Not everyone is a child of God.

children

There are some universal mindsets floating around in Christianity and the western world today that rarely go unchecked.  Our cultural dispositions unintentionally color understanding of Scripture, and sometimes we hear opinions stated as Biblical fact and absorb them into our belief system without ever weighing them against Scripture.  One such belief is the simple statement, yet extremely weighty belief that all human beings are children of God.  It is true that the human race was created in the image of God (Gen 1.27).  But being an image-bearer has nothing to do with our status before God or our salvation.

Scripture is quite clear, in fact, that all non-believers are actually children of the devil.  Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and tares, explaining that even within the Church there are true believers who are children of God and tares – people who look similar to wheat until the end, when they are proven to be weeds.  These tares, these people who do not truly believe even though though attend church regularly and look like believers on the outside, are sons of the devil:

And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.”

– Matt 13.37-39

Paul teaches the simple fact that all unbelievers are under the influence and direction of the devil:

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 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.”

– 2 Cor 4.3-4

Paul also teaches us that everyone – including believers before salvation – is dead in sin, and walking according to the will of the devil and are children of wrath:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

– Eph 2.1-3

To state it most simply and clearly, everyone who makes a habit of sinning is of the devil, a child of the devil:

“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”

– 1 John 3.7-8

The final nail in the coffin is Jesus’ assertion that anyone who does not believe Him is not a child of God, but a child of the devil.  If you are a child of God, you believe Jesus and obey Him.  If you are a child of the devil, even if you are part of a family of strong believers or of Jewish heritage, you are a child of the devil:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.  Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word.  You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

– John 8.42-47

So what is, exactly, a child of God?  It is a person who believes, loves and obeys Jesus (Gal 3.26, John 1.12).  They are a part of His family.  They are fellow heirs with Jesus (Rom 8.17-19).  They are those whom the Father knows, loves, welcomes, disciples, and saves.  Children of the devil were indeed created by God, but they do not believe, love or obey Jesus and therefore have the nature of the devil.  Before Jesus offered salvation to the world, the Jews were considered children of God by nature of their birth line through Abraham.  But Jesus and Paul blow that worldview and misunderstanding out of the water.  It is through the promise and by faith, not through bloodline.  Thus Jesus radically shook the Jewish world by declaring those most pious of people to be of the devil.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.”  That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

– Rom 9.6-8

Ultimately, the apostle John makes this terrifying statement:

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

– 1 John 3.10

Anyone who makes peace with sin in his life, anyone who does not love his brother, anyone who does not submit to God’s authority and practice righteousness is a child of the devil and not of God.

What does this mean for us?  Does it mean that we start hating nonbelievers and keeping our distance from them?  Absolutely not!  Jesus has commanded us and taught us by example to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt 5.44, 28.18-20).  We also must remember that until our eyes were opened in belief and we began following Jesus, we were all children of wrath and of the devil (Eph 2.1-3).   As long as we made peace with sin and did not follow God, we ourselves were not of the family of God but were of our father the devil (1 John 3.10).  This is why we understand that God adopts us as sons.  We were not physically born into His family, but Spiritually.  We were dead men walking who required a new birth, adoption and salvation.

Therefore, we must remain humble and remember that faith is the free gift of God (Eph 2.8-9). And He wants to utilize us as His mouthpieces to bring about faith in others who have not yet been adopted and are still children of the devil.  Thus we love.  We share.  We intercede.  We admonish.  And we hold accountable those around us to be sure that there are as few tares in our midst, and only true wheat.

When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

question-mark

How is your faith?  Is it strong?  Is it weak?  Do you doubt or question often?  Or are you rock solid, like a tree planted by a stream?  If you are a normal human being, chances are that you vacillate in between the two extremes regularly!  When Jesus was walking the Earth, He preformed many miracles.  And when the disciples were amazed at his to speak death over a fig tree, Jesus said to them:

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

– Mark 11.23

This is truly a phenomenal statement.  Jesus, as God of the universe, promises that whoever has faith without doubting can literally cast a mountain into the sea.  Have you ever seen that happen?  Such an occurrence has never been documented…  When Jesus had sent the disciples out to proclaim His coming, they encountered a demon that they were unable to cast out.  To this, Jesus said,

“And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.”

– Matt 17.20

Jesus rebuked the disciples for having to little faith to cast out a demon.  They had enough faith to try, but the demon itself was more powerful than their faith.  Jesus’ answer was that even the smallest amount of faith – the size of  a mustard seed – would not only cast out demons but move entire mountains.  Exorcisms have been documented and noted around the world, but again – no mountains relocating.

This teaching of Jesus has been greatly distorted and abused.  There is no an entire sect of Christianity that essentially worships faith and chastises people for their situations – declaring it to be a result of nothing other than their lack of faith.  Are you sick?  You have too little faith.  Did you lose your job?  You do not believe enough!  Is your child straying form the Church?  You have to believe it for it to be fixed!

This teaching is not only dangerous, but heretical.  Why?  Firstly, because it idolizes faith and not the object of the faith.  Instead of pointing people to Scripture to claim the actual promises of God like Rom 8.28 – “All things work together for good for those who love God” – it points to the individual’s heart.  If you are in crisis, the onus is on you to muster up faith bigger than a mustard seed so that it will be made right.  Faith in what?  Faith that it will be fixed, of course!  Instead of glorifying God, instead of teaching people to depend on God, this worldview focuses on the individual, the problem, and neatly forces people into a corner.  You have no one to blame but yourself for your situation, and the only hope you have to is press in harder and force faith.  Bland, pointless, self-gratifying faith.

Secondly, this teaching is heretical because it is simply not the intention of Jesus.  When we take this teaching to its logical end, it necessarily fall apart.  Why?  Because everyone is going to die.  Scripture promises that not only will we all die, we will all subsequently stand judgment:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

– Heb 9.27

Everyone is going to die, regardless of the amount of faith that we have.  Even if your life is posh, comfortable and without major crisis, you are going to die and then be judged for your actions while you were alive.  No amount of faith can alter this destiny because it is ordained by God as the result of sin.

What does this one single truth consequently teach us?  Blind faith and object-less faith is meaningless.  You might truly believe that you can fly.  But if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will not fly.  You might concoct a suit that allows you to soar or float, but you do not have the innate ability to fly within your body.  You might truly believe and have faith that your bank account will suddenly be multiplied to millions of dollars overnight.  But unless you work hard, win the lottery or somehow have the money added to your name, your faith alone in a bigger bank account will not generate that money.

But more importantly, it is not “faith alone” that saves us.  Our souls are not saved simply because we have faith.  Scripture says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

It is by faith alone that we are saved.  What is the difference?  We are saved by faith in something, and that something is the grace of God.  We cannot will our salvation by believing that we are good enough, that we have done enough, that we are simply OK.  Our faith must be in the promise and provision of God alone.

And do you know what else?  God never promises to heal all of our pains or satisfy all of our desires.  In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith.  The early Church was scattered by the Roman Emperors persecuting and murdering them.  Christians throughout all generations have suffered great and terrible persecution, had their land plundered, their families killed and jobs lost.

I wrote earlier this week on Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethesda.  You can read that here.   When Jesus approached the pool of Bethesda, there was a multitude – a huge crowd – of people who were sick, paralyzed, physically handicapped and waiting for a miracle.  Jesus went in and chose to heal one man.  Just one, out of a huge crowd.  He healed that man and then slipped out so no one saw Him.

Why?

Did Jesus not come to heal everyone?  We do see in some stories that Jesus occasionally invested much time to heal everyone who was around (Matt 4.23, 9.35), however that is not why Jesus came to the Earth the first time.  He declared that His purpose was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt 18.10).  If you survey every time Jesus declared His purpose in coming, without fail He references salvation and/or dealing with sin.  He did not come to end suffering or bring about the New Earth.  He did not come to take everyone to Heaven, and when people believe in Him He leaves them on the Earth to continue to tell other people and does not sweep them away to Heaven.  Why?  Because He is giving us time to get to know Him and to tell others about Him.  While we suffer.  While we struggle.  While we are persecuted.  While things go badly.

He will come to take away suffering!  He is coming back, and when He comes the second time, it will be to free us from disease, sin, sickness, and pain.  But that was not His intention in His first appearance, and it is not His intention for us now.  Our faith in God is unto salvation, not unto pleasure or health.  This is why Paul consistently talks about his personal suffering and why he encourages the early church as they persevere through tribulations and trials.

Thus we cannot simply have blind faith in a mountain moving, or a sickness being healed, or a physical need being met.  Jesus promises acts of God when we have faith in God, and faith that aligns with His will.  We cannot have faith in God that we will be healed if the sickness we currently have is that sickness which will lead unto our death – because God has appointed a time for each of us to die.  We cannot thwart His will or decree by believing the opposite.  What we believe must be grounded in the promises of Scripture and consequently the will of God.  Jesus left many people unhealed, hungry and desolate.  Why?  Because His purpose was to bring salvation, not comfort.  Therefore if we believe that God will do mighty works to bring about salvation and Spiritual growth, then and only then are we guaranteed the mighty works of God.  Faith the size of a mustard seed in the promises and provision of God will save our souls eternally and move unimaginable mountains for the furthering of the Gospel.

So let us believe great things from God.  Let us attempt great things for God.  Let us continually allow God to grow, mold and strengthen our faith.  But let us remember that God’s primary concern in our faith is not our health, not our success, not our happines, but our holiness.  That one man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda was sternly warned by Jesus,

“Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

– John 5.14

Jesus did heal him physically – and He will heal us physically, most times, but He was primarily concerned about the man’s holiness.  This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and Jesus warned him that if he continued sinning something worse would become of him, namely, eternal damnation.

So know the promises of God.  Claim the promises of God.  Enjoy Him and trust Him for eternal salvation.  And trust Him through the trials which He is currently allowing in your life which you do not particularly enjoy.  Because He is working those things together for your good and for His glory (Rom 8.28).

They are not coming to us.

empty church

Did you know that church attendance is waning nationwide?  Did you know that even though the Baby Boomers still consider it the cultural norm, by in large, to go to church every week, but Gen Xers and Millennials may have not been raised in the church, and even if they were they see it as optional.  Even the most devout of us skip church for a myriad of reasons:  I’m too tired, it’s pretty outside, it’s raining outside, I want to go to brunch instead…

And while we are constantly encouraged as people to know ourselves, to verbalize our feelings, to go to therapy and counseling to get help and grow spiritually and emotionally, we are also encouraged to believe that we find strength and ability within ourselves and the control is ourselves.  We also keep those conversations to ourselves and rarely bring up those deep topics outside of assigned times where we pay someone to listen.

What this means, at least in part, is that the Church is no longer consider a place people go for emotional or spiritual help.  We still have a reputation for helping the poor, and those who need money or food will still call around looking for handouts.  But it is a rare occurrence that someone will be hurting, struggling or searching for truth and therefore choose to find a local church and go.

Many traditional churches, however, are still functioning with the mindset that people will wander in off the streets.  We update our buildings, we get fancy sound systems, we assign greeters at the doors and make pretty signs all with the hopes that the great un-reached masses will miraculously flood in our doors.  I personally know of a church that spent over a year updating their building and praying for people to come in the doors and utilized the motto “Company Is Coming” in order to pump up the congregation.

Guess what?

Company never came.

Why not?  Because humanity does not seek after God.  We are unrighteous, we are selfish, we are sinners and we are enemies of God, and fundamentally we are Spiritually dead:

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

Spiritually dead people, unrighteous people, and people who are enemies of God do not come to the conclusion on their own that they need Spiritual life, that they need to repent and that God might be the answer.  It is possible that they would consider religion as an answer – as one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to assure people that they are ethically and morally upstanding and headed to Heaven in eternity.  But Satan’s tactic in false religions is to blind people to the Gospel and convince them that they can be good enough by their own efforts, leaving them still Spiritually dead and without hope.

Therefore, if your church boldly claims the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Satan will not draw crowds into your sanctuary.  And Spiritually dead people – those people we want and need to reach will not be drawn to our buildings.

But you know what?  That is OK!

Never once did Jesus tell the disciples to sit around and wait for people to come to them.  He commanded them, and us, to go!  Our recent past has deceived us, slightly, in that the 18th to early 20th century culture was at least nominally Christian, there was minimal entertainment and community events were often held in the Church buildings.  Thus, there was a social pressure to attend, people were always there for events, and traveling evangelists drew a crowd for weekend or week long gatherings.  As we continue down the path of a post-Christian culture, we are finding ourselves in a situation much more similar to the early church, however, and we have to go to them.

God used a variety of strategies to get the Gospel out and to make believers.  He sent the disciples out, and they preached on the street corners, started local groups, preached to the governing authorities when they were arrested, and started churches.  He sent Paul and his various counterparts on missionary journeys to travel to the “known world”, where Paul entered religious centers and places of worship as well as city centers where he reasoned with people one-on-one and also preached to the crowds.  He started churches in almost every city he visited thus.  God also used persecution and the threat of death to scatter believers throughout the known world:  Christians were threatened of their lives so they ran for safety.  Wherever they settled, they would share with their new neighbors and friends and people would be saved and churches were established.

In short, God sends people out and it is through their intentional efforts in the streets, in the marketplace, in their relationships, that other people came to know Jesus and salvation.  The Gospel organically spread along natural relational lines.  Often times entire households would believe, and they would share with other households who would believe.  Other times, individuals would hear and believe and take it home with them to their friends and families.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

It has been researched that most people would attend church if they were invited.  But even still, the onus is squarely on the people of God to share the Gospel with people where they are.  Our Sunday worship services are intentional times for believers to come together to grow, to learn, to meet with and worship God.  Sunday services are not supposed to be evangelical in nature, targeting the non-believer.  A wise pastor always incorporates the Gospel so that those who are not yet saved might believe, but corporate worship is for worshiping God.  Not reaching the lost.  We have six other days of the week for that.

How do we do that?  We talk about Jesus.  We all know that you naturally talk about the things you love and enjoy.  If you love and enjoy Jesus, it will be natural to talk about it.  Practice with fellow believers so that it is more natural when you talk to non believers.  How did you come to faith?  What is God doing in your life today?  How do you fight sin?  What is God teaching you?  What most excites you about eternity?  Be natural.  Be real.  Preach the Gospel.  It does not have to be formal, in a gathering or Bible study.  Just talk about Jesus.  Wherever you all, whatever you are doing.  This is how we will reach the world, not by inviting them in but by going and telling.

“…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; 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.”

– 1 Peter 3.15-16

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

– 1 Tim 4.1-2

They will not come to us.  Let’s go to them.

When you have been poisoned.

snake

There is a slightly obscure story from the Old Testament when the Hebrew people were roaming around in the wilderness which holds remarkable implications for us today.  It is the story of the bronze serpent:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’  The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.’  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”

– Numbers 21.4-9

At first glance this story is strange and seems contradictory to the nature of God.  He had just delivered the ten commandments in which He belabored the point that man shall have no other gods and shall make no statues or images to worship.  Why, then, would He instruct Moses to form a snake out of bronze which looked like the very curse they were suffering, raise it on a stick and instruct the people to look at it for healing?

Thankfully, when Jesus and the apostles read the Old Testament, they had insight from God which revealed much of the imagery and foreshadowing of the stories therein.

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

– John 3.12-15

When Jesus was explaining salvation and Spiritual life to Nicodemus, He explained the imagery of the serpent:  Jesus is the serpent.  Now this is a strange imagery to be sure.  The devil used the form of a snake in Genesis when he tempted Eve, and God cursed the snake because of it.  There is enmity between humanity and the snake as part of the curse, and to this day people are terrified of and hate snakes – by in large.  They are venomous, they bite, they kill.  And yet Jesus is as the fiery serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness for salvation.

This speaks first and foremost to the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  He not only offered Himself to take our place in punishment, He actually became sin – He became the curse – He was accursed, on our account.

“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

– Deut 21.22-23

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’.”

– Gal 3.13

“[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

Therefore, the imagery of the snake – the very means by which the people were being bitten and poisoned unto death – being the means of their salvation was symbolic of Jesus taking our sin – the very means by which we are cursed to damnation – and saving us from it.  Jesus could only receive the wrath of God against sin by being made the fullness of sin so that God could pour out His wrath upon that sin and therefore declare us acceptable by means of having our punishment already paid.  God never pardons sin, He never overlooks sin.  His righteousness demands that every sin be punished fully, and thus He supernaturally transformed Jesus into that sin which we have committed and punished it in Him so that we do not have to be punished.

The snakes in the camp were sent from God as a punishment for despising the manna that God had sent for them to eat and for complaining.  We are under the curse from God because we sin.  God has provided a means of salvation, by becoming accursed Himself and taking our place, and all we must do in order to be saved is to look upon Jesus.  Note, also, that the serpent serves as a means of salvation for those people who are already bitten.  They are poisoned.  They are going to die.  We are all sinful and are cursed.  We are not poisoned in the sense that sin is not something outside of us that cases our death, but we already spiritually dead and headed straight for an eternity in Hell apart from looking upon Jesus and receiving Spiritual life.

“Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.”

– Is 45.22

Salvation is so simple, yet so difficult.  We are either prepared to do a million acts of service to justify ourselves and earn merit with God, or we expect God to love us in spits of our sin and wickedness.  But God says “Look to Jesus” and “Believe” and you will be saved (Is 45.22, Acts 16.31, Rom 10.9).  The looking and believing recognizes that we are doomed, poisoned as it were, headed to Hell and in need of a Savior.  When we see Jesus crucified having taken on our sin, and believe in His work as our substitution, we are saved.  It is that simple, yet that difficult.  We must recognize that it is not of us, we cannot earn or merit God’s salvation and we cannot demand it.  We must simply accept it.

When we are poisoned, when we recognize our flesh coming out and our sinful tendencies merging into our hearts and minds, we must look to Jesus and be saved.  This is true at our initial conversion and it is an ongoing battle that we will fight until we are free of our flesh and sinful bodies (Gal 5).  Look to Jesus.  Remember His word.  Claim His promises.  Abide in Him.  Pray to communicate your heart and listen to hear His.  Fight sin with Scripture and replacement techniques.  Press into Jesus.

Love ≠ Tolerance

intervention

The seventies instilled in us the belief, er, wish that “all you need is love” to be happy and succeed in life, politics, the workplace, relationships, whatever.  Love and peace were the mantras echoed against the Vietnam war and turmoil of the draft amongst other things.  Today the battle cry has morphed into tolerance.  We do indeed long to be loved, but we are more concerned with having the freedom to believe and do whatever we darn. well. please.  Sure, it would be great if you loved me for what I do – but I want the government to protect me from you disagreeing with me, bullying me, or trying to prove me wrong.  This mindset is permeating our culture at such a rate that parents are now hesitant to teach and discipline their children, friends consider the highest form of mutual respect to be unmitigated acceptance, and employers and professors are now afraid of their employees and students – for fear that the wrong policy or statement might end in a lawsuit.

Deep in our hearts, on the most visceral level, we know that tolerance does not equal love and tolerance is not a sustainable value in education, maturation and interpersonal relationships.  If a child wants to play with a poisonous snake we tell him no and we explain the dangers.  If a young person believes that babies arrive by storks delivering them to happy parents, the eventually need to be given sex education to learn about how our bodies work and why certain changes have happened to them as they grew older.  If an American moves to England, someone must sit him down and explain driving on the left-hand side of the road and how the turn signal is opposite from the windshield wipers in the US.

Tolerance sounds great:  Live and let live, however we all recognize that there must be confines within which that tolerance resides.  Proclaiming “peace” and declaring that “all we need is love” will not stop terrorists from killing people who are not fighting.  Withdrawing from war will not force the Sudanese people to suddenly get along.  Ignoring evil will not make evil go away.

We also recognize that we must teach children to read and write, to learn math, to walk, and countless other basic skills.  To play a sport or a game there must be rules otherwise the game falls apart.

Ok, so the philosophically elite argue then that tolerance should be encompassing of our “immutable characteristics and belief systems”.  Simply, religion and carnal desires – and general worldviews that would encompass cultural tendencies and desires, as long as you are not hurting or imposing on someone else’s rights.  Again, this sounds very neat and tidy up front, but what about the culture that marries children?  What about the culture that allows multiple spouses?  What about the person who is born with the addiction to cocaine or the person who is genetically prone to alcoholism?  What about the religion that sacrifices animals?  What about the religion that eats human flesh to interact with their gods?  Or has sexual relations with animals?

We are left again with a difficult situation:  to tolerate and allow one person to practice their worldview will cause another to feel discriminated against in almost every situation.  If there are no absolutes, then everyone will find an opponent and it is asinine to expect the government to be able to rule on such a wide and vague range of topics.

That, however, is a side topic.  My main argument is that this kind of tolerance is not only impossible, it is illogical.  If a person truly believes whatever it is that he is proclaiming, then the truest form of love is to tell others and try to convince them of this belief.  If I truly believe that you will die if you step onto the street in front of that speeding bus, then it is not loving of me to philosophically evaluate the situation and consider your worldview and decision.  I will shove you out of the way or pull you back onto the sidewalk.  If I truly believe animals have rights and deserve to be treated humanely, I will join PETA and try to save animals from abusive homes and from religions that would sacrifice them or fight them for sport – and try to convince you why it is wrong to do so.

And most importantly, if I truly believe that apart from Jesus Christ we are all sinners and condemned to Hell, the most loving act for me is to warn you of the coming judgment and tell you of the hope in Jesus Christ.  If I believe that you are headed to Hell because of your sin and never tell you how to be forgiven in Jesus, I either hate you or do not truly believe that, because an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire and torment is infinitely worse than getting hit by a bus.

Tolerance, therefore, is essentially indifference.  To allow someone to do something and live something that is contrary to your belief system – if there is a consequence involved – is to not care.  Or worse, to hate.  One cannot truly validate another’s worldview and opinions without invalidating his own – unless he someone has a completely illogical all-inclusivism which would leave him with fundamentally no belief system.

Philosophy is greatly complicating our relationships and politics.

Therefore, let us cling to the long-standing authority of the Bible which has never been disproven and has withstood the test of centuries of critiques and cultures.  Alcoholism is not new.  Mysticism is not new.  Homosexuality is not new.  Nothing that our culture attempts to throw at the Bible in an effort to discredit or defame it is new.  And while it is a work of the Holy Spirit to draw someone to the Truth of the Bible, Scripture is clear that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  Therefore, we must share so that people can hear and be saved.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

– Rom 10.17

If you believe the Bible, if you believe in Heaven and Hell, to love your friend and neighbor is to tell them about Jesus.  To tolerate them is to not talk about Jesus and to not love them, but to condemn them to Hell via inaction.  Once they have heard, there is a level of tolerance required, but true love would continue to be concerned about their eternities and souls, and to never leave the topic far from conversation.  Let us love people, and earnestly try to reason with them so that they may be saved.

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23