. Prior to prayer, Muslims perform a ceremonial washing of the arms, face, and feet, called wudhu. Daily prayer is a means of cleansing the soul in the same manner wudhu cleanses the body.

Muslims are required to memorize the Qu’ran in its original Arabic language. In fact, Muslim clerics and Imams believe translations of the Qu’ran into English or other languages is not truly the Qu’ran as its meaning only holds true in the original language. Tradition teaches that every word in the Qu’ran was spoken aloud by Allah to Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. In fact, the word qu’ran means “recitation.” In addition, Muslims study the life of Muhammad as an exemplar. Every devout Muslim is called to venerate the Prophet, so they must learn stories about his life from books of surah and hadith and be guided accordingly.

A Corollary

Shema, the Jewish confession of faith, is comprised of three core scriptural texts (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41), in addition to proscribed prayers. This forms the vital part of daily worship. The word Shema refers to the first word in the passage, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (see Deuteronomy 6:4), and can be interpreted as “hear and do.” There is a sacred duty to learn, study, and apply the Torah to everyday life as a profession of one’s faith. Life in the Jewish holy community is understood to encompass every level of human existence. The corpus of rabbinical laws morphed from the original Ten Commandments (the Mosaic Covenant) into 613 commands or mitzvot with the intention of establishing the way to behave, or the way of walking. Halakha (Jewish law and jurisprudence) is based on the Talmud, and serves to guide not only religious practices and beliefs, but establish Jewish requirements for daily life. We see this reflected in table blessings, Kiddush (“sanctification” of the Sabbath and festivals), the erection of the booth (sukka) for Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), the seder (the festive Passover meal) with its symbols and narration of the Exodus from Egypt, and the lighting of the lamps during the eight days of Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication).

Like Islam, Judaism puts much more credence in deeds than beliefs. Because Judaism is a set of practices as well as a religious faith, it’s called a Way of Life. MacArthur believes a major factor that contributed to widespread misunderstanding regarding the Messiah was because “…most Jews simply did not see the need for a sin-bearing savior” (1). Israel expected a conquering Messiah who would vindicate the Jewish people and finally elevate Israel to world dominance politically and militarily. Paul provides a critical piece of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Christ: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:3). The Jews returned from captivity under Pharaoh with a new devotion to the Law. A strict stress on legal obedience (with a particular attention given to the Law’s external and ceremonial features—dietary laws, dress, ritual washings, and visible symbols of piety) resulted from this orientation. By the time Jesus arrived, sheer legalism was the dominant feature of Judaism. MacArthur believes this “…stemmed from the fact that they didn’t really feel the weight of their own guilt” (2).

Muslims believe Jesus is no more than a prophet. To call Jesus “God incarnate” would be blasphemy, and would cause anyone who made such a claim to be condemned for heresy. The Qu’ran states, “…by their blasphemy and their terrible words of slander against Mary, and their saying, It is we who killed the Christ Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God—they killed him not, nor did they crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them” (4:157). The single most important belief in Islam is Tawhid, the oneness and unity of God. To Muslims, God is not three persons, nor did He manifest Himself in the body of a man. Muhammad is believed to be the true and final messenger of Allah. This is so critical to the faith that Muslims claim Muhammad was the last and greatest of the prophets of Allah’s revelation, sent to set the record straight regarding the corruption of God’s revelation in the Bible and the misidentification of Jesus as the God-man. Muhammad is considered the Seal of the Prophets, and the Qur’an is God’s final and absolute word.

The Cost of Clarity

Nabeel passionately pursued clarity. Who was this God we are called to worship? How can we know whether our personal belief is in line with ultimate spiritual truth? C.S. Lewis said, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ” (3). If a fruitful church makes disciples (see Matt. 28:19-20), a fruitful movement makes disciple-making churches. This is precisely where the Protestant Reformation gets mixed reviews. McGrath said perhaps the proper term is Protestantisms, plural (4). Vanhoozer notes the tendency in some circles to view the Reformation as the story of a divided kingdom. I believe the essence of the Reformation is simple: man in his very nature destined to be free to worship God independent of institutional ecclesiology. Troeltsch said, “Protestantism became the religion of the search for God in one’s own feeling, experience, thought, and will” (5). He feared that a church freed from church authority would be tossed to and fro on the sea of individualism. Yet, Martin Luther gave us a Christianity devoid of works. Indeed, no unambiguous Protestant template or paradigm arose from the ashes of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Some biblical scholars ask whether sola scriptura can ever produce consensus? To be Protestant is to strive to be biblical.

Nabeel wanted truth, but his search slammed him up against the wall of Islamic indoctrination. Judaism likewise clings to devout adherence to codified practices as if one’s behavior could become holy enough to earn eternal salvation. Martin Luther burned with desire to wrest Christianity from the grips of the papacy, yet he risked causing a movement of radical religious individualism. Luther’s sola scriptura seemed to cause dissension and schism, borne on the wave of biblical authority apart from church authority. But I truly believe the application of sola scriptura must be rooted in consensus among the community of believers and not the rulings of a dictatorial clergy as with Roman Catholicism.

When Nabeel finally believed that Jesus is the Messiah and fell to his knees, accepting the redemptive work of the crucifixion, he did not immediately convert. He says, “I told God I know what I needed to do but I needed time to mourn.” He turned once again to the Qu’ran for personal guidance. This time he looked for comfort, realizing there is not one verse in the Qu’ran designed to comfort a hurting man. Turning to the Bible, he read, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). He continued reading through the Gospel of Matthew: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (10:32-33). Nabeel said to God, “But if I proclaim you Father, I have to give up my family.” He then read Matthew 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Nabeel realized he was being asked to deny not only his family, but his whole life. Then he read, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (10:38-39).

Nabeel says, “God knows the cost we must pay to truly surrender our will and our life to Him. It’s the same heavy cost the disciples faced 2000 years ago. The cost we all must be willing to pay if we’re going to follow Jesus.” As he finalized his decision to convert, Nabeel prayed, “Lord, I believe you are Jesus, and I submit to you.” He he did not truly understand the commitment he’d made until a few days later when he told his father he had become a Christian. His father began weeping uncontrollably, and said, “Nabeel, today I feel as if my backbone has been ripped out from inside me.” His mother didn’t say a word. Nabeel remarked, “It was like there had been a light in her eyes up to that moment and I just turned it off. She hasn’t been the same since.” Nabeel cried out to God, “Why didn’t you kill me? Before my parents found out I was a believer, I was saved. I would go to heaven if you killed me. I’d be happy, you’d be happy, and my parents would be happy. Everyone would be happy! Why didn’t you just kill me?” Nabeel said he heard these words: “Because this is not about you.” At that moment, Nabeel’s life and his theology were rebooted. He realized the gospel is not something you simply hear and believe. He said, “If it doesn’t change your life, it hasn’t hit you yet.”

At that moment, Nabeel realized, “This God is worth everything.”

“Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

References

(1) John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 47.
(2) Ibid., 48.
(3) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 171.
(4) Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007), 62-63.
(5) Ernest Troeltsch, Protestantism and Progress (New York, NY: G.P. Putnam, 1912), 98.

* The Doctrine of the Word of God; the Doctrine of God; the Doctrine of Man; The Doctrine of Christ; the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; the Doctrine of Redemption; the Doctrine of the Church; the Doctrine of Last Things.

Released From the Law and Sin

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

KNOWING HOW TO READ the epistles is very important. Twenty-one of the 27 books in the New Testament fall into this category, establishing the importance of their application to Christian living. Specifically, I wish to focus on Romans. Paul noted the critical function of God’s righteousness in Romans 1:16-18. Martin Luther struggled personally with this passage while studying at a monastery. Later in life, in 1545, Luther wrote, “I had already for years read and taught the Holy Scriptures both privately and publicly. I knew most of the Scriptures by heart and, furthermore, had eaten the first fruits of knowledge of, and faith in, Christ, namely, that we are justified not by works, but by faith in Christ” (1). Initially, however, Luther struggled immensely with how Christians are to live by the righteousness of God. He knew what the prophet Isaiah wrote on the subject: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6, ESV).

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).

Luther’s obsession with the issue of righteousness caused him much grief. Nothing mattered to him more than his faith and his obedience to God. Yet, he often felt overwhelmed by the fear of death and hell (2). He joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt at twenty-two years of age out of concern for his own salvation. A feeling of terror overwhelmed him during the writing of his first sermon: a sense of being unworthy of God’s love. He was convinced that he was not doing enough to be saved. I believe his concern was directly related to claims of the Roman Catholic Church that faith must be accompanied by works in order to receive salvation. Over-wrought with a sense of his own sinfulness, he supposed he was not a good monk; that his life was licentious and immoral despite his commitment to the gospel. Luther repeatedly punished his body—flagellation, enduring harsh winter conditions without a coat or shoes, denying himself of basic physical needs. He worried that his confessions would not be exhaustive enough to cover all his wrong deeds; that he would die in his sins.

As Luther prepared for a sermon on the epistle of Romans some time in 1515, he had an a-ha moment regarding Romans 1:17—the just shall live by faith. It is through the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed, not through anything he could do to earn it. As Gonzalez notes, Luther came to understand that the “justice” or “righteousness” of the righteous is not their own, but God’s. He settled on salvation through faith alone, in Christ alone. “Justification by faith” does not mean that we must do that which God demands of us, as if it were something we have to achieve. Rather, it means that both faith and justification are the work of God, free to sinners (3). I believe Luther had to arrive at this understanding before he would be able to see the error in Catholicism relative to sacraments and works governing forgiveness and righteousness. It was shortly after coming to this conclusion that Luther prepared and posted his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.

Romans 1:17-18 contains three points: (1) revelation of God’s righteousness; (2) revelation of God’s wrath; and (3) revelation of God’s grace. Paul establishes the truth that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone. God’s righteousness operates as both a moral standard and as a spiritual standard. As Jesus died on the cross, He uttered the phrase “it is finished” (see John 19:30). According to Dake, sixteen things were finished at the moment of Christ’s death: fulfillment of all Scriptures of the sufferings of Christ; the defeat of Satan; a breakdown of the wall or partition between God and man; establishing personal access to God; cancellation of the reign of death; cancellation of sin’s power; demonstration of abject obedience to the Father; the perfection of Christ; salvation from all sin; establishment of peace between God and man; penalty of death paid for all; cancellation of the “claim” of Satan over man; satisfaction of the full justice of God; bodily healing for all; establishing a way for believers to receive the full power of the Holy Spirit; blotting out or fulfillment of the Old Covenant (4). As we can see, much depends upon believers grasping the full meaning of Romans 1:17.

The Hebrew word typically translated as “righteous” or “just” is sāddîq, which originally meant “straight” or “right.” The corresponding Greek term is dikaiosynē, meaning “to do justice,” “to be just,” “to vindicate” or “justify” in the forensic sense of “declare righteous” or “treat as just.” Diehl writes, “Much of the NT is taken up with showing that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the promised Messiah… God’s purposes of righteousness and salvation are centered in him” (5). It is in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of Romans 1 that Paul sets forth the design of the entire epistle—a charge of sinfulness against all flesh; a single path to deliverance; and righteousness through Jesus as Messiah.

In Romans 6, Paul addresses the peculiar dilemma of habitual or deliberate sin in the life of the believer. Why does he or she still sin? Is victory possible? In the closing remarks of Romans 5, Paul notes the function of the Law (to identify our trespasses), and he remarks, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20-21). Clearly, we can never out-sin God’s grace. However, it is possible to taste of the freedom we have in Christ and decide to turn back to our old existence. A stubborn and callous spirit risks being unable to repent. Miller writes, “If God forgives me today I might as well do the same thing tomorrow, and have God forgive me tomorrow, and then the third day, and so on throughout my entire life. So Paul faces that question in chapter 6 with the exclamation ‘God forbid!'” (6). If our old man is crucified with Christ, then we have crucified our fleshly affections and lusts. When we accepted Christ as Savior, we chose to identify with Him in the crucifixion; our “sin body” was suddenly and abruptly terminated and made inoperative. In fact, Miller believes if we are born again and yet still practice our old habits and lusts, we “…have never died with Christ, have never made a complete surrender of self and sin to the will of God” (7).

Paul said, “We are crucified with Christ, in order that henceforth we should not do the things we have been doing, and serve the master we have been serving. Our affections and lusts are crucified.”

Paul presents the essence of carnality in Romans 7. The carnal Christian is predominantly self-centered. Moreover, carnality leads to spiritual impotency. He relates being bound to sin and flesh as long as we let the old nature persist. If we died with Christ (as in Paul’s example of a widower no longer married to his wife if she dies), then we are no longer “in relationship” with the old nature. Paul frequently uses the pronoun I in Romans 7, finally coming to the place where he is helpless: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (7:15-18). This recitation describes the carnal Christian.

In verse 21, Paul says “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” The reason for this state of helplessness is the supremacy of sin. Carnality brings us to the point where sin once again becomes our master, dictating its orders to us in the flesh. Clearly, we have no choice in the matter while we walk in the flesh. Paul essentially says, “I find that sin dwelling in me is forcing me to do these things. It is not merely weakness, nor is it because I have no will power. It is because sin has supremacy in my life and has reduced me to slavery.” Our struggle in this matter is the same as Paul’s. We delight in doing what is right (obeying the Law). We know what is right. We love studying Scripture, attending church, and enjoy the fellowship of other believers. But while carnal we find another law warring against the Law within us. There is a solution: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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” (7:24-25).

Faith, however, is a divine work in us. Luther said in his Commentary on Romans, “It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God; it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind… and it brings with it the Holy Ghost… faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times” (8). The believer who walks according to the “flesh,” as Luther describes it, is “…a man who lives and works, inwardly and outwardly, in the service of the flesh’s profit and of this temporal life.” In contrast, he says the man who walks in the spirit “…is the man who lives and works, inwardly and outwardly, in the service of the Spirit and the future life” (9). He writes in the general commentary, “The object of this Epistle is to destroy all wisdom and works of the flesh no matter how important these may appear in our eyes or those of others and no matter how sincere and earnest we might be in their use” (10). He concludes that we must dwell in a righteousness which in every way comes from outside of us, and is entirely foreign of us. This is the only means by which our hearts can be free and divested of our own attempts at righteousness. We can reach this level only through remaining humble, as if we are nothing of ourselves.

References

(1) Martin Luther, Weimar Edition of Martin Luther’s Works (Berlin, Germany: Phon Publishing, 2012), 183.
(2) Justo L Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 22.
(3) Ibid., 25.
(4) Finis Jennings Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing Co., 2008), 211-12.
(5) D.W. Diehl, “Righteousness” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed., Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, editors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 755.
(6) C. Leslie Miller, Expository Studies on Romans (Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, n.d.), 125.
(7) Ibid., 131.
(8) Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.
(9) Ibid., xviii.
(10) Ibid., 28.

Set Your Hearts

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS to be lived no matter the cost, as it is the means through which Christians participate in the Kingdom of God while still in the flesh. Redemption and sanctification rescued us from the bondage of sin and set us apart for divine service. Paul said, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13-14, ESV). Jesus provided an exemplar for Christian living, telling the disciples, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28). In fact, life is supposed to be shared. We are called to step out in faith and put others first.

The power to live a successful Christian life is found only in Christ, but it requires effort on our part. We need to stand firm against the forces that pull us back to a carnal, fleshly, worldly life. Jesus related how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:23). It is not easy to live as Christ lived. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matt. 16:26). Accordingly, a spiritual life must be a disciplined life. In the eyes of the LORD, it is better to obey than to present sacrifices (see 1 Sam. 15:22). The word “obedient” comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” Spiritual discipline involves a concentrated effort to firmly establish an effective boundary between spirit and life. It is only through patiently waiting on God that we are able to hear His voice and understand His will for our lives.

D.A. Carson said, “People think of themselves as ‘spiritual’ because they have certain aesthetic sensibilities, or because they feel some kind of mystical connection with nature, or because they espouse some highly privatized version of one of any number of religions” (1). Religion tends to be a word with negative connotations while spirituality has positive overtones. Typically, we wonder how much of ourselves we must give up to live a spiritual life. We ask ourselves if “being good” is an effective sign that we are living as Christ would have us live. We attend church services, participate in church groups, visit the sick, and volunteer to make burgers at the annual church picnic. Maybe we participate in neighborhood outreach efforts or support missions. Yet, we wonder how much of our natural self can remain without impacting our spiritual life. C.S. Lewis said, “Make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier” (2). The flesh battles the spirit, demanding satisfaction no matter the cost.

We come to Christ as new believers dragging our “self” with us to the cross. Lewis said, “Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call wrong” (3). He pulled no punches regarding battling sexual impropriety. He writes, “…a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute” (4). The Christian life is both hard and easy. Jesus asks us to “give all.” He says to take up our cross and follow him. Lewis said, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ” (4). As Christians, many of us neglect the mind and heart while we’re striving for a spiritual life. This is precisely what Christ advises us not to do. The average churchgoer objects to giving all, saying not everyone is called to pastor, or teach, or lead. Lewis was known to ask Christians, “How would you feel if Jesus came to you and spoke the words, Give me your all?I have stood at that crossroad many times, wondering how much all I have to give without giving all.

The grace of God, while free, is not cheap. Consider what Jesus endured during the last twelve hours of His life on earth in order that we might be justified before the Father. Our discipleship to Jesus costs nothing less than everything. Unfortunately, you would be hard pressed to find a sermon or teaching series on discipleship in the church today. To side step discipleship is to miss out on spiritual maturity. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt.28:18-20). Unfortunately, the Body of Christ has been drifting away from this commission. If the church fails to disciple new believers, it is impossible for them to learn how to live as Christ lived. Willard said, “Though costly, discipleship once had a very clear, straightforward meaning… there is a decision to be made: the decision to devote oneself to becoming like Christ” (5).

A Matter of the Heart

Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Proverbs says, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:21,23). Not surprisingly, the best way we can defend our heart and set it on God is to guard our thoughts. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3-5). Solomon admonished, “Above all else, guard your heart.

Someone once said, “Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9). We cannot hope to share the gospel, or to teach others about the ways of Christ, without first setting our hearts on Jesus. The kind of spiritual existence God asks of us cannot be weak, dull, rudderless, lifeless. It should cause an engagement of the heart. Paul notes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). Fervent means “having or displaying a passionate intensity.” If we are not fervent in our spiritual life, and if our will and inclination are not strongly and consistently applied to our affairs on a daily basis, we will wither and die on the branch. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). The Father does two things to ensure a maximum yield: (1) He removes unfruitful branches, and (2) He prunes the remaining branches. Unfruitful branches are gathered and burned in the fire. Fruit is an illustration for good results coming from the life of a believer.

As believers, our fruitfulness requires having our hearts engaged in Christ. Every true disciple of Christ must love the LORD above his or her father or mother, sister or brother, spouse or children; yes, even above his own life. Merely having knowledge of doctrine and theology without religious affection for God will avail us nothing but the acquisition of data. Augustine of Hippo said, “My inner self was a house divided against itself. Why does this strange phenomenon occur? The mind gives an order to the body and is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted” (6). Ours must always be a living theology. The believer is to be considered fidelis quaerens intellectum: a believer seeking understanding. Hart said, “Theology is the attempt by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world” (7). Theology involves far more than the mind; it is more than collecting data. Hart said, “Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to some proposition or other—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge and understanding of that which matters most to it” (8).

Set your sights on His kingdom first.

Nouwen believes the spiritual life is not that which comes after or beyond our everyday existence. We must not pigeonhole spirituality. He said, “The spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now” (9). Martin Luther wrote, “It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading or speculation” (10). Of course, such an orientation clears the path for setting our hearts on Jesus. Vanhoozer says Christians learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply and passionately in the drama of redemption, adding, “Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of the heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy” (11). Our spiritual life must begin with something firm to place our feet on (see Matt. 7:24-27). Without being grounded in Christ, we risk faltering at times of challenge or crisis. Moreover, we are ill-equipped for making a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope we have in the gospel.

God willingly created man and all that exists in the physical realm. Under the warmth of His creative action and care, our first parents were invited to walk in complete fellowship with God; to get to know Him and to love Him. This is worship at its most pure. But through an act of rebellion, which was fueled by a desire to know as God knows, exist as God exists, sin entered in and tore a hole in the soul. Man became broken. Kapic writes, “It would be a dangerous misunderstanding to assert that we can only worship God once we have understood all the important doctrines” (12). Further, we do not need to be like God, or be on even footing with Him, to have a relationship with Him. Despite rebellion in the past, we must mend fences with God and allow Him to fill the God-shaped hole in our soul. Growing in our knowledge of God changes our view of every aspect of our lives. Kapic said it’s not as though we lose sight of all except God; rather, we see everything in the light of God. This degree of humility and submission is required for living a truly spiritual life.

All of life’s preoccupations and “what ifs” tend to enslave us; distract us from the metaphysical and spiritual realms of life. Our minds become filled with anxious thoughts as we struggle to do it all, be it all, and plan for it all. Nouwen writes, “Much, if not most, of our suffering is connected with these preoccupations” (13). It is as though we are always preparing for “eventualities,” such as career changes, serious illness, failed economy, domestic unrest, possible family conflicts, natural disasters, and the like. Anxiety can cause us to be fearful, suspicious, greedy, angry, defeated. In this sad state, we pay more attention to our physical surroundings, our aches and pains, our daily challenges, which prevents us from feeling real inner peace and freedom—the very shalom our LORD promised. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). When we are in a predisposed state of “what’s next” we fail to live in the moment. It is impossible to enjoy today if we spend the day regretting our past and worrying about our future. Existence certainly features periods of transition, but it is not productive to live our lives “in the corridor” on the way to somewhere else.

First Things First

Interestingly, Jesus does not address our worry-filled way of living by saying we should cut back on engaging with life’s affairs. Nor does He say we need to take a monastic sabbatical. Early Christian fundamentalism taught “coming out from among them” and safely existing within the walls of our churches. I believe the command “be ye separate” is not suggesting off-the-grid spiritual communal living. Nor does it mean stay away from all non-believers. We simply cannot reach those we despise and run from. Rather, Jesus wants us to change our center of gravity so that we seek Him first. This requires a change in focus. As noted in Scripture, we need a change of heart. Certainly, change in activities are often necessary as we grow in spiritual maturity and reach toward the goal of emulating Christ. Simply, this is a matter of setting our hearts on His kingdom first. Nouwen believes a heart set on the Father’s kingdom is also a heart set on living the spiritual life.

To set our hearts on the kingdom therefore means to make the life of the Spirit within and among us the center of all we think, say, or do.

Consider this. Jesus led a very busy life during the three years of His ministry—teaching, preaching, healing, expounding. He was so busy He had to “steal away” for alone time. Moreover, He did not lead the life of a zealot marching toward a self-imposed goal. He was concerned with one thing: putting the Father’s will and kingdom first. Remarkably, despite being God Himself in the flesh, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). The works Jesus did are the works the Father sent Him to do; the words Jesus spoke are the words the Father sent Him to speak. His was a ministry of obedience, sacrifice, and humble submission. Paul tells us, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom.5:18-19).

Concluding Remarks

Nouwen writes, “His Kingdom first. I hope that these words have received some new meaning. They call us to follow Jesus on his obedient way, to enter with him into the community established by the demanding love of the Father, and to live all of life from there” (14). The kingdom of the Father is now; not something to be achieved at a later date. It is the place where the Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us, instructs us, equips us, and renews us as we move through this world serving Him. As I mentioned above, a spiritual life without discipline is impossible. The practice of spiritual discipline allows us to exercise “silent prayer,” where we are content to sit quietly and wait on God. It is only through listening that we develop a life of obedience. It is critical that we establish a routine of solitude every day. The amount of time we spend pursuing “spiritual fitness” is less important than having the routine. Start with 10 minutes, 20 minutes; whatever you can set aside at this point. Remember, we are pursuing “spiritual fitness” much like an athlete seeks physical fitness. Increase the duration of each prayer session. Learn to exercise “silent prayer” where you wait quietly for God to speak to you. Simplicity and regularity are the best building blocks in finding your way to the Father. Create space for God in your life.

References

(1) D.A. Carson, “Spiritual Disciplines,” Knowing and Doing (Springfield, VA: C.S. Lewis Institute, Winter 2017). URL: https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/6134
(2) C.S. Lewis, “Giving All to Christ,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993), 8.
(3) Ibid., 7.
(4) C.S. Lewis, “Sexual Morality” in Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1952), 95.
(5) Ibid., 9.
(6) Dallas Willard, “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings, Ibid., 15.
(7) Augustine of Hippo, “Complete Surrender,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings, Ibid., 55.
(8) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 1.
(9) Hart, Ibid., 3.
(10) Henri Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2016), 7.
(11) Martin Luther, in “The Inseparability of Life and Theology, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 41.
(12) Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005).
(13) Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians, Ibid., 24.
(14) Nouwen, Ibid., 9.
(15) Ibid., 21.

What Does Spiritual Progress Look Like?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S.,Psy., M.A. Theology

Change Requires Growth

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).

NOT SURPRISINGLY GROWTH requires action. Acts 17:28 indicates we must be “in Christ” to mature as believers: “For in him we live and move and have our being” (ESV). Our growth as Christians is predicated upon knowing who we are in Christ; what His death, burial, and resurrection makes accessible to us. Having made a decision to accept Jesus as Messiah, we are to choose living in a manner that brings glory to God. No longer are we wandering the wilderness in search of meaning and purpose. We begin a new life, made possible through Jesus Christ. Fundamentally, we have been justified in the Father’s eyes. Redemption opens the door for reconciliation, restoration, and sanctification. Each of these components fall under the umbrella of “salvation.” It is here that we are able to adjust our sites and head in a completely different direction than when we were living in sin.

Holiness in the Old Testament is primarily in relation to God. “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy” (Psa. 99:9). Divine sacredness and holiness is God’s essential nature. He is morally perfect, and His holiness is manifest in total purity. By purposeful association, God’s people are holy; not because of any virtue they possess but simply by God’s special calling. Notwithstanding the above, there was an increasingly strong emphasis on moral holiness under the Old Covenant. A central feature of the Day of Atonement was inward cleansing (see Lev. 16:30). Of course, there is no less emphasis on God’s holiness in the New Testament. Under the New Covenant, holiness moves from an outward (or “corporate”) quality to believers made holy inwardly. As Christians, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but we must strive to enter into true holiness (see Heb. 10:10). This is holiness as it pertains to transformation. Paul writes, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

This is what Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16-17). Our progress must begin with redemption—without which we cannot be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Spiritual progress is intricately linked with sanctification. It is through sanctification that we become more like Christ, aligning ourselves with the will of the Father. God is able to accomplish His will in us as we mature in our Christian walk. The Hebrew word qdš and the Greek word hagias apply to any person, place, occasion, or object that has been “set apart” from common secular use to a divine purpose. Sanctification is the ongoing impact of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers (1).

Sanctification is not mere moral transformation (we cannot “behave” ourselves toward holiness). We are set on the path of sanctification through the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. This is a sort of spiritual “athleticism,” which denotes aiming for fitness of service; i.e., being worthy of one’s call. Amazingly, sanctification sets the stage for positive consecration of our personality (2). (Personality refers to individual differences in patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.) It is easy to confuse holiness and sanctification. However, holiness represents purity before God, as in our being clothed in the righteous of Christ. Through the atonement of Christ’s death, we are justified and set apart for service. But sanctification is much more than being made right in the eyes of the Father; it includes God being able to accomplish His will in us as we mature in Christ. What of this idea of “sinless perfection.” Paul discusses putting on the new self in the third chapter of Colossians, which is accomplished by setting our minds on things that are above and not on things of the earth (3:2). He writes, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). Instead, as God’s chosen ones, we are to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. God does not require perfection from us, but He does expect us to strive for spiritual maturity.

A New Starting Point

Through sanctification, our character, affections, and behavior change as we put on the mind of Christ. Sanctification includes a change in our total personal ethics. Of course, this is an ongoing process. At the moment of conversion we surrender self-rule. In sanctification, we relinquish what I call the habitual, premeditated practice of sin. We are bound to fail, but we need not feel condemned. Paul addresses this issue: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24-25; 8:1). The doctrine of justification by faith is an analytical explanation of God’s pardon. Justification establishes Christianity as a religion of grace and faith. It is helpful to remember that dying with Christ (redemption and justification) and living with Christ (sanctification) are both paramount to living according to the will of God.

We are to wean ourselves from worldly pleasures and pursue godliness. Paul said we must strive for spiritual perfection “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:13-14). Although redemption is instantaneous, sanctification is an ongoing process. The more we strive to be like Christ, the easier it becomes to deny the flesh and instead walk in the Spirit. I have learned that as I mature in Christ my sins become more painful and obvious. The Holy Spirit convicts me regarding any ungodly behavior. Because sin starts as a thought, I also ask Him to help me think about what I am thinking about. (This is called metacognition in psychology.) Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2).

Peter writes, “…preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-16). Because our mind is the battlefield on which Satan wages war, it is important to be prepared for warfare. (see The Power of Spiritual Armor.) Sanctification is the first step. Hebrews 12:14 says we must strive for holiness. White says, “This is the most common understanding of sanctification, the growth in holiness that should follow conversion” (see Eph. 1:4) (3). Paul told the Thessalonians to be sanctified wholly—keeping spirit, soul, and body sound and blameless. Everything is to be sanctified (see 1 Tim. 4:4-5). White notes that sanctification is not a mere addendum to justification and redemption. Rather, he believes our forgiveness of sins has a moral force, creating in us the will to do good. Paul distinguished his “real” or spiritual self from his fleshly self in Romans 7. Henry writes, “Compared with the holy rule of conduct in the law of God, the apostle [Paul] found himself so very far short of perfection, that he seemed to be carnal” (4).

Progress Not Perfection

Clearly, our goal as Christians is striving to live a life that is beyond reproach. Remember, this does not imply living a sinless existence, which is impossible. Instead, we are to avoid the habitual, premeditated practice of sin. Habitual sin relates to a temptation we have chosen to hang on to, ostensibly because it brings us some degree of pleasure or escape. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught us about brokenness, selflessness, charity, humility, peace, and righteousness (see Matt. 5). He reminds us that we are to be salt and light in the world. Jesus concluded his sermon with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). The beatitudes describe the Father’s attributes. Jesus instructs us to strive for a Christian life that mimics the character of God. The Amplified Bible says, “You, therefore, will be perfect [growing into spiritual maturity both in mind and character, actively integrating godly values into your daily life], as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul instructs us to walk in a manner worthy of the life to which we have been called, doing so with all humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace, and mercy, bearing with one another. Spiritual maturity involves putting off “the old self” and putting on the new, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (see Eph. 4). When we become Christians, we are not merely “remodeled” or added to. Instead, we are transformed. In other words, we don’t have two separate natures as Christians. We have one new nature—that of Christ our Lord. Our old self died on the cross with Christ, and through the resurrection we have become new. When the Father looks upon us, He no longer sees our multitude of sins. Instead, he sees the righteousness of Christ. Paul said, “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). We are to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (see Eph. 4:24).

And Now What?

How do we accomplish the daunting task of putting on the mind of Christ? We need to realize that God is not expecting us to become Christ or to live perfectly. Rather, our lifestyle should point others to Christ. We must think differently about sin, about God, and about Jesus. Our orientation should be away from worldly and sinful lusts. As believers, we should not be attracted to evils of this world. John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). MacArthur writes, “To say that a person can come to Christ without making a break from the world is a lie. There must be a change of lifestyle” (5). We come to Jesus through repentance, but it is sanctification that allows us to serve Him. We are to be imitators of Christ (see Eph. 5:1). Conversion includes renewal of mind and heartfelt repentance. These elements are needed if we are to do a 180 and walk away from sin. It is dependent on grace, and involves the infusion of new life. Evangelical theologians describe two sides to conversion: the divine invitation and the human response. It is the means by which we are resurrected from spiritual death. Bloesch says, “It also includes the Spirit’s continuing work in purifying us of discord and [our stubborn refusal to comply], remolding us in Christ’s image” (6).

Spiritual maturity is an expected result of conversion. In fact, conversion begins our ascent to Christian perfection. We shall not remain the same person we once were, but shall become a new creation (se 1 Cor. 5:17). Our true relationship with God is made evident in our lifestyle and conduct. This is what is meant by having a heart for God; getting God out of our heads and into our hearts. Peter tells us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (1 Pet. 1:3-4). He followed up with an admonishment to “…put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:1-3).

Concluding Remarks

We are called upon to be mature believers in Christ. This is not possible without learning who we are in Him and walking accordingly. Redemption opens the door for reconciliation, restoration, and sanctification. Sanctification sets the stage for radical change, even to the core of our personality. We are set on the path of spiritual maturity. Although we cannot hope to be perfect while in our corruptible bodies, we are expected to strive for spiritual maturity. Jesus gives us a glimpse of the character of God in His sermon on the mount. Meekness, brokenness, humility, purity of heart, righteousness—these and other attributes are provided as a guide to becoming “perfect” as the Father is perfect. Paul instructs us to wean ourselves from worldly pleasures and pursue godliness, which is critical to our spiritual maturity. We can never become Christ, but we are called to emulate His life and ministry. This is how we become salt and light to the world. It is how we strive for spiritual maturity.

References

(1) R.E.O. White, “Sanctification,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 771.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 1077.
(5) John MacArthur, The Truth About the Lordship of Christ (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 77.
(6) D.G. Bloesch, “Conversion” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Ibid., 213.

Punishing Drug Use Heightens the Stigma of Addiction

From the Blog of Dr. Nora Volkow
Executive Director

NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE

August 9, 2021

Our understanding of substance use disorders as chronic but treatable health conditions has come a long way since the dark days when they were thought of as character flaws — or worse. Yet our societal norms surrounding drug use and addiction continue to be informed by unfounded myths and misconceptions. Among the most harmful of these is the scientifically unfounded belief that compulsive drug-taking by individuals with addiction reflects ongoing deliberate antisocial or deviant choices. This belief contributes to the continued criminalization of drug use and addiction.

While attitudes around drug use, particularly use of substances like cannabis, have significantly changed in recent decades, the use and possession of most drugs continue to be penalized. Punitive policies around drugs mark people who use them as criminals, and so contribute to the overwhelming stigma against people contending with an often-debilitating and sometimes fatal disorder — and even against the medical treatments that can effectively address it. Stigma has major negative impacts on health and well-being, which helps explain why only 18% of people with drug use disorders receive treatment for their addiction. Stigma impedes access to care and reduces the quality of care individuals receive. People with addiction, especially those who inject drugs, are often distrusted when presenting for care in emergency departments or when visiting other providers. They are often treated in a demeaning and dehumanizing way. And physicians holding stigmatizing attitudes may not provide adequate evidence-based care for patients with addiction.

recent national survey of primary care physicians found that although most believe that opioid use disorder is a treatable medical condition, most also expressed similar stigmatizing views toward people with opioid use disorder that are held by the wider population. More stigmatizing attitudes among primary care physicians were correlated with lower use of medication in treatment of opioid use disorder and lower support for policies designed to increase access to those medications. The perception of stigma by people with substance use disorders may cause them to avoid or delay engaging with health care or to conceal their drug use when interacting with health care professionals. Even when care is confidential, residential treatment or daily visits to receive treatment, particularly in close-knit communities, can be noticed and trigger judgment. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, fear of negative opinions by neighbors or people in their community is one of the reasons people who know they need treatment for a substance use disorder avoid seeking it.

Fear of possible criminal consequences for drug use can shape people’s health decision-making in many potentially deleterious ways. Substance use may be an important fact to consider in a routine medical visit, so its concealment can lead a physician to overlook major factors in a patient’s health. In some states, pregnant people with substance use disorders risk being charged with child abuse or otherwise losing their parental rights if their child shows evidence of prenatal drug exposure or is born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Fear of such consequences of substance use may cause individuals to avoid much-needed prenatal care, treatment, and other services.

The stigma against addiction extends to those who provide care for the condition and to the medications and harm-reduction measures that are used to address it. For example, methadone and buprenorphine are highly effective at helping people recover from opioid use disorders, but lingering prejudice that conflates taking medication with the use of harmful substances is one factor that prevents people from being treated with these medications. Although treatment for addiction is becoming more integrated into medicine, it has faced major challenges on many fronts and requires overcoming health care providers’ attitudinal barriers as well as hurdles arising in part from confidentiality protection laws that may limit gathering and sharing data on patients’ use of illicit substances. When doctors don’t ask about patients’ drug use, they may miss information that is important to their care. Stigma also contributes to insurers setting restrictive limits on what they will cover for medications to treat substance use disorders.

Many people intersect with the criminal justice system as a direct or indirect result of their substance use disorders, and the experience may worsen their addiction and their physical and mental health. Although roughly half of people in prison have a substance use disorder, few receive treatment for it. People with untreated opioid use disorder are highly likely to return to drug use upon release, all too often with fatal consequences because of lost tolerance to the drug while in prison. Imprisonment itself not only increases the likelihood of dying prematurely, but also negatively impacts mental health and social adjustment via the stigma of having been incarcerated. And it has radiating effects: Incarceration of a parent increases their children’s risk of drug use, for example.

Research has consistently shown that when people interact with members of a stigmatized group and hear their stories directly it has a powerful de-stigmatizing effect more than simply educating the public about the science underlying a condition. But while a growing number of people in recovery are speaking openly about their past use and their current struggles to keep sober, people who use drugs actively — either because of an untreated addiction or during a period of relapse or even simply as a matter of personal choice outside the context of a use disorder — are not free to do so without fear of legal consequences. The silence of people living with active drug use disorders due to the stigma associated with their condition means the wider public has no opportunity to hear from them and no opportunity to revise their prejudices, such as the belief that addiction is a moral failing or a form of deviance.

An effective public health response to substance use and substance use disorders must consider the policy landscape of criminalizing substance use, which constitutes a major socially sanctioned form of stigma. In addition to research already underway on stigma and stigma reduction at the National Institutes of Health, research on the positive and possible negative outcomes associated with alternative policy models that move to prioritize treatment over punishment are also urgently needed, as such models could remove a major linchpin of the stigma around drug use and addiction and improve the health of millions of Americans.

Nora D. Volkow is a psychiatrist, scientist, and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The Gluttony of Our Appetites: Part Two

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

WHEN IT COMES TO appetites, we must be able to choose. To allow our appetites to choose for us is the hallmark of obsession and addiction. Mastery over our appetites is not out of reach, but it often feels that way while in the grips of an active addiction or compulsion. Christians who struggle with addiction are caught in a tug-of-war between the pleasures and comforts of the flesh and the desire of the spirit to find peace, meaning, temperance, and freedom. The results of walking according to the flesh are self-evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (see Gal. 5:19-21). It is possible to desire the fruit of the Spirit over the lusts of the flesh, yet remain unable to change your focus from flesh to spirit.

One reason the trap of active addiction is so difficult to escape is we have allowed our appetites to become idols to us. We have served them rather than God. Our need for instant gratification outweighs the harms our addictions cause our bodies. We compound the situation by making excuses for our bad behavior. It’s not our fault, we cry. We do everything in our power to avoid taking any personal responsibility, blaming anyone we can. We live our lives based on rationalization. There is a line in the movie The Big Chill that I’ve always loved. One of the friends says, “Oh, that’s nothing but a rationalization!” The character played by Jeff Goldblum says, “Don’t knock rationalizations. They’re better than sex.” When someone takes issue with this statement, Goldblum adds, “Oh yeah, try going a week without one.” Blaming others doesn’t absolve us from responsibilities, and neither does making excuses.

My struggle was the same as Paul describes in Romans 7. I did not want to keep doing what I was doing. Moreover, I could not seem to do the good I wanted to do. Paul admitted his struggle. I, on the other hand, could not. I remained convinced that my excuses were good enough to make my choices okay. You’d use drugs too if you had my childhood. Parrot writes, “We shop, we drink, we eat; we do anything and everything to distract ourselves from the pain of feeling alone” (1). It took me a great deal of time and effort to finally see the invisible strings tied to my feelings, playing me like a marionette. Any present-day situation that reminded me of something from my past triggered an overwhelming emotion that had more to do with then than now. I read a statement in a book on Buddhism some time ago that still rings true for me today: If you do not deal with the emotional baggage of your past, your present behaviors are not so much undertaken by you as they are driven by the past.

We blame the person who sold us the drugs, the pharmaceutical companies who made the drugs, the bartender who continued to serve us when we were obviously drunk. We blame our parents. Certainly, no other relationship shapes who we are more than our family. Most of what we think, feel, say, and do is in response to the home we grew up in. On the conscious level, we either buy into or reject the lessons learned from family. We absorb ways of thinking, feeling, and being. Either way, we cannot escape its influence. But, as Parrot puts it, “You can’t afford to be like a rider on a runaway horse. Even if you feel out of control, you have everything you need to take the reins and determine your own destiny. You’re not helpless. And you are not simply a product of the way you were raised. From here on out, the kind of person you’ll be is a matter of perseverance, not parenting” (2) [italics added]. In other words, no matter what kind of family background you had, chronic resentment and blame will only further entrench the negative qualities you’d like to escape. Don’t be caught up in the blame game.

When Satan reminds you of your past, just remind him of his future.

It is crucial that we forgive those whom we believe have caused us harm. We must forgive as the LORD has forgiven us (see Col. 3:13). If we have any hope of being forgiven by those we’ve harmed by our bad behavior, we must learn to forgive others. We have to put our pride aside and face the pain of how our choices, behaviors, and word have negatively impacted the lives of those around us. Arterburn writes, “If you hope to make peace with your appetites, you must realize that you are responsible for yourself, your choices, the consequences of those choices, and seeking the help necessary to change” (3). There is no one else we should blame for the problems we face today. Regardless of our background, childhood experiences, or current situation, as adults we are responsible for ourselves and how we choose to live. Moreover, there is no one else who can make these changes for us. Any change that you hope to make must be made by you and accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Christians, we tend to forget we have access to the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. It is God’s Spirit that fuels regeneration, and it is God’s Spirit that provides for our sanctification. Jesus told the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). When we accept Christ as our LORD and Savior, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we forget what this means for our lives. Paul writes, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we receive wisdom, power, encouragement, and strength as we battle the enemy. The fruit of this presence in our lives includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (see Gal. 5:22-23). Having been crucified with Christ, we are no longer under the authority of sin or Satan (Gal. 5:24; 1 John 2:14; James 4:7).

Our appetites will naturally grow out of control when we focus on ourselves and our wants. We become obsessed with our own needs and desires; self-indulgent and self-centered; intent on pleasing ourselves instead of God or others. Developing a sense of purpose is a critical first step; it involves asking what we can do for the greater good of society. Contributing to society in a positive manner takes our focus off of self. Twelve-step programs call this “getting out of your own head.” Discovering our purpose in life helps improve our self-esteem and find true meaning for our existence. Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Consider the four great questions man asks himself: Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is the basis for good and evil? Where am I going when I die.

When we are growing spiritually, the fruit of the Spirit becomes very appealing to us. We come to understand that only this fruit will truly satisfy our appetites. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have less desire to be filled with the lusts of the flesh. This is why Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Amazingly, the same temptations we face were presented by Satan to Jesus in the wilderness: the appetite for food (Matt. 4:2-30); the appetite for status and prestige (4:5-6); the appetite for power and control (4:8-9). We have three choices available to us as we take on the temptation of our out-of-control appetites. First, we can respond by giving in to the flesh. Second, we can use rationalization or intellectualizing to excuse our fleshly responses. Third, we can respond with the wisdom and power we have through the Holy Spirit. Remarkably, God is not telling us to eliminate all desire. Rather, we are told “…delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa. 37:4).

References

(1) Les and Leslie Parrot, Real Relationships: From Bad to Better and Good to Great (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 21.
(2) Parrot, Ibid., 57.
(3) Stephen Arterburn, Feeding Your Appetites: Take Control of What’s Controlling You (Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2004), 49.