“We Have Lost the Vertical.”

“When you think of it, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You’ve asked them, I’ve asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. ‘How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?'”—Ravi Zacharias.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I AGREE WITH RAVI ZACHARIAS: There has been a drastic impact from man’s decision to look within for meaning, purpose, and morality. We have lost our vertical orientation toward God. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical  debate known to man. The greatest battles over the course of history have been over control of the heart of mankind, which is the basic currency of politics and culture. Zacharias believes, “Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species” (1). We say No one is going to tell me what to believe! Our inner turmoil is rooted in the fact that we are a worshiping people, with an innate desire, an instinct and impulse hardwired into us, to seek and understand God. Yet we debate whether the concepts of origin, purpose, morality, and destiny should rest with us (relative to culture, history, circumstance) or with God based upon ontological truth.

“What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and a down.”—Ravi Zacharias

The remarkable harmony Adam and Eve enjoyed with God and the whole of creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, was broken the moment they decided to look within for meaning and purpose; for the definition of right and wrong. Chandler writes, “While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles” (2). God’s very first commandment issued in the Garden—Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—does not mean God wants to subdue us and is unwilling to share His “knowledge” with us. To the contrary, He is aware of the insurmountable task of systematically evaluating right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, from a human perspective. We lack the ability to perceive and handle the thousands of nuances involved in determining ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. It’s so easy to become embroiled in arguments relative to these issues. Some of the most infamous broken relationships in history have been over arguments gone wrong.

Most biblical scholars  agree that God gave us free will. What they cannot agree on is how to best define the concept of free willexactly how it operates in our lives. Sadly, our desire to know and control things cost us dearly. Adam and Eve enjoyed a glorious relationship with God: walking with Him in the cool of the day. God provided our First Parents with the freedom to choose. I believe He wants us to choose Him rather than be forced to believe and obey. Accordingly, God said to Adam, “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” (Gen. 2:16-17, NRSV) (emphasis mine).

Essentially, our First Parents staged a mutiny. A tug-of-war began between man and God at the very beginning. Chandler believes this cosmic argument with God has left a “shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but shalom itself” (3)Zacharias believes the moment Adam and Eve chose to look within for purpose, meaning, and knowledge, mankind headed down the slippery slope of secularism, humanism, and moral relativism. Secular and humanistic worldviews say, “We don’t need God!” Moral relativism says, “That might be true for you, but it’s not true for me!” 

“Faith gives the understanding access to these things, unbelief closes the door upon them… A right faith is the beginning of a good life, and to this also eternal life is due. Now it is faith to believe that which you do not yet see; and the reward of this faith is to see that which you believe.”—Augustine of Hippo

The Enlightenment

Skepticism and doubt reign supreme in Western civilization today. When the Enlightenment emerged in Europe in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, emphasis was put on reason and individualism rather than doctrine and tradition. Leaders during this era ( Descartes, Locke, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau) taught that reason was the power by which humans can understand the universe and improve their own condition. Enlightenment involved the use and celebration of reason, the power by which mankind attempts to understand the universe and improve the condition of man here on earth. Immanuel Kant sought truth through “pure reason.”

Enlightenment stressed both reason and independence, and elicited a pronounced distrust of authority. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the most important human attribute was rationality. This sounds like a fairly innocuous term: the quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic. The difference between man’s logic and God’s is this: Christian rationalism attempts to strengthen not only the physical body, but the spirit as well; enlightening human beings by means of the spirituality it defends. It focuses on spiritual evolution, without prejudices or dogmas. Specifically, the Christian rationalist believes Scripture is the foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the only reliable foundation for all logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. The Word of God is intended to be the mind’s bedrock, its compass. This is an a priori argument: relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience. This is akin to saying we cannot trust what we see.

Brad Inwood said, “The Enlightenment devalues prejudices and customs, which owe their development to historical peculiarities rather than to the exercise of reason. What matters to the Enlightenment is not whether one is French or German, but that one is an individual man, united in brotherhood with all other men by the rationality one shares with them” (4). We can see in this statement that the authority of the church and of Scripture began to be questioned. A period of objective inquiry concerning the world and mankind ensued as a result of this philosophy. Of course, reading between the lines reveals an attitude that subjective inquiry (no matter the subject matter it pursues) is “illogical.” Inwood added, “Beliefs are to be accepted only on the basis of reason, not on the authority of priests, sacred texts, or tradition.” Alas, this was the Age of Reason.

To its credit, Enlightenment believes in some immutable Truth waiting to be discovered by experience, unbiased reason, or the methods of science. The downside of this worldview is its tendency to define such ontological truth through human reason, or on empirical evidence alone. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality. It is part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. Skeptics of this school of thought believe that “truth” is always relative to cultural, group, or personal perspectives. This is essentially known as moral relativism. Further to this is the concept that we interpret our experienced reality through a pair of conceptual glasses—situation, personal goals, past experiences, values, the body of knowledge we possess, the nature of language, the zeitgeist, and so forth.

Theological determinism is a form of predestination which states that all events that happen are preordained or predestined to happen, typically by a divine will. Some call this “destiny.” Friedrich Nietzsche was against determinism. He said, “Every man is a unique miracle; we are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. Freedom makes us responsible for our characters just as artists are responsible for their creations.” Nietzsche and other Enlightenment thinkers believed if man lives according to the morals or the will of a divine being, then he is a slave. They believed everyone who wishes to be free must become free through his or her own endeavor. In other words, freedom does not fall into anyone’s lap as a miraculous gift.

The Most Important Question

Rationalism, empiricism, agnosticism, idealism, positivism, existentialism, and phenomenology are all part of the discipline of epistemology: the study of how we know. It is certainly helpful to ask “how,” but it is the why that contains the basis for existence. Why are we here in the first place? While science is equipped to answer the how of life, it is not qualified to answer the why. Zacharias believes the points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic; they are foundational. For example, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. There is an intellectual side to life, but there is also a side where deep needs are experienced. Sorrow often occurs when we fail to understand why things are happening to us.

More consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.—Mortimer Adler

I am most impressed by how succinctly Ravi Zacharias expresses the four fundamental questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? These questions fall into four basic categories: origin, meaning, morality, destiny. Regardless of our worldview, each of us longs to answer these fundamental queries. Moreover, how we answer them has a direct impact on our actions! For instance, relativism says, “That might be true for you, but not for me.” Whatever is of significance is reduced to value according to the preferences and biases of this or that person, culture, or point in history. This is actually an offshoot of naturalism. If nature is all there is, then there can be no transcendent or absolute source of moral truth, and we are left to construct our own morality. By definition, morality would be contingent upon the person, situation, or moment in time. Obviously, this makes for a rather murky and ambiguous existence!

According to Thomas Hobbes’s concept of empiricism, “mind” is nothing more than the sum total of a person’s thinking activities. Chemical signals received in the dendrites from the axons that contact them are transformed into electrical signals, which add to or subtract from electrical signals from all the other synapses, thus making a decision about whether to pass on the signal elsewhere. Electrical potentials then travel down axons to synapses on the dendrites of the next neuron and the process repeats. Based on this basic neuroscience, Hobbes denied the existence of a “non-material” mind. Accordingly, he concluded there are no objective moral properties or concepts. Instead, there is only what seems good and pleasing for the individual.

Thinking “Christianly”

Nancy Pearcey introduces the concept of thinking Christianly in her book Total Truth. She addresses this idea under the heading “Divided Minds,” indicating that many Christians today are dual-minded, caught up in the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting their faith to the so-called “religious sphere” while adopting whatever secular views they’re exposed to in their daily lives. Harry Blamires, in his seminal book The Christian Mind, makes a very troubling and profound statement: 

There is no longer a Christian mind!

What does that mean? Blamires believes Christians often lack a proper biblical worldview. Certainly, as spiritual beings most Christians continue to follow a biblical ethic of prayer and worship, studying Scripture, and sharing the gospel with others. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has fallen prey to secularism. I realize that sounds strange, but it is no less true. Unfortunately, many believers tend to hold a secular point of view in everyday matters. They get sucked into conversations laden with secular or scientific principals and participate mentally as if they are not Christians, espousing concepts and categories typically held by non-believers. Ravi Zacharias says, “Christianity is a belief grounded in freedom. It is also, and here is where it contrasts most sharply with humanism, a belief in an absolute” (3). Secularism and humanism are tied to a relativist viewpoint regarding truth and morality—all value is reduced to value according to the preferences, biases, and circumstances of a particular person, culture, or age.

According to Pearcey, “Thinking Christianly means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.” Augustine of Hippo said, “Moral character is assessed not by what a man knows but by what he loves.” This puts a new perspective on these words spoken by Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NRSV). Paul said, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Christians like to focus on the latter part of verse 17—the promise of glory. Spiritual growth demands that we do not jump ahead. Growth requires baby steps; increments of progress. Just like academic programs in college, there are prerequisites for each level.

Our sanctification as Christians begins by suffering and dying with Christ. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). There is a specific order to our sanctification: we must first die to this world in order to live with Christ in His resurrection. It is only through dying to self that we can live through Christ. This is how we are able to live our theology and not just learn it. Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying, and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” Pearcey believes it is nearly impossible for non-believers to  accept Christianity solely in the abstract. As believers, we know what the gospel looks like when lived out in practice. Hart says theology, far from being esoteric and inaccessible, must be rooted in basic elements of human existence (4).

True theology must be a lived theology or it is merely a collection of information. Close study of the Pauline epistles reveals a subtle movement from the indicative to the imperative; from theological theories to practical applications. This is at the core of Paul’s remark, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is only through Scripture that we learn how sin corrupts our very interpretation of reality. John Henry Newman draws a very smart conclusion in this regard: “Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.” Kevin Vanhoozer believes as Christians we must learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply, passionately, and truthfully in the drama of redemption. Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy.

Concluding Remarks

I think one of the most profound statements contained in Scripture is “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (MSG). There are fewer powerful hindrances to spiritual growth than pride and self-sufficiency. The hardest lesson I learned during four decades of active addiction was thinking I was unique; smarter than the average bear. Every time I tried to manage my addiction, it kicked me to the gutter. Not only did I end up getting drunk or high, I betrayed the very tenet of Christianity: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

It is pride that led to disobedience in the Garden. Adam and Eve decided to look to themselves for meaning, purpose, and morality rather than to God. This is when man lost his vertical orientation and chose to define good and evil from a secular or humanist perspective. The result has been constant posturing and arguing over ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. To the secularist, morality is contingent upon circumstance. However, Scripture is the only reliable foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the basis for logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. Scripture is intended to be the bedrock of existence; mankind’s compass. Christianity provides the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject and every situation. We can only become grounded in truth by thinking with the mind of Christ. This is what Nancy Pearcey means by thinking Christianly.

Footnotes

(1) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2017), 15.

(2) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 112.

(3) Zacharias, 162.

(4) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 79.

 

 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Calvin vs. Arminius

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. 

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

For the purposes of this exercise, and not necessarily as a reflection of what you really believe, assume the stance of either an Arminian or a Calvinist. From the point of view of your chosen perspective, present and develop two ideas: (1) the one which is most convincing to you about the Calvinist or Arminian perspective and (2) the one with which you struggle the most regarding that perspective.

Concerning the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, we must remember these schools of thought address two distinct issues: (1) free will and ability to choose one’s actions; and (2) election, or God’s choice, as to whom He saves. Calvinism and Arminianism both support the idea of the total depravity of man, to include an inability to choose how to behave. We cannot be saved by the Law. Rather, the Law merely informs us of our inability to “behave” ourselves into righteousness. Arminianism supports universal redemption (general atonement) and conditional election, whereas Calvinism believes in limited (definite) atonement and unconditional election. Calvin is best noted, of course, for adherence to “predestination.” After the Fall, man stood condemned before God. God chose and called “some” who would be saved.

Arminians believe God’s election depends on man’s free will because it is based on His foreknowledge. God does, in fact, see all time at the same time as noted by Grudem. [1] The apostle Peter said we are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, RSV). Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Arminians are clear that individuals must accept God’s calling to be saved. It is not a matter of being predestined or chosen “ahead of time.” It is interesting to note, however, that this doctrine (universal salvation) is not necessarily supported by Scripture. Since Jesus died for all, Arminians argue that all will be saved. First Corinthians 6:9-11 says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God; further, only those who are washed (sanctified, justified) by the blood of Jesus will be saved.

Taking the position of Calvinism, I would have to believe the “call” of God on our lives is resistible—we can reject Jesus or accept Him. However, once we accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the internal leading of the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, achieving God’s purpose in our lives and giving us a measure of grace to be able to choose. We can stand on the belief that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We’re made “spiritually alive” with a new ability to see God’s plan for our redemption and the place of Jesus in that plan. This call is so wonderful and appealing that it becomes impossible to say no to God. This is not a violation of our free will because we didn’t really have it in the first place; our will was corrupted by original sin. Martin Luther believed even the most excellent of men—endowed with the Law, righteousness, wisdom, and all virtues—is nonetheless ungodly and unrighteous. Due to the innate nature of sin, man cannot consistently choose to act righteously, if at all. [2]

Paul gave the example that many Jews were without faith who were most wise, most religious, and most upright. He said they had a “zeal” for God yet were transgressors of the Law. He wrote in Romans 3:9-10 that the Jew was no better than the Gentile; both are under the power of sin. No one is righteous on their own. This fits well with Paul’s remark that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities; rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Because we all are Adam, we need salvation. Adam’s offense comes to us not by imitation, nor necessarily by anything we do (although we do sin, sometimes habitually); rather, we receive our sin nature by birth. Luther believed original sin “does not allow ‘free-will’ any power at all except to sin and incur condemnation.” [3] Therefore, he rejected the notion of free will. He believed this conclusion is well supported by Scripture, especially in the writings of John and Paul.

Grudem quotes Peter, who called Jesus, “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet. 2:8, emphasis added). Peter says in verse 10, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” Grudem says in a footnote related to verse 8, “The ‘destining’ in this verse is best taken to refer to both the stumbling and the disobedience. It is incorrect to say that God only destined the fact that those who disobey would stumble.” [4] Grudem notes that Calvin gives some room for man’s “free” acts and choices. Calvin admitted, however, that this statement is a bit confusing, causing him to avoid using it. Instead, man has “this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.” [5]

For me, this idea of “will” can mean only one thing: man acts wickedly by deciding to reject the Light of Christ and remain in darkness. He is compelled by his sin nature to act the only way he can—in an ungodly and unrighteous manner. Admittedly, some men choose to act justly or “God-like” at times, but no man is capable of decidedly obeying the Law and acting righteously in a consistent manner. He is not compelled or tempted to do so by God. James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Grudem notes that God has made us responsible for our actions, reminding us that our actions have real and eternal consequences. He notes that Adam blamed Eve for his own disobedience, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Scripture, as Grudem notes, never blames God for sin. Regardless, He accomplishes all things (no matter their impetus) according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In the case of Job, God pulled back and allowed Satan to attack Job in any manner He chose (including wiping out his livestock, killing his wife and children), but He would not allow the devil to kill Job. This type of issue gives me pause. It is easy, at least in my human intellectual capacity, to think God willed (therefore, caused) evil on Job’s animals and his family. Innocent people died for God’s point to be made. However, when I consider the horror and evil inflicted upon Jesus during the last twelve hours of His life (what we consider the “passion”), and when I play it out to the end, seeing that mankind could only be redeemed through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, I have an easier time understanding what is meant by God using whatever happens to accomplish His will.

Grudem says, “In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on human experience and intuition, not on specific texts of Scripture.” [6] Note that Grudem uses the term “ordained by God,” and does not say God performed the evil act itself. This speaks of the means through which He achieves His intended result. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We’re made in such a way, however, that God ordains all we do. The Calvinist would endorse the theory that God does not sin but brings about His will through secondary causes, including the immorality of others. We should accept that whatever God ordains is within His purview and His authority.

Calvin distinguishes between “necessity” and “compulsion.” He notes that unbelievers necessarily sin. Scripture supports this, as does Martin Luther. There is, however, no “Godly compulsion” to sin. There is simply God’s ability to use whatever happens to further His will and promote His glory. What I find most difficult to grasp regarding Calvinism is the idea that God “predetermined” who will be saved and who will not. Perhaps this is a gross misinterpretation of “predeterminism.” The concept that, before the foundation of the world, God predestined a plan of redemption is about the plan and not a prior decision who He will accept and who He will reject. In addition, because God sees the past, the present, and the future all at once, He already knows who will be saved. The responsibility still remains with each individual to either accept or reject the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will, trans. By James I. Packer(Old Tappan, NJ:       Fleming H. Revell Co.), 1957.

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 168.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 275.

[3] Ibid, p. 298.

[4] Grudem, p. 327.

[5] P. 330.

[6] P. 343.

Sin’s Lost Dominion

Romans

Paul began his letter to the Romans by setting forth the theme: The righteousness of God (see Romans 1:1-17). In this letter, Paul tells us how to be right—with God, ourselves, and others. Paul also explains to us how one day God will make all of creation right. This is what is meant by restoration, the biblical meaning of which is “to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.” This type of restoration is broader in scope than the standard dictionary definition. The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure. Throughout the Bible, God blesses people for their faith and hardships by making up for their losses and giving them more than they had previously. Job comes to mind.

Romans was not written for daydreamers or religious sightseers. We have to think as we study Romans, but the rewards will be worth our effort. If we grasp the doctrinal message of Romans, we’ll have the key to understanding the rest of the Bible. Moreover, we will have the secret of successful Christian living. In fact, Paul sent this letter to believers in Rome in order to provide them with a clear declaration of Christian doctrine. We need to reexamine our commitment to Christ as we read Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Chapter 6 is a crucial part of Romans. Paul wanted believers to understand that when we’re saved, we become new creations in Christ. We are granted access to the mind of Christ. In fact, we’re told to put on the mind of Christ. It is with this in mind that Paul says believers must die to sin and live to God. He presses the importance of holiness in the first two verses of Romans 6.

Freedom From Sin’s Grasp
Sin’s Power is Broken

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV).

If God loves to forgive us and wash us in the blood of His Son, why not give Him more to forgive? If forgiveness is guaranteed, do we not have the freedom to sin as much as we desire to? Paul’s forceful answer, of course, is By no means! Such an attitude—deciding ahead of time to take advantage of the grace of God—shows that a person does not understand the seriousness of sin and its consequences. It is akin to premeditation. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. God’s forgiveness does not make sin less serious; His Son’s death for our sin shows us the dreadful seriousness of sin. It is not something to be trifled with. Accordingly, God’s mercy must not become an excuse for careless living and moral laxness.

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Paul does not explain away the free grace of the Gospel, but he shows that justification and holiness are inseparable. The very thought that sin should continue simply to ensure that grace might thrive was abhorred by Paul. He taught that true believers are dead to sin, meaning they’ve been freed from bondage through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s point was that although we cannot out-sin the grace of God, we must reckon our bodies dead to sin—we should no longer be dominated by it. After all, as Romans 6:6 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (NIV).

Buried With Him; Raised With Him

“That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! ” (Romans 6:3-6, MSG).

The above translation is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It is quite compelling. When we’re a new creation in Christ we develop a desire to become one with Him. The best way to express that underlying desire to others is through a change in character and a modification of behavior. We become willing to follow His commands. Baptism teaches the necessity of dying to sin, and being buried from all ungodly and unholy pursuits. We rise to walk with God in newness of life.

Romans 6:10 tells us, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (NIV). Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Romans, “From this we clearly see what the words of the Apostle mean. All such statements as: 1. ‘We are dead to sin,” 2. ‘We live unto God,’ etc., signify that we do not yield to our sinful passions and sin, even though sin continues in us. Nevertheless, sin remains in us until the end of our life, as we read in Galatians 5:17: ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.'” However, Luther adds, “But to hate the body of sin and to resist it, is not an easy, but a most difficult task.”

A Living Sacrifice

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourself to God as those who have brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14, NIV).

The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible footnote for Romans 6:12 says, “Having proved the sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles and that both must be redeemed alike by Christ through faith and grace, Paul now takes up the argument of the divine method of dealing with sin and the secret of a victorious holy life… the questions come up that if salvation is free and apart from works—if the more heinous the sins the more abundant the grace to pardon—then may we not go on in sin so that the grace of God may become magnified? God forbid” (p. 287).

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Luther notes in his preface to Commentary on Romans, “This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (p. 101). He states in the body of his Commentary that we are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death, we merely strive to obtain the blessings of this death and to reach our goal of glory.

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourself to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:15-18, NIV).

Paul is describing licentiousness in the above passage. Literally, a license to sin. You’ll notice Paul asks the same question he put to the Romans in verse one, just in case they didn’t get it. This time he expands on the slavery example that he mentioned in verse seven. In verses fifteen through eighteen he states that the master you choose leads either to righteousness and life or to sin and death. One way or the other, we will serve somebody. The option to live life without serving either sin or righteousness is not open to us.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, says “So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want?” (Romans 6:15, MSG). This is a rather eye-opening interpretation of Paul’s words. Since we’re free in the sanctification of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. I believe Paul’s intent is to clarify the fact that if we offer ourselves to sin it will be our last free act.

Paul is telling us the buzzword for this section of Chapter 6 is yield. It means “to place at one’s disposal, to present, to offer as a sacrifice.” The flow of Paul’s argument in Romans is to first set forth the fallen condition of all men, then the Gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is appealing to the believers in Rome to offer themselves unto God, bowing to His will for them, because of all that God has done for them. Also, it’s important to note that Paul is focusing on “living sacrifices” instead of the dead sacrifices God required under the Law of Moses (see Romans 12:1).

Sin Shall Not Reign

Paul’s point is this: “That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God” (Romans 6:12-14, MSG). Luther writes, “This is understood not only of lusting after earthly goods and temporal possessions, but also of aversion to temporal affliction and adversity. He who has Christ by faith does not desire the things of this world, no matter how greatly they may allure Him” (p. 104).

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This doesn’t mean we become unaffected by temptation just because we’re saved by grace. We are susceptible to both pleasure and displeasure. The key is to refuse to let sin reign in our lives. Again, we are not under the Law but under grace. This is true because the Law has been fulfilled by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (NIV). Luther notes Paul’s point as follows. “The apostle here meets the objection: How can anyone resist the onslaught of sin and passion? To this he replies: Sin shall not have dominion over you nor triumph over you, no matter how fiercely it may tempt and assail you, provided you do not yield to it. But he who is without faith in Christ is always dominated by sin, even when he does good…” (p. 105) [Italics added].

Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful tendencies of his heart, in actions which lead to death, or the new and spiritual obedience implanted by regeneration. Paul rejoices in verse 18: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (NIV). We have a new Master if we want to obey Him. We became enslaved to righteousness. God gave us a new Master; not a license to sin. Paul told the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (NIV). As believers, we have been purchased from the bonds of slavery to sin.

Concluding Remarks

When we accept Christ as Savior and confess our faith in Him, our past is blotted out through His atoning blood. Regardless of the nature of our offenses. Our past literally disappears from the sight of God. Psalm 103:10-12 tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV).

When we’re born again, we identify ourselves with Jesus in His crucifixion. We can honestly say, “I am crucified.” Surely, we have no nail holes in our hands and feet, no scar in our side, but in a “legal” sense, as God looks upon us, He sees us crucified with Christ. We are not only crucified with Christ in His death, we are raised up with Him in his resurrection, unto a new creation. When we die with Christ, we die to our anger and resentment. Illicit lusts and desires are dealt with. Unclean habits no longer hold power over us. But let us not forget that just because we are born again we are not incapable of sinning. It is imperative that we identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We must decide that we have been quickened—raised up together with Christ in new life. Only then will we be able to face the demonic powers of Satan. Our mantra must be Sin shall not have dominion over me because I have been raised from spiritual death with Christ.

References

Kennedy, F., Germaine, A., and Dake, Jr., F. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Luther, M. (1954). Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Understanding the Concept of Sin

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WHY WAS THE INCARNATION of Jesus necessary? Did He have to die? Was it necessary for Him to die in such a way as to cause the shedding of His blood? Did atonement require the death of a divine being? Was His resurrection from the dead a necessary aspect of atonement, or was death alone sufficient?  How did His death relate to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament? What is our part in atonement?

The Apostle Paul on the Crucifixion

Paul’s view of atonement is the substructure of his theology. He writes that he knew nothing among the Corinthians except “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). This, of course, includes Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Paul defines “the Gospel” as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Of course, the central focus of Paul’s ministry was atonement for all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews. As a rabbi, Paul understood the life and death of Jesus in the context of Israel, the Old Testament people of God who had been created and prepared for the purpose of bringing the Messianic Redeemer into the world.

What is Sin in the Old Testament?

Sin necessitates atonement. The Book of Hebrews is based on the concept of the conditional nature of atonement in the Old Testament. The fact that Jesus’ death redeemed people from transgressions committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 8:5) emphasizes the point that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4, NRSV). Of course, the Law made nothing perfect (see Hebrews 7:10). Priests under the old covenant system of sacrifice offered “repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).

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Atonement in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was primarily for the day-by-day violations of ritual and religious precepts described in Leviticus 1-5 and not for violations of conscience, sins of the heart and mind, as delineated by Jesus and the New Testament. These kinds of sins had no daily sacrificial offering for atonement. The specific purification and expiation sought under the old covenant applied almost solely to cases devoid of intrinsic moral quality. In other words, “sin offering” was not being made by the Old Testament priests for what we know today as sin.

This begs the question, What is sin? In order to address this matter, it is important to note that [and this came as a shock to me] the Old Testament has no general word for sin like the New Testament. Sin in the Old Testament is both a falling away from a relationship of faithfulness toward God and also disobedience to the commandments and the Law. The former is described as unfaithfulness to God’s covenant, the latter is a violation of God’s word and command. In both cases man shuts himself off from fellowship with God and becomes God-less. Although, in the Jewish use of the word, a man may “sin” without meaning to and even without knowing it, the “sinner” in the New Testament sense relates to the man who knowingly and willfully transgresses or ignores the revealed will of God persistently or habitually. Perhaps a good example of such willful sin is choosing to continue a life of theft and deception in order to support living a life of active addiction.

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, intentional sins were not atoned for by the regular sacrifices. Numbers 15:30-31 says, “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the LORD and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the LORD’S word and broken His commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them” (NKJV). It would seem that for such sins committed “with a high hand”—willfully and defiantly with arrogance—no expiation is provided. Such sins caused a person to be “utterly cut off, his guilt is upon him.” I think this helps put the wrath of God into perspective.

Consider the two classes of sin that hattath (the Hebrew term for “sin offering”) is prescribed for:

Ignorant or Inadvertent Transgression. Violation of certain prohibitions (“taboos”), including some in which we see a moral character—e.g., incest—but not all moral wrongs. This category does not include the commonest offenses against morals.

Purification of Various Kinds. The special sacrifices called sin offerings have a very limited range of employment. They are prescribed chiefly for unintentional ceremonial faults or as purification; the trespass offering is even more narrowly restricted. The great expiation for the whole people, at least in later times, was the scape-goat; not any usual form of sacrifice.

What is Sin in the New Testament?

When we look at the concept of sin in the New Testament, a different perspective emerges. Paul does not clearly define sin. It is clear, however, that he also does not see sin as primarily an offense against other people; for him sin is primarily an offense against God. The predominant conception of the nature of sin in the Bible is that of personal alienation from God. In Paul’s mind, the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that Jesus provides something which the saints of the Old Testament yearned for but could never find: Real and certain victory over sin. C.L. Mitton, in Atonement, writes, “It is sin which has created the need for atonement, because sin, besides corrupting the heart and deadening the conscience and making man increasingly prone to sin again, causes man to be estranged from God, separated from God by an unseen barrier, a dividing wall of hostility” (see Ephesians 2:14) [Emphasis added].

Words for Sin in the New Testament

Sin is a multifaceted concept expressed by many different terms in the New Testament. Leon Morris, in Sin, Guilt, writes, “There are more than thirty words in the New Testament that convey some notion of sin, and Paul employs at least twenty-four of them.”

Formal Terms Indicating Deviation from the Good

  • Miss a mark (Greek, hamartia), miss one’s aim, a mistake; the idea of sin in the abstract (Romans 3:23; 5:12). It is the most frequent word in the New Testament for sin.
  • Results of missing the mark (Greek, hamartêma), referring to individual actions. The word is from the same root as hamartia. Both words appear in a variant reading of 2 Peter 1:9 in Greek manuscripts.
  • Guilty or wicked person (Greek, harmartôlos), as noted in 1 Timothy 1:9, “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers” (NIV).
  • Transgression (of a line, Greek parabasis), passing the bounds God sets on human action, going beyond the norm. The Jews used this term for violations of the Law, but Gentiles do not transgress the Law because they are not under the Law. Romans 4:14-15 says, “For if those who depend on the Law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the Law brings wrath. And if there is no Law there is no transgression” (NIV).
  • Trespass (Greek, paraptôma), “falling away” from the divinely ordered course of duty, a false step. It can also be committed against other humans. In Classical Greek literature, it is a blunder or an error in measurement.
  • Ignorance (Greek, agnoêma) of what one should  have known (see Hebrews 9:7).

Terms With Theological Orientation

  • Lawlessness (Greek, anomia), nonobservance of a law (see 1 John 3:40). It appears opposite of righteousness (Greek, dikaiosynê), and is coupled with scandal (Greek, skandala), with hypocrisy (Greek, hypokrisis), with uncleanness (Greek, akatharsia), and with missing a mark (Greek, hamartia).
  • Breach of Law (Greek, paranomia).
  • Disobedience (Greek, parakoê) to a voice, namely, the voice of God (see Romans 5:10).
  • Ungodliness (Greek, asebeia), impiety, active irreligion, withholding prayer and service that is due God, considered by some the “most profoundly theological word for sin. It indicates offense against God in distinction from akikia, which refers to wrongdoing against mankind. Murray and Milne indicate this is “…perhaps the profoundest New Testament term… it implies active ungodliness or impiety.”

Terms Indicating Spiritual Badness

  • Active evil (Greek, ponêria), qualitative moral evil, wickedness, baseness, maliciousness. In the New Testament and early Christian literature, it is used only in the ethical sense. Satan is the evil one (Greek, ho ponêros).
  • Viciousness (Greek, kakia), qualitative moral evil, malice, evil disposition.
  • Unholy (Greek, anosios), wicked.
  • Defect (Greek, hêttêma), defeat, failure.
  • Scandal (Greek, skandalon). The RSV translates it “causes of sin” in Matthew 13:41, as well as “hindrance,” “temptations to sin,” or “stumbling blocks.”

Ethical and Juridical Terms

  • Unrighteousness (Greek, adikia), injustice, with ungodliness. Anomia is used when delineating wrong done to one’s neighbor. The term is translated variously in different contexts as injustice, unrighteousness, falsehood, wickedness, and iniquity, and us typically associated with sin.
  • Guilty or liable (Greek, enochos), a legal term in courts of law used for a particular wrong (1 Corinthians 11:27; Hebrews 2:15) or to declare one liable to judgment (Matthew 5:21).
  • Debt (Greek, opheilêma), indicating the burden of guilt that the sinner bears in the sight of God.

Atonement Theories

It must be noted that prior to Martin Luther and the Reformation, most Christian writers held that Jesus mediated the righteousness of the cross to mankind by means of the Mass. The church, with its sacramental system, was seen to stand in a position between God and humanity, controlling the access that humans have to God, and consequently the forgiveness that God mediates to humanity through that system. But consider the words in 1 Timothy 2:4-6: “He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned, that there is one God and only one, and only one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered Himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free” (MSG).

Many in the early church saw Jesus Christ as a martyr. Of course, the basic definition of martyr is a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion. Those who believe Jesus to be merely a martyr conclude that something good happens in our lives only as we follow Jesus. They conclude that Jesus inspires us to be like Him by virtue of what He did during his ministry. Accordingly, if we do nothing or believe nothing —if there’s no response on our part—then nothing actually took place at Calvary. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (NIV).

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Henry (1997) notes in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible that what happens to a new believer is “more than an outward reformation.” Henry indicates that God reconciled us to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Henry also notes that Christ who knew no sin was made Sin, not a sinner. This seems to indicate that something did indeed occur at the cross, in and of itself, regardless of any response on our part. Something objective happened at Calvary. To me, this is an ontological fact. In other words, the reality of atonement is inseparably bound to the time and place of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Water Color of Crucifixion

To say that salvation is based upon subjective reality—such as our response to Jesus’ sacrifice—is to say we are only redeemed through our works. This would indicate we have to complete that potentiality ourselves. According to this view, a person looks at the life of Jesus, tries to emulate that life, and by His example becomes a better person. There is nothing objectively supernatural (spiritual) in this view, nothing of God’s forgiveness based on an act of Christ’s atonement. From this perspective, forgiveness occurs only after one has become a “better person,” at which time God grants forgiveness and acceptance. This is the epitome of conditional love.

The belief that Christ becomes our Redeemer only when He is preached and accepted is appropriately designated existentialist in nature because it deals with what happens inside a person when that person makes a decision through faith. According to this view, when one takes what eminent theologian Søren Kierkegaard called “a leap of faith” and accepts Christ through faith, then something really happens. If we buy into this school of thought, we’re saying salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus is actually based upon our moral decision rather than the action (the very death, burial, and resurrection) of Jesus on the cross.

Final Thoughts

In attempting an explanation of the Atonement, it is important that we know something of what motivated the death of Christ. The idea that our Lord died a helpless martyr is nowhere taught in the Bible. Those who have no understanding or appreciation of Jesus Christ’s work for us, lack understanding also on the subject of the nature and effect of sin in all men. Many Scriptures teach clearly that the Atonement of Christ is an expiation of human sin. It is that sin which made the Atonement necessary. Christ became incarnate in order that He should die for human sin.

The objective view —which is the biblical view—emphasizes the actuality of atonement as a fact of history. Something objective happened at Calvary, whether anyone responds or not. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all that needed to occur. In the subjective view, by contrast, atonement is purely potential. It never occurs until someone believes and is responsive to the Gospel message. Without atonement, there is no redemption. Without redemption, there is no reconciliation. Without reconciliation, the relationship between God and man remains forever broken.


 

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.

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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.

 

The Cross

In today’s advanced aged of technology, terrorism, and the search for peace, there seems to be no concrete answer. People look for an outcome that will satisfy their needs, but forget to look in the Bible for answers from God. Even though the manuscripts are over 2,000 years old, they remain relevant for many generations, to include the present and future populations seeking peace within their hearts.

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The only man-made things in heaven are the scars on Jesus Christ. He was wounded and killed so that we could spend eternity with Him and our Father God. Because of our belief in the sacrifice Jesus endured, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins. It takes faith to believe in something we cannot see. In fact, Hebrews 11: 1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Most people only rely on tangible assets which they can touch, feel, and see.

We are to lead a Christian life, which includes love and sacrifice for the less fortunate. Eternity is forever, and where we choose to spend it is a personal choice that each person has to make on his or her own. The mistakes or confrontations we encounter daily in life bring us closer to God and His Son Jesus. Upon our request, the Holy Spirit will come along side us and provide a spiritual solution.

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The Cross is symbolic because it provides us with the solution of forgiveness for our sins, and empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us by their actions or words. Jesus died on the cross even though he healed the sick and taught His disciples how to lead a Christian life filled with love, kindness, forgiveness, and honoring God by being an example to unbelievers. Words certainly can hurt when the tongue speaks in anger, hatred, envy, or jealousy. The cross gives us the ability to lead a godly life.

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Without the Holy Spirit to guide us daily, we will be searching for answers we cannot find on our own. There is only one way to the cross; faith and belief that eternity has no end, and that we will be at peace, shalom, living with God forever. When we spend time in the Word daily, we find answers to life’s questions and how it all relates to God’s unconditional, everlasting love. The price for being forgiven of our sins has been paid in full by Jesus as He hung on the cross. God sent him to teach us how to live, and, ultimately, He showed us the unfathomable love of God, who sent His only begotten Son to hang on a cross in our place. Our transgressions have been forgiven, allowing us to spend eternity with our Creator.

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For since the creation of the world God’s visible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

The only way we can begin to thank God for this unbelievable sacrifice is to praise Him, allow Him into our hearts and lives, guiding us in this earthly world. We are to be a beacon. We are salt and light to the world. This is actually not an option. Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He did not say, “You can be” or “You have the potential to be.” He said, “You are the salt and the light.” Everyone who is born again is the salt and the light of the world. (See Matthew 15:13-16.) We are salt and light to the world, not the church. We are to go beyond the church  and share the Good News. We were saved to shine! We cannot hide our testimony. We have a story to tell. Jesus said we are to let our light shine before men so they might see our good works and choose to glorify God.

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Actually, as salt we Christians are to counteract the power of sin. As light we are to illuminate or make things obvious. Matters that need to be settled. Sin that needs to be exposed. We are to show others (believers and non-believers alike) that they should lay their burdens, their sin, their strongholds, their fears, their resentments at the foot of the cross. We have been crucified with Christ. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with a pure heart, when we love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), and when we do good without expectation of reward, we are shining lights. It is actually not our light, but a reflection of the Light of the Word, Jesus Christ.

We stand forgiven at the cross. We stand healed at the cross. We stand set free at the cross. The cross is the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. If you suffer from emotional problems – guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment – there is healing through the cross of Christ. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree. Clearly, God demands a penalty be paid for sin. Christ took that penalty upon Himself on the cross. The power of sin is too great. We cannot be delivered from it by turning over a new leaf. We can’t behave our way into heaven. Thankfully, we have a substitute, Jesus, who was a propitiation for our sins. When Christ died, those who believe in Him died too. We were identified with him in His death. When He rose from the dead, we were raised with Him into newness of life.

What happened at the cross shows us that God loves all people equally. He has a special place in His heart for those who are hurting – those who are under the penalty and power of sin. Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. It was, after all, a means of execution for centuries. In Christianity the cross is the intersection of God’s exacting judgment and his unparalleled love. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of the cross, those who put their trust and faith in Him have everlasting love. Through the cross, and the horrendous death endured by Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life.

Like a Roaring Lion, Seeking Whom He May Devour

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WHEN YOU YIELD YOURSELF to sin, you’re serving Satan, who is the author of sin. But when you yield yourself to obedience, you serve God, who is the author of righteousness.

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It’s easy to realize there are consequences (and rightly so) for what we do in everyday life, some worse than others. The impact is often multi-leveled. If you’re driving over the speed limit – something I used to do quite frequently – you could get a ticket or cause an accident. The speeding violation could cost you money and put points on your driver’s license. An accident could damage your car, other property or, worse yet, cost someone their life. Infidelity could cost your marriage, and typically leaves emotional scars on the couple and any children. Stealing a loaf of bread, even when out of necessity, puts you at risk for a criminal charge, which will blemish your record for years to come. Embezzling from your employer – one example from our local television station involved a bookkeeper taking nearly $100,000 from her employer – can land you in prison.

There’s much more to life than what we can see – the physical, natural, surface-level realm. Spiritual dynamics are constantly taking place around us. Frustration, resentment, unforgiveness – all can leave a blemish. Have you ever had a falling out with an individual, perhaps a family member? I am presently struggling with this very problem; something I brought on by my actions. It is easy to get embroiled in the dispute to the point that you cannot see your own part.  Pride goeth before the fall. Whether you recognize it or not, Satan is the one who influences us to respond in the wrong way.

Joyce Meyer, in her seminal book Battlefield of the Mind (1995), says, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7: ‘For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.'” Frankly, the longer I serve God and study the Bible, the more I realize the importance of God’s thoughts and words. Today, I long for finding the guidance and divine influence of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that as long as we are alive on this earth we will need to study what God’s Word teaches on the the various areas of thoughts and deeds.

Clearly, the devil is a liar. Jesus called him the father of lies and of all that is false. (John 8:44) He lies to you and me. He tells us things about ourselves, about other people, and about circumstances, that are just not true! He usually will not tell us the entire lie at one time. Instead, he begins by bombarding our mind with a cleverly devised pattern of propaganda, including a hierarchy of nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, fears, wonderings, reasonings, and theories. He moves slowly and cautiously – after all, well-laid plans take time. He has a strategy for his warfare. He has studied us for a long time, and he knows what will trip us up.

Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message says, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” The New King James Version states, “…your adversary walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

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Because we are in a spiritual battle, we cannot afford to indulge the “luxury” of strife. God is a God of peace. (Romans 15:33; 16:20) Regarding the creation of mankind, God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26; 2:7) He directly breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils. Consider that God’s intent, at the moment when He breathed his breath of life into man, was to impart His image on mankind in full measure. I believe it was then and there that man became an image bearer of God. He at least hoped man would be of peace and not of strife. It is likely at this point that God transferred His agape love, His unconditional love, unto mankind with the desire that man would handle his every interaction with his fellow man in accordance with the kind of love we’re told about in 1 Corinthians 13. This is clearly the ideal.

Our life should be full of peace, not animosity and disunity. Of course I’m not saying that we (after the Fall) will ever live totally free from all wrangling and dissension, hatred and jealousy, but we should never just accept these attitudes, like it’s “game over,” nor should we promote them through our behavior. We ought to actively stand against such things and fight, recognizing that every time we get into strife a door is opened for anything the enemy wants to do in our lives. Think I’m nuts? Hey, how many times (consider the recent news events involving mass shootings) has strife or jealousy or mistrust or bigotry led to outright massacre? Too often! Satan gains access to our daily lives whenever there’s strife, and he has a giant appetite for death and destruction. He’s quite pleased when mankind turns from love and acceptance to carnage and plunder.

AN ONGOING BATTLE

Whether you realize it or not, we are at war. We’re in a fight over our souls. A battle which has the potential to end in spiritual death. Satan is walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil is trying to destroy our lives, moment by moment, from within. This is no typical war. In this battle, the casualties are our souls. The devil desires to rip your soul right out of your chest and drag it into the darkness forever. Worse, he wants to do this to our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. Essentially to everyone. A scary component of this war is that every man, woman and child on the planet is being dragged into combat whether they like it or not. There is no escape.

I’m not making this up. I wish I were. If you are attending a church where your pastor is not telling you about this struggle, please consider seeking a new, Bible-filled church. Our church leaders need to be talking about this. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Satan is ready to do battle at the drop of a hat. Peter warns us to be alert and of sober mind because the devil is on the prowl.

This is hard stuff, and I don’t find any of it particularly comforting. I will say that I lived well over 50 years in ignorance of these facts, or, worse, stupidly unafraid. The battle for my soul really went into full swing when I could not let go of anger and resentment toward my father, or anyone who would challenge me, defy me, or disappoint me. I laughed at the warnings I was given about drugs and alcohol. Surely I was bigger than addiction. I gave over to strife, opening the door just a crack, only to have mental illness, delinquency, selfishness, bitterness and active addiction claim me. We all have these types of issues, and we’re all vulnerable to conquest from the devil. Consider it a draft into servitude if you will.

IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP

Most Christians do not want to face this reality or acknowledge the stakes. Certainly, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on; maybe the Bible is wrong. Perhaps it’s all just allegory and illustration. Perhaps we can just lethargically run out the clock and then float up into the heavens and stroll along streets of gold. When we get there, we think God will embrace us and hand us our “honorable mention” trophy or, for some of us, our “conduct above and beyond” plaque. Maybe, but what about the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 regarding those who thought they were Christians because they said so? The Scripture says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (NKJV)

You see, even Christians tend to sleep when their outward circumstances are most pleasant. A man doesn’t sleep when he discovers his hot water bottle has been leaking all over his bed, but when an electric blanket has warmed up his bed to the ideal temperature and he can curl up under the sheets. When all is soft and comfortable, then he will say, “Soul, soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.” Admit it, you’ve been there. And while there, you’ve closed your eyes to the bad things you’ve been through, as well what’s going on around you now, and the terrible days that lie ahead. I remember all the painful, lonely, out-of-control times. The many years of active addiction. The sense that nothing would ever get better. My addiction, my brokenness, forced me to the throne of grace. I dropped to my knees and surrendered. I engaged with addictions professionals, fellow addicts and alcoholics, my sponsor, my pastor. I returned to the church of my youth, where I was saved and baptized at age 13. I made a habit of taking notes during men’s Sunday school and during the pastor’s message. I typically do not miss an opportunity today to assemble with fellow believers.

Funny, but I suddenly felt alive, relevant. I was wide awake. More spiritually engaged than I can ever remember. Few men sleep with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning striking nearby; many more sleep on a calm night. Now I’m not one to be ungrateful when given an completely new life; when renewed and rescued, set on the correct path, forgiven by God yet again, one more time. Moreover, God has called me to serve despite my decades of selfish, deliberate, sinful behavior. I start every day with enthusiasm, completely cognizant of the possibilities. It’s still fresh for me, but I know the potential remains for complacency to set in. As an alcoholic and addict in recovery, and a psychology major headed to graduate school for a master’s in professional counseling, I have at least a “head knowledge” of what happens when we get comfortable. Even as Christians. We “settle in.” We fluff our pillows and relax.

Ironically, we can get to a point where we rely on God less than when we did back when our world was crashing down around us. We tend to pray less often, and hardly ever on our knees. We claim being too busy, but we rationalize, saying to ourselves, “At least I talk to God in the shower or while driving to my next appointment.” We become less aware of God’s hand on our life. When the evening news becomes too laden with bad stories, we simply turn it off. Thankfully, I belong to a praying church. Several Sundays ago, our church held a special service. Instead of worship and a message, we held a “prayer walk.” We began in the sanctuary, then, after some basic instructions and prayer, we headed to the gymnasium of our affiliate Christian school. (Our church also operates a Christian school, grades K-12, which was founded in 1974.) Our pastor and elders had set up more than twenty individual prayer tables around the gym. Needs ranged from the missions we directly support, to missionaries in Muslim countries, our military men and women around the globe – especially those serving within harms way of North Korea – the fight against terrorism, various diseases, hurricane victims in Texas and Florida, our Christian academy, all the public schools and colleges in our region, those in the grips of active addiction, and so on.

My point? Arouse yourselves. Don’t become satisfied or complacent. Stay in the fight. Is Satan asleep? Or those powers and principalities, rulers of the darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms? Are they less dangerous than they used to be? No! There is no trial half as bad as imagining we are free from all trials. There is no defeat so great as imagining we are living lives of constant victory despite the headlines. It is often after we get confident about our status as God’s children, and rest in cliches, that we sleep; that we let our guard down. There is extreme danger in slumbering in the face of ever-present evil. We cannot defend ourselves when we’re sleeping. Nor can we stand in intercessory prayer for those in danger around us. Let’s face it: We need to arouse ourselves. There is work to be done. Did you know that Bible-believing Christians have never been so well off in this country. We have the resources to get anything done we set our minds and hearts to. We have everything we need except the will to do it.

A FINAL THOUGHT

When someone robs a bank and the police surround the building, they sometimes take a hostage. A bank typically has a great deal of security – locks, vaults, cameras, armed guards, top-notch alarm systems. One person with a gun isn’t really sufficient to go in and overpower such security measures. In spite of this, if the thief grabs a hostage and puts a gun to the hostage’s head, the thief knows his demands will be met. The people who run the bank aren’t willing to see a hostage killed just to protect a pile of money. One person with a gun and clip of ammo can challenge a multitude of police and S.W.A.T with automatic weapons simply by placing the life of one person in jeopardy.

Satan knows he can never overpower God in a direct confrontation. However, he saw how God gave Adam and Eve unconditional authority. Suppose he could get them – of their own free will – to yield their authority to him? God created the universe, and breathed life into Adam. He gave Adam a partner, a help-mate, Eve. When Adam and Eve defied God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God had the right and the authority to simply push the reset button and start humanity all over again. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve, the devil, and all the angels caught up in Lucifer’s rebellion. Instead, He realized that to intervene in the affairs of this world in such fashion would violate his covenant with Adam and Eve. He had given dominion over the earth to Adam and his help-mate. And he gave them free will. If God intervened, He would have violated His Word.

What was God’s answer? Redemption. That’s a powerful word. Have you ever looked at its meaning? It means (i) the act of gaining or regaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt; (ii) the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. God had Adam’s attention. Indeed, He had his heart. He walked in complete harmony and fellowship with God. Nothing was wrong. Everything was beautiful. Exactly as God intended it to be. Then Satan took Adam and Eve hostage, plunging all of mankind into exile. Somehow, God had to regain possession of mankind. In the original Hebrew redemptio, redemption means repurchasing of captured goods or prisoners; the act of procuring the deliverance of persons or things from the possession and power of captors by the payment of an equivalent; ransom; release; as the redemption of prisoners taken at war; in theology, the purchase of God’s favor by the death and sufferings of Christ; the ransom or deliverance of sinners from the bondage of sin and the penalties of God’s violated law by the atonement of Christ.

Knowing that you were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless; the blood of Christ. – 1 Pet. 1:18-19

References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York, NY: AA Worldwide Services.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind. Fenton, MO: Warner Faith.

The Gospel: Part Two

THE FALL

The world was made for God’s glory, but His glory in creation was made manifest in man and woman, bearers of His image, who were created to take dominion over creation, to be the crown jewel of the material world. So when sin entered us, it entered the world. Original sin has effects beyond humanity; it affects the world, the cosmos. “The whole creation has been groaning.” (Romans 8:22) This is not just to remind us of the seriousness of rebellion against God, but to indicate that human rebellion against God disrupts the natural order of everything. This is why the Gospel must be explicitly about the restoration of God’s image bearers and also about the restoration of the entire theater of His glory, the cosmos.

There is a vital connection between Adam’s disobedience and the Fall of the very earth itself in Genesis 3, as God pronounces the curse:

“And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the food. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat the bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV)

The harmony that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God’s creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, is not broken. “Cursed is the ground because of you.” The fracture between Adam and creation reflects the fracture between God and Adam. Where Adam’s work was toil-less, it is now toilsome. While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles. And while Adam was once bestowed with imperishable flesh, his sin limits the life span of his body. Having rejected God’s blessings, he has chosen to place his hope in the dust from which he was fashioned.

We know Adam and Eve were placed as the crowns of God’s good creation, but as the crown goes, so goes the creation. Their sin brings the curse to us all, and the curse is found far as east is from west. What Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall is often referred to by the Hebrew word shalom. The fullness of this word means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. There is a sense of soundness, and an absence of agitation or discord; a state of calm without anxiety or stress. Shalom has been said to be God’s word for total satisfaction in life. This is the abundant life Jesus promised! (John 10:10)

The order God established in creating the universe and us as its inhabitants is certainly reflected in the Law – it is there summarized in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but it is bigger than mere legal commands. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were stewards of the creation God had given them in a way that accurately reflected God’s glory. The way they cultivated the garden, tirelessly drawing forth from it the very best of fruits, was a reflection of the way God drew forth Adam and Eve’s best. The whole place ran like a well-oiled machine.

Their sin, however, threw a wrench in the gears. The relationship Adam and Eve had with creation itself was broken at the precise moment their relationship with God was broken:

“Therefore the Lord sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24)

Today, every person is searching for meaning, significance, and happiness. Man’s pursuit of these ideals can morph into some of the most self-centered and perverse avenues ever known. Whatever label we put on it, however we personally identify with it, we all are seeking fulfillment. And this search for fulfillment alone should tell us that there is an actual fulfillment to be had. Happiness is the driving force behind everything we do. Anything we do has the desire for happiness at its center. Even distasteful things we do are done because we see them ultimately as preferable and more conducive to happiness than the alternatives.

When sin entered the world and fractured it, Romans 1:23 tells us that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. We settled for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than for what is eternal and soul-satisfying. Almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already possess. This is nuts! It’s all meaningless. After all, God has put eternity into man’s heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) At some level, in the deepest parts of our soul, we remember what life was like before the Fall. At some really deep level, our sould has this impression cut into it by the finger of God, like the grooves on a record, encoding the memory of what it was like before sin entered into the world. We remember, at a really deep level, that at one time we were full, and at one time we were happy, and at one time there was nothing weighing us down. Our souls are outright groaning to get back there. We have a God-shaped hole in our soul.

In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun. The hole in our soul cannot be filled with the temporal. It demands eternity. Therefore, our very search for more and more, for bigger and bigger, and for better and better, is our sense that something is off, amiss, deformed, and broken. In the same sense that death, pain, insatiable searching tells us that something bigger than the earth itself is missing from our soul.

Sin isn’t just a personal thing; it’s a cosmic thing. While the Gospel shows us that depravity is very personal, that it’s inside our being, it also shows us that depravity affects earth’s very social fabric. The whole thing is messed up. The system and all its parts are lacking. There is no peace or contentment in our hearts. We are cursed; creation is cursed. We are groaning; creation is groaning. The ache is bigger than all of us. Consequently, we need a redemption bigger than all of us.

In looking at the happening and the consequence of the Fall, I cannot help but note Paul’s words in Romans 11:22: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” There is sin, and there is judgment, but the Good News is God sought out the sinners. Although he passed sentence, he also promised salvation to come. In many respects, Eden was a type of Canaan or Promised Land. Canaan was a place of beauty; a land of milk and honey. Possession could be had only by obedience to God. Once again, man was faced with a decision to make. What kept Adam and Eve from everlasting blessing was their desire to have pleasure at the cost of unbelief and disobedience.

We all suffer the consequences of the Fall. Our salvation is in calling upon the name of the Lord and trusting in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our sin. (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18) The world groans under the curse, crying out for the relief that will come at the ultimate redemption of God’s people when Christ returns. (Romans 8:22-23) When Jesus comes for all those who have trusted in Him, God will restore all things. He will create a new heaven and a new earth to replace that which sin destroyed. (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12-13; Revelation 21:1) Mankind will no longer be “fallen” but restored and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. (Revelation 7:14)