Are You Living For Jesus?

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When done right, an article like this blog post is not easy to write. By definition, this is a difficult topic. It takes incredible soul-searching and an honest and thorough moral inventory. The truth can hurt, but it’s bitter medicine that could save your soul. Self-appraisal is vital to navigating through life. An honest assessment of our goals, priorities, behavior, relationships (especially how we interact with and treat others), ultimately enables self-improvement. Coming clean with your errors and learning to forgive yourself for them must become a lifelong habit. But self-appraisal can be a treacherous undertaking.

Christian Self-Appraisal

Paul addressed Christian self-assessment in Galatians 6:3-4: “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (NIV). Although I agree with Paul, I can see potential for this type of exercise to go to our heads. Eugene Peterson, in his translation The Message writes, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:4-5). Peterson is saying we must know who we are within the context of who we we are in accordance with the work we’ve been given by God. Accordingly, there is no self-pride.

The reason self-assessment is so daunting is because it is extremely difficult to honestly, effectively see ourselves as others see us. Each of us is blind to certain parts of our character even when we’re most brutally honest. Paul Tripp writes, “Sin lives in a costume, that’s why it’s so hard to recognize… in order for it to do its evil work it must present itself as something that is anything but evil.” When it comes to assessing our morality—indeed, our motives and overt behavior—we’re more skilled at looking for our own wrong and seeing only good. We’re much better at seeing the sin, weakness, and failure of others. Jesus said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5, NIV).

I believe acquiring self-knowledge is impossible without the revealing light of the Holy Spirit. Incomplete self-assessment is a threat to our Christian witness and our relationship with Christ. If we’re not careful, we’ll tell ourselves a “different” Gospel; one that serves the devil and not the Lord. I’m failing at everything. I don’t like the way God made me. Jesus cannot help me. My service is worthless. My spiritual gift is worthless. Growth is impossible. I should just give up. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross…” Watchman Nee, in his seminal work A Balanced Christian Life, wrote, “The truths to be found in both the New Testament and the Old can be grouped under two categories of truth: the subjective and the objective.” Objective truth can be confirmed by physical evidence, whereas subjective truth depends on one’s opinion or truth and may be true or false.

My Own Introspection

Thankfully, after 40 years of active addiction, I have been able to stay away from alcohol and street drugs since 2008. Unfortunately, I secretly abused opiates from 2008 until 2016. I was using tramadol and oxycodone, which were prescribed by my primary care physician and a pain specialist. I also started taking Flexeril and Soma. I developed a tolerance for these medications. In fact, I truly enjoyed the euphoria. Ultimately, I would run out of pills before I could get a refill. I was living with my parents at the time. My mother had undergone radical spinal fusion, and was taking oxycodone, morphine, Flexeril, and methodone. I started stealing her medications, and eventually got caught.

It was rather deceptive and two-faced that I was also attending church every Sunday, going to several AA and NA meetings a week, and teaching Bible study at two local county prisons while getting high on opiates I stole from my mother’s medicine cabinet. I prayed, read the Bible, told my “story,” and acted as though all was well while living a lie. I also began online undergraduate classes in psychology at Colorado Christian University at the time. Classes were taught from a Christian worldview. My discussion posts were less-than-honest given my nefarious pill habit. There were times I felt rather guilty and hopeless, and even considered driving my car into the icy-cold Susquehanna River. Admittedly, however, I usually took a deep breath, decided I’d quit tomorrow and just took another handful of pills.

Despite a 21-day stay in rehab, I continued to abuse opiates. My mother confronted me about stealing her medication and was willing to forgive me. When it happened again in August of 2016, she had me arrested. I entered a guilty plea and served a year on probation. I was estranged from the family for 20 months, missing birthdays, two Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the birth of a grandchild, and loss of a job that required a clean criminal background. My attitude slipped and I blamed everyone else. It became easy to be unforgiving of my family’s unforgiveness. Lost and bitter, with nowhere to turn, I decided to go back to the church where I was saved and baptized at 13 years old. This was no doubt the greatest decision of my life. I reached out to the pastor and the elders. I chose a mentor and allowed the men to love me until I could learn to love myself.

The result of this decision is that I have been clean for over two years, I am 3 weeks from finishing my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and will be starting my master’s degree in professional counseling (with a concentration in addictions) at Lancaster Bible College in January. I have been welcomed back into my family and just spent Thanksgiving with everyone. I am currently sharing a 3-bedroom ranch with my mom and my younger brother.

How Do You Live For Jesus?

Jesus gave His life for us, so that we might live our life abundantly. He covered our sins, paying a huge debt we could have not satisfied on our own. I know you’ve heard it said that it is reasonable for us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. Readily realize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings out the best of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG).

Living for Jesus is more meaningful than living for ourselves. Certainly, following in His footsteps helps assure that many are saved through our example because of His intervention in our lives. When the early disciples encountered Jesus, they were willing to literally drop everything—including their very livelihood—to follow Him. Similarly, we’re called to make sacrifices for Jesus—to show others love by giving, praying, and investing in them. In Jesus’ eyes, belief and actions are intricately interwoven; you cannot have one without the other.

Jesus is No Mere Optimist

Jesus doesn’t try to pump us up with empty promises or sunny predictions about the future, or tell us that a life of following Him is full of nothing but reward. He always tells it like it is, never shying away from hard realities. If He were always trying to “spin” reality for us, we’d quickly descend into fear, because mere optimism has no real power to change our reality. In Matthew 10:25-28 He paints a picture of reality for His disciples. He says they will face hard times as they go forth in His name to bring the Gospel to others, but He encourages them to move in boldness rather than fear.

Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message: “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (Matthew 10:26-28, MSG).

Have You Made a Decision For Jesus?

Have you made a decision for Jesus or have you committed yourself to Jesus? There is a difference. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Many have made a decision to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him. The Gospel allows for no such distinction. Biblical belief is more than mere mental assent or verbal acknowledgement. Many fans of Jesus have repeated a prayer or raised their hand or walked forward at the end of a church service and made a decision to believe, but there was never a conscious decision to follow Him. It is vitally important to realize this distinction: Jesus never offered such an option. Ever. Not to anyone. He is looking for more than words of belief; He’s looking to see how those words are lived out in your life. When we decide to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him, we become nothing more than fans. We tend to define belief as the acceptance of something as real or true.

But biblical belief goes far beyond mere intellectual acceptance or heartfelt acknowledgement; rather, it is a commitment to follow. It is adherence that goes beyond mental assent—it calls for movement. One of the reasons our churches can become “fan clubs” is that we have unfortunately separated the message of believe from the message of follow. This tends to put the Gospel out of balance. A pastor friend of mine who was raised in a family of pastors takes issue with today’s megachurches that seem to be about “coffee klatches” and “entertainment” rather than preaching the Gospel and serving God’s people. He worries that no one wants to talk about Jesus and sin anymore.

Does Your Life Reflect What You Say You Believe?

I took a class on World Views last year at Colorado Christian University. What I was most surprised to discover was how much of my worldview was hidden to me. It was difficult to admit that I had God in my head but not in my heart. My professor asked a rather challenging question during the third week of class: How would your behavior change if you actually acted in a manner consistent with what you claim to believe in your heart? It reminded me of a comment from a previous pastor who told me he didn’t think I had God in my heart. Ouch!

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. It is critical to acknowledge what I truly believe in my heart as well as what I think I believe in my head. Sire indicates that the Christian worldview is not so much a matter of theoretical thought expressed in propositions as it is a deeply rooted commitment of the heart. 

Worldviews are as divergent as mankind itself. What makes this issue more complex is that worldviews are not limited to matters of culture or science, nor do they reside solely in the intellect. Rather, they are typically of the heart, not the head. A person’s worldview serves as the foundation or infrastructure for their values, which determine their behavior. Out of the abundance of the heart.

We are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus and put our faith in Him, but biblical belief is more than something we confess with our mouths; it’s something we confess with our way of life. So a fan of Jesus might say, “Lord, Lord,” but a fan doesn’t live, “Lord, Lord.” You say, “I am a follower.” I hear you, but when is the last time you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner? You say, “I am a follower,” Well, that’s great, but what do you do when you get in an argument with your spouse? I want to know if you’re the one who reaches over and puts a gentle hand on the back of your husband or wife and and says, “I’m sorry.” What do you do when a neighbor starts to gossip about a friend? What do you do when the movie you’re watching continues to take God’s name in vain? A belief is more than what we say.

James addresses this. “What good is it my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Jesus has defined the relationship he wants with you. He is not interested in enthusiastic admirers who practice everything in moderation and don’t get “carried away.” He wants completely committed followers.

References

Sire, J. (2015) Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

 

 

 

A Light in Darkness: A Christian Response to Moral Relativism

Which Way America

AMERICA IS IN A DARK season. The news is chock full of stories about murders, mass shootings, racial unrest, sexual immorality, genocide, terrorist threats, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. This is the backdrop against which biblical principles are being challenged and pushed aside in a modern culture of pluralism and so-called open-mindedness. Atheists today have taken on a militant posture. No longer content with merely not believing in God as a personal choice, they have taken to calling Christians delusional, stupid, crazy, elitist, bigoted, gullible, narrow-minded. Richard Dawkins—author of The God Delusion—says, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Christopher Hitchens said parents “forcing” their Christian faith on their children is nothing short of child abuse. He compares belief in an all-powerful deity to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

Gallup on American Opinions on Moral Acceptability

News stories on the networks and in newspapers show a growing moral and social crisis in America today. Our nation has been taking a position against God in landmark cases for the last five decades: teacher-led prayer was forbidden in public schools (1962); Roe v. Wade sanctioned abortion on demand all throughout America (1973); display of the Ten Commandments was forbidden on publicly-owned property (2005); Obergefell v. Hodges sanctioned same-sex marriage (2015), and today the debate over gender identity issues are in full swing. Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them specifically about morality in America, and you will see they are becoming more pessimistic with each passing year. A recent Gallup poll found a widening embrace for numerous moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

CHRISTIAN MORALITY

Christian morality used to be something people were afraid to violate. In May 2017, Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls indicating 4 out of 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of our country. One poll shows 77 percent believe the country’s values are getting worse—the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic in 2002. Historically, social conservatives, including evangelicals and other people of faith, have been the most negative about American morality; raising concerns about the liberal shift on issues involving family, sexuality, and sanctity of life. Democrats and Republicans look at the issue of morality differently—liberals and moderates are concerned over declining moral values, but, their focus is on the growing lack of respect or tolerance for others. They are also worried about the lack of proper parenting, which many believe to be at the root of this moral downturn.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Some believers, me included, feel the reason morality is failing is because far too many laws regulating moral behavior have been repealed. A great deal of Christian pastors, apologists, evangelists, and writers have taken heed to the falling numbers, but decades of pitting “Christian worldview” against “moral relativism” has caused the forming of habits that are rather hard to break. For example, many Christians assume the reason for rampant immorality in our culture is due to people rejecting the idea of absolute right and wrong. Many believers think discussions over morals are likely to end with, “Well, you have your truth, and I have mine. Let’s just agree to disagree.” I believe disputes over morality in America are stronger today than they’ve ever been. But if we view these disputes through the lens of “moral relativism,” our understanding of today’s culture will suffer—our Christian witness will be severely blunted.

DO BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES SHAPE YOUR VALUES?

The apostle Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Certainly, this is not an easy task. Moreover, it is not necessarily helpful to “preach” down to those we disagree with given the heavy-handed presence of moral relativism in America. How can we apply a Christian worldview to social and political issues? In addition, how can we communicate biblical morality effectively in a secular society?

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First, it is important that we interpret Scripture correctly. Too often, Christians have expressed their sociological preferences on issues like homosexuality and abortion without proper biblical exegesis. The result is often a priori conclusions built upon the foundation of improper proof-texting. We should take a lesson from the apostle Paul’s direction that the first priority of Christians is to preach the Gospel. He refused to allow individual distinctions to hamper his effectiveness. In fact, he said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV). As believers, we must stand firm for biblical truth; however, we must recognize the spiritual needs of those with whom we vehemently disagree regarding lifestyle or moral convictions.

Second, Christians should carefully develop biblical principles which can be applied to contemporary social and medical issues. Too often Christians jump immediately from Scripture to political and social programs. Unfortunately, they sometimes neglect the important intermediate step of applying biblical principles germaine to a particular social or cultural situation. Foundational biblical precepts that undergird the law of God in the Old Testament are essentially values or social norms steeped in Jewish law and tradition. The Torah contains 613 commandments or precepts, which include “positive” and “negative” commands. Christians in the 21st century are not obligated to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses. This is the central message of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. In fact, Colossians 2:14-15 tells us that on the cross, Jesus took away the requirements of law-keeping. Of course, there are laws in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that Christians are bound to, but this is not because they are in the Mosaic Law. Rather, as Christians we are bound to obey the command and example of Jesus. We are to tread gently, motivated by love, not hatred.

Love should characterize Christians, especially when the days are dark and filled with hate.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We must look to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to determine the “rules” of Christianity. I am not saying that the laws of the Old Testament are meaningless. Not at all. Examples of what the Hebrews did and how God responded—blessings versus curses—are great lessons for us today. Paul writes, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, NIV).

For the Christian, the current social crises are indeed troubling. But Jesus called us “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13). In these dark days we need to respond as salt (i.e., godly preservative in a rapidly declining culture) and light (i.e., evangelists who shine brightly in a dark society). We need to cultivate a biblical perspective on the current social crises. And we need to respond as God’s people, with God’s perspective, regarding the events of these days.

Will we let our light shine in the midst of this dark season of uncertainty? Will we keep our focus and trust on Him as our sovereign King? Will we point others to Him as we allow our light to shine for Him? Or will we live in a manner that serves to detract others from Christ? We cannot forget that it is our joy and privilege to shine as lights in the darkness.

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

f769055c4f4d064dab754584287d57d2--hush-hushLucifer falls from grace.

It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

A Fundamental Orientation of the Heart

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face is taking stock of whether our actions match what we claim to believe. Our worldview – that is, how we see the world and our place in it, or, if you prefer, our “philosophy of life” – should be obvious from our behavior. A worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart.

Since the events of 9/11, the term worldview is often used as a very general label for how people view the cultures with which their culture clashes. This is very important to note, as a worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. A worldview is sometimes considered to be the fundamental perspective from which we address every issue of life.

From a Human Perspective

Imagine someone who thinks life has no true purpose. For that person, events are random. “I live, then I die.” A meaningless existence requires nothing from anyone. There is no need to check our bearings along the way to see of we’re “on track.” There is no need to justify our choices, values, or goals. There is a quiet desperation that drives humanity to think about the question, “Does life have meaning?” Even non-religious people understand that man has a burning desire to make sense of his life. Humanist Deane Starr writes, “Humans find their most complete fulfillment, whether real or imaginary, in some sort of intimacy with the Ultimate.” Our greatest and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in life. It is well known that many people lose their will to live because such meaning evades them.

What happens when someone fails to find a reason for living? Often they experience a spectrum of emotional and behavioral aberrations. Jay Asher published a book in 2007 titled Thirteen Reasons Why. Netflix has produced a mini-series based on Asher’s book, which has caused quite an uproar across the country. The story begins when Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the age group of 10 to 24 years. It is a critical problem in America. Educators and mental health professionals have mixed feelings about Thirteen Reasons Why. Dr. Nicole Quinlan, a pediatric psychologist at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA, objects to the show’s graphic, gratuitous portrayal of Hanna Baker’s suicide. I watched the mini-series, and I was shocked and upset by the final scene. I didn’t expect to see Hanna Baker drag a razor blade up both of her arms while sitting in a bathtub of warm water. It was, indeed, horrific.

Hanna Baker is a fictional character, but her plight is far from pretend. She was hounded by classmates, bullied online, and was labeled a “slut” after a football jock posted a random shot of her dress flying up when she came down a sliding board during her date with him. He intimated in his online post that Hanna was “easy.” Hanna’s problems worsened when she was raped by another member of the football team. On each side of the cassette tapes, she exposed one person (one “reason”) why she decided to end her life. Her thirteen excuses. Teenage angst is a very real and difficult emotion. Hanna, as are many teens, was trying to find meaning in what she felt was an already meaningless existence. Her worldview was that life was without purpose. The fault of the story depicted in Thirteen Reasons Why is its lack of providing meaning, hope, or the option of seeking treatment.

From a Biblical Perspective

Developing a biblical worldview involves both a mindset and a willset. First, how does the Bible explain and interpret my life and the world around me? Once this question is answered and accepted, the next aspect of a biblical worldview presents the challenge of putting this view into practice. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis for our decisions and actions. Worldview leads to values, which lead to actions. Beliefs clearly shape our behavior.

Man’s attempts to explain his existence are just that: man’s attempts. Within the world, man’s experience and perceptions of the infinite universe are limited and inadequate. We need help from the “outside.” This is what a biblical worldview is. Help from the outside. More fundamental than any worldview that can be delineated by ideas and propositions is the religious or faith orientation of the heart. There are only two basic commitments, leading to two basic conditions of life: “man converted to God,” and “man averted from God.” The commitment one makes is decisive for all life and thoughts. From a Christian perspective,  worldview is not so much a matter of theoretical thought expressed in propositions, but is a deeply rooted commitment of the heart. Theory and practice are a product of the will, not the intellect; of the heart, not the head.

How Would My Life be Different if I Lived Out my Convictions?

I have spent most of my life manipulating others. For reasons best understood by reading my testimony, https://theaccidentalpoet.net/about/, I felt the need to hide, run away, or escape. I had a difficult time telling the truth, and, because of a victim mentality, I was able to rationalize my behavior. I became a born-again Christian at age 13, but never fully developed a relationship with, nor the mind of, Christ. When I began escaping through drugs and alcohol, I set off down a road that ultimately took me until August of last year to get off of and head in the right direction.

How could I act in such a callous and selfish manner if I was a Christian? I now understand the reason. One of my sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous kept saying, “I hope you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Each time I heard that, I became defensive. Who are you to tell me I don’t have God in my heart? My former pastor said the same thing when he commented, “You don’t seem to have a heart for God.” What? I continued becoming defensive.  Several things happened over the past year that finally got through to me

First, I returned to the church of my youth where I accepted Christ. Within a few months, our church got a new pastor from New Jersey. Pastor Mike is exactly what I needed. He has a wealth of experience counseling Christians struggling with addiction. In our several one-on-one meetings, he has been able to help me restructure how I see my addiction and the many excuses I was holding on to as justification. He has also helped me take a different approach to my chronic back pain. He made an amazing statement: “Have you ever considered that your chronic pain gives you the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ?” Whoa!

Last August I made the ridiculous decision to “help myself” to some of my mother’s oxycodone. Unfortunately, this was not the first (or second, or third) time I’ve done so. The result was serious damage to my relationship with her and the rest of my family. Interestingly, this is something I feared would happen if I did not stop using drugs. Especially using mom’s medication! I remain estranged from the family, and can only continue on my road to recovery, turning my relationship with the family over to Christ. I know I am delivered from the bondage of addiction. I have to live that freedom all over again each day. One day at a time.

Luke 6:45 is a Scripture I meditate on daily. It is very convincing, and seems to confirm what my former pastor and a former sponsor said regarding my lack of having God in my heart. The verse states, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” God is concerned about the hidden man of the heart, which is our inner life. Our inner life is what we think about. And like the Scriptures above indicate, how we live and who we are.

A Change of Behavior Requires a Change of Heart

It says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Why do we sin, do bad things, and make mistakes? Because of our heart, which the Bible says is desperately wicked. Why do so many people struggle with drugs and pornography, returning again and again to these sins and vices even though they know their lives are being ruined by them? Because our heart often leads us astray. We cannot live perfect lives, and we cannot save ourselves from the punishment that we deserve. Moreover, it is impossible to deny the flesh, resist temptation, and stop living a self-centered and sinful life without a true change of heart.

Can this explain my constant relapsing over nearly forty years? Can it account for my selfishness? The disrespect and dishonor I’ve shown toward my parents and siblings? Does it help explain how I can “believe” and “speak” about Christ and recovery while secretly using drugs? Worldview, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is how we think about the world and our place in it. This basic belief establishes our values, which directly control our actions.

O Lord, how heartily sorry I am for failing to establish the proper Christian worldview, and to hide your Word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.

It is only through my embracing a true Christian perspective and asking Christ to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh that I can hope to act from a position of love and respect.