Whose way is not just?

February 17, 2010

I ran across this in my reading this morning:

17“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. 20Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”  – Ezekiel 33:17-20 (English Standard Version)

I think this is fairly common today – we don’t often say it straight out, but we can rationalize our way around what the Bible says.  As I was turning it over in my head, I started to wonder whether I’m doing that, and if so, how.  Are you?  Something to think and pray about…


What Christianity Offers

February 10, 2010

C.S. Lewis had a knack for cutting to the heart of a subject:

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this:  that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ.  If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist.  Christ is the Son of God.  If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God.  We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us.  He came to this world and became man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call “good infection”.  Every Christian is to become a little Christ.  The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. – Mere Christianity

Do you believe this?  If so, are your actions this week – in worship, in prayer, in Bible study, at work, with your family, at play – helping you with this?

Getting in condition to know God

January 11, 2010

My friend Lisa gave me a book called A Year with C.S. Lewis – daily readings of excerpts from his books.  Today I read one from Mere Christianity:

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side.  If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him.  And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others – not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition.  Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.

You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self.  And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred – like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope.  This is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

That makes so much sense to me!  I have to get my “whole mind and character” in the right condition.  I have to tune myself to God’s frequency.  I have to change myself to become acceptable to Him.  I read the Bible as telling me that He loves me unconditionally, but wants me to be like Him, and it is up to me whether I work toward that, or go the other way.


August 19, 2009

I just listened to this and it is fantastic.  One of many memorable things: “Don’t treat people in light of who they are, treat people in light of who we are.”

Have a listen:  The Power of Gratitude

Asking God for Help

August 9, 2009

Do you believe that if you ask God for help, He’ll answer you? That He would actually do something to help you? If He does, will you be able to recognize it?

I suppose a good part of that depends on what you ask:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14 – ESV

Now I’ve struggled for a long time about what to ask for. There are people like Joel Osteen who, as far as I can understand, believe you should ask God for a bigger house or more money. That doesn’t seem right to me, as I read the Bible to say that I shouldn’t really care that much about those things:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:31-33 – ESV

As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “Do not think I’m going faster than I really am.” I’m not against being wealthy any more than I’m against being well fed or having a roof over my head. It is the pursuit of wealth or food or possessions above all else that seems to me to be the problem. In any case, I suspect Jesus said all that business about the camel and the needle for a reason…

But that’s not my point here. My point is that I believe I can show you something that God will always grant you, though I’m not sure how it may be manifested in your case. For me, it has worked like this:

Ever since I started down the path toward becoming a Christian, I’ve been asking God for help. I’ve not been sure exactly what to say to Him but in general I have just asked Him to help me get closer to him, and to show me the truth. And at least for the past few years, I’ve been telling Him that I’m willing to subjugate my will to His, whatever that may entail.  As I look back I marvel at what He has done: for the past 10 years I’ve had a succession of people always there offering to study with me. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Church of Christ people, and people who just considered themselves “spiritual”. At every single step of my journey I had multiple people there helping me, and they always seemed to be the right ones at that time. I didn’t always (and often still don’t) agree with everything they were saying, and occasionally they (very properly) made me a bit uncomfortable as they pushed me to examine my sometimes mistaken or inconsistent or irrational beliefs.

I don’t know how you feel about that kind of thing, but the only conclusion I can reach is that God has been sending me these people. There have been too many of them, over too long of a time, for any other explanation.

So what does this all mean?  Pray for Him to show you the truth, to lead you through the narrow gate.  Basically, look back at 1 John 5:14 and pray for things that are “according to His will”.

Bible Study Buffet

June 29, 2009

This was written by Allen Dvorak for our church bulletin a couple weeks ago.  It was so good I just had to share it.  As you read it, please accept this advice: don’t get caught up in some little point of doctrine where you may disagree – focus on the main point of whether you happen to be picking and choosing yourself.

The American public seems to love food buffets, sometimes called food bars. Many restaurants include a salad or dessert bar in addition to their normal menu items. The appeal of the buffet, of course, is that you have a wide selection of different foods and can select the foods that you want. Order from the menu and the desired entrée may come with something that you don’t like, but at a buffet, you can ignore the spinach, broccoli or green beans and load up on fried foods! The food bar allows you to mix and match your favorite foods that don’t come together on the menu. Add the fact that food bars typically allow the patron to “eat all you want” and it is easy to understand their appeal.

Unfortunately, some Bible students approach the study of the Scriptures in a similar style to the food buffet. Even as one can pass by the foods in the food bar that he doesn’t like, so Bible study ala “buffet style” allows one to choose the verses/passages that he likes and ignore the rest.

Many Bible students like the passages that proclaim salvation to be a matter of grace, but dislike the verses which speak of the need for obedience. It is certainly true that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 1:7; 2:5, 8; Romans 3:24; Acts 15:11), but it is just as certain that we must do the will of the Father in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:9).

They pile their figurative Bible study plate high with verses proclaiming the necessity of faith, but wrinkle their noses at those “water baptism” verses. Without faith, we cannot please God or be justified in His sight (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 5:1), but it is just as certain that water baptism is involved in our salvation. Peter wrote:

“who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:20-21).

It is clear that Peter wrote about water baptism (see the end of verse 20). He affirmed that water baptism is an antitype “which now saves us.”

Many people appreciate those verses which tell of divine love (e.g., John 3:16), but don’t like to hear about verses which speak of divine judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12) or the wrath of God (Hebrews 10:30-31; Matthew 25:31-46).

Other Bible students have great interest in those verses which command singing in worship to God, but don’t spend much time with admonitions about the danger of spiritual pride. Some Bible students fill their plates with passages relating to the local church’s organization, mission and “name,” but don’t have much of an appetite for other verses which affirm the need for individual benevolence and spiritual zeal.

Will God permit us to ignore some passages while embracing others? Does He not expect us to honor all that He says? Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). Since God is the source of all scripture, it doesn’t make sense to accept some of scripture and reject other parts. Why would God reveal various truths if He did not intend for man to accept them? Can we expect that God will ignore portions of His own word at the final judgment? Will He say to us, “I didn’t really mean that part about obedience”?

Eating at food buffets tends to contribute to an unbalanced diet. The “buffet style” of Bible study causes us to have a skewed (unbalanced) view of God’s truth on various subjects. Of course, the proper method of Bible study is to accept and respect all that God has to say on a particular subject. Naturally, Bible students have to recognize the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was given to the Jewish nation and was taken out of the way at the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-17). Those who live on this side of the cross are responsible to the New Covenant…all of it.

Saved at the point of baptism, not at the point of faith (part 3)

May 8, 2009

In this series of posts I will show that we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ after meeting the conditions that God placed on that gift. We are not saved at the point of faith, but when we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins.

Part 3: We are saved by faith, at the point of baptism, and not by our works. Baptism is “work of obedience”, not “a work to justify us by our merit”.

The Bible teaches that we are not saved by works. I believe what it is saying is that our works are not the BASIS for our salvation (the death/blood of Christ is). But this principle does not rule out us having to meet conditions to receive salvation which is based upon the death of Christ.

Look at each of some example of actions having to be taken to receive the blessing or promise from God:

  • The walls of Jericho (Hebrews 11:30) – the Bible plainly says that the walls fell down “by faith” – does anyone believe that the walls would have fallen if the Israelites had not walked around them for 7 days? They did not knock them down themselves – God did that (of His own might) when the Israelites met the specified conditions. Just because they had to meet certain conditions doesn’t mean that the feat wasn’t accomplished “by faith”.
  • Naaman (2 Kings 5:8-14) – he was cleansed of his leprosy when he had met God’s specified conditions – dipping 7 times in the Jordan. He was rewarded for his faith, but he still had to dip the proper number of times in the proper river. Just because he had to meet those conditions doesn’t mean he accomplished it by works and not faith.
  • Noah (Genesis 6:9-7:24) – God warned him of the flood and saved him, but he was required to build an ark.
  • Israelites (many verses) – God offered them forgiveness, but they were required to offer animal sacrifices
  • Salvation under the New Covenant (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21) – our sins are forgiven by Jesus’ blood and sacrifice. We’ve not done (and can’t do) anything to earn it. But God has told us that in order to accept this gift, there are specific conditions that we must meet. That we must do these things is still consistent with Ephesians 2:8-9.

Here’s another way to look at it is this: if my brother mails my daughter a $20 check for her birthday, it is a gift. That doesn’t mean that she can get it without doing something. She has to go to the mailbox, open the envelope, endorse the check, and cash it or deposit it in the bank. She has not earned the $20, but she’s fulfilled the accepted conditions that go along with actually taking possession of the money. In the same way, God’s offering salvation to us as a free gift, but we’ve got to do a few things (have faith, repent, confess Christ, be baptized) in order to actually take possession of our salvation.

I think we can get messed up with the word “works” (much like we do with “judge” – condemn vs. discern). Let’s not confuse these two uses of the word works:

  • “works” of obedience
  • “works”, a system of justification by human merit

In Romans 3:20 Paul says we can’t be justified by “works of the law” and Ephesians 2:8-9 says that salvation is “not a result of works” – both of those refer to earning our salvation by “being good” or “helping people” or whatever way we want to describe it – justifying ourselves by our efforts.

Compare that to being justified by grace through faith – we aren’t earning anything when we are required to meet the conditions of salvation (faith, repentance, confession, baptism). In John 6:29 Jesus describes faith as “the work of God”. Most would agree that we cannot be saved without faith. But Jesus says here that we have to do this work!

How do we harmonize all this? I believe we have to understand the difference between the obedience that God requires to be saved by grace and the works that constitute perfect obedience (justification by human merit):

  • If a man believes in Christ, he does not “merit” salvation.
  • If a man repents of his sins, he does not “earn” salvation.
  • If a man confesses Jesus Christ, he does not earn or merit salvation.

Just the same, if a man is baptized in obedience to God’s command, he has not earned salvation! Must he do these things in order to be saved? Yes, he must do all of them, but baptism is no more a “work” in the sense of earning something than belief, repentance, or confession – it is merely another thing we do in order to meet the conditions God has set down for our salvation.

Luther had a difficult time with James’ epistle because he couldn’t accept the idea that grace is still grace even if it has conditions attached. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 4); James says that he was justified by works (James 2:21). As I understand it Luther chose to reject James – I am definitely not prepared to attempt that! Instead, we have to harmonize them: Abraham was justified by grace through faith…but his faith was made complete by his obedience. James ties faith and works together (2:20-24) and shows that a living faith must act.

In a sense, we’re just dancing around the real point. If baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, then let’s call it whatever we like – a work or not a work, but it is still necessary. If we want to have our sins forgiven, we have to be baptized. We can argue that baptism is a work (in the sense of meriting salvation), but we are still faced with two facts presented by Scripture: we are saved by faith and baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. Since we can’t deny part of Scripture we have to reconcile those two facts. I maintain that the Scriptures do not present baptism as a “work of merit”, but as a condition of salvation.

Saved at the point of baptism, not at the point of faith (part 2)

May 8, 2009

In this series of posts I will show that we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ after meeting the conditions that God placed on that gift. We are not saved at the point of faith, but when we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins.

Part 2: The Bible gives us parts of the formula in many different places, but never all at once. Why is that?

Let’s start by examining the places in the Bible that speak directly to salvation. I’m going to sort them first by number of things each passage says we must do, then by what those things are:

1 Thing

  • Call upon the name of the Lord
    • Acts 2:21 – And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    • Romans 10:13 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
    • Joel 2:32 – …everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
  • Believe (have faith)
    • John 1:12 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
    • John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    • Acts 13:38-39 – …and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
    • Romans 3:22 – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (there are many verses like this: Ephesians 2:8, Philippians 3:9, etc.)
    • Romans 3:28 – For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (there are many verses like this: Galatians 2:16, 5:6, etc.)
    • (there are many other versed that mention only belief: Acts 16:30-31, Ephesians 1:13, John 5:24, Romans 1:16, etc.)
  • Be baptized
    • 1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

2 Things

  • Be baptized & call on his name
    • Acts 22:16 – And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.
  • Repent & be baptized
    • Acts 2:38 – And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Confess & believe
    • Romans 10:9 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • Believe & be baptized
    • Mark 16:16 – Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Have you ever looked at these verses in this way? In all the verses I could find that mention salvation under the New Covenant, there are five different things mentioned (in no particular order):

  1. Call upon the name of the Lord
  2. Believe in Jesus
  3. Be baptized
  4. Repent
  5. Confess that Jesus is Lord

Note that in no verse does are more than two mentioned. On the basis of what logic could we assert that of those five, four are necessary but one (baptism) is not? In the same way, what logic or manner of reading the text would lead us to decide that only one (believe in Jesus) is necessary, and that none of the others are?

Acts 2:21 doesn’t mean we don’t have to repent. John 3:16 doesn’t mean we don’t have to confess Christ. Acts 2:38 doesn’t mean we don’t have to believe. And none of them mean that we don’t have to be baptized.

How can this be? Is there any theory which would rationally explain the different wording in all of these accounts? The only one I can think of is #3 below. Which of these makes more sense to you, considering the above verses?

#1 – if we believe in Christ (have faith), we’re saved
#2 – if we believe in Christ (have faith), repent, confess Christ, we’re saved
#3 – if we believe in Christ (have faith), repent, confess Christ, are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, we’re saved

Here’s why I think #3 is it: It is the only one where I don’t have to ignore or try to explain away a bunch of verses such as Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Mark 16:16, or 1 Peter 3:21.

Again, if we’ve got all these verses that mention different parts of these five things in different order, how can we believe that the answer is that we need to do one or two or three or four of them, but not all five?

Here’s another way to look at it: on what scriptural basis do we find a command to repent? Because the same language that tells us to repent to receive salvation also tells us to be baptized. How can we believe the language that says we must repent for salvation, and at the same time reject the language that says we must be baptized?

Or look at it another yet way: how to get to my house depends on where you are now. If you are standing at the front door of your church and I give you directions, I’d give them one way. If you were at my office, another, and if you were at your house, a third. All different. That’s because where you are influences what you have to do to get to me. In the same way, I think the different examples in the NT are for people who are at different places: In John 3:16 Nicodemus was at the beginning – the first thing he had to do was believe that Christ was who he said he was, so that’s what Jesus told him. In Acts 22:16 Paul had done everything else, so he was told to be baptized.

I ask you to consider these words – if you have a better explanation for what these Bible words mean, I’d love to hear about it!

Saved at the point of baptism, not at the point of faith (part 1)

May 8, 2009

In this series of posts I will show that we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ after meeting the conditions that God placed on that gift. We are not saved at the point of faith, but when we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins.

Part 1: The Bible says that baptism is the point at which we are saved. The wording is clear, it isn’t in one isolated (and therefore possibly misunderstood) passage, and only one explanation fits without contradiction.

First, let’s examine the relevant passages:

  • Acts 22:16“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” – It seems to me that Paul pretty clearly is still in his sins when Ananias said this.
  • Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – We must do both of these things to be saved.
  • Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’“ – “them” being men who had heard the gospel and believed in Christ. What did Peter say? If all they had to do was have faith, wouldn’t he have said “brothers, you are cool, do no more.” Or “just believe”? But he didn’t. What did he in fact say? Basically “you do this AND this (having already done the other)”.
  • 1 Peter 3:21“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” – I’m hard pressed to figure out what this wording means if not that, well, baptism is the thing that actually saves us.
  • Galatians 3:26-27 – “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” – In what state are we if we haven’t been baptized into Christ?
  • Romans 6:3 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? – Can we be saved without being baptized into his death?

So there we have it – six verses that all make this point. How can we read all six of these verses and decide that the Bible does not tell us to be baptized in order to be saved?

Before I read the words and worked to understand them I argued fiercely that we were saved when we had believed, repented, and ”asked Christ into our hearts“ (though I was hard pressed to totally define that last part). Then someone asked me two questions that I was unable to answer:

  1. If God had wanted to tell us that we need to be baptized to be saved, and that the obediently faithful act of baptism was the thing that actually finished the process, how exactly would he put it such that the words would be clear to me? I could never answer this question and it bugged me for a long time until I decided I couldn’t come up with more clear wording than what the Bible used.
  2. What exactly is the purpose of baptism? The only explanation that I could find (with any scriptural support) was that it is to wash away our sins.

So there we are. Is this controversial? You bet. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you. But before I do I ask you to read these verses in their context and think about whether my conclusion could be true.

Do you have to sin over and over for it to be a bad thing?

April 6, 2009

I recently heard a sermon where one of the points was that we don’t have to make a habit of some sin before it is bad in God’s eyes.

First, keep in mind that we’re not talking about something for which you repent, but about something that you are rationalizing away without repentance because you don’t do it “all the time”.

Consider three quick examples from the Bible:

  1. Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26) only looked back at Sodom once, and God killed her for her disobedience – she didn’t get multiple warnings.
  2. Nadab & Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2) only offered unauthorized fire to the Lord once, and they died for it.
  3. Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) only lied to the Holy Spirit once each, and they were killed for their duplicity.

Aren’t we lucky that the Lord doesn’t punish us physically today like He did in Biblical times?  It seems like we get chance after chance after chance.  And we do, right up to the point where we don’t anymore.

I’m not saying that if we mess up one time we’re going to Hell (I certainly don’t believe that) – I’m saying that we can’t say that something isn’t a sin because we don’t make a habit of it.