The Lie: Evolution versus Creation

Raised in a Christian Home

I WAS RAISED IN A Christian home where the Bible was believed to be the infallible, inerrant Word of God. When I entered high school I came face-to-face with the idea of evolution. If Genesis was not literally true, then what part of the Bible could I trust? Genesis clearly details the creation of the world. One of my friends is a pastor. I recall him suggesting that I accept evolution, but then add it to the Bible—in other words, it is okay to believe that God used evolution and millions of years to bring all forms of life into being. Certainly, this is not what we’re told in Genesis. Another pastor friend of mine whose blog I follow commented that believing God’s creation was helped along by evolution is “a slippery slope.”

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If God did not mean what He said in Genesis, then how could I put stock in the rest of the Scriptures? Not only this, but believing in evolution and millions of years meant allowing death, disease, fossils, thorns, animals eating each other, and suffering to be in existence millions of years before man! How could this be true given God’s proclamation that His creation was “very good” before the Fall?

Christianity is Under Attack!

We are living in challenging times. On the whole, our Western culture, once permeated by Christian thinking, is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. We are seeing steady increases in gay marriage, support for abortion on demand, unwillingness to obey authority, reluctance to work, marriages being abandoned, an increase in pornography, a growing level of lawlessness, and increasing promulgation of atheism. Christians are fighting for their own religious freedom and being labeled as the bad guys.

Under Attack

What has happened in society to bring about these drastic changes? Why is it that many people are cynical and seem to be closed to the Gospel when we talk about Jesus? There must be some foundational reason for this change. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, we read of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times. Do we have a good grasp of the times in which we live? What is the fundamental reason for the collapse of Christianity in America? Consider the recent proliferation of the phrase “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Nativity scenes, crosses, and the Ten Commandments are being banned from view in public places. Creation, prayer, and the Bible have largely been eliminated from the nation’s secular education system. Today we see culture invading and changing the church rather than the church having an impact on culture.

No Single Birthplace?

Secular researchers say it is time to drop the idea that modern humans originated from a single population in a single location. The origin of our species has long been traced to east Africa, where the world’s oldest Homo sapiens fossils were discovered. About 300,000 years ago, the story went, a group of primitive humans there underwent a series of genetic and cultural shifts that set them on a unique evolutionary path resulting in the human population we have today. You. Me. My mom. Your brother. Everyone.

Evolution Graphic

Recently, a team of prominent scientists called for a rewriting of this traditional narrative, based on a comprehensive survey of fossil, archaeological and genetic evidence. Instead, the international team argue, the distinctive features that make us human emerged mosaic-like across different populations spanning the entire African continent. Only after tens or hundreds of thousands of years of interbreeding and cultural exchange between these semi-isolated groups, did the fully-fledged modern human come into being.

Secular scientists note telltale characteristics of a modern human – globular brain case, a chin, a more delicate brow and a small face – seem to first appear in different places at different times. Previously, this has either been explained as evidence of a single, large population trekking around the continent en masse or by dismissing certain fossils as side-branches of the modern human lineage that just happened to have developed certain anatomical similarities. The latest analysis suggests that this patchwork emergence of human traits can be explained by the existence of multiple populations that were periodically separated for millennia by rivers, deserts, forests and mountains before coming into contact again due to shifts in the climate. Natural barriers such as theses created migration and contact opportunities for groups that may previously have been separated, and later fluctuation might have meant populations that mixed for a short while became isolated again.

Some experts paint a picture of humans as a far-more diverse collection of species and sub-populations than exists today. They allege between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago our own ancestors lived alongside a primitive human species called Homo naledi found in southern Africa, a larger brained species called  Homo heidelbergensis in central Africa, and perhaps myriad other humans yet to be discovered.

Replacing Darwin

Unlike typical jigsaw puzzles, the puzzle of the origin of species does not come in a box. No cover exists. The final number of pieces is unknown. In fact, nearly all pieces must be actively sought. Consequently, with each new discovery, the potential for massive overhaul lurks in the background. I’m reminded of the comment I heard from a facilitator at a Werner Erhard seminar. He said, “There’s what we know, and there’s what we don’t know, but more importantly there’s what we don’t know that we don’t know.” Keeping with the jigsaw analogy, let’s consider the state of the puzzle prior to Darwin’s day. Just a century before Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, the first pieces were discovered.

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In a jigsaw puzzle, edge pieces constrain the arrangement of the center pieces. Since species are defined by their traits, the origin of traits constrains the puzzle of the origin of species. The origin of leopards and cheetahs depends on an answer to the origin of spots. The origin of toucans relies on the answer to the origin of large, colorful beaks. The origin of the blue whale is bound up in the origin of baleen. The origin of scorpions and the origin of stingers go hand-in-hand. The answer to the origin of traits represents the edge pieces to the puzzle.

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Exactly how does DNA control traits? The mystery of the how concealed the answers to several critical questions. Could the mechanism by which DNA controlled the behavior of traits be altered? Could it be changed to an entirely different program? Could leopards become whales? Could toucans change into scorpions? Could jellyfish become jaguars? These might sound like ridiculous questions, but the answers awaited the discovery of the mechanism by which DNA interfaced with traits. But alas, there are several paradoxes regarding this issue. In in each generation all traits are erased—only to be rebuilt again.

Consider what it takes to form a new species. For a fish to become a spider, significant morphological changes must occur—an endoskeleton must transform into an exoskeleton, fins must become legs, an aquatic form of respiration must transform into a terrestrial form of respiration. Prior to the discovery of DNA, scientists looked for various solutions to these paradoxes. One theory centered on physics and chemistry. For example, consider the physics of transforming a single cell into a complex adult. Many chemical and physical barriers would have to be overcome. Obviously, physical beings don’t spontaneously assemble themselves.

Darwin and Genetics

Darwin Portrait

Darwin wrote the following comment in a notebook in 1837: “One species does change into another” [Italics mine]. Yet his theory of natural selection lacked an adequate account of inheritance, making it logically incomplete. Lack of a model of the mechanism of inheritance left him unable to interpret his own data. Instead, Darwin proposed a rather bizarre developmental theory of heredity (which he called pangenesis). Essentially, he suggested that all cells in an organism are capable of shedding minute particles of inheritance he called gemmules, which are able to circulate throughout the body and ultimately accumulate in the gonads. The theory of pangenesis originated from the claim that characteristics acquired during an organism’s life were inheritable.

Many criticized Darwin’s pangenesis. To test the theory, Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in London conducted a series of blood transfusion experiments. Galton transfused blood between different colored rabbits. Galton hypothesized that the blood contained gemmules that would influence the color of the offspring. By transfusing the blood from a white rabbit to a black rabbit, the black rabbit would have different colored descendants than normal black rabbits, which did not get transfused blood. But the result of the experiment contrasted Darwin’s prediction. Black rabbits with the blood from white rabbits produced offspring that were all black. Galton concluded that gemmules did not exist. Darwin’s comeback was perhaps gemmules existed in bodily fluids other than blood.

Creation and Religion

Biblical creation is based on the Genesis account of origins from the Word of God—the One who is a witness to all that occurred when the universe was created. Most non-believers have a difficult time with the concept that God is “outside of time itself.” God’s creation consists basically of a threefold view of history—a perfect creation, corrupted by sin, to be restored by Jesus Christ. This account is divided into seven distinct periods referred to by Ken Ham as the Seven Cs of Creation.

  1. Creation: In six days God created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them from nothing. Each part is designed to work with all the others in perfect harmony. God created the different kinds of plants and animals, and He made a special garden (the Garden of Eden) in which He created the first two human beings. When God completed His work of creation, He called it all “very good.”
  2. Corruption: We no longer live in the world God originally created. Because our first parents (Adam and Eve) placed human opinion about God’s Word (as we still tend to do today), struggle and death entered the world, and God cursed creation. Charles Darwin called this “struggle to the death” natural selection and offered his idea as a substitute for an Intelligent Designer. Evolutionists later added accidental changes in heredity (mutations) to their evolutionary belief. But such processes as natural selection and mutations do not creat; instead, they bring disease, defects, and decay into the world God created. Paul describes this now fallen world in Romans: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).
  3. Catastrophe: After mankind’s sin and rebellion (the Fall), the earth became so filled with violence and corruption that God destroyed the world with a global Flood and gave it a fresh start with Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. Fossils—billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth—remind us of God’s judgment on sin. Most of the fossil record is actually the graveyard of the Flood that occurred about 4,300 years ago. Of course, this same fossil record is used and manipulated by secularists as purported evidence for millions of years.
  4. Confusion: In Genesis 11, we see that after the Flood, man disobeyed God’s command to spread out over the earth. Instead, they congregated together to build a tower to the heavens, likely to worship the heavens instead of worshiping and obeying the God who made the heavens. As a result, God simply confused their language so that groups began speaking in different languages. Family groups then began separating from each other and moving out over the earth to  develop various people groups, which resulted in the diverse cultures and nations we have today.
  5. Christ: It is unfortunate that despite the Flood the earth again became filled with violence, corruption, and death because of human sin putting man’s opinion above God’s Word. God had a plan from eternity promised back at the beginning (Genesis 3:15) to save man from sin and its consequence of eternal separation from God. God’s Son stepped into human history to become Jesus Christ, the God-man. Fully God and fully human, Christ came to heal and restore, and by His death and resurrection, He conquered death. We may be born again into eternal life as new creations in Christ. As Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  6. Cross: What was God doing on the cross? What was He accomplishing through the crucifixion? Unfortunately, there are growing numbers of Christians who are having an increasingly difficult time answering that question. There is a diminishing sense of God’s holiness, an increasing denial of man’s sin nature, and a disproportionate sense of self-worth. Both the shame and the shear brutality of the cross have become blurred. The Roman Empire was notorious for performing crucifixions. In fact, they coined the word excruciating to describe the horrible act. Excruciating is an adjective which means extremely painful, causing intense suffering. The Latin word excruciātus (derivative of crux cross) translates as “to torment or torture.”
  7. Consummation: As surely as God created the world and judged the world with the Flood, our ungodly world will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10). For those who trust in Jesus, however, there awaits eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. There will be no more corruption because God’s curse will have been removed. But for those who reject God’s free gift of salvation, the Bible tells us they will suffer a second death—eternal separation from God (Revelation 20:14).

Is Evolution a Religion?

Why do evolutionists not want to admit that the molecules-to-man evolution belief is really a religion? This is so because whatever you believe about your origins affects your whole worldview, the meaning of life, and so on. If there is no God and we are the result of chance, random process, it means there is no absolute authority. And if there is no one who sets the rules, then people can do whatever he likes or hopes he can get away with.

Evolution is a religion that enables people to justify writing their own rules. The sin of Adam was that he did not want to obey the rules God set. Instead, he wanted to do what he wanted to do. He rebelled against God, and we all suffer from this same sin: rebellion against the absolute authority of God. The evolutionary (millions of years) belief has become the so-called scientific justification in today’s world for people to continue in this rebellion against God.

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The Book of Genesis gives us the true and reliable account of the origin and early history of life on earth. Increasing numbers of scientists are realizing that when you take the Bible as your basis and build your worldview upon it, then the evidence from the living animals and plants, the fossils, and the cultures fit with what this account details to us. This confirms that the Bible really is the Word of God and can be trusted completely. The secular humanists, of course, oppose this because they cannot allow the possibility of God being Creator. They have fought successfully to have prayer, Bible readings, and the teaching of creation forced out of the public school curriculum. They have deceived the public into thinking this is eliminating religion from schools and leaving a neutral situation. This is absolutely false! God’s Word states, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30).

How Old is the Earth?

The question of the age of our planet has produced heated debate for centuries. The primary positions are simply stated thus: (a) young-earth proponents believe the biblical age of the earth and universe is about 6,000 years; (b) old-earth proponents believe the age of the earth to be about 4.5 billion years and the age of the universe is about 14 billion years. Obviously the range between these two schools of thought are immense.

Where Did a Young-Earth Worldview Come From?

Simply put, it came from the Bible. Of course, the Bible doesn’t say explicitly anywhere, “The earth is 6,000 years old.” Good thing it doesn’t; otherwise it would be out of date the following year. God gave us something better. In essence, He gave us a “birth certificate.” Genesis 1 says that the earth says that the earth was created on the first day of creation (Genesis 1:1-5). From there, scientists are able to begin calculating the age of the earth. Ken Ham suggests a rough calculation to show how this works. The age of the earth can be estimated by taking the first five days of creation (from earth’s creation to Adam), then following the genealogies from Adam to Abraham in Genesis 5 and 11, then adding in the time from Abraham to today.

Ham tells us Adam was created on Day Six, so there were five days before him. If we add up the dates from Adam to Abraham, we get about 2000 B.C. (4,000 years ago). So a simple calculation is as follows: 5 days + ~2,000 years + ~4,000 years = ~6,000 years. Of course, the first five days are quite negligible. Cultures throughout the world have kept track of history as well. From a biblical perspective, we can expect the dates given for creation of the earth to align more closely to the biblical date than billions of years. The examples are provocative. The Anglo-Saxons believe there were 5,200 years from creation to Christ. Ancient British history indicates 5,228 years from creation to Christ. The Irish chronology shows creation occurring at approximately 4000 B.C. Historians have done meticulous work that cannot be ignored. Their dates of only thousands of years are good support for the biblical date of about 6,000 years, not billions of years.

The Origin of the Old-Earth Worldview

Prior to the 1700s, few believed in an old earth. The approximate age of 6,000 years was not really challenged until the 18th century. Opponents, as Ken Ham notes, essentially “left God out of the picture.” The idea of millions of years really got traction through geology. It is noteworthy that geologists believed geological layers were formed slowly over long periods of time based on the rates at which we see them accumulating today. James Hutton (1726-1797) is considered the father of modern geology. Hutton said, “The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now… No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.”

This viewpoint is called naturalistic uniformitarianism. It ignores any major catastrophes like The Great Flood. Thinking biblically, we know that the global Flood in Genesis 6-8 would wipe away the concept of millions of years, for this Flood would explain massive amounts of fossil layers. Most Christians fail to realize that a global flood could rip up many of the previous rock layers and redeposit them elsewhere, destroying the previous fragile contents. This would destroy any evidence of alleged millions of years anyway. So the rock layers can theoretically represent the evidence of either millions of years or a global flood, but not both.

Concluding Remarks

When we start our reflection on these types of questions with God’s Word in mind, we see that the world is about 6,000 years old. When we rely on man’s fallible (and often demonstrably false) dating methods, we can get a confusing range of ages from a few thousand to billions of years, though the vast majority of methods do not give dates even close to billions. Cultures around the world give an age of the earth that confirms the Bible. Radiometric dates, on the other hand, have been shown to be wildly in error. The age of the earth, as well as questions regarding evolution versus creation, ultimately comes down to a matter of trust—it’s a worldview issue. The question is, will you trust what an all-knowing God says on the subject or will you trust imperfect man’s assumptions and imaginations about the past that regularly are changing.

 

The Peacemaker (Part 4)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

The goal of a peacemaker is to magnify the marvelous undeserved forgiveness that God has given to us through Christ, and to inspire people to imitate such forgiveness to others. We’re directed by Scripture to make peace as part of the plan to reconcile and restore the whole of humanity. Peacemaking never occurs in a vacuum. It is a purposeful act. In Part 3 we looked at the importance of pursuing peacemaking from a position of love. It is essential when working to resolve conflict that we are patient, especially while listening to what others have to say. We must avoid blaming, judging, or condemning.

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Correction is not a nicety; it’s a necessity. If we’re left to veer off-course and continue in the wrong direction, it can result in shipwrecked faith. I’ve had to work hard at confrontation most of my life. First, I avoided responsibility and resisted change as a teen and young adult. Second, I was convinced nothing untoward would ever happen to me regardless of my habits, choices, or lifestyle. No one could teach me a thing. I already knew what I needed to know, and had no plans to change.

Avoid Going It Alone

Why did Jesus send His disciples out in pairs (“two by two”) to preach the Gospel? Simply, two people provide a more valid witness than just one. The twelve disciples were more than companions for Jesus during His ministry; they served as witnesses to His teachings and miracles. They were called to give a first-person account of the ministry of Jesus. Paul told Timothy to never accept an accusation against an elder unless there are two or three witnesses (see 1 Timothy 5:19). Paul also noted in Hebrews 10:28 that it took the words of two or three witnesses to condemn someone to die for breaking God’s law.

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (NIV). In the event they do not listen, Jesus said, “Take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (vs. 15).

Correct Others With Wisdom and Love

First, we must learn to pick our battles. Some quarrels are not worth having. 2 Timothy 2:23 says, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (NIV). Of course, some doctrinal controversies are clearly important and worth defending. While we should not get into foolish and ignorant debates, we may need to confront the argumentative spirit of those promoting them. It is critical that believers learn how to give biblical correction to those who are in sin or in serious doctrinal error. It is unwise to allow fellow Christians to continue operating in a manner inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Without correction, individuals—indeed, entire families—tend to run into a ditch.

Correction must be done gently and in love. We cannot correct someone for the purpose of showing his error rather than helping him. Correcting someone is not simply telling them that they are wrong. Our motive and intent should always be to promote repentance and restoration. Accordingly, our attitude is extremely important. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV). Taking this approach allows us to speak the truth in love. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1 that we should restore one another gently. Christians are called to peace.

The Opportunity to be Like Christ

News stories are replete with crime, wars, terrorism, violence, hatred, and anger. I often ask myself how much longer this deepening trend can continue before God decides enough is enough. Where do we find a place of quiet rest, peace and tranquility in today’s world? Ephesians 2:16-18 says, “Christ brought us together through His death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders” (MSG). Jesus was able to destroy the enmity that separated Jews and Gentiles. As a result, people of different cultures, languages, races, religions, and customs who had centuries full of war after war began to worship together, break bread together, and strive to change the world. This peace was made possible through the cross.

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Our role in this “peace process” is to reconcile others to God, with others, and with themselves. Jesus embraced even the worst sinner, touched the vilest leper, purified the most despicable prostitute, and reconciled people under the universal family of God. He saw peacemaking as a large part of his ministry. During His time on earth, the world was divided among nations, races, and religions. Hatred was the norm. Today, we’re faced with racial tension, murder, school shootings, terrorism, and religious bigotry. Human nature has not changed much over the centuries. Jesus said, “…I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21, NIV).

Teaching Our Children to Become Peacemakers

If we teach our children how to resolve conflicts among themselves or with their friends or others they know, imagine how much better life could be for you and them. Of course, there are several key elements to peacemaking that we need to share with our kids.

Conflict is a slippery slope. Some children try to escape from a conflict, while others try to solve it by going back on the attack. This only serves to delay resolution and healing. Children often pretend a conflict doesn’t exist or refuse to do what it takes to address the problem. They are prone to play the blame-game, putting the onus on others for the problem, often lying or covering up the situation. Children are known to simply run away from conflict rather than work to resolve it. On the other hand, some children choose to attack others rather than work out a resolution. They respond with put-downs, talking about the other individual behind his or her back, or become physical.

Conflict starts in the heart. The choices we make to get our own way are deliberate. We make a conscious decision to be obedient or defiant, wise or foolish, caring or unloving. For good or bad, the choices we make will have an impact on us and others. Conflict is often the result of a choice we’ve made. Selfishness is unproductive and does not lead to peacemaking.

Conflict is not necessarily bad or destructive. Even when conflict is caused by wrongdoing, it can lead to good. We can use conflict to teach our children a valuable life lesson. Our kids can learn to glorify God by trusting, obeying, and imitating Christ. We can serve others by helping to carry their burdens or by confronting them in love. It is easy for children to overlook the upside to conflict because they’re more likely preoccupied with how to get out of or escape from what they perceive as an uncomfortable situation.

The 5 As of  conflict resolution. Children, like adults, can learn to confess their wrongs in a way that demonstrates they are taking full responsibility for their part in a conflict. The following are key elements to conflict resolution. Admit what you did wrong, including wrong desires and bad choices. Apologize for how your choice affected the other person. Express the sorrow you feel. Accept the consequences for your wrongdoing without argument or excuses. Don’t rationalize what you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness. Alter your choices going forward. Think about how you’re going to act differently next time.

Final Thoughs

If it feels like the entire world is embroiled in conflict, instability, and war, that’s because it is. In fact, of 163 countries in the world surveyed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, only 11 are not currently involved in conflict. We live in a world that is essentially defined by conflict and violence. But world conflict doesn’t start just because one person woke up one day and decided to go to war. Before there are bombs and bullets, there are fists. Before fists there are words. Before there are words, there is the condition of our heart. Violence and conflict tends to originate in the heart.

As we look at the world and see all this violence and conflict, it can feel overwhelming. I find myself wondering what I can possibly do about it. Should I just sit on the sidelines and pray? How can I possibly change the world or make a difference? It is paramount that we remember the road to peace starts with you and me. The road to a world restored begins with each of us in our own way waging peace. Before we can wage peace in the world, we need to wage peace in our own hearts and in each of our personal relationships.

As we close, consider the words of the apostle James:

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor (James 3:13-18, MSG).

Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The doctrine of soteriology (salvation) is one of the most precious doctrines in all the Word of God. At the same time, it is one of the most debated and misunderstood doctrines.

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The Independent Fundamental Churches of America adopted the following edict relative to salvation: “We believe that salvation is the gift of God brought to man by grace and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious blood was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 2:8-10; John 1:12; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18, 19).” Constitution of IFCA International, Article IV, Section 1, Paragraph 6.

Faith That Does Not Save

Religion teaches that we try to please God through our own efforts. We need to “earn it.” Some individuals profess faith in Christ but have failed to trust in the person and work of Christ alone. This kind of faith will show no evidence of spiritual life. A person must be prepared to believe in Christ. He must be aware of his need of salvation as was the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:30). He must be conscious of his hopeless condition apart from God and the sinfulness that has caused this estrangement (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10, 11, 18, 23; Ephesians 2:12). He must also have had presented to him information about the death of Christ and His resurrection and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in dealing with his sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

True salvation requires the work of God. An unsaved man, who is spiritually dead, must be enabled by the Spirit of God to believe. This involves the convicting work of the Spirit of God concerning sin and unbelief, God’s righteousness which can be bestowed on the individual, and that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 16:7-11; 1 John 2:1-2). The unsaved person must receive grace and enablement from God to believe as stated in Ephesians 2:8-10, “Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish. We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing. No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” (MSG).

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul does not identify people without Christ as unfulfilled or incomplete; he describes them as dead. Their spirits were dead because they had broken their relationship with the source of life itself: God. We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved for good works. Our salvation, and our ability to do good works, is 100% God, not 99% God and 1% us. Prior to our salvation, we were spiritually dead—unable to do any good work sufficient enough to assure our salvation. God made each of us unique. We each have a specific calling or capacity to participate in the redemption and restoration of the entirety of creation. The greatest miracle—aside from the resurrection which makes all other miracles possible—is the changed life.

Definition of Faith

Saving faith consists of two indispensable elements. First, there’s the intellectual element—an awareness of the facts of the Gospel, particularly about Christ’s sacrificial death for sins and His physical resurrection, and a persuasion that these facts are true (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Second, there is the volitional element—a total personal reliance upon Christ and the power inherent in His death to provide forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Romans 1:16; 3:21-26). This is a matter of will; of wanting to choose Christ.

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The absence of either of these elements indicates that the seeker’s faith is not of a quality that leads to salvation. The intellectual apprehension of orthodox doctrine alone will avail nothing (James 2:19). A volitional act of faith in the wrong object (e.g., John 2:23-24; 6:26-27; 8:31, 44) is useless. To save, faith must be directed toward the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). Some suitable expressions equivalent to the reliance on Christ that brings salvation include “believe in,” “trust in,” and “depend on.” Other terminology that may be misleading in representing this relationship include “submit to,” “yield to,” “dedicate [oneself] to,” and “make Jesus Lord of one’s life.” These are better reserved for a stage of sanctification that usually comes subsequent to saving faith. Two additional phrases, “make a commitment to” and “become a disciple of,” are ambiguous because they could or could not refer to reliance on Christ, depending on how they are defined. “Repent” is not a suitable way to describe saving faith, because it only partially represents what it is to rely on Christ.

Responsibility For Faith

The exercise of saving faith is the responsibility of the sinner in need of salvation. For the one coming to Christ, saving faith is uncomplicated (Acts 16:31). He decides to put his eternal well-being into the hands of Christ as his Savior. Subsequent to regeneration, he has a growing awareness of the far-reaching effects of what he has done, but this fuller grasp of the implications of saving faith is not a condition for salvation. The responsibility for the choice is wholly his. At the time of or subsequent to regeneration, he realizes that the totality of the salvation process is a gift of God, including the grace of God and his own choice to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something for which he himself can take no credit.

Implications of Faith

Faith that is saving faith carries with it certain implications, characteristics if you will, which a new believer might not be conscious of at the point of initial trust in Christ. The one under conviction is persuaded that the finished work of Christ is sufficient and that nothing else is needed. At the time of his decision, he may be so overwhelmed with his dependence on Christ that the implications of such dependence are not his primary focus of attention.

The absence of the following implications may indicate that his dependence is not on Christ alone:

  1. Christ is God and consequently sovereign Lord over all things and as such is the object of saving faith (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 1:8). Few people at the moment of salvation understand fully the implications of Christ’s sovereignty for their own lives well enough to comply with the exhortation of Romans 12:1-2.
  2. Obedience to the command of the Gospel to believe in Christ (Romans 1:5; 10:16) is another way of looking at saving faith, but beyond that initial obedience is implied an absence of rebellion against what Christ stands for (John 3:36). One can hardly place his full trust in Christ while harboring enmity against Him or having a predisposition to oppose Him.
  3. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin, self, and the Savior (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). A person can hardly seek forgiveness for something toward which he has no aversion (Acts 2:36; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; 1 Peter 2:24).

Results of Faith

GOOD WORKS

At the time of saving faith, a believer is regenerated by the Spirit (Titus 3:5), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), sealed by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Always associated with saving faith is the impartation to the believer of a new nature (Romans 6:5-7; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:9-10) which displays its presence through good works (1 Corinthians 4:5; James 2:18, 21-26). Good works may not always be immediately discernible by man, but are an inevitable consequence of the new birth which occurs in conjunction with saving faith (John 3:3, 5; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-12, 14; 3:8; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). Salvation is in no way contingent on good works.

Faith in Christ which does not result in “good works” (Ephesians 2:9-10) is not saving faith, but is actually dead faith (James 2:17, 20, 26). The missing element in such faith may be intellectual, a failure to grasp or accept the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel, or it may be volitional, a failure to trust Christ wholly for forgiveness of sins. Failure to trust Christ completely may be traceable to attempts to accumulate merit through the performance of human works by attempting to add to the finished work of Christ (Romans 4:5; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9).

SANCTIFICATION

Sanctification in the experience of the believer is the logical continuation of saving faith, namely:

  1. The believer is expected to submit to the lordship of Christ over all things in his life (Romans 6:11-13; 12:1-2).
  2. The implied obedience to Christ is expected to become an active obedience to Christ’s explicit commands (James 4:7-10; 1 John 2:3-10).
  3. The implied repentance is expected to become explicit, resulting in a purging of sinful behavior (1 Corinthians 5:7; 6:9-10, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Peter 4:15-16).

The lack of such progress in sanctification is characteristic of a carnal Christian (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). God may tolerate this lack of response to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit for a time, but will eventually bring chastening against the delinquent saved person. Such delinquency without correction may serve notice that the person’s profession was not saving faith (1 Corinthians 11:30-32; Titus 1:15-16; Hebrews 12:5-11).

The best method of confronting the carnal or pretending Christian with the insufficiency of his faith is through showing him that God judges sin (Matthew 16:24-28; 1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18). The carnal Christian is faced with the illogical nature of his behavior and forced to reevaluate his spiritual standing; the pretending Christian is faced with the realization that he was never saved.

Assurance of eternal life is provided by God’s written Word (1 John 5:13). Yet, the Scripture brings reminders and tests to cause those who have professed faith in Christ to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28, 15:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10). When carnality creeps into the life of a believer, causing him to fail the test of self-examination, he may entertain doubts about whether he has met the biblical criteria of saving faith. The solution for such doubt is for the believer to confess the sin which has broken his fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10).

For the Sake of Clarification

When it comes to the subject of “salvation and good works,” there are two serious errors that plague the church. One is that of Roman Catholicism, which teaches that in order to gain enough merit for salvation, we must add our “good works” to what Christ did on the cross. Under this view, you can never know for sure whether or not you are saved. Accordingly, you feel compelled to keep adding good works to your account.

The other error, which is more prevalent in evangelical churches, is that good works have no connection whatsoever with salvation. This view teaches that since we are saved through faith by grace alone, a person may believe in Christ as Savior without a life of good works to follow. A person may recite the sinner’s prayer and profess to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior, yet later profess to be an atheist and live in gross sin. Still, because he professed aloud to believe in Christ, he thinks he will be in heaven simply because of the words he spoke. Salvation requires God raising a sinner from death to life, which ultimately results in a changed life. It severs repentance from saving faith and teaches that saving faith is based solely on believing the facts of the Gospel.

Genuine salvation is entirely of God and inevitably results in a life of good works.

Some biblical scholars have noted a conflict between Paul and James over the matter of justification by faith versus works (compare Romans 3:24, 28 and James 2:18-26). But both men are saying the same thing from different angles to address different issues. Paul attacked the claim of the Pharisees that our good works will commend us to God. He argues that no one can ever be good enough to earn salvation. God justifies guilty sinners through faith in Christ alone. James was attacking the view that saving faith does not necessarily result in good works, but genuine faith produces good works.

That is precisely what Paul is clarifying in Ephesians 2:10. While salvation is entirely of God, so are the good works that follow salvation. God has ordained the entire process. Just as we cannot claim any glory for ourselves in our initial salvation, even so we cannot claim any glory in our subsequent good works. God is behind the entirety of our salvation from start to finish. Thus He gets all the glory.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, there are two main applications to consider. First, make sure that you are a new creation in Christ. Have you truly been saved by His grace through faith in Christ alone? We can only become a Christian by being created. “But we cannot create ourselves,” you may say. This is true, and accordingly we need to quit all pretense about being creators. The further we retreat from self-conceit the better, for it is God who must create us anew. We cannot work for God until God first has done His work of saving grace in us.

Second, if you have been saved, the focus of your life should be, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” Paul asked God that question immediately after his experience on the road to Damascus. The Lord replied, “Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10). God had already prepared Paul’s future ministry long before Paul’s conversion. Paul had to learn God’s plan and walk in it. So do you!

Salvation is not simply a ticket to heaven after death. Rather, it is about being brought from death to life by the love and grace of God, communicated through Jesus Christ. When we are saved into new life, we begin to live now, on this earth, in an altogether different way. At least that’s God’s plan for us. We can also truncate His salvation and continue to live a deathly existence. But God has other things in store for us as His masterpiece. He has good works for us to do, works that contribute to His restoration of the world, works that build up rather than break down, works that fulfill us and make our lives meaningful.

I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas.

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THE ROMANS WERE INFAMOUS for how they cruelly lined their roadways with crucifixions as a warning to those who would dare go against the State. Crucifixion is a notoriously slow death designed to torture the condemned for up to three agonizing days. Criminals punished in this manner typically died of asphyxiation, no longer able to push up and lift their chests for one more breath. The pain of crucifixion was so great that it gave its name to extreme agony—excruciating. The etymology of the word is from two Latin words ex and cruciatus, meaning “out of the cross.” Transliteration of ex cruciatus is “the pain one experiences when crucified.”

A Convicted and Condemned Murderer

His name was Barabbas. A murderer, convicted previously of sedition and robbery. He knew he was guilty. No question. Today, we’d say he had reached the “three strikes and you’re out” stage. He was slumped against the wall in a filthy, dank cell, watched closely by a massive Roman guard. His mind was fixated on how excruciatingly painful his crucifixion would be. He had witnessed a number of such horrendous deaths at the hands of the Roman authorities. Certainly, the next time the guards came for him he would be brought before his executioner.

He had led an insurrection that resulted in a number of people being murdered. He was known to support himself and his cause through robbery. He had broken the law and deserved to die. If he were to be executed, no one would have questioned it. In fact, no one stood in his defense. He should have been on the cross. As such, Barabbas represents every person who has violated God’s holy law. We all stand guilty as charged. The Bible has declared, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Of course, the wages of sin is death. Like Barabbas, we deserve God’s sentence of death.

“Whom Shall I Set Free? Jesus or Barabbas?”

The release of a Jewish prisoner—a tradition known as paschal pardon—was customary before the feast of Passover. The Roman governor granted clemency to one prisoner as an act of good will toward those he governed. Mark notes, “Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested” (Mark 15:6, NIV). The choice Pilate set before the crowd that day could not have been more clear-cut: a high-profile killer and rabble-rouser who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and miracle worker who was demonstrably innocent. The crowd chose Barabbas to be released. Interestingly, Pilate had a sense that Jesus was an innocent man. He was rather surprised at the crowd’s choice. He asked the crowd three times to choose sensibly, but with loud shouts they chose the death of Jesus, yelling, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

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Barabbas is mentioned in all four Gospels. Certainly, it came as a shock that his life would intersect with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus went before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had already declared Him innocent of anything worthy of death (see Luke 23:15). Pilate was aware that the Sanhedrin was essentially railroading Jesus. It was out of self-interest that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him. In fact, it was these very religious leaders that incited the crowd to demand for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus (see Mark 15:11). Pilate was most likely unaware of the prophesy unfolding before him.

Three times in the short span of eight versus, Pilate points to the innocence of Jesus. Pilate noted that not even Herod found any fault in Jesus. Regardless, when Pilate said, “Nothing deserving of death has been done by this man,” they all cried out, “Away with him! Crucify him!” Interestingly, Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder. He was among the “rebels” in prison who had committed murder in the insurrection. Murder and rebellion. The Jewish leaders charged Jesus with rebellion when they claimed he was misleading the people. Luke 23:5 says, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here” (NIV).

It Should Have Been Me up on the Cross!

We all feel a certain disdain for Judas who betrayed Christ, Peter who denied Him, the chief priests who despised Him, Herod who mocked Him, the people who called for His crucifixion, Pilate who appeased the mob and washed his hands, and Barabbas who was guilty but was set free. But wait! Aren’t we all, to some degree, guilty of betraying, denying, mocking, doubting, and walking away from Christ?

As we’ve seen through Luke’s emphasis on the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas, Luke is leading us (as sinners) in his careful telling of the story, encouraging us to identify with Barabbas. As Jesus’ condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also his death sentence leads to the release of the physical captive Barabbas. This is a foretaste of the grace that will be unleashed at the cross. As Pilate releases Barabbas the guilty, and delivers over to death Jesus the innocent, we are given a picture of our own release effected by the cross through faith. In Barabbas we have a glimpse of our guilt deserving death, and a preview of the arresting grace of Jesus and his embrace of the cross through which we are set free. As Jesus is delivered to death, and Barabbas is released to new life, we have the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a sinner, while the guilty sinner is released as if innocent.

I am Barabbas

Luke wants us to identify with both Jesus and Barabbas. When we identify with Jesus we are able to see that through faith His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection. When we align ourselves with Barabbas we see that we, too, are sinners—criminals who have broken God’s law, guilty as charged, deserving of death for our rebel lives of sin against the Creator. Jesus, through the grace of giving Himself for us at the cross, takes our place and we are released.

As we come to understand the depths of our sin, we see with Luke, “I am Barabbas.” I am the one so clearly guilty and deserving of condemnation, but I’ve been set free because of the willing substitution of the Messiah in my place.

 

 

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Four)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

Born Again

What is Conversion?

The word conversion when used in a cultural sense typically means buying into acceptance of a religious dogma or belief system. The fundamental biblical meaning of conversion is “to turn” toward God. The key question always is Am I born again? Exactly when did I get converted? It is typical for new believers to assume conversion is an instantaneous event. Someone gave me a suggestion when they learned I was addressing conversion in my series on apologetics. They said, “Read all four Gospels and try to determine when Peter was converted. Was it when he was following Jesus? When he realized Jesus was the Messiah? When he was sent out to preach and heal? When Jesus forgave him for denying him?” Apparently, it’s just not that clear-cut.

Of course conversion is not simply a shift in our relationship with God. Justification is required before conversion can occur. Romans 1:17 reminds us that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. It is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Conversion, however, is a much larger reality in which our restored relationship with God begins to touch and change every area of our lives. Justification is not something visible. It is purely a work of the heart. The New Testament speaks of conversion as metanoia, which is literally a change of mind, but is not merely altering your opinion about God. Instead, it is a redirection of your fundamental outlook—what we might call mind-set or worldview. Because it involves a change in affection and will, the very core of self, it is not simply a matter of opinion.

The Bible tells us, “You must be born again” (John 3:7, NIV). Colossians 1:13 states, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (NIV).  Christian theology speaks of regeneration, which is the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the repentant sinner. This “in or out” language finally appears also in the terminology of contemporary sociology of conversion. But the complexity of this phraseology—of conversion, yes, but also of alteration, transference, renewal, affiliation, adhesion, and other terms for religious moves one might make—points to biblical and theological counterparts indicating there is more to conversion than just “getting it.”

What Are We Converted From and Transformed To?

The apostle Peter taught that one needs to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NKJV). Many believe conversion is just accepting Jesus into your heart or professing Jesus with your mouth. It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they met true reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced ultimate truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right.

Christian conversion is linked inextricably to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Of course, this statement is at the very heart of apologetics. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into a personal relationship with God Almighty, which leads to changes taking place in his life.

It is not a matter of self-improvement or cultural conditioning. Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective—the resurrection of Christ—there is also a universality of Christian conversion. Since the date of his death and resurrection, people from every conceivable background, culture, philosophy, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the Earth have become some of the most remarkable saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away by simple cultural conditioning. Christian experience is universal regardless of culture.

Concluding Remarks

God looks on the heart, the attitude, the intent. As long as one, in his heart, has a real desire to walk in God’s will—is deeply sorrowful for past sins and repents when he commits the occasional sin—and seeks to overcome sin and make God’s way his way, he will be forgiven. But if, following conversion, he is diligent in his Christian life, his occasional sinning will become less and less. He will make solid progress, maturing, overcoming, growing spiritually and in righteous godly character.

The experience of a new Christian —not just knowledge but experience—of who he is and what has happened to him, is profoundly determined by what he knows about the miracle of conversion. That knowledge is based upon Scripture. God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by His Word in the Bible. It important to note that God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. The fullness of conversion takes place when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

On a final note, to “convert” is to repent or “turn away from” one thing and toward something new. When one becomes a Christian, he is given the power to essentially do a 180 and go an entirely different way. Conversion is based solely on faith or belief. Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is a relationship with Christ. Christianity is God offering salvation to anyone who believes and trusts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Conversion is accepting the gift that God offers and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in the forgiveness of sins and eternity in heaven after death.

 

The Peacemaker (Part 3)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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The goal of a peacemaker is to magnify the marvelous undeserved forgiveness that God has given to us through Christ and to inspire people to imitate such forgiveness to others. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). As Christians, it is very important that we understand this verse correctly. Note we’re admonished to be peacemakers not peacekeepers. It would be a drastic error to misquote the Words of Jesus. Although it might sound like mere semantics, Christ urges that we make peace rather than keep the peace. The Gospel and peacemaking are interdependent. The Gospel is the very catalyst for peace. As believers, we are incapable of promoting real peace in the flesh. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peacemakers strive to make peace and attempt to reconcile things and people that are at odds with one another. Peacekeepers, on the other hand, strive to keep peace at all costs. Proverbs 10:10 says, “People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace” (NTL). Peacekeepers, by not acknowledging wrongdoings in an effort to make peace, are actually winking at them. We must be about peacemaking as believers. My church contains in its bylaws language about peacemaking being part of our mission.

Speak the Truth in Love

Peacemaking does not—indeed, cannot—happen by accident. It is a purposeful act. In fact, peacemaking is a higher priority than worship. Of course, love is the underlying commandment. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). People should be able to catch a glimpse of the Father when they look at us.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is Christ.” Words play a key role in almost every conflict. When used properly, words promote understanding and encourage agreement. When misused, they usually aggravate conflicts and drive people further apart. If your words seem to do more harm than good when you try to resolve a disagreement, don’t give up. With God’s help you can improve your ability to communicate constructively.

Bring Hope Through the Gospel

When someone has disappointed or offended us, our human reaction is to come at them with the law, lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should do now to make things right. This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse. The Lord is graciously working to teach us a better way to approach others about their failures. Instead of coming at them from a position of legalism, we need to bring them the Gospel. In other words, rather than dwelling on what people should do or have failed to do, we must focus primarily on what God has done and is doing for them in Christ. This is commanded throughout Scripture.

When Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman, instead of hammering away at her sinful lifestyle (as many pastors sadly do today), He spent most of His time engaging her in a conversation about salvation, eternal life, true worship, and the coming of the Messiah (see John 4:7-26). The woman responded eagerly to this Gospel-focused approach, let down her defenses, and put her trust in Christ. Although Jesus changed this focus when rebuking hard-hearted Pharisees, His typical approach to bringing people to repentance was to bring them the Good News of God’s forgiveness (see Luke 19:1-10; John 8:10-11).

The apostle Paul had a similar approach, even when he had to deal with serious sin. In his first letter the Corinthians, he had to address divisions, immorality, lawsuits, food sacrificed to idols, and the misuse of the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts. But before addressing these terrible sins, Paul’s gracious greeting held out hope for forgiveness and change by reminding the Corinthians of what God had already done for them through Christ. What a marvelous way to set the stage for repentance and change. Paul always kept Jesus in the center of his instruction and admonishment by first providing the believers a detailed description of God’s redemptive plan. When Paul finally got around to addressing errors in the congregation, his readers were already standing on a foundation of hope and encouragement.

Paul took the same approach with the Philippians and Colossians, who also needed correction and instruction. He begins his letters to these two churches by drawing attention to what God has done in each of them. As he continued, he frequently referred to the Gospel as he moved from issue to issue. For example, look at what Paul writes in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Before admonishing these believers, Paul reminds them of who they are in Christ.

Be Quick to Listen

Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are actually saying. Knowing this is not in our human nature, James gave this warning: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20, NIV). Good listening is particularly important for a peacemaker. It improves your ability to understand others, it shows that you realize you do not have all the answers, and it tells the other person that you value his or her thoughts and opinions. Even if you don’t agree with what others say or do, your willingness to listen demonstrates respect and shows that you are trying to comprehend their perspective. This typically helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect that will improve communication.

Waiting…

Waiting patiently while others talk is a key listening skill that is a must for all peacemakers. Without this skill, you will often fail to understand the root cause of a conflict, and you may complicate matters with inappropriate reactions. As Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (NIV). In other words, avoid jumping to premature conclusions about what others are thinking; give them time and hear them out. Discipline yourself not to interrupt others while they are speaking. Learn to be comfortable with silence and do not respond the moment there is a pause. Moreover, do not offer immediate solutions to every problem others bring to you.

Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way. This is the very definition of active listening. Reflecting may deal with both the content of what the other person has said and the associated feelings. Reflecting does not require that you agree with what the other person says; it simply reveals whether you comprehend another person’s thoughts and feelings. Reflecting shows that you are paying attention and you are trying to understand or empathize with them. Besides, reflecting what others are saying can make them more willing to listen to what you want to say.

Engage Rather than Pronounce or Declare

One of the fastest ways to make people defensive is to abruptly announce what they have done wrong. If you launch into a direct and detailed description of their faults, they are likely to close their ears and launch a counterattack. It is wise to think carefully about how to open a conversation in a way that shows genuine concern for the other person and engages him in listening to your words without becoming defensive. If you are going to be candid—this is often doable when speaking to a close friend—you should first affirm your respect and friendship and then describe your concern in direct terms. If strong trust has not been built between you, however, or if the issue is likely to trigger defensiveness, you would be wise to broach your concern in an indirect way that engages the other person’s heart and mind without putting him instantly on guard.

Whatever approach you use, your goal should be to describe your concern in a way that captures others’ attention, appeals to their values, and gives hope that the issue can be resolved constructively. The more you engage another person’s heart and the less you declare his or her wrongs, the more likely he or she is to listen to you. Communicate clearly enough that you cannot be misunderstood. Many conflicts are caused or aggravating by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or inappropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense. Fewer factors can derail peacemaking than miscommunication.

Use the Bible Carefully

It is often helpful to refer to the Bible as a source of objective truth when you have a disagreement with another Christian. If this is not done with great care, however, it will alienate people rather than persuade them. Never quote the Bible to tear others down, but only to build them up in the Lord. Make sure to use Scripture passages for their intended purpose. Never pull a verse out of context and try to make it say something other than its clear meaning. It’s advisable to encourage others to read the passage from their own Bibles; then ask, “What do you think that means?” This typically yields far better results than imposing your interpretation on them.

It is also paramount that you know when to stop. If the other person appears to be getting irritated by your references to Scripture, it may be wise to back off and give him or her time to think about what you’ve presented to them.

Summary and Application

Effective confrontation is like a graceful dance from being supportive to assertive and back again. This dance may feel awkward at first for those who are just learning it, but perseverance pays off. With God’s help you can learn to speak the truth in love by saying only what will build others up, by listening responsibly to what others say, and by using principles of wisdom. As you practice these skills and make them a normal part of your everyday conversation, you will be well prepared to use them when conflict breaks out.  In developing the skills of loving confrontation, you can see for yourself that “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

God bless and thanks for reading.

Join me next Monday when I wrap up this series on peacemaking. We’ll look at the importance of taking one or two others along when confronting others in the interest of peace. Matthew 18:16 says, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

 

The Peacemaker (Part 2)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

Peace is essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt about it. God created this world with the intention that it be full of peace. But human sin derailed God’s intention. Brokenness now pervades that which God set in motion. Of course, God’s peace is inextricably related to forgiveness, salvation, redemption, and restoration. Luke 1:77-79 says, “…to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (RSV).

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (NLT). Our aim as Christians—indeed, as peacemakers—is to encourage others to break free from the habit of focusing on other people’s wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to the conflict. We must essentially develop a passion for peace. First, it is critical that we understand how powerful words are. Peacemaking begins with saying the right thing the right way. Everything is relationship. We are constantly presented throughout each day with numerous opportunities to promote peace.

4 important keys related to conflict resolution and promoting peace:

  1. Resist the natural reaction to blame others and focus on their wrongs and differences. People who to take a moral approach are particularly fond of directions. They stress justice and fairness, noting people typically “get what they deserve.” They concern themselves with tangible rewards and the fruits of their actions. This is a “reap what you sow” perspective. They believe emotions simply get in the way. Those who focus on morals concern themselves with top/down thinking and are dedicated to truth. Simply put, they are concerned primarily with right and wrong. This limited viewpoint, however, lends itself to taking things too literally. Moral-minded people often have difficulty understanding or dealing with emotions, and are frequently highly critical and judgmental. It’s all black-and-white, with no room for gray. Those who focus on relationship concern themselves with intimacy, mercy, grace, and empathy. Focus is on the heart rather than the mind. This can be risky, however, as emotions tend to lie to us and become “reality.” Too much emphasis on emotion risks God’s principles taking a back seat to what we “feel.”
  2. The blame game always makes conflict worse. The more “right” someone thinks they are, the more self-righteous they become. This causes the relationship—the very interaction itself—to be more difficult. When we think the other party is wrong, we are reluctant to offer concessions. Failure to see conflict with an open mind can lead to stalemate. When we’re open and honest, we are more likely to accept our share of the blame in a conflict. We need to resist the temptation to list the other person’s faults. Our approach must spring forth from a problem-solving mindset and not be about proving our point. Sometimes it is best to “drop it” in order to stop the blame game.
  3. Conflict can be altered by taking a soft approach over harsh language. Confrontation is a key element to conflict resolution, but there is a proper way to approach someone about his or her conduct. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). Peterson translates the verse this way in The Message: “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.” This concept holds true in conflict resolution, witnessing, and apologetics. We will be more successful in persuading others of our position, of being certain they actually hear what we’re saying, and increasing the chance to make a friend rather than an enemy, when we take a gentle approach. Even when others have unloaded on us, a soft response can prevent (or at least hinder or limit) an escalation of the conflict.
  4. Genuine reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed heart. Taking a hard-line moral approach when confronting someone is often counterproductive. It is akin to saying, “Here it is. Do it or else.” Effective peacemaking is a matter of the heart with a degree of give-and-take. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. It is unfortunately never that simple. It can be extremely difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. Biblical conflict resolution is built on the solid foundation of grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness.

Perhaps This is You?

It is impossible to completely and unconditionally forgive someone based upon our own strength, especially when they have hurt us deeply or betrayed our trust. We can try not to think about what they did or stuff our feelings and put on a happy face, but the feelings will still be lurking. Anger can fester for a long time, and often leads to resentment. Unless we undergo a change of heart—and are cleansed and set free by God—the hurt remains. The conflict goes unresolved. There is only one way to overcome this barrier, and that is to admit that you cannot forgive in our own strength.

Maybe you have prayed like this:

God, I cannot forgive him in my own strength. In fact, I do not want to forgive him at all, at least until he has suffered for what he did to me. He does not deserve to get off easy. Everything in me wants to hold it against him and keep a high wall between us so he can never heart me again. But Your Word warns me that unforgiveness will eat away at my soul and build a wall between You and me. More importantly, You have shown me that You made the supreme sacrifice, giving up Your own Son, in order to forgive me. Lord, please help me to want to forgive. Please change my heart and soften it so that I no longer want to hold this against him. Change me so that I can forgive and love him the way You have forgiven and loved me. God, please forgive me for my own unforgiveness.

Summary and Application

This is what reconciliation is all about. By thought, word, and deed, you can demonstrate forgiveness and rebuild relationships with people who have offended you. No matter how painful the office, with God’s help you can pay honor and glory to God by imitating His forgiveness and reconciliation for mankind that was demonstrated on the cross. By the grace of God, you can forgive as the Lord forgave you. This is of paramount importance in the scheme of peacemaking.

God bless.

The Peacemaker (Part 1)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

The “Four Gs” of conflict resolution:

  • Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Biblical peacemaking is motivated and guided by a deep desire to bring honor to God by revealing the reconciling love and power of Jesus Christ. As we draw on His grace, follow His example, and put His teachings into practice, we can find freedom from the impulsive, self-centered decisions that make conflict worse, and bring praise to God by displaying the power of the Gospel in our lives.
  • Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). Attacking others only invites counterattacks. This is why Jesus teaches us to face up to our own contributions to a conflict before we focus on what others have done. When we overlook others’ minor offenses and honestly admit our own faults, our opponents will often respond in kind. As tensions decrease, the way may be opened for sincere discussion, negotiation, and reconciliation.
  • Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). When others fail to see their contributions to a conflict, we sometimes need to graciously show them their fault. If they refuse to respond appropriately, Jesus calls us to involve respected friends, church leaders, or other objective individuals who can help encourage repentance and restore peace.
  • Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Finally, peacemaking involves a commitment to restoring damaged relationships and negotiating just agreements. When we forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us and seek solutions that satisfy others’ interests as well as our own, the debris of conflict is cleared away and the door is opened for genuine peace.

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Unfortunately, many believers and their churches have not yet developed the commitment and ability to respond to conflict in a Gospel-centered and biblical manner. This is often because they have succumbed to the relentless pressure our secular culture exerts on us to forsake the timeless truths of Scripture and adopt the relativism of our postmodern era. Although many Christians and their churches believe they have held on to God’s Word as their standard for life, their responses to conflict, among other things, show that they have in fact surrendered much ground to the world. Instead of resolving differences in a distinctively biblical fashion, they often react to conflict with the same avoidance, manipulation, and control that characterize the world. In effect, both individually and congregationally, they have given in to the world’s postmodern standard, which is “What feels good, sounds true, and seems beneficial to me?”

Pastor Mike Miller at my home church, Sunbury Bible Church, started a Spring series on peacemakers. He opened the series on April 22, 2018 stating, “Peace matters to God.” The Hebrew word shalom has a comprehensive meaning beyond being content or “at peace.” It also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It can further mean “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” Shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness that encourages you to give back. Jesus is not talking about mediators or political negotiators in Matthew 5:9, but those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. As you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

3 Relationships Needed for Building Peace:

  1. With God (first). Peace must begin vertically, between us and God, before it can be shared horizontally, between others. Man has a broken relationship with God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This has left a God-shaped void—a hole in the soul—which we try to fill with anything and everything. It’s like an infinite abyss.
  2. With Others (second). This is what helps build horizontal connectedness in order that we might live in harmony as much as possible. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (NIV).
  3. With yourself (ultimately). We simply cannot expect to have peace within if we are at odds with everyone around us. Jesus knew this when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NIV). Moreover, we cannot expect to be at peace with others if we are not at peace with God.

But at What Cost?

Genuine peace is a priority, but it is costly. We often have to give up something of ours to obtain or promote peace. Genuine peace is only found at the Cross. We’re part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Genuine peace has eternal consequences. Most conflicts also provide an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus. As Paul urged in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul elaborated on this opportunity when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29, italics mine).

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity

Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and He is present and working in your life. The opposite is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the Good News about the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

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One of the most emphatic statements on peace and unity in the Bible is found in Jesus’ prayer shortly before he was arrested and taken away to be crucified. After praying for Himself and for unity among His disciples (John 17:1-19), Jesus prayed for all who would someday believe in Him. These words apply directly to every Christian today:

My prayer is not for [My disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in Us so that the world many believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

In Summary

The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display His love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, He invites you to draw on His grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on Him and obedience to this call will show the power of the Gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow Him.

Please join me next Monday for The Peacemaker (Part Two), when we will look at helping others to break free from the habit of focusing on other peoples’ wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to conflict.


 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

 

Christ Suffered and Died: That We Might Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying that we might die to sin and live unto righteousness.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24)

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STRANGE AS IT MAY sound, Christ’s dying in our place and for our sins means that we died. You would think that having a substitute die in your place would mean that you escape death. And, of course, we do escape death—the eternal death of endless misery and separation form God. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 11:26). The death of Jesus does indeed mean that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But there is another sense in which we die precisely because Christ died in our place and for our sins. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die…” (1 Peter 2:24). He died that we might live; and He died that we might die. When Christ died, I, as a believer in Christ, died with Him. The Bible is clear: “We have been united with Him in a death like His” (Romans 6:5). “One has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

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Faith is the evidence of being united to Christ in this profound way, believers “have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). We look back on His death and know that, in the mind of God, we were there. Our sins were on Him, and the death we deserved was happening to us in Him. Baptism signifies this death with Christ. “We were buried… with Him  by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). The water is like a grave. Going under is a picture of death. Coming up is a picture of new life. And it is all a picture of what God is doing “through faith.” [You have] been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

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The fact that I died with Christ is linked directly to His dying for my sin. “He Himself bore our sins… that we might die.” This means that when I embrace Jesus as my Savior, I embrace my own death as a sinner. My sin brought Jesus to the grave and brought me there with Him. Faith sees sin as a murderer. It killed Jesus, and it vicariously killed me. Becoming a Christian means dying to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself. Therefore, the believer is dead to sin, no longer dominated by her attractions. Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal. She has become an enemy.

My new life is now swayed by righteousness. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might… live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The beauty of Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is the desire of my soul. And His beauty is perfect righteousness. The command that I now love to obey is this: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).