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Question: Regarding the Prosperity Gospel Teachers, pt. 2

May 25, 2012 1 comment

The same person who asked me about this post sent the following response.

I understand your desire to keep God’s word untainted and I respect you for that but I don’t agree with your methods of dealing with it to an extent. No one really knows the heart of a man, except God which is why He’s the only judge. Blessings. 🙂

This is my answer:

It’s about more than keeping God’s word untainted. It is about protecting the Church from being ripped apart and devoured by those wolves.

The issue is this:  you are correct in saying that God is the only Judge; however, we have been given authority to (a) Discipline members of the Church (cf. Matthew 17; 1 Corinthians 5), (b) Publicly warn the Church about false teachers by specifically naming them (cf. 2 Timothy 4:10, 14, where Paul explicitly calls out Alexander and Demas for subverting and harming Paul’s mission), and (c) To unqualifiedly dismiss, warn against, and fight against false teachers. As (c) seems to be the one with which you take issue, we will take our time in discussing it.

Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Jesus is warning his disciples against the false prophets who will come into the Church. They look like believers; they talk about Jesus all the time and how much they love him. But, both their lives and their doctrines do not match with what Jesus actually preached. If you’ll do some research, you will see that most of these prosperity gospel preachers are fabulously wealthy, and many of them have been cited for tax evasion and similar crimes. Christ explicitly says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” We can tell who false prophets are. How? By the way they live their lives and the things that they say.

Matthew 15:17-19, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Again, Christ is pointing out that we can judge the nature of a person by what they do. How one lives their life is evidence of their spiritual condition. Again, because we are not God, we do not have all the evidence. Nevertheless, we are absolutely able to judge and make an informed decision as to whether somebody is a false prophet or teacher, or is simply misinformed. Unrepentant false teaching is heresy.

Matthew 24:23-25, “Then, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.

What is not evidence of one’s spiritual condition? Signs and wonders, for even the false prophets will do this. In so doing, they will lead astray many; they would even lead away the elect if it were possible. Christ is warning the disciples to be ever vigilant against these people. They are not to be trusted. False teachers and false prophets have no business in the church.

Acts 13:6-12, “When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”

A few things to note about this passage:

  • Luke explicitly records both the name and the fact that this man was a false prophet.
  • The false prophet, and all others, try to turn people away from the true faith.
  • Paul called the false prophet a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, and one who makes crooked the straight paths of the Lord.
  • The Spirit through Paul struck Bar-Jesus blind. The Spirit does not play with false prophets if we confront them.
  • As a result of the false prophet’s being struck blind, the proconsul—the one who was being led astray—saw the power of the Lord and believed.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

A few things to note:

  • Paul made it a mission to undermine, or to subvert, to false claims of those pretending to be apostles, of those who pretend to have the same goal as the Church.
  • They are false apostles, deceitful workmen.
  • They disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. Is this not a similar picture to the wolves disguised as sheep?
  • Satan disguises himself as an angel of light; his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Connection:  False apostles, false prophets, false teachers and their ilk are servants of Satan. I cannot be more clear about that.
  • The end of all the false apostles corresponds, or matches, their deeds, i.e. hell.
  • Their deeds are unrepentant and flagrant leading astray of the Church to a false gospel.

Galatians 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

If I or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the gospel with apostolic authority, or even a gospel slightly distorted, let me or him be accursed. It is no clearer than that.

1 Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

Anyone who teaches a doctrine contrary to Christ is not to be welcomed as a teacher or minister of the faith. He should be revealed and exposed. That last phrase is telling for the prosperity gospel, though, “…imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” That is exactly the position of the prosperity gospel. They are not fellow ministers.

2 Peter 2:1-3, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

  • False prophets and false teachers will bring in destructive heresies.
  • They will deny the Master who brought them.
  • They bring upon themselves swift destruction.
  • Many will follow them because of their sensuality. Is it any surprise to you that the prosperity gospel hinges on that, pleasure in the flesh?
  • Because of these false teachers, the way of truth—i.e. Christianity—will be blasphemed.
  • They will exploit the Church with false words because of their greed. Those in the prosperity gospel always ask you for money for healing, by the way.
  • Their condemnation does not wait, and their destruction is coming.

Peter then compared these false teachers to angels who did not escape condemnation. It is too long to include here, so I’d encourage you to check it out. However, he does return to the false teachers here.

2 Peter 2:12-22, “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’”

That speaks for itself.

2 John 7-11, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”

We are not to welcome, wish well for, or enjoy fellowship with those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, and all that accords with his teaching. He who does not abide in Christ’s doctrine does not have God. Again, these people are not fellow children of God—wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Revelation 2:1, 2, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”’”

Christ himself praised the Church in Ephesus for not bearing with “those who are evil” and rather testing “those who call themselves apostles and are not,” thus finding them to be false. That is significant. Of all the things to praise a church body for, Christ chooses to praise this one for their insistence on not being led astray by false teachers.

In short, those of the prosperity gospel have bastardized the gospel, making it a means to a worldly wealth. Because of this, they are to be branded as false teachers and false prophets until they repent and recant. Because of that branding, no believer should have anything to do with their ministries, should publicly rebuke their teachings, and should warn his brothers and sisters. If you love the Church, you seek her well-being, and thus guard against these destructive heresies. We can judge the heart by what comes out of their mouths.

Grace and peace

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Question: Regarding the Church and Prosperity Gospel Teachers, pt. 1

May 25, 2012 4 comments

A friend remarked about the tense relationship that I have concerning prosperity gospel teachers, “Perhaps we should try less to make it an ‘us versus them’ mentality and instead call them brothers and sisters still.”

The following is my response:

I understand your sentiment. Truly, I do. I value the unity of the Bride greatly. One of my greatest troubles with the Church today is the useless and senseless division of the Body over nonessential items of doctrine, which drags in bitterness and resentment—neither of which have any place among redeemed and being sanctified believers and children of the Most High.

That said, the reason that I—and others—have made this an ‘us against them’ issue and do not call them brothers and sisters is because they, meaning the proponents of the prosperity gospel, have forsaken the true gospel and unrepentantly teach a false gospel.

What these false teachers have done is egregious. They have prostituted the death of Christ and have attempted to strong-arm God into bending to their will, in turn teaching vast laymen that they too can accomplish this impossible task.

So, the issue is twofold. First, they simply have forsaken the true gospel, which teaches us to lay up treasures in heaven and to forsake this world since it is passing away. Second, they are leading thousands of people away from the true Christ. Not only that, they show no remorse and no desire to repent from or recant their position. Until they do so, we must not treat them as misguided teachers, instead removing them from authority or dissolving association with them as a Church. In fact, the teachers (and pastors and prophets and evangelists) of the faith are to be judged the most strictly, since it is by their words that the Church walks left or right (James 3).

Now, there are two ways to address these people. If they are truly born-again and love Jesus, they must be rebuked publicly, since it is beyond the reason to believe that they have not been privately been rebuked before now. In this regard, we follow the doctrines set forth in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, ultimately giving them over to Satan for a time until they repent.

The second avenue develops if these people are not believers, which can be evidenced by their teaching. This avenue is to dissolve unqualifiedly every relationship to them as a universal church. The Church has no business ministering with or well-wishing these proponents of the false gospel; we can never be compliant in sin. We thus follow the doctrines set forth in Galatians 1 and 2 John, which call for an unqualified and absolute dismissal and removal of approval by the Church of their ministries; Paul goes so far in Galatians 1 as to say that any who preach a false gospel should be accursed.

We cannot take lightly false teaching as egregious, idolatrous, and dangerous as this, and now is not the time to pussyfoot around the issue.

A further discussion takes place here.

Question: Christians, Same-Sex Marriage, and Active Faith

May 15, 2012 3 comments

I received this question from a friend,

Why are so many Christians focused on marriage equality and if people are quoting the Bible correctly, rather than actually helping people–feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick and wounded, clothing the naked, etc.? I mean, I as an atheist do more for people than all my Christian friends – and I’m sure I could say the same about a large majority of the people online who denounce same-sex marriages. It’s worrisome.

The following is my response:

That is worrisome, and it is a fair criticism to the American church. The thing is, though, that many in the American church are only nominally christian. Christianity, for them, is a cultural or familial experience–not a reality in their lives. It is nothing more than something to do on Sunday mornings–and Wednesday nights if you’re hardcore. So, it’s an unfair criticism to charge American believers with a wholesale forsaking of the second half of Christ’s command, namely obedience, when the majority of professing Christians are not actually Christian, as evidenced by the fruit of their lives.

Nevertheless, a group mentality arises even in nominal Christianity, which in turns grows in the Church at-large. From where this fight against gay marriage first arose, I have no answer. But within the past decade it has come up as a cultural question, an issue on which politicians have jumped and pastors have capitalized. A strange sort of community within both the nominal and actual Church has arisen, one wherein a greater passion to fight against gay marriage than to uphold the totality of God’s commands exists. Unfortunately, this community is among the loudest–this of course can be due to the fact that the mainstream media loves controversy.

This community has made gay marriage the hill to die on, overemphasizing it from the mound that it is and deemphasizing the mountain that the gospel is. (Now, don’t misread me here:  homosexuality, as the authors intended it, is sinful in the same manner as any other sin. However, it does not deserve its place as the defining topic-of-choice for a Christian in contemporary America, supplanting even the gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul makes note to the Corinthian church that it, i.e. the gospel, is worth delivering of first importance. [1 Corinthians 15:3])

With that in mind, there are a thousand other cultural questions that deserve attention, things such as abortion, unnecessary war, and pervasive poverty, not to mention divorce and sexual immorality that resides within the church. Because all sin is held equally in the eyes of God, and therefore ought to be held so in the eyes of the Church, it does not make sense for the American church to devote so much time and energy to fighting this one issue, not when there are others that 1) are directly harming people as we speak and 2) we overlook in the Church that are of the same manner. As far as the rallying cry, “We are only upholding the sanctity of marriage”? Please. The church doesn’t even hold its own accountable–not when divorce rates are as high or higher within the church as without.

Instead of being lights in the world pointing to and upholding Christ, many in the American church have picked a popular issue, which they may certainly feel strongly about, as the most important issue to tackle, which is absurd, and the absurdity lies in the forsaking of the rest of God’s commands:  such commands as keeping personal holiness, upholding communal holiness, and pursuing at all costs the advancement of the kingdom of God. Again, it simply does not make sense to devote the energy to fighting gay marriage’s existence outside of the Church when we do not have in mind the totality of God’s command. Disregarding the gospel, instead of proactively implementing and enacting social justice, many in the American church have been content to fight a secondary issue, i.e. one that does not lead to death, does not lead to loss of property, and concerns those outside the church; legislating these sorts of things, such as the standard of marriage as being a picture of Christ and his Church, as the standard for the secular world is nonsense.

Nominal or otherwise, those in the American church have been misled and taught wrongly that God is pleased in his Church legislating morality–upholding a moralistic therapeautic deism that does not see a relationship with God as necessary, instead trying to live morally well, i.e. within the law–rather than actively teaching and living the gospel to the poor and the rich, the clothed and the naked, the saint and the sinner. (Again, do not misread me; it is important to live in a morally upright and proper way. Nevertheless, no amount of good deeds merit salvation; instead, the life that we live instead is for the glory of God, which life now serves as a testament to the believers and non-believers alike of God’s faithfulness.)

Gay marriage is an important issue, within the church. Outside of it, the church should be interested in three things: proclaiming the glory of God (and within that there is the facet of preaching both the Law and the Gospel, wherein the Law convicts sinners and the Gospel restores the sinner to righteousness, permanently declared so by God), upholding justice or equity, and practicing compassion. We must not miss this fact: we were saved to do something, and doing something constitutes far more than crying out against gay marriage.

Question: Hillsong and Hillsong Live’s music?

May 15, 2012 1 comment

I received the following question:

What is your opinion on Hillsong United and Hillsong Live’s music?

This is my response:

Disclaimer: I abhor the capitalistic, market-driven approach to worship music. How idolatrous can we be that we are selling music to be used for worship? We sell “worship” music; we sell “tickets” to “spiritual teaching”; we sell ourselves out. So, I disdain how the contemporary church handles itself in the capitalist economy. It disgusts me.

That said, much of the worship itself is pretty good. Most of it is centered on God and his glory and not on man. However, as much as I love “With Everything,” for example, the woah-oh-oh’s should be carefully placed in worship music, as it far too easily gets people wrapped up in the emotion of the moment and takes their eyes off of God, not actually worshipping but just saying nonsense. It’s a powerful experience, but is it worship? Worship is about proclaiming the praises of God, extolling his glory, and pointing both our brethren and the world to Christ. Worship is centered around the glory of God, and God in his glory has created humanity with the capacity to feel and to think; and we ought not sacrifice our intellect for the sake of having an “awesome worship experience.” Worship not centered on God is idolatry.

In short, worship is good insofar as it is centered on praising God as he actually is–i.e. worshiping in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23, Philippians 3:3). As far as form is concerned, as long as the message is not lost or compromised, form is irrelevant.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to separate Hillsong worship from Hillsong Church. Until the church that supports and sends out the band gets its act together, believers should be vigilant about singing what Hillsong puts out, knowing that the home church preaches a prosperity gospel.

Question: Literal or Metaphoric Interpretations of the Bible?

I received this question,

When you read the Bible, do you take it metaphorically or literally?

The following is my response:

It should be read as metaphorical where the author intended it to be metaphorical and literal where the author intended it to be literal.

There are two extremes when reading the Bible, and both should be avoided. The first extreme is to read the Bible as literal throughout. This is a fallacious way to read the Bible. I need only point you to a couple of verses to show you this.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(Mat 16:18)

Now, is Peter a rock? No. Peter is a human being. Clearly, Jesus was using a figure of speech. That is one metaphoric part of Scripture:  literal metaphors.

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

(John 16:25-28)

These are Jesus’ words. Jesus specifically said that at times he spoke in figures of speech, whether that be in the parables (are we actually sheep; are we actually limbs? No, we’re people) or symbolic language. However, he follows this statement by pointing to the clear and literal statements: he is going to the Father, he came from the Father, and he had come into the world. And the disciples understood that he was “now speaking plainly” here. See John 16:29, 30.

Moreover, there are times in the Old Testament where it is important to understand that metaphor is being used, e.g., in the Proverbs (is an adulteress actually a city?) and in the Psalms (are we actually sheep, again?).

Nevertheless, if we begin to say that Scripture is all metaphorical, well, then we’re in trouble. Let’s examine something Paul says and relate the principle to the conversation at hand.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Christians say that Christ has been raised from the dead, but when in reality he hasn’t, then we have a few issues. 1) “Then our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain and futile, and we are still in our sins.” and 2) “We are even found to be misrepresenting God.”

So, clearly, if Christ has not been literally raised from the dead, then we are without hope, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In other words, if following Christ helps you get your best life now, why bother? There are other ways to make this life easier without assuming the resurrection of a dead prophet or good man. If Christ has not died and been raised, I will have nothing to do with Christianity. But if he has been actually resurrected from the grave, that changes everything.

“If in Christ we hope in this life only” succinctly sums up the “liberal Christian” position. Christ has not actually died and actually atoned for our sins on the cross and has not actually been raised from the dead. It is only a good story, a moral compass, and helpful to live a good life. The death of Christ has no practical or spiritual importance other than to show us an example to live by, with no metaphysical or life-altering and nature-shaking changes being made.

No matter what they tell you, Christ’s commands and example are of least importance unless the Kingdom of Heaven actually is advancing and Christ’s death actually accomplished something. I point you to this post for more details.

Unrestrained liberal, i.e. metaphorical, interpretations of Scripture lead to those described in 2 Timothy 3,

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
(2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Liberal interpretations of Scripture lead to a form of godliness; they may look very much Christians, but they deny the power of the gospel. The gospel message itself has done no work in their lives and they see no benefit from it. In Spurgeon’s words, “He who does not hate the false does not love the true; and he to whom it is all the same whether it be God’s word or man’s, is himself unrenewed at heart.” The liberal interpretations give the same credence to other religions as it does to Christianity, valuing each for its moral importance rather than for being an inspired Word of God.

Gill describes them in this way in his commentary,

Having a form of godliness,…. Either a mere external show of religion, pretending great piety and holiness, being outwardly righteous before men, having the mask and visor of godliness; or else a plan of doctrine, a form of sound words, a scheme of truths, which men may have without partaking of the grace of God; and which, with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, the church of Rome has; or else the Scriptures of truth, which the members of that church have, and profess to hold to, maintain and preserve; and which contains doctrines according to godliness, and tend to a godly life and godly edification:

but denying the power thereof; though in words they profess religion and godliness, the fear of God, and the pure worship of him, yet in works they deny all; and though they may have a set of notions in their heads, yet they feel nothing of the power of them on their hearts; and are strangers to experimental religion, and powerful godliness: or though they profess the Scriptures to be the word of God, yet they deny the use, the power, and efficacy of them; they deny the use of them to the laity, and affirm that they are not a sufficient rule of faith and practice, without their unwritten traditions; and that they are not able to make men wise, or give them a true knowledge of what is to be believed and done, without them; and that the sense of them is not to be understood by private men, but depends upon the infallible judgment of the church or pope:

from such turn away; have no fellowship with them, depart from their communion, withdraw from them, and come out from among them: this passage sufficiently justifies the reformed churches in their separation from the church of Rome.

They deny the principle in John 17:17, wherein Christ prays to the Father concerning the disciples–and by extension for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” We are set apart from this world by the Bible–and not by the vain and fleeting philosophies and theologies constructed by man.

In addition, wholly literal interpretations of Scripture lead to a Phariseeical mis-handling of the Word of God, imposing undue burden on believers, as well as ignoring the times in Scripture that call for leniency of interpretation–such as when the adulteress in Proverbs is referred to as a city.

I believe that adequately addresses the two extremes. A wholly literal interpretation is foolish; if the author did not intend a literal interpretation, why would we interpret it that way? In the same way, a wholly metaphoric interpretation is dangerous, for it denies the power of Christ and the metaphysical veracity of the Scriptures.

A maxim:  Understand the passage of Scripture as the author intended it. Know that the Holy Spirit has inspired Scripture in one way, and there is one correct interpretation.

Ignore the extremes and allow the Spirit, proper teaching, and contextual study to lead you into a true understanding of the Word.

Good Friday: What was the worst part of it for Christ?

April 6, 2012 1 comment

The worst part of the crucifixion wasn’t the flogging or the crucifixion of Christ. So, don’t get caught up in those pictures of a bloodied and beaten Jesus.

The worst was when Christ bore every single sin of every single one of God’s children. The perfect, sinless Lamb of God was forsaken by God and seen as sin for our sake.

That is why Christ called out, “Eloi Eloi lema sabacthani!”

Question: Assurance for a Believer; Hope in Habitual Sin?

April 5, 2012 5 comments

I recently received a question from a friend of mine. My response is as follows.

Hey, I have a question after watching the video you just posted…I’ve often asked that exact question myself, and that is the most clear answer I have gotten so far. However, I’m still confused because I don’t understand where the line is drawn in salvation. I have a very dear friend who is gay, and he has asked me multiple times if he’s going to go to hell…I never know how to answer him. His dad is a Presbyterian Pastor and he professes to be a Christian. I don’t know what to say to him 😦

The most important thing is, if God has chosen anybody for salvation, that person will be saved (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Philippians 1:6, 2:13). He effectively and sovereignly chooses those whom he will save before the world was formed. So, before even one of his children was formed, he knew and preordained that this person would be saved. Those two Philippians references point to the fact that it is God who causes salvation to occur in a very literal sense. He did not just make the means (i.e. Christ, Calvary, and the empty tomb), he also created and began the good work in his children, in addition to working in us both to will (i.e. desire) and to work (i.e. act) for God’s pleasure, rather than our own (but his pleasure becomes our pleasure as sanctification progresses; isn’t that cool!).

That ought to firmly establish the general Biblical principles of election as far as we are concerned. If not, I’ll gladly answer more questions or point you towards resources who can better help you. Let’s continue to the specific situation at hand, though.

We must remove the irrelevant sections from the above testimony. It does not matter what our parents’ faith-lineage is. God looks at individuals in the current covenant for their own faith; the faith of the father does not redeem the non-faith of the son

It also does not matter if the individual professes faith in Christ. Profession means next to nothing unless it is evidenced, for the evidence points to the root of the profession. Jesus says that there will be some who cry out “Lord! Lord!” but who never knew him; their ‘faith’ was not saving, effective, or from God (Matthew 7:21-23; John 1:12, 13). The people who cry out in this passage Jesus dismisses as “workers of lawlessness.” To one to whom God gives saving faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the Messiah, as Savior, and as Son of God will be saved because that person will progressively seek Christ with increasing fervor and affection, forsaking sin and their own life for the sake of the glory of God.

Now, we as outsiders can only make a guess about the spiritual state of another person. However, that guess is guided by the fruit and the doctrine of a believer (John 15:4-11; 2 John 9-11). There are certain things that every Christian must believe, such as the nature of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the means of salvation (if not the specific details), etc. as are plainly revealed in Scripture. In addition, every believer will bear fruit that is lasting and righteous and Christ-like, such fruit comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, who also testifies in our own spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).

Romans 8 may be the definitive chapter on these sorts of questions about assurance.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis mine and mine throughout]. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  … If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:1-8, 11)

So much there. But, anybody who has the Spirit of God dwelling in them in the current covenant will be saved, they will progressively see sin as it is—an affront to a holy God, and they will progressively flee from sin to righteousness.

The problem with your friend could come any number of things:

  • Quite simply, he isn’t saved. In which case, all you need to do is continually give him the gospel, enlist the help of other believers, and rely on God to cause that seed to grow.
  • He is ignorant of the commands in Scripture that forbid homosexuality. In which case, you (or another believer) need to show him the commands in love and point him to the righteousness of Christ. A true believer will stumble but will progressively grow in holiness upon revelation from God. Further, it would be wise to point out that there is little difference between heterosexual lust and homosexual lust:  both are sin in the sight of God and both are perversions of the design that God instituted, which is one man and one woman in a covenantal marriage relationship with eyes for each other and each other only (cf. Proverbs 5).
  • Or, he is striving to battle the sin in his own power. In which case, he needs to be taught and made aware that it is only through the power of the Spirit that anyone overcomes sin.

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:24

Question: A Christian’s Struggle with Pornography and the Foundation of Freedom

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

An anonymous questioner asked me the following:

Pornography. How to break it? I honestly have the desire to, and I sometimes do for a couple weeks tops. But it always finds its way back. It’s so deeply embedded, and it’s messed me up psychologically. Need deliverance!

The following is my response:

Before we go further, let me begin by making this as clear as I possibly can:  nothing I say to you will have absolutely any value unless you are disciple of Christ, by which I mean that your faith for salvation is in the effective, redemptive work of Christ on the cross evidenced by his resurrection. Unless that it is the ultimate reality that guides your life, any desire that you have to flee from sin will be ultimately me-focused, egoistic, prideful, and sinful. It will do you no good to flee from unrighteousness to righteousness unless your fleeing to righteousness is through the blood of Jesus Christ by the power of the indwelling and active Holy Spirit.

So, now that we have established that initial framework, let’s continue. First, I want to encourage you in Christ. The nature of Christ’s death and resurrection is world-changing. It effectively bears the wrath of every sin past, present, and future of every believer in Christ that has, is, or will ever exist.

Because Christ, as a perfect lamb without spot, bore the sins of all the children of God on the cross, every sin that every believer will commit is atoned for. It is covered. It is wiped away. And because Christ was resurrected, we know that his death was sufficient for our salvation.

In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His (the Father’s) grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence. . .

Ephesians 1:7, 8

Through and in Christ we have redemption. We have been bought from the grave. For that reason Paul reminds us that in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Christ’s death was sufficient to cover the sins of the children of God.

Now, there are a few reasons that God has saved us from our sins. The first, and primary, one is this:

  • “According to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5b, 6a)

God is pleased in redeeming his children, and he does so that there may be eternal praise in his grace, which is accomplished in eternity. Meaning, the more aware we are of how sinful we are the more we are able to exult in the glory of God’s grace. When we being to understand the magnitude of the nature of God’s holiness and the magnitude of the nature of our sin and the inescapable fact that God’s grace is infinitely larger than our sin, when that begins to occur, we exult in his grace more and more daily. That is why Peter will tell the believers in his second epistle to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). As we more fully understand our sin and God’s holiness, we grow in the knowledge of God and we grow in the grace of God, for then we realize how desperately we need it. In Christ’s words,

Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.

Luke 7:47

A particular child of God is forgiven no more and no less than any other child of God; however, one particular child of God may be far more aware of his own sins, and as a result of God’s grace, than another.

So, looking back to the Ephesians 1 verse, as we more fully understand the depths to which God went to secure the redemption of his children, the more fully are we able to exult in his grace and in his glory, which is a driving motivation behind salvation.

The second driving force behind our salvation is a more practical, but only because of its nature, force for our salvation, and one that may help you more:

  • “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Ephesians 1:4

We were chosen, saved, indwelt with the Spirit, to be holy and blameless. That is what we strive for by the power of the Spirit upon receiving salvation. Therefore, as Paul exhorts in 1Corinthians,

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1 Corinthians 6:19, 20

Now, I want to draw to your mind some key things that will help you.

  1. You were bought at a price, and therefore you are not your own. What price was it at which we were bought? It was with the precious blood of Christ, which is much more precious than gold or silver. (1 Peter 1:18-21) Keep in mind this precious blood of Christ whenever you are faced with temptation. Know that this blood was shed for every sin you and I will ever commit.
  2. If you are in love with the things of this world, the love of the Father is not in you. John is perfectly clear here:  the love of the Father does not share a suite in your heart for the love of this world. It is all or nothing here. In the same way that Christ calls us to abandon all to follow him, we must abandon our affections for the things of this world to love God as we should, including the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. (1 John 2:15-17)
  3. We are set free from the things of this world by setting our eyes on heavenly things. That is how we avoid temptation, or at least walk in the power that the Spirit grants to rise above it. Paraphrasing John Piper, a little soul makes little temptations mighty and huge, whereas a large soul makes large temptations tiny and worthless. (Colossians 3:1-4)

There is hope. But that hope is only through the gospel of Jesus Christ, through which gospel we have been sealed by the Spirit and enabled to walk in the all-enabling power of God.

Question: Infralapsarianism, Supralapsarianism, or neither?

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I had a friend ask me what my thoughts were concerning lapsarianism. Lapsarianism is “the set of Calvinist doctrines describing the theoretical ordering of God’s decree order of his decree for the fall of man and reprobation.” (Source)

The following is my response:

Definitions first:

via Lapsarianism

  • Lapsarianism:  the set of Calvinist decrees describing the theoretical ordering of God’s decree order concerning the Fall, Election, and reprobation.
  • Infralapsarian:  the belief that God first decreed the creation of humanity, authorized the Fall, decreed to save some and condemn others, then decreed to provide salvation only for The Elect.
  • Supralapsarian:  the belief that God first decreed to save some and condemn others, decreed to create The Elect and the reprobate, authorized the Fall, then decreed to provide salvation only for The Elect.

I think that such questions are of a two-fold nature:

  1. Foolish.
  2. Impossible to answer.

The reasons for those categorizations are fairly simple:  there is no Scriptural discussion regarding the ordering of God’s decrees; God’s decrees are eternal from eternity past to eternity future; and we are wholly unable to know the mind of God.

What the Scriptures teach is that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and that Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). If we take “before the foundation of the world” to mean that it was before time existed, since time is a product of creation—if time were not a product of creation, then God would be bound by it, and, therefore, not eternal—if that is what we take those to mean, then we are not left with any clear direction regarding the “ordering” of God’s decrees. In fact, if God’s decrees are eternal, it seems foolish to suggest that one decree came “before” the other, whether theoretically or practically speaking. Since God’s ways are greater than our ways (cf. Isaiah 55), we ought not suppose that His rationality works in the same way as ours, although ours may be similar in nature—form and function—to His.

Our thoughts are necessarily bound by time. Because we currently live within a time-fixed reality, our thoughts must proceed in that fashion. God, however, is in no such position. But, you may ask, does God not change his heart or his desires to his people—was he no grieved by the destruction from the flood (Genesis 6)? Yes, his heart was grieved, but, no, his purposes and plans do not change. God exists outside of creation, outside of time itself. He upholds all of creation (Colossians 1; John 1).

So, when we see God enter into creation, he is literally passing through the threshold from eternity to temporality. But, his eternal and specific purpose did not change; what we perceived it to be has changed. His promises in the scriptures last forever. Yes, the Lord can be grieved; he does not desire anybody to be condemned; however, his desires, his emotional attachment to his image-bearers do not supersede his nature, which requires that men choose Christ to be saved. Yes, God is grieved by willful rebellion, but his grief does not go beyond the “limits” of his nature, although, as the Most Free being in the universe, God has no limits as we understand them.

Specifically in regard to lapsarianism, I am wary of attempting to provide frameworks or standards through which God works that are not explicitly identified, or at least discussed, in Scripture.

Be blessed, my brothers and sisters.

Are there things that Christians shouldn’t joke about?

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A question was asked me by an anonymous questioner. The question he (or she) proposed was whether or not there are things about which Christians ought not joke. The following is my answer.

There are things that Christians ought not joke about. Because we have been called into a holy life by the very death and resurrection of Christ, we are to live a holy and sanctified life, by which I mean a life that is different and separated from the world for and to the glory of God in heaven. Now, that life is lived through, in, and by the Spirit, and not our own power, but the purpose of the sanctified life is what is briefly outlined above. (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 2:9, 10)

Now, specifically in regard to your question, because we have been called to be separated from darkness and to live in light, we are given a different standard than the world and therefore ought not to walk in the ways of our former lives nor in the ways of the world.

There are a fair number of exhortations throughout the New Testament to guard what comes out of our mouths and to walk as children of light.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children… . But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:1, 3, 4)

And this is why I included the 1st Peter passage earlier: Paul makes a clear connection between being an imitator of God, avoiding foolish talking and coarse jesting, and giving thanks. In 1st Peter, the apostle Peter tells the disciples that they have been chosen by God to proclaim His praises, and thanksgiving is, in a more specific variety, proclaiming the faithfulness of God in regard to things which he provides for us. And Paul contrasts giving thanks, which we ought to do, with foolish talk and coarse jesting, which we ought to avoid. And the reason that we ought to avoid them is simple: they “are not fitting” for saints. Further in the chapter Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that we are not to be partners with the unfruitful works of darkness, of which coarse jesting is a part, because we are now light in the world.

In James 3, James explains to us the necessity of counting the further cost of being a teacher of the faith, “knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1). The teacher must be one who is able to keep his mouth in check. There cannot be a word out of place, a word missed, or a word added. He explains further along the evil nature of the tongue, which “is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (3:6). There is no reason for a believer to engage in coarse joking, gossip, or any other sort of speech that can divide the body or lead others away from Christ, whether or not they are held to the even stricter standard of a teacher. Regardless of that standing, our standing as children of God and believers in Christ mean that we are not take part in the patterns of this world but to live a life separated from it.

What constitutes the list of things Christians shouldn’t joke about? I’ll provide you a list, but please do not use the list as a means to seek out what is acceptable. If you have to ask, it’s probably not okay.

Ought Not or Never

  • God, whether in the Father, Son, or Spirit
  • The Nature of God
  • The Scriptures
  • The Body of Christ, that is the Church
  • Individual members of the Body
  • Sin — we never make light of sin; it leads to death, and from it we have been set free by the power and precious blood of Christ

Permissible or Not Expressly Wrong

  • Politics
  • Human institutions
  • Yourself?

Honestly, I have some issues with providing a list of permissible joking options. Hopefully I have provided you with a rough framework through which you can approach your question. As always, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the Word of God.

Be blessed.

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