Thursday, December 12, 2013

What's Up With 2 Samuel 24?

Q: I don't understand 2 Samuel chapter 24 at all. Mostly because of the first verse:

2 Samuel 24:1 (NLT)
Once again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the LORD told him.

Why was The Lord angry and why would this route of taking a census harm them? Just for the money aspect? And then why would he punish David and Israel for doing it??

A: This is a really good question, because the text doesn't make any explicit explanation as to why the Lord was angry, so we will do our best to make some theological conclusions based on what the text does say. I'm also going to provide a little speculation on my end, just for fair warning!

First, let's consider the context a little bit. King David is ruling over the united kingdom of Israel and Judah and is getting advanced in age. During David's reign as king, the Lord has greatly expanded their territory and David has made a name for himself through military conquest (see, for example, 2 Samuel 8). Leading up to the chapter in question (24), David sings a psalm to the Lord for what God did in delivering him from the hand of his enemies throughout his life and from the previous king, Saul (22:1ff). David writes a final song of praise for God, and then the exploits of the Mighty Men are described in detail in chapter 23.

It's immediately following this that chapter 24 begins with the verse that you have asked about, and it is an abrupt transition which should alert the reader that something bad is about to happen. What the text does tell us is that God is angry with the nation, and that God's part in bringing discipline and judgment to His people is by the method of inciting David to take a census which will harm the people. What the text does not explicitly tell us, is why the anger of God was once again kindled against the people.

Based on what we do know, we've seen David's perspective on the role of God in delivering the nation from their enemies and in providing victory. David explicitly gives God credit for empowering him with strength, ability, and victory in the past (e.g. 2 Samuel 22:30-51). With the favor of God upon David, the nation of Israel, and its Mighty Men, there should be no reason for taking comfort in anything other than God Himself -- yet something caused God to be angry with the nation, and God responds by causing David to take a census; but specifically, David asks for a number of those who are able to fight.

If we just read 24:1, it sounds like David wants to know how many people there are total in Israel and Judah, but notice that he asks Joab, the commander of the army (e.g. 2 Samuel 8:16, 20:23), to take the census and that Joab objects because he doesn't seem to think it matters based on the Lord's favor they have received (see 2 Samuel 24:3), and after David insists, Joab and the commanders of the army go out and register all the men who are able to fight (24:4-8), and they report this number back to David:

And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. (2 Samuel 24:9)

Immediately upon receiving word back with the results of the census, David's heart troubles him and he seeks the forgiveness of the Lord (24:10). It's after these events that the text explicitly answers the second part of the Questioner's first question of how taking this census would harm the people: it harms them because God punishes the nation for this sin with a pestilence, that leads to the death of 70,000 men in the kingdom of Israel. It's not that the census itself harmed them, but the result of the census was the judgment of God upon the people -- a judgment which, probably not coincidentally, reduced the number of able-bodied men which were just numbered!

After seeing what the text tells us for sure, these questions still remain: Why was God angry with Israel in the first place? Why would He incite David to take a census, and then punish David and the people for doing what He caused them to do?

To answer these questions, we'll need to be a bit more speculative (so be sure to weigh these conclusions accordingly!).

God's anger could have been roused against the nation of Israel for any number of things, as certainly up until this point in the nation's history this is nothing new! A few brief examples of the anger of the Lord being roused quickly can be found in Exodus 4:10-14, Numbers 11:1-10, Numbers 12:1-16, Numbers 22:20-29, Numbers 25:3-5, and Numbers 32:10-15. There are plenty more!

You'll notice if you read through those accounts, that God's anger is kindled towards His people for their disobedience, complaining against Him and His appointed leaders, idolatry, and failure to trust Him to do what He has said He will do. Yet, despite God's judgments being poured out as a result, His people continue to fall into the same destructive patterns and sin against Him in the same ways. It is likely that here, in 2 Samuel 24, the people are doing something similar... failing to trust in what God has said and/or provided, and are beginning to turn their eyes towards their own desires and complaining against what the Lord has provided.

It is a well-documented aspect of human nature, that those in power tend to try and accumulate more power whenever possible. History is replete with examples of "conquerors" and "world powers" that attempted to rule the entire earth and make a unified kingdom of all peoples -- a trend that has not ceased up to our own time! As the nation of Israel piled military victory upon military victory, it is not impossible to imagine that some of the people desired to expand their borders beyond what God had appointed for them, and to use their military might for their own gain as a nation instead of for the glory and fame of the name of the Lord. Part of God's plan for his people was to conquer the Promised Land, yes. But that plan also included leaving the surrounding nations outside of those borders to be witnesses of the glory of Israel, so that Israel would be a testimony to the nations of the glory of the God of Israel!

As I mentioned, this is speculative. However, the commentary recorded in 1 Chronicles 21 of these same events gives a different (inspired) perspective on just what happened:

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

It needs to be pointed out that there is some translational difficulty in this passage; namely, is the one who stood up against Israel the devil (as the translation above indicates), or simply an adversary that was the leader of a surrounding nation and/or military threat (as the NET translation suggests)?

The difficulty arises from the Hebrew word satan literally meaning "adversary" but often referring to the very specific adversary that we know as the Devil. An example of satan meaning simply "adversary" and clearly not meaning the Devil, is Numbers 22:22 (listed above), where the adversary is the angel of the LORD against Balaam!

Depending on how we take this particular passage, makes a big difference on the conclusions we might draw in relation to the particular questions we are trying to answer here. If the Devil is in fact the one who stood up against Israel, then we see Satan being used as an instrument of God's anger and an agent used by His hand to bring about His sovereign purposes. This produces some interesting theological conclusions on its own, but doesn't help answer the questions asked above (while, in fact, probably raising a couple new ones!).

If, however, the adversary is a surrounding military threat that has arisen, then we get a clear answer to our remaining questions as to why God's anger was aroused: instead of trusting in the Lord to deal with the threat that arose, David instead trusted in the arm of the flesh and asked for a census to assess the strength of the nation by numbers and not the Lord's divine assistance and favor (which was displeasing to Joab).

Of course, God is the one who establishes nations and tears them down (e.g. Daniel 2:21), so He is the one who raised this threat to Israel and is able to deal with is as He pleases (regardless of how many men of fighting age exist within the kingdom of Israel!). If the focus of the nation had shifted from the Lord to their own strength, it is consistent with God's character that He would order their circumstances to see how they would respond (a good example of this is recorded in Deuteronomy 8, especially verses 2, and 16-20).

If God's anger was kindled as a result of their failure to keep Him first and foremost in their minds, and because they were beginning to trust in the strength of their own hands (see Deuteronomy 8:17 again), then it is well within God's character to bring about a situation which will expose this error. David's decision to have a census was resisted by Joab, but David persisted anyway. As a result of this failure to trust in the Lord fully, David recognized his sin immediately upon completion of the task, and the price paid in judgment was steep and it diminished the very thing that David (and perhaps the nation as a whole) were trusting in.

In this line of interpretation, we have a reasonable conclusion for the purpose of God's judgment against the nation after putting them in a scenario where they were going to sin against Him because of His anger.

However, if these conclusions are in error, I would simply point out that God is able to do as He pleases and encourage you to take the Apostle Paul's words to heart:

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:18-21)

Certainly, it is often difficult for us to not have a good reason given for why God does what He does, but His ways are not our ways - and thank God for that! Because if His ways were ours, He never would have sent us His own Son as a Savior, because we wouldn't give up our lives or the lives of our most beloved for those who are our enemies (see Romans 5:7-8).

One final comment: the translation provided by the Questioner from the New Living Translation provides some extra difficulty, because it says that the Lord told David to number the people. It must be pointed out that the NLT is not really a translation (even though it calls itself one!), but is a paraphrase. If you contrast this same verse in other translations, you'll see that God was instrumental in David's taking the census, but no other translation makes the explicit claim that God said, "Go and number Israel." The interpretational decision made by the NLT is significant, but my understanding of this passage is in agreement with the other translations - God's anger incited David to say "Go number Israel" which is different than God saying, "Go number Israel" and then punishing them for their obedience. Even if this verse is possibly translated in either direction due to some ambiguities in the text, 2 Samuel 24:10 makes it pretty clear (to me anyway) that David would not come to the Lord and confess that he had acted foolishly if he had simply obeyed what the Lord had explicitly told him to do! In context, the NLT provides extra difficulty in understanding this particular passage that could be eliminated by reading a genuine translation instead of a paraphrase.

I hope this helps! Once again, great question!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Sure Faith, Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.)

The second issue: Did Jesus claim to be God?

Another hypothesis for the origin of Christianity is that Jesus did exist, but that he never claimed to be anything more than a rabbi or a guru. This view claims that the belief that He was divine was a later development added to the historical Jesus at a later date. At the very least, as Dr. Yamauchi already pointed out (see Part 1), even without considering a single New Testament writing, we can be sure that Jesus was worshipped as God by the beginning of the 2nd Century.

It requires time for legends to develop. As stories get passed from generation to generation, the details change over subsequent tellings, and after several generations even the mundane can become something miraculous. And not just with fishing stories ("the fish was this big!").

But, was there enough time for the historical Jesus to develop into the proposed legendary Jesus? The extra-biblical testimony demonstrates that Jesus was being worshipped as a God by the early 2nd century… less than 100 years after his death. It would be difficult for a legend (especially of this magnitude) to develop this quickly, however given the right circumstances it is not impossible. But is there any other evidence that suggests that Jesus was being worshipped as God any earlier than this?

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

Please remember that 1 Corinthians was undisputedly written by the historical figure that we know as the Apostle Paul. This letter to the Corinthian church was written sometime between AD 54-55; that is, no more than 25 years after the supposed Resurrection event. In this passage, we have what is widely recognized as the earliest Christian creed. Linguists point out that the presentation of this material is formulaic, and it starts by saying in verse 3: “what I received I passed on to you….” This material does not originate with Paul, but is “pre-Pauline” or before Paul.

What follows are four “that” statements, where the content of what Paul received is recounted with the same formula: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” This creed, which professes belief in the historical Jesus and His physical resurrection from the dead, can be dated within less than 10 years from the supposed events… perhaps being circulated as early as the same year of the events.

Even 25 years would be insufficient time for legendary development of the magnitude that Jesus was God in the flesh and that He was raised from the dead to occur. Think about it: Ray Kroc, the man responsible for the explosion of McDonalds into a worldwide phenomenon died in 1984, just less than 30 years ago. You think we could start a movement that claimed he was resurrected from the dead and that he appeared, in the flesh, to hundreds of people? You think anyone would believe us?

What about Marvin Gaye? Ansel Adams? Muddy Waters? Jack Barry? What about Andy Kauffman… think we could convince the world that he rose from the dead after his death a few years ago? Even if we could convince a few people… there are too many people alive today who were alive then that could refute our ridiculous claims. Yet somehow this Resurrection story of Jesus convinced a great multitude to believe it, and not only to believe, but to be so convinced that by AD 64 (34 years after the supposed event), there were what the greatest historian of Rome, Cornelius Tacitus, referred to as a multitude of Christians in Rome.

Tacitus states in The Annals, book XV, 44:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

These converts were so convinced of the resurrection, within 34 years of the supposed event, that they were willing to admit their faith even when such admission was met with the “most exquisite tortures.” And as the persecution continued and increased, the belief exploded. How could they be so sure?

Romans 1:3-4, also undisputedly a Pauline epistle, written between AD 57-58 contains another “pre-pauline” creed, which was in circulation prior to being written by Paul 28 years after the supposed resurrection event. Romans 1:3-4 says this: regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

For Paul and the earliest believers, Jesus was declared the son of God with power through the Resurrection. They were so sure that he was rightly worshipped as divine because he did what no mortal could do: he came back from the dead. Paul adds to the creed that he received in 1 Corinthians 15:8, saying of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances: and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul was so convinced that Jesus was God - that Jesus actually rose from the dead - because Jesus appeared to Paul after he was crucified, died, and was buried. In a later letter to the same church at Corinth, our 2nd Corinthians, Paul describes the lifestyle that he has endured for the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is using harsh words for those in the church at Corinth who are accepting false apostles. These false apostles come to the church with boasting of their own personal goodness, and then expect to benefit from the generosity of the Christians in Corinth. So, Paul “boasts” to the Corinthians about himself.

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Paul gained nothing but hardship for his belief that he personally witnessed the Resurrected Christ. I don’t have enough faith to believe that Paul did all this for a lie that he was perpetuating himself. It is unreasonable to believe that Paul and all of the other Apostles, who were martyred for their faith that Jesus was God in the flesh, proven by His miraculous Resurrection from the dead, were all dying for something that they were not sure of. It is simply unreasonable to believe that multitudes of individuals, this close to the supposed events themselves, would be so sure that the Resurrection occurred — sure enough to admit their belief even when such admission would result in imprisonment, torture, and death — unless they were certain that this Jesus was who he claimed to be: the promised Messiah and God in the flesh.

After examining the evidence, it seems that it is unreasonable to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. It is also unreasonable to conclude that Jesus never claimed to be divine, or that the resurrection was nothing more than legendary development when we see that belief in these things can be traced to the very beginning of the Christian movement.

The best explanation of the phenomenon of Christianity is also the simplest explanation: the Resurrection actually happened. There is no denying that this conclusion may sound far-fetched at first since people do not come back from the dead, but it is precisely the occurrence of such a unique historical event that best explains how so many people, so quickly after the shameful execution of a Jewish rabbi as a criminal and a blasphemer, could so willingly lay down their lives in order to make sure that the news spread as far as they could take it.

Many try and cast doubt on the Resurrection because of its implications. If Jesus was just a man, then his philosophy and teachings hold no more weight than anybody else’s. But if He was God incarnate? That’s another story.

Scoffers at the resurrection are nothing new. They’ve been around since the beginning. Luke records a sermon made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts. Acts 17:30-32 says this: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."

Scripture tells us that God has given humans proof that Jesus speaks for God by raising Him from the dead. But the message of coming judgment and the need for all men everywhere to repent and turn to God for salvation is not a popular one. And like those who heard the Apostle Paul preach, people today still scoff at the Resurrection.

Others, like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg simply relegate the Resurrection to a matter of faith. They say it doesn’t matter if it was an historical event or not. But that’s not what Scripture says. Scripture doesn’t relegate the Resurrection to a matter of faith. On the contrary, it uses it as proof of our faith.

I can stand before the entire world and say that I fully trust everything that Jesus and the Bible say about faith, morals, and how to live my life - even when it doesn’t make sense to me - because I can trust Jesus, because He is the only Man to come back from the grave.

I can trust the Bible, because Jesus said Scripture cannot be broken, and He proved that His word is true through the Resurrection.

I can believe that Jesus is the sole means of salvation, and that whosoever trusts in Him will never be forsaken, but will have everlasting life because Jesus said so, and He proved that His word is trustworthy by coming back from the dead.

How about you? Do you see it? The Resurrection is not an article of faith, but the foundation of our faith. If Jesus died and stayed dead, he was just another guy with a philosophy, and as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Instead, we praise God because Christ has been raised. Instead, we praise God because His word is true. Instead we praise God because even when we didn’t deserve it, God sent His Son to take the penalty for our sins, our violations of His commandments, in order to bestow upon us His overwhelming and wonderful grace, and the promise of eternal life with Him. Hallelujah.

Friends, Christianity is not a religion of blind faith, but of sure faith in the One who demonstrated His divinity by triumphing over the grave. It was this same Jesus of Nazareth when asked, “What shall we do to do the works of God?” who answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

What do you believe about Jesus? Do you believe against reason that He is nothing more than a myth? Do you believe that He was a smart guy with a decent philosophy that was elevated to divine status after his death, even though such beliefs arose instantaneously by historical standards? Or do you believe that He was the Savior, come down to earth, in order to reconcile sinners with God? The Bible promises that no impure person will enter heaven. That means that one lie, one impure thought, one careless cuss word is enough to disqualify you from entrance to heaven. But the Bible also says that Jesus will wash away every sin for those who recognize their need of a Savior, and who trust in Him alone for their salvation. So what about you? What are you trusting in?

A Sure Faith, Part 1

In a recent post, we looked at what believers should do since Christ is risen from the dead. But there are many today who claim that the Resurrection never happened. Some, like Earl Doherty, claim that Jesus never even existed, saying that He is nothing more than a myth. Others, acknowledge that Jesus was a historical person but deny either that He claimed to be divine, or that He physically rose from the dead, or both.

Does the historicity of the Resurrection even matter? Are the claims of men like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg acceptable, that the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is unimportant to the Jesus of faith? Is there even a viable faith, without a historical resurrection?

The answer to the question of whether or not the Resurrection matters is given to us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact 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 worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:12-19)

The word in verse 17, translated as "worthless" is translated as “futile” in the NIV, as “mere delusion” in the Amplified Bible, as “useless” in the NLT, and as “vain” in the KJV. There is no way around it: the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the foundation of Christianity. Without it, our faith is worthless. We might as well find something else to do with our lives. Clearly, the answer to the question of whether the Resurrection is fact or fiction is very important!

All of the various hypotheses -- that Jesus was a myth or a legend; that he existed but never claimed to be divine but this was added later to him; or that the resurrection was a historical event -- exist to try and explain the phenomenon that is Christianity. Regardless of its origin, Christianity exists. People today believe that a man named Jesus was raised from the dead sometime between AD 30-33. These same people worship Jesus as God. So, what is the most reasonable thing to believe regarding Jesus, both rationally and historically? On the surface, without examining any details, the Resurrection is the least plausible -- because dead people don't come back to life as a general rule. Certainly, if it happened, it was a very unique event!

So the first issue is this: Did Jesus of Nazareth Really Exist?

There are only two possibilities for the proposition “Jesus existed.” That statement is either true or it is false. Jesus was a historical person, or he was not. There is no middle ground. The question is did Jesus exist, or was he a merely a mythical figure?

The contention that Jesus never existed, that He was a myth, is a relatively new movement. This hypothesis can be traced back to two French philosophers in the 1790’s. The first academic attempt to make a case for this theory was made by Bruno Bauer in the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most well-known current proponent of the so-called “Jesus Myth” hypothesis is Earl Doherty. The first piece of Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” is this:

The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels. In Christian writings earlier than Mark, including almost all of the New Testament epistles, as well as in many writings from the second century, the object of Christian faith is never spoken of as a human man who had recently lived, taught, performed miracles, suffered and died at the hands of human authorities, or rose from a tomb outside Jerusalem. There is no sign in the epistles of Mary or Joseph, Judas or John the Baptist, no birth story, teaching or appointment of apostles by Jesus, no mention of holy places or sites of Jesus’ career, not even the hill of Calvary or the empty tomb. This silence is so pervasive and so perplexing that attempted explanations for it have proven inadequate.

This is quite a claim. However, there are two alarming problems with this statement. First, this is nothing more than an argument from silence. That means that Doherty is arguing, not from positive evidence, but from a lack of evidence that he deems appropriate. In his argument from silence, he rejects the testimony of the gospels, which are themselves historical documents, saying that there is nothing before or outside of these sources that acknowledge a historical Jesus. Essentially, he has acknowledged that the sources that do claim a historical Jesus ought to be disqualified from consideration, and then when we consider what is leftover (after eliminating those sources that disagree with his hypothesis), he finds a “pervasive and perplexing silence” from which he concludes that Jesus never existed! This is clearly faulty reasoning.

Secondly, this assertion that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be found either before the Gospels, or outside of them as a historical figure is demonstrably false. It is either poor scholarship or willful dishonesty.

Unlike Jesus, the historicity of the Apostle Paul is not in dispute. Although some aspects of Paul’s life are in dispute, the fact that he lived in the first century and died in Rome sometime between AD 63-65 is accepted as a historical fact. And of the 13 epistles that are traditionally ascribed to Paul, only 7 are undisputedly Pauline; meaning that 6 of the epistles most Christians recognize as being authored by Paul are disputed by some scholars as being written much later. The 7 that are not disputed are: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon.

We’ve already seen from the undisputably Pauline letter of 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul thought the physical resurrection of Jesus was essential to the faith, and this epistle was written and circulated prior to the Gospel of Mark, contrary to the assertion of Doherty. In fact, the earliest epistle written by Paul, was Galatians. This short book is dated to have been written in AD 48, which is approximately only 15-18 years after the supposed Resurrection event occurred.

Keep in mind the context of this epistle to the Galatians. If Jesus really lived and was crucified, then this event happened in either AD 30 or 33 (probably AD 30). After the Resurrection event, Jesus’ followers began spreading the good news and Paul began persecuting these believers. Something happened to Paul, and he gave up persecuting Christians and became one of the persecuted himself, dedicating the rest of his life to spreading the gospel that he once persecuted. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says this: I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

In what follows in Galatians, Paul lays out a timeline of his travels and ministry. He says that immediately after his conversion he went to Arabia and then back to Damascus. After 3 years he went to Jerusalem and got to know Peter and James. Then he traveled again preaching the word. After another 14 years he returned to Jerusalem because the gospel was in dispute (you can read about this council in Acts 15). This puts at least 17 years between Paul’s conversion and the time of writing this epistle. Jesus was likely crucified in AD 30, and this epistle was likely written in AD 48, a time period of 18 years. Paul has been actively preaching the gospel, establishing churches, and now after the first dispute over the gospel, one of the churches that he established is falling for this false gospel. This brings about the historical occasion for the first writing, the first book, of the New Testament to be written — predating the Gospels — and it is being written to people who were contemporaneous (i.e. lived during the time the events supposedly took place) with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

And what does Paul say to these individuals, 18 years after the supposed events, in order to convince them of their mistake? Galatians 3:1: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

If Jesus of Nazareth never existed – if there was no such historical person – how could Paul be so foolish as to think that this would be an effective argument? Can you imagine this being an effective means of persuasion if the Galatians read this letter and say, “Ummm… Paul, what are you talking about? We didn’t see Jesus crucified… in fact, we aren’t even sure if Jesus ever existed!”

Quite frankly, the hypothesis that Jesus never existed can only be reached by suppressing a vast amount of historical evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical. And although we have only considered biblical testimony so far, the conclusion of Edwin Yamauchi, professor of Ancient History at Miami University (of Ohio) is that we have more and better historical documentation for Jesus than for any other founder of a major world religion. Doctor Yamauchi says:

Even if we did not have the New Testament of Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that: (1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; (2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; (3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; (4) he was crucified under Pontias Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; (5) despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; (6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside—men and women, slave and free—worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century.(Yamauchi, JUF, 221,222)

The "Jesus as Myth" hypothesis does not stand up to scrutiny, and I just plain do not have enough faith to believe, against all of the evidence, that Jesus never existed. The most reasonable conclusion is that Jesus is a historical person.

In Part 2, we'll examine the second issue: Did Jesus claim to be God?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Call

Thanks be to God, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, 'WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile or non-Jew]; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for 'WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'" (Romans 10:9-13)

Who is it that can be saved from the wrath to come?

The Scripture tells us that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. And what is it that results in righteousness? Believing in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. And what results in salvation? Confessing this amazing truth with your mouth. The Word declares that the same Lord is Lord of all, and whoever will call on Him shall not be disappointed. Hallelujah!

But for those of us who have believed... how is it that we have come to know the Truth? Was it by some special revelation? Perhaps for a few, but by far the majority of us came to faith because someone cared enough to tell us! Scripture continues:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!'" (Romans 10:14-15)

Jesus has commissioned His followers to go out and tell the world about Him (see Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; and Acts 1:8), so you have been sent. Will you obey this commission and go and preach? If you will preach, they will hear. If they will hear, then they can believe. If they will believe, then they will call on Him. And if they will call on Him, then they will be saved (cf. Romans 10:13).

Lord, I pray that my feet would be called beautiful by You, as I try to be faithful in bringing Your good news of good things to those who are yet far from you. Father, glorify Your Name!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nothing New

Solomon was right when he said:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already
in the ages before us.

~Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

So often when speaking with those who are not followers of Christ, they point their fingers at God and blame Him for evil or their own lack of belief, or this or that problem... but this is nothing new. In Genesis we have the first account of God confronting a sinner. Adam's words are telling.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." (Genesis 1:8-12)

So often this account has been used to place the blame on women for sinfulness... but this is a misuse of the text. After all, both Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, so clearly God didn't just blame the woman! But look carefully at what happened. First, after sinning these individuals hid from God. They didn't want to be found by Him! Despite their attempts at hiding, God confronts them anyway, and when God goes to Adam for an answer, Adam deflects blame... not to the woman as is often assumed, but toward God Himself! If Adam were blaming the woman he would have said, "The woman gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." But instead, he adds this little relative clause, "whom YOU gave to be with me" [emphasis added].

Adam is telling God that it's His fault that Adam sinned, for if God never gave him that woman then he would not have eaten. How funny that still today, the sinner when confronted with their sin deflects blame back to God saying that it's His fault.

There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Do You See Jesus?

How do you see Jesus?

When you picture Him in your mind... what do you see? Do you see Him as an infant? As a man? The Jesus you picture... are there holes in His hands and feet?

I think that all too often we imagine a Jesus that makes us comfortable... but there is only one Jesus, and if we follow Him then we ought to follow Him as He truly is and not simply how we imagine Him to be.

In Revelation we see a description of the exalted Christ, and when the Apostle John beholds Him, he "fell at his feet like a dead man" (1:17). It is important to remember the relationship that John had with Jesus prior to the Resurrection and exaltation of our Lord.

John, the son of Zebedee, was part of the inner circle of Jesus (Mark 5:37; 14:33). He was the "disciple whom Jesus loved" and was so close with Jesus that he was reclining on Him at the Last Supper. When Jesus told the disciples that one would betray Him, Peter asked John to ask Jesus who it was (John 13:22-25). When Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered; Peter was outside in the courtyard, but John was closest to the events--actually being inside of the court and bringing Peter in (John 18:15-16). When Jesus was dying on the cross, He entrusted the care of His mother to John as well (John 19:26-27). After hearing of the empty tomb, John outran Peter to the tomb (John 20:4). Also, John was present at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1ff, Mark 9:6)--so John had seen a glimpse of the exalted Christ already (and with a similar response!).

It seems that the leader of the Apostles was Peter, but if there was a best-friend of Jesus, surely it was John. Yet when John sees this vision of the exalted Christ he doesn't run up to Him and embrace Him as a friend. Instead, he "falls at His feet as a dead man."

How do you see Jesus? Do you see Him as your buddy whom you will run up to and give Him a high-five when you see Him face-to-face? Or, do you recognize Him as the Almighty and fall down at His holy feet? When John saw Him, his response was appropriate. Do we still see Jesus as a man who lived nearly 2000 years ago, or do we recognize Him as He now is... the living and exalted Lord of all creation?

If we truly understand who He is... if we truly recognize Him... then obedience to His commands will not be optional. If we see Him as He is, then the constant worship and praise that we see throughout Revelation makes perfect sense.

Have you praised Him today? He is worthy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The God of Revelation

I recently read through the book of Revelation again and this time through my attention was drawn to something that I hadn't picked up on before. It's easy, when reading Revelation, to focus on the amazing imagery, or to focus on the descriptions of The Final Judgment or the New Jerusalem. One can get lost trying to figure out whether or not the descriptions are literal or figurative, whether they are describing events that have already happened (i.e. in the first and second century) or if they are describing things to come--the end times.

But as I was reading Revelation this last time through, this verse stuck out:

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." (Revelation 4:8)

The events in chapter 4 clearly take place in heaven (see 4:1-2), and verse 8 describes what these creatures sitting around the throne do without ceasing... they never stop declaring the holiness of God.

What struck me as I was reading this book again, was how often this theme is reiterated.

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (4:9-11)

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen" And the elders fell down and worshiped. (5:8-14)

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever Amen." (7:9-12)

And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." (11:16-18)

And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
"Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;

After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER." And a second time they said, "Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER." And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, "Amen Hallelujah!" And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. (19:1-6)

No matter what else is going on throughout the book of Revelation, there is constant worship and praise for God going on in heaven! It's truly an amazing scene, and we get a glimpse of what heaven is like--not just in the last three chapters (20-22) when the city is described, but throughout the entire Revelation.

I know that in this life it is sometimes difficult to worship the Almighty. It is often difficult to see beyond our own circumstances and to see God as He is: high and exalted, worthy of all honor and praise and glory. But we must see Him this way if we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:24).

The book of Revelation is often neglected because of the difficult material that is contained. However, what can be easily understood is the triumphant nature of our great and glorious God over this fallen world. It is right to give Him thanks and praise. It is right to lift His holy name in praise and worship.

Hallelujah! Praise God for He is worthy!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Marriage Feast

In Luke 22:1-14 Jesus tells the chief priests and the pharisees the parable of the Marriage Feast. This parable is both difficult and informative, telling the reader/hearer much about the kingdom of heaven.

We know that Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven in this parable because He explicitly says so in v. 2: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." In keeping with the nature of parables, it is critical to keep in mind the original audience in order to best understand the points of reference in the parable. Although the story being told is fictional, it communicates truth about the kingdom of heaven and should evoke a response in the hearers (much like a joke elicits a laugh ... at least a good one does!). So far, we have two characters in view: The King and his son. These characters can be identified as God the Father and God the Son (Jesus).

Jesus continues: And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, "Tell those who have been invited, 'Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.'" But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them (vv. 3-6).

We see that the king (God the Father) sends his slaves (prophets) to invite guests (the Jews, God's chosen people) to the wedding feast (the kingdom of heaven). However, instead of accepting the invitation these invitees are "unwilling to come." The king sends more messengers declaring that everything is ready for them (the Jews), yet they pay "no attention" and go "their own way." Some even mistreat and kill the messengers who were sent to them (e.g. Jeremiah and Jesus). We must remember that Jesus is telling this parable to the chief priests and pharisees ... the religious leaders of the Jews at the time. This is surely a pointed statement!

Notice the reaction of the king to his invitation being declined/dishonored and his slaves/messengers being mistreated and killed: But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire (v. 7).

Jesus continues: Then he [the king] said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast' (vv.8-9). We see here a clear shift in the invitation to the marriage feast/kingdom of heaven. We see that this is a common thread running through the biblical witness: salvation comes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (see Acts 18:6; and Romans 1:16, 2:9-10). Because those who were first invited to the feast have declined the invitation, the king has opened the doors to others. The feast will go on ... someone will partake of the goodness of the king! We see this coming true in v. 10: Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

This verse contains an interesting statement from Jesus, in that the slaves gathered all the people they could find, "both evil and good." For those who are willing to come, God's grace and mercy extends to them all. There is no one, no one, who is beyond forgivable to God. There are two major requirements to being allowed to come to the feast, and we see the first here: we must accept the invitation and come willingly. God does not compel our worship, even though He could. His desire is for the kingdom of heaven to be filled with willing guests, not forced slaves. The second requirement will become apparent in the next few verses.

Jesus continues: But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (vv. 11-13). Not only must the guests come willingly, but they must also come in the proper way. Even though God/the king invited everyone to the marriage feast, the expectation was that those who are willing come in the proper fashion. In these chilling verses we see that one guest decided to come however he pleased, not taking the time to put on the appropriate clothing for the occasion. This guest was invited prior to having the proper clothing on, but was required to change his clothes after accepting the invitation. Instead, he came as he saw fit, ignoring the king's protocol.

Being a parable, this is not teaching that God cares so much about our literal clothing and will cast us "into the outer darkness," where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Hell) simply based on our everyday attire! Modesty is important, but this is not the point. What Jesus is communicating is a very important truth about entry into the kingdom of heaven. Since the original audience of this parable were Jews who were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that they would understand the clothing necessary to enter heaven is not made of linen, but of righteousness (see Job 29:14; Psalm 132:9; and Isaiah 61:10). This is consistent with Jesus' teaching earlier in this gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 5:20 ~ For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 21:32 ~ For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

The way of coming to God (the Father) is made very clear elsewhere in the New Testament. In John's Gospel, one of Jesus' disciples asks Him how to get to Heaven. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul also makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21: He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus]. It is only through faith in Jesus and His completed work on the cross that we may be properly clothed (in righteousness) for entry into the kingdom of heaven.

The parable ends with this statement: For many are called, but few are chosen (v. 14). The invitation is broad, but only a few accept it. Among those who do accept the invitation, there are still some who refuse to "attend" in the proper fashion. Both improper responses to God's invitation are met with disastrous results.

What about you? Have you accepted God's invitation? If you believe in "God," do you also believe that there are many paths that lead to Him, or do you acknowledge that there is only one way to God ... through the Savior, Jesus the Christ? This parable of Jesus is equally clear that both ignoring God and also attempting to enter His kingdom in an improper way both lead to destruction and being cast out into outer darkness. If you've never done so before, today can be the day of your salvation.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Since Christ Is Risen...

When the Apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to the Church in Corinth, he addressed their quarreling and arguing amongst themselves and their putting more faith in their human leaders and role models than they were putting in Christ Himself.

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Paul addresses some other important issues, but he is distressed at the lack of unity and purpose that the collective people of God ("the church") in Corinth are experiencing while they argue about non-eternal matters and boast in the flesh. As the Apostle begins to wind down this same letter, he reminds them of the importance of the gospel:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, emphasis added)

After dealing with various issues and problems, Paul points these believers to the most important truth of Scripture: the gospel message itself, which Paul received directly from the risen Lord Jesus. This glorious gospel declares that Jesus is the promised Messiah from the Scriptures who came to fulfill God's promises revealed through what we call the Old Testament scriptures, that He died for our sins according to God's predetermined plan (e.g. Isaiah 52:13-53:12), that He was buried (e.g. Isaiah 53:9), and that He was resurrected on the third day (Isaiah 53:10) fulfilling God's promises and demonstrating to the world that Jesus, whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 1:4). This glorious truth is of first importance, and is the basis for the unity in the church - whether in Corinth or anywhere else!

Instead of fighting about lesser things, Paul is encouraging these followers of Jesus to refocus their attention on the gospel and the implications of this truth, instead of debating which preacher is best or whatever else!

So what are the implications of the gospel?

Paul states plainly that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the truth of Christianity and the reality of the coming resurrection for all people at the Judgment (1 Corinthians 15:12-28). Jesus is the appointed King of the universe and He will reign until all of His enemies are put under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25-27), and it is only through repentance and faith that anyone is able to participate in His sacrificial death for the penalty of their own sin.

Think about this for a minute.

Really, think about it.

Is there anyone you know who is not "in Christ"?

If so, what does this mean for them?

If you are a follower of Jesus, then His resurrection proves the truth of your salvation. On the flip side, it proves the truth of the condemnation that is upon all who do not believe.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)

Paul cuts straight to the heart of the matter in verse 34:

Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34)

According to Paul, these believers need to dwell soberly on the truth of their salvation in Christ and the condemnation that is upon the world and stop sinning. Stop paying attention to unimportant matters. Stop bragging about yourself and your favorite teacher/leader. Stop putting your eyes on the world and the things that are fading away.

Stop sinning. Seriously.

But why does Paul say we need to be sober minded and stop sinning? Because some have no knowledge of God. We have received the revelation of God (remember 1 Corinthians 15:1-2), the message by which we can pass from death into life and which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16-19). If this is true (and it is!), then Paul says the mere fact that there are some in Corinth who are unaware of this truth due to the church's failure to proclaim it boldly is something that they ought to be ashamed of.

Strong language.

Do you agree with Paul?

Do you think it's shameful that the church hides the light of the gospel under a basket and fights amongst themselves on doctrines and matters of theology that are of lesser importance than the gospel, which is of first importance?

Do you agree that it's shameful that we who know the truth are not willing to pay the cost to bring this message to those who are lost and perishing?

Do you not know that it is required of servants of Christ that we be found trustworthy in our stewardship of the gospel?

Who do you know who has no knowledge of God? What are you doing to put them in mind of the coming judgment and the command from the risen King for all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31)?

If the answer is "nothing", then Paul suggests that we, too, should be ashamed.

Fortunately, God is pleased in His grace to give us further opportunities to be found faithful and trustworthy with His gospel - even if we've been negligent in the past!

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

God is able to use His church for the praise and glory of His name (Ephesians 3:20-21) and He has made us adequate for this task of proclaiming His glory and goodness to the world (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 1 Peter 3:9-10). Therefore, let us no longer live for ourselves, but live for Him (Galatians 2:20) in the strength He provides, knowing that He is able to accomplish what He has begun (Philippians 1:6)!

Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Surpassing Value of Knowing Christ

Before being called into full-time vocational ministry, I earned my living as a salesman. I've sold many different products for several companies and I was involved in both retail and door-to-door sales realms. Sometimes sales people get a bad reputation, and honestly some of that is perfectly warranted. The fact is, that there are many methods used by sales people to influence customers to purchase their products, and some of those methods are rightfully viewed negatively by the general public!

Something I learned early on in my sales career was crucial to my success in that industry. It was the principle of how a sale is actually made. Once this principle is understood, you can begin to understand why all of the various methods and techniques employed by sales people either work or don't.

The principle is something that is relatively easily understood, and it happens in each sales situation -- often without us ever realizing that it has happened!

There are two major factors involved: 1. Cost and 2. Value. If you imagine a scale, with each item on opposite ends (i.e. Cost on one side and Value on the other), a sale is made as soon as Value outweighs Cost. Therefore, the sales persons major responsibility in making sales to consumers is to raise the weight of the Value and diminish the weight of the Cost to the consumer.

Simple in theory, more difficult in practice. The reason for the difficulty is often related to the subjective nature and personality of each individual -- we all weight Value and Cost differently. It would be a mistake of the greatest kind to think that Cost = Price, because while Price remains constant (e.g. $100.00), the actual Cost associated with that Price varies. Consider the reality that $100.00 "costs" less to a multi-millonaire than it does to a homeless person. Much more is associated with Cost than you may initially think; it includes price in addition to many other facets that affect a persons comfort, emotions, intellect, will and relationships.

Similarly, Value is not simply quantified. Many different factors contribute to Value, including sentimental reasons. The value of simple items may be drastically different between two individuals. Consider a baseball for sale at an estate sale - for one person, this item may have no more value than 25 cents because anything above that Cost does not provide enough Value for a used baseball. For another person, the Value may be priceless if this simple item has tied to it sentimental Value from fond memories of throwing this particular baseball around with a loved one that has recently passed away.

You may not think about this much, but this process is happening all the time in your life whether you realize it or not. When you weigh decisions, Value and Cost are often being weighed and driving your behavior. Understanding these principles can help you to discern why people often act the way that they do (yourself included!). It also explains why so many "high pressure" and "hard sale" techniques are consistently applied, because the method itself (coming from an obnoxious sales person) actually drives up the Value of doing whatever they are asking you to do simply so that they will leave you alone, which is highly valuable to the person who is being subjected to their sales techniques!

You may be thinking that this is an odd topic for a ministry blog ... but as a former sales person I see these same techniques being employed in the professing Church on a regular basis. Many professing Christians have turned Jesus into just another commodity, and are attempting to "sell" Him to the public using these same techniques employed by the world. In order to "make the sale" and bring someone to Jesus, we treat them like any other consumer and we begin trying to raise the Value of being a follower of Jesus while simultaneously diminishing or downplaying the Cost.

You'll see this technique employed in books, on Christian radio and television programs, and in pulpits all across North America. Jesus is preached and taught as a "life enhancer" and a highly valuable one at that, because He will make everything better! And all you have to do is say a prayer! It really is that easy!

What's interesting to me, is that Jesus used a completely different technique than the world does - if you read through the Gospels you'll see Jesus very often doing the exact opposite of what any good sales person would do... Jesus often drives up, not the Value, but the Cost of following Him!

Pick up your cross and follow me.

You might get rejected by the people closest to you.

Die to yourself and live for God.

Contrary to how easy many people make it seem, Jesus' pitch was pretty simple: Follow me, and it will cost you everything.

So, was Jesus just the worst salesman who ever lived?

I don't think so ... in fact, He was still making use of the same principle outlined above. His purpose in often trying to dissuade people from following Him by driving up the Cost, was a simple and effective method of demonstrating to everyone that those who chose to follow Him really understood the Value of a relationship with Christ and what He was offering in the Gospel.

When I was in door-to-door sales, my product had a return policy that allowed all of my customers to return their merchandise for a full refund within a certain period of time. This policy was based on State law, which is intended to protect consumers from high pressure sales techniques. Essentially, the consumer could purchase your item simply to get you out of their house and then return the item within 72 hours with no penalty. Although I was never a high pressure salesman, I still knew that buyers remorse could set in and after sleeping on it, my customers might change their mind if the Cost shifted and once again out-weighed the Value I'd demonstrated to them. As a result, I would often begin trying to talk all of my customers out of buying my product from me to be sure that the Value had really been built and that it would endure after I left! (I had very few returns, by the way!)

To those who have been awakened by the grace of God to the true Value of knowing Christ, losing everything else is no Cost at all. As a result, Jesus often ratcheted up the Cost to the point where it surpassed the Value of those whom He was speaking to, to demonstrate that they were coming to Jesus for the wrong reasons.

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:21-23)

To know the surpassing value of salvation, of reconciliation with God, to have an inheritance in the Kingdom of His beloved Son, and to have our iniquities, transgressions and sins removed and the wrath of God along with it, is of infinitely greater Value than every other relationship, personal comfort, and promise of material prosperity combined! The Value of knowing the true and living God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is worth more for the child of God than to gain the whole world! Therefore, when Jesus drove up the Cost, He knew exactly what He was doing: testing the individuals understanding of the Value of Christ and entering into His kingdom.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:45-46)

These worldly techniques of bringing the world to Jesus as a "life-enhancer" appeals to many who are uncomfortable, lonely, depressed, and disillusioned with the brokenness of this world. Many "decisions for Christ" have been recorded as a result of promises that Jesus "will cure what ails ya." Unfortunately, many bitter and critical former "followers of Christ" have also been the result of these worldly sales techniques, because they feel that Jesus failed to deliver on the promises of worldly happiness and comfort that they were offered by people in His name.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Matthew 10:34-40)

So, what about you?

Are you a follower of Jesus? If so, why? Are you a follower of His because you view Him as a life enhancer and hope that He will give you material comfort and prosperity in this world which is passing away?

Or have your eyes been opened to the reality of who Jesus is and what He's offered to you through His death, burial and resurrection? Do you understand that Jesus is not a life-enhancer, but is instead the life-giver?

When Jesus drives up the Cost of following Him, our response to Him and His call demonstrates our understanding of His Value in our hearts more than our words do (Mark 7:6-9).

Pick up your cross and follow Me.

Have you picked up your cross today? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?

Are you serving the True and Living God?

Or are you asking the Lord to serve you and your agenda?

I know that sometimes I'm guilty of praying Lord, your will be done, while really meaning Lord, let my will be done. What about you?

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

Oh, Lord, that we would know the surpassing value of knowing you and being known by you! Deal with us, not according to our deeds, but according to your mercy and for your name's sake. Lead us, and make us a people that readily acknowledge you as Lord, rely solely on your grace, and walk with you in humility and love. Amen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Christians & Yoga

Q: It seems in recent years, Yoga has come to our country and spread like wildfire. We can now get Christian Yoga Dvd's, and Zondervan's National Pastor's Conference has included Yoga. Churches are also having Yoga nights as a form of excercise/relaxation. I have many strong Christian friends who participate in Yoga. They claim they only do the stretching and do not add any of the spiritual elements. When we really look at what Yoga is, can we separate the stretching from the spiritual elements?

In the past, Christians began participating in Martial Arts and removed the so-called spiritual parts. We have also taken pagan holidays, removed the pagan ideas, and turned them into Christian Holidays. Again, I am wondering can this also be done with Yoga?

A: This is a really great question, and one that genuinely professing Christians hold very different opinions and positions on! Some have fully embraced "Christian Yoga" while other respected Christian leaders like Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler and even some practicing Hindu's have spoken out against the attempts to "Christianize" this particular pagan spiritual practice.

I certainly won't claim that I'll be able to "settle the matter" in this post, but I do believe that the Bible gives us pretty clear spiritual principles that should guide our practice and conclusions on the matter of Christians and Yoga.

If I understand the Questioner correctly, the point of the question really rests on the nature of Yoga itself, namely that Yoga is a form of eastern spirituality and is deeply rooted in false religion. Simply put, Yoga may be practiced by many people today as simply a form of physical "exercise" but that's not what it was intended to be... so should Christians practice a form of spiritual pagan worship as "exercise"?

When put that way, the immediately obvious answer seems like it should be "No." However, some have attempted to "Christianize" yoga and sell products with the "Christian" stamp prominently displayed which eases many peoples concerns. This is exactly the same type of practice that led to us decorating trees in our homes and a glorification of materialism and covetousness to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a day he almost certainly wasn't born for Christmas, or to dye eggs different colors and hide them while simultaneously eating jelly beans to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The combination of the label "Christian" with pagan practices (such as Yoga and the worship of another false god, Saturnalia) often results in bizarre and absurd contradictions that are accepted easily enough by most professing Christians.

For some followers of Christ, they reject Halloween, Christmas, and Easter for the same reasons that they object to Christians practicing yoga -- these practices, they say, are inherently associated with pagan worship of false gods and should therefore be rejected by the Church.

For me, it's not that simple. The influence of pagan practices -- both spiritual and otherwise -- has much more influence than we may initially think. The names of the days of our week for example (i.e. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.) find their origin in pagan gods and astrology -- practices condemned by biblical Christianity. Our system for keeping time (i.e. 24-hour days) is not based on the Creation account (evening and morning = a day) or the Jewish system, but is also linked to pagan systems.

In order to eliminate all of these pagan influences, we would necessarily need to convert to Judaism as delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai -- as God was creating a people who were separated from the surrounding cultures. Yet, Christians are explicitly commanded not to go back to Judaism and "law keeping." Instead, we are called to remain "unstained by the world" (James 1:27) while also living in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15).

As a result of this tension -- in the world, but not of the world -- come questions like this one about Christians and yoga ... is it permissible (1 Corinthians 6:12)? Is it beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23)?

While I value the insights and perspectives of my Christian brothers and sisters who claim that yoga cannot be separated from its origins, I simply disagree with this logic. In the above link, Mark Driscoll cited an expert on yoga who claimed the physical "exercise" tenets were never designed to be separated from the "spiritual worship" aspects, but it does not logically follow that they cannot be separated anyway.

Plenty of things that aren't designed to be separated still can be -- sometimes separating the parts destroys the whole, other times the results are less catastrophic.

Quite frankly, I reject the idea that Christians cannot participate in some of these pagan practices without being influenced by the entirety of the practices original intentions. More importantly than my opinion, it seems the Apostle Paul agrees with me!

In Paul's first letter to the believers in Corinth, he addressed a question these Christians had regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols. This particular question, although not exactly the same, is asking something very similar to the Questioner above. The meat sacrificed to idols was directly part of pagan worship of false gods. Here's Paul's answer:

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, NASB)

Paul didn't have any problem separating one thing ("meat") from its original intended purpose ("sacrificed to idols"/pagan worship of false gods). To Paul, since all other gods are false, Paul says it's just meat. He doesn't care that it was associated with worship of false gods, because those gods aren't real. The meat, however, is real.

To me, this is as direct of a comparison that can be made.

Meat (real), offered to false gods (not real), is okay for the Christian to eat because it's just meat.
Stretching (real), offered to false gods (not real), is okay for Christians to practice because it's just stretching.

Paul doesn't stop exactly there, however, but continues with the following qualifier:

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:7-13, NASB)

Paul is careful to mention that our freedom in Christ should not be used to cause stumbling blocks to others. The goal of all of our conduct should be to glorify God!

Since the present question is referring specifically to Yoga -- we must soberly ask ourselves, if it's just stretching, is it worth causing my brother or sister to stumble? The answer is clearly, "No."

Another question we must ask is, does participating in Yoga as a Christian (I do tend to agree that "Christian Yoga" is an oxymoron) cause a stumbling block to those we know and influence who are not followers of Christ? Put another way, could my practice of this exercise regimen lead someone else to participate in worship of false gods because they don't know any better? If the answer to this is yes, then we should once again exercise our freedom in Christ and "never do yoga again" (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13)!

As someone who converted to Christianity from a form of Buddhism, I can tell you that I have no personal qualms about doing yoga. I experience no temptation to go back to those false worship practices and find it extremely easy to think of yoga as simply stretching ... in fact, when I've participated in the past, I couldn't possibly have "emptied my mind" if I tried, as I was too busy trying to not fall down and couldn't stop thinking about how uncomfortable I was!

On the flip side of that same coin, I would never join a yoga class or participate in yoga in a group, because of the potential dangers for misunderstanding or division amongst the brethren. To me, it's simply not worth the risk.

This is the same reason I no longer drink alcohol or have it in my home. I do not struggle with drunkeness (which is clearly a sin in the Scriptures; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). I also do not believe that someone who has a glass of wine with dinner is committing sin. I enjoy alcohol, but exercise my freedom in Christ because I know that there are many who struggle with alcohol that do so privately (recovering alcoholics, for example) and I would never want to put a cause for stumbling in someones life simply because "that's their problem, not mine."

Paul wrote to Timothy saying, For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8, NIV) Our questions about "can we?" should also lead us to ask "should we?"

Can Christians participate in yoga and enjoy the purely physical benefits of the exercise without also worshipping false gods and engaging in idolatry? I think the biblical answer is yes. The mature believer who knows that there is only one God and we have access to Him only through Jesus Christ can do this the same way the Corinthian believers could eat meat sacrificed to idols without worshipping false gods that were merely figments of the imaginations of others.

Should Christians participate in yoga, and if so, to what extent? It seems to me that this is a question you must answer for yourself with the understanding that you are accountable to Jesus, not to me.

I don't think you destroy the original intention of Paul if you replace his remarks about "eating and drinking" and "observation of days" with "stretching through yoga" in his comments recording in Romans 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD." So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
(Romans 14:1-23, NAU)

If you are practicing yoga stretching techniques in order to glorify God in your body and to be a good steward of your physical health, then I don't believe the Bible condemns your practice. If you are engaging in yoga because it is fashionable and popular, or for the sake of vanity, then you are likely in sin because of your worldliness and should abstain from these things so as not to persist in rebellion and sin against the Lord.

The genuine Christian should take these questions seriously since the stakes are high and because He already knows our hearts and intentions. We must also remember that it is not our job to judge each other on disputable matters, but instead we must be fully convinced in our own minds, because to our own Master we stand or fall.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tolerance Toward Sin?

After reading the article entitled "Zero Tolerance," which deals with a biblical understanding of tolerance as opposed to a modern social understanding and deals with the Christian's attitude of tolerance toward evil, the Questioner was moved to ask the following:

Question: "What should the Christians response be toward sin? Do we have an obligation to oppose sin and evil, or do we simply tolerate it as part of the fallen world around us? If we remain silent are we passively saying that these things are OK? I understand that there is only "so much" we can do... but does that mean we should do nothing? And if we do something, to what extent?"

Answer: That is a great question and I will attempt to answer it from at least my perspective on what I believe to be the root of the question: Should Christians have an attitude of tolerance toward sin?

First, I would suggest that you (the reader) click on the above link and read the article in question.

Then, think about the different definitions for "tolerance" that are given, both from the dictionary (which I disagree with the author of the article in the sense that this is not a purely "worldly" definition, but rather one from a source that started out Christian in perspective and that's why "some biblical principles" can be found there) and from the authors source, the Louw, Greek-English Lexicon.

Read the scripture references that are given, and see if you agree that the "essence" of tolerance from a biblical perspective is "patience, endurance, and perseverance."

I don't totally disagree that the longer we are exposed to sin and evil in an attitude of tolerance, that it could lead to compromise... if we are not careful to endure and persevere in the faith. This is why Christians are called to live holy and sanctified lives.

I also agree that we should "hate" evil and sin... primarily because God hates evil and sin!

Deuteronomy 12:31 - "You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."

Psalm 11:5 - The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates."

Proverbs 6:16-19 - There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers."

Psalm 97:10 - Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked."

Proverbs 13:5 - A righteous man hates falsehood, But a wicked man acts disgustingly and shamefully."

Proverbs 28:16 - A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days."

And there are many more verses we could look at concerning our attitude toward sin. However, I live in a world that is presently still corrupted by sin and under the influence of the Evil One (Satan).

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 - And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

So, what is my personal responsibility when it comes to an attitude of tolerance (endurance, perseverance, resistance, or allowance) toward sin? Can I make a difference? If I should do something... what?

I want to answer this by looking at 3 separate areas of tolerance toward sin and how I believe I should respond in each.

#1 - What about sin or evil in my personal life (individual or self)?

Zero Tolerance!

Jesus made it very clear that anything in a believers life that causes or could cause them to sin MUST be removed, even if radical surgery is called for!

Matthew 5:29-30 - "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

I love what Paul was inspired to say in 1 Corinthians 15:34 - "Become sober minded... and STOP SINNING!" (caps added for emphasis.)

I believe that Scripture is clear. We must make every effort in our personal lives to put to death sin and evil by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and our "diligent" effort to submit to Him and die to self. Don't "put up with" sin in your life! Look at some of the language used:

Romans 6:6-7 - "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin."

When something is crucified, it is put to death!

Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

Galatians 5:24 - "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Galatians 6:14 - "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Romans 8:13 - "For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

I (as a Christian) need to flee from immorality, idolatry, and sinful behaviors (not tolerate them) and pursue righteousness!

1 Corinthians 6:18 - "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."

1 Corinthians 10:14 - "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."

1 Timothy 6:11 - "But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness."

2 Timothy 2:19, 22 - "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness." ... 22Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."

1 Peter 2:11 - "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul."

What, if anything, can I do to make sure I don't tolerate sin or evil in my life? Here are a couple of suggestions:

James 4:7 - "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

Every day, put on the full armor of God and remember that it isn't "people" that I struggle against (Ephesians 6:10-18)!

#2 - What about tolerance for sin or evil in the "Church" -- the corporate body of Christ?

Zero Tolernace!

Everything in the above part about the individual is just as true for the corporate body of Christ since it is made up of individual believers. But is there ever a time when sin or evil should be tolerated (endured or allowed) in the church?

I don't believe so... it would be like a cancer that would infect the whole body and eventualy take its life! In the Old Testament, there was a responsability for the "assembly" or "congregation" to put to death those who sinned or did evil among them. This responsability to "not tolerate" sin and evil in the New Testament church didnt change.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is inspired to write to a church that is "tolerating" sin within its members and to harshly rebuke them and demand correction!

1 Corinthians 5:1-6 - "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?"

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES."

Notice that we are not prohibited from associating with sinners in the "world," since we are responsible to be Christ's ambassadors and witnesses to them. This, in part, helps answer the question of whether we should tolerate or put up with sin in the world. We may have to endure it so that we can spread the Gospel... but we don't have to allow it to infect us!

2 Peter 2:20 - "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first."

James 1:27 - Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

We need to stay focused on the mission of the Church and guard against the corruption of the world. We need to tolerate one another in love (in the church) according to Ephesians 4:2, but not when it comes to unrepentant sin or evil actions.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 - "...abstain from every form of evil."(Written to a group of believers!)

Titus 3:10 - "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him."

1 Timothy 1:20 - "Among these [who have damaged or rejected their faith] are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme."

1 Timothy 5:20 - "Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning." (Speaking of those in the church, particularly leaders!)

2 John 1:9-11 - "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

Luke 17:3 - "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him."

#3 - What about the world? What do we do about this sinful world, society, and people we live amongst?

I believe our tolerance of sin and evil in the world is Conditional. We must live individual and corporate (church) lives with a zero tolerance for sin. We cannot allow the corruption of the world to "re-stain" us once we have been washed clean.

However, we also must be connected to the people who need to hear the Gospel. We cannot fulfill the Great Commission if we seal ourselves up in a cave or behind the forbiddingly secure walls of our local church building.

This is the dilemma... and, I believe, the answer!

We are to live holy and sanctified lives, both individually and corporately while we live amongst the lost, sinful, and evil of this world. Because, that's where the lost sheep are grazing! I believe that it is those very lives of holiness that we live, as lights in the darkness, that will make the difference for the lost. This my friend, is part of what it means to suffer for Christ. We must endure (tolerate) the sin around us while all the time not becoming infected by it!

We are not to "fellowship" with or join in with those in the world...

2 Corinthians 6:14 - "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

We cannot ignore the evil or sinful deeds they do either...

Ephesians 5:11-13 - "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light."

I don't think this is a call to protest, or revolt, or even condemn... I believe that we can expose the deeds of darkness by being the "light" that contrasts them in what we do, and speaking of the "Truth" that overcomes the things done in secret!

Isn't this what Paul, and the Apostles, and early church martyrs did? They went into the darkness of the world and changed whole cities and societies by spreading the Gospel and living in holiness! You want to do something about sin? DO THAT!

William Wilberforce didn't ignore the evil of the slave trade, but he endured it (tolerated it) until he could use the "world's" system and the truth to overcome it! He didn't give in, or give up, but remained consistant in his witness.

We need to have zero tolerance for sin in our lives and churches and live "differently" (holy) from the rest of the world. This is our witness against sin and evil. Clean up our own houses first!

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES."

I think too many Christians live in frustration over what they cannot do instead of doing what they are supposed to do. We must hate sin, but also remember that our enemy isn't the people who are prisoners of it!

Ephesians 6:12 - "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Why do we who have been set free feel like we need to "execute" those who are prisoners of war so we won't feel like we are "tolerating" sin or evil? We need to give them the truth and be living examples of the power of the truth instead of trying to regulate or legislate behavior in hearts and spirits that are dead!

1 John 5:19 - "We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

So, what can I do while I am "forced" to endure (or tolerate) the evil and sin of this world? I can make sure there is zero tolerance for sin in my life!

Philippians 2:14-15 - "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,"

1 Peter 2:12 - "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

1 Peter 3:13-17 - "Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong."

2 Timothy 2:23-26 - "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

Romans 12:21 - "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I need to remember who it is that has purchased me, and who I serve, the One who truly is being tolerant of sin, and who it is that can actually overcome the evil and sin all around me!

John 16:33 - "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

Romans 2:4 - "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"

1 John 2:2 - "And He Himself [Christ Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

So... in light of all this, what about your original questions?

What should the Christians response be toward sin?

  • Zero tolerance in our lives and in our church.

  • Conditional tolerance in the world, since they don't know better and we are the ones who need to bring them the truth: both in what we say and in how we live.

  • Do we have an obligation to oppose sin and evil, or do we simply tolerate it as part of the fallen world around us?

  • We are obligated to oppose it with the truth of the Gospel of Christ and holy lives that reflect that truth and its power to transform.

  • If we remain silent are we passively saying that these things are OK?

  • Yes, if we remain silent with the truth of the Gospel that we have recieved and been made "heralds" of!

  • I understand that there is only "so much" we can do... but does that mean we should do nothing? And if we do something, to what extent?

  • We should pray... and pray some more. Especially intercessory prayer for the lost. They won't and can't pray, so if we don't, who will?

  • We should firmly and gently resist sin and evil and not take part in it, or compromise with it, or avoid explaining why we don't agree with it or participate in it. Others can be set free when you explain the truth and actually live in light of it.

  • We should make sure that our lives and our church are accurate reflections of Jesus that look different from the world, with zero tolerance for sin, but open arms for sins prisoners!

  • We should remember that we are here for His purpose and not our comfort... and that He has already won the victory. We should turn to Him when it gets too tough and draw on His strength.

  • We cannot ignore sin... but sometimes we must tolerate the heat to get to those lost in the desert!

  • I hope this has helped you in some way. Tolerance isn't easy, but it takes much more courage than running away and makes more of a difference than alienation of the very ones we are sent to preach to. Make sense?

    You are welcome to disagree... that's what blogs are for. I love you either way! P. Scott