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

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    Angels & Demons Revisited

    Q: Hi again!

    I have always thought that demons were the fallen angels, but in Jude 6 it says:

    [6] And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (NIV)

    So, I'm thinking I was wrong because it says they are bound - so, what are demons if they are not angels, or are they?

    A: This is a great question, and we have attempted to address most of the main theories for who or what demons are in a previous post on demons. For all those interested in our best attempt to answer the question, "so, what are demons if they are not angels, or are they?" should go and read that previous post first.

    I like to see your theological reasoning in play and that you are willing to assess your previous assumptions (in this case, that demons are fallen angels) because we all bring presuppositions to the text of Scripture that influence our reading -- and not all of these assumptions are valid! Nowhere in the biblical text, that I'm aware of, is an explicit reference made that says demons are fallen angels. However, this idea is firmly embedded in our culture!

    If you've read through the previous post on demons, you'll see that I do not take the position that demons are fallen angels, and the reason that I came to that conclusion is based (in part) on what comes a few verses later in Jude 8-10. I'll admit, however, that this conclusion is speculative. Without the Bible being explicit, we must hold our theological conclusions lightly, for fear that we go beyond what is written and begin abusing each other and fighting over disputable matters in direct violation of the command of the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 4:6).

    Since we've already examined the main theories for the identity of demons in the past, this post will focus on your theological process which led to the question -- that demons can't be fallen angels (or can they?) because Jude 6 says the fallen angels were bound.

    But is that what Jude 6 says?

    The translation of this particular verse reads slightly differently if you compare translations -- always a good study technique to alert you to difficulties or possible translational problems in the text! Digging into this verse a little bit will show that the reference to "angels" is modified by a descriptive relative clause, "the ones who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home." It's "these," that is, the specific angels just described, whom God has "kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day."

    One possible interpretation is that Jude is simply further describing all angels who fell when he provides this relative clause about their abandoning their positions of authority. In fact, some would even point to this as a "proof text" that the angels rebelled against God and fell with satan. If this is true, then your reasoning seems to hold a lot of weight, since these rebellious angels were then bound with chains until Judgment Day and, therefore, cannot be equated with the demons which Jesus and the Apostles were consistently confronting and casting out from people on the Earth.

    A different possiblity is that Jude is referring to a specific group of angels through this relative clause, and is intending to point the reader of his letter to a smaller segment of the angel population and not referring to all angels in general. If he meant all angels, he could have simply written: "And the [rebellious/fallen] angels ... he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day." Of course, basing doctrine on what the Scripture does not say (instead of what it does say) is usually bad practice!

    None-the-less, this modifying clause about the angels to which Jude is referring, provides us with some important information. First of all, Jude expects that his original audience is at least familiar with the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which he likely quotes from in vv. 14-15 (possibly a citation of 1 Enoch 1:9). This is potentially significant, because this book of Enoch makes use of an interpretation that identifies the angels who left their abode as the "sons of God" referred to in Genesis 6:4 who came to breed with the "daughters of men" -- the resulting race from this angelic/human mix eventually led to "the Watchers" (e.g. 1 Enoch 1:5) and what we would call today, "demons." This possibility was discussed briefly in our previous post on demons (the "second possibility" discussed).

    If that's too speculative, we can at least understand from other passages that not all angels are created equal and not all contain the same authority. Michael and Gabriel are the only two angels specifically named in the canonical Scriptures, and these two angels seem to have a special status and place amongst the angels. Over the centuries various attempts have been made to describe the "angelic hierarchy." One attempt by Dionysius the Areopagite, which was expanded and explained in great detail by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, concluded that the angelic host could be broken up into three separate orders, each with three divisions, which explained the descending levels of authority (likewise, there are varying levels of authority in the demonic realm in this view).

    Whether or not we accept the conclusions of these particular church fathers, the biblical text does seem to indicate that both kingdoms -- light and dark -- have hierarchy, authority, and structure. It's entirely possible, therefore, that the angels Jude is referring to are those who held a higher rank and authority (and abandoned that authority), while lesser ranking angels with no authority in the angelic host have fallen and become "demons" as we call them -- spiritual beings that live and act in the human realm until Judgment comes (Matthew 8:29).

    All this to say, I don't believe Jude 6 gives us enough information to either agree or disagree with the idea that Demons = Fallen Angels. Ultimately, the Scriptures don't answer every question that we have (bummer!), but they do provide all of the information that we need. We don't necessarily need to know what demons are or exactly how they got here, but we do need to know that they exist and we should be aware of their influence and doctrines (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1)! We can speculate and arrive at conclusions that are based on careful study of the Word of God and prayer, and after that we must be careful not to be divisive over these conclusions since to do so is dishonoring to the Lord.

    At the very least, we can be sure that at least some angels are currently held in chains awaiting judgment on the Day of the Lord, and Jude intends for this to be an example to humans -- Judgment is coming and no one who fails to believe in Jesus will be spared on that Day! Jude is not calling us to speculate about the origin of demons, but to live soberly in the light of this truth that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:9-31). Jude is bringing all of this up because the believers to whom he was writing were failing to remain diligent in contending for the truth of the faith and were allowing false teaching to creep in which was destructive (Jude 3-4) because it led to people denying Jesus -- a catastrophic error.

    Let us live in the light of the truth -- Jesus Christ is coming and He is the only King and Savior. As King, He commands that all confess their sin and rebellion against Him, confess that they are deserving of His condemnation as a result, turn to Him through repentance of their rebellion and in loyalty bow their knee to Him as King, and trust fully in Him and His work on the cross for the pardon of their sin, because there is no other Name given to men by which we may be saved from the just wrath that is to come! Thanks be to God for His mercy and grace through Jesus Christ our Lord!