Saturday, 25 February 2017

Sonship and Servanthood: Being vs Doing

(Song to listen to while reading this: Breathe by Jonny Diaz. Or after, if you prefer not to multitask or want to focus on the words of this post and the words of the song.)

One of the main differences in being a son compared to being a servant is that a servant has to work to maintain his position. That is the definition of a servant.

On the other hand, a son doesn't have to 'do' in order to stay as a son. All a son has to do to be a son is just that - be a son. There is nothing a son can do to make him any more or any less a son. He is a son.

We see an example of this in the parable of the prodigal son:

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants. So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. - Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

In this story, the son wanted to come home and serve his father. He wanted to do. He didn't think he could be a son any more - he thought he had to do in order to be worthy of anything. But he hadn't realized that being a son is not dependent on what he did or didn't do. He was his father's son.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” - Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

We see here Martha acting as a servant and Mary being a daughter. Mary was not needing to do anything. All that she needed to was to just be and sit at Jesus's feet.

Servants need to do.

Sons and daughters can just be.

(If you haven't listened to the song, go listen now - Breathe by Jonny Diaz)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Everything We Need

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. - 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

Here Peter tells us that we have been given the power to live a godly life. Maybe we're not sanctified all at once (I'm certainly not) but we are being sanctified.

This means that we don't have an excuse to live in sin:

"We were trying to stay pure before marriage. Oh well."
"I keep losing the battle against <insert various sins here>"
"It's just so hard."

Maybe we have sinned in the past. I'm not going to say that's okay, but we do have a roadmap in the Bible of what to do: Repent and confess.

But just because we've sinned in the past is no excuse for sinning in the present.
Just because the grace of God washes over all of our sins is no excuse for sinning in the present.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? - Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

We're not victims of our choices. We make our own choices. And we have been given everything we need to make godly choices.

I'm doing something this week which is hard. But I have the ability to do it, through Christ. I shouldn't complain that it's too hard and that it's not fair - after all, I chose it. And if I didn't complete it, then it wouldn't be that the idea failed - it would be that I failed. I didn't use what God has given me in order to live a godly life.

In summary:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. - 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

He has given us everything we need. Use it.


Friday, 2 September 2016

Dealing with Sin in the Church

Ideally, it wouldn't happen. But it does. If sanctification is a process that continues throughout our whole life, then there will be times when all of us fall short of God's perfect standard.

But we don't want to stay there.

Some people say we need to be 'forgiving' and 'accepting'. Let's have a look at Jesus' life and how he interacted with sinners.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
- John 8:2-11 (NIV)

In this story, Jesus is asked to give a judgement on whether to respond with the law or with mercy. He chooses mercy. He shows us that we are all sinners worthy of judgement, and that we should not be the ones to condemn people. That is God's role. (Jesus is God, yes, but his role during his time on Earth was not to bring condemnation - John 3:17.)

But even though Jesus didn't condemn, he still made a judgement. Some people are scared of the word 'judge', quoting the first three words of Matthew 7:1 - "Do not judge." We'll get to that in a moment.

Jesus didn't condemn the woman, but he still commanded her to leave her life of sin.

Now lets look at that 'do not judge' passage in context:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. - Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

People quote the first three words of this section and forget the context. I don't think Jesus is saying not to judge in this passage - he's saying to think carefully before judging. There can be no double standards - if you judge others, you yourself will be judged in the same way. In verse 5, it clearly explains when you are to 'remove the speck from your brother's eye' - which is when the plank is taken out of your own eye.

I think verse 6 talks about who we are to 'judge'. If we judge those outside the church, they will not appreciate it and will 'turn and tear you to pieces'. Those we are to judge are those inside the church, those striving for holiness. Those people will be grateful for your rebuke:

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. - Proverbs 9:8 (NIV)

Also, since we are judged according to how we judge, we need to be sure that our judgement is for the purpose of building each other up, of inspiring each other onwards and upwards towards holiness. We need to judge in humility, recognizing that we ourselves have faults.

So this passage says how to judge and who we are to judge, and what our motives are to be in judging. It doesn't actually say we have to judge though. It's not a command...

... but Matthew 18 is:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church, and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. - Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

These verses tell us how we are to deal with sin in the church - and we are to deal with it firmly. Also in Paul's letters:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” - 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NIV) (go read this one in context as well!)

This isn't a blank check that permits us to judge as we see fit. We still need to remember the principles that Jesus taught of love, and mercy, and meeting people where they're at, and humility, and patience. I think ideally, this judging would be done by someone who knows the basic facts about what had happened and who knows the person or people in question fairly well.

But if there's isn't someone in that position, that is no excuse for others to ignore the responsibility that we have to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's for their salvation! (1 Corinthians 5:5)

Wake up, church! Let us imitate Christ.

I guess the only challenge I can truly make to finish is this: If I'm sinning, please rebuke me.

S. D. G.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Predestination: My Thoughts

This is the first of three posts that were requested by one of my readers. You know who you are :)

And we come to what seems to me to be one of the favourite debate topics among Christians: predestination. I'm going to approach this using the Two Questions framework that I wrote about a while ago.

Question 1

The first question: What should we believe about predestination?

There are various verses in the Bible that use the word 'predestined' or some other form of it. Some of these are:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. - Ephesians 1:4-6 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. - Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

If God has foreknowledge of what will happen, then He already knows who will be saved. But that doesn't mean that He has chosen some specific people to be saved and some not to be saved. We see this in this passage, which says: For those God foreknew he also predestined. We see here that his predestination of us is determined by his foreknowledge of our salvation.

And some other verses that could refer to predestination:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. - John 15:16 (NIV)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. - John 6:44 (NIV)

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48 (NIV) [emphasis mine]

From these verses, it looks to me as though there is an element of God's election in salvation. And I totally agree with that. We can do nothing to save ourselves. It is only by God's grace and the faith that He gives us (Ephesians 2:8-9) that we can be saved.

But at the same time, God can't save us by Himself. Well, actually, He can, since He is all-powerful. But He has chosen to draw His people to Himself by a different means than forcing them to believe. So there is a critical element in salvation that is our repentance and faith in Christ to save us - and without that, God chooses not to save us, even though he wants to:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

But remember the promise in John:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16 (NIV)

It doesn't say "whoever believes in him and has also been predestined". It says "whoever believes in him".

Question 2

What about the second question? How then shall we live?

For ourselves, there is no Biblical basis (that I know of, at least) for wondering whether we are one of the elect. The Bible says,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. - Romans 10:9 (NIV)

There is no basis for wondering whether we are one of the elect to see if we can be saved or not.

But what about for others? One of the arguments against predestination is that it renders evangelism worthless. If God has already decided who is going to be saved, and they are going to be saved, then there is no point in evangelism.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. - Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

I don't see any Biblical basis for questioning whether someone is one of the elect or not. Instead, we are commanded to go to the lost.

So the commands I see in the Bible are more in line with free will than with predestination. This could be used as an argument against predestination, but it is important that we do not base our beliefs off their results. If we do, then we have fallen into pragmatism - "whatever works".


So do I believe in predestination? Yes.
Do I believe in free will? Yes.
How do these two things work together? I don't know for sure.

If I could only believe in one, I would believe in free will.

What do I know? God has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, and he has promised that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The truth matters. We should strive to discover the truth. But when some truth is unclear, it is not an excuse to neglect other, clear truths. In this instance, searching out the truth about predestination is a good thing to do. But it is important that it not overwhelm the clear commands that God has given us.

S. D. G.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Once Saved Always Saved

Once Saved Always Saved, or Perseverance of the Saints, is an interesting topic. I'm going to post what I see in the Bible. Obviously, there are a lot of people who have a different opinion on it (and they have Bible verses that back up their position ... I think) so if you disagree, please disagree politely. I'm willing to have a civil discussion on this if you want to :)

The definition of Once Saved Always Saved is that when a person becomes a Christian, their salvation is sealed for all eternity. No matter what they do in their life after that point, they are always going to Heaven because of the decision they made at one point in their life.**

So, do I believe in Once Saved Always Saved?

No, I don't. I believe that it is possible for Christians to lose their salvation. Here's some verses that back up my position:

Mark 4:2-20 (Parable of the Sower/Seeds/Earth)

In this parable, Jesus talks about different types of people that receive the gospel and then fall away. Some reasons that they fall away include:
  • Satan takes away the Word (path)
  • Trouble or persecution (rocky ground)
  • Worries of this life/deceitfulness of wealth/desires for other things (thistles)
I'm not going to give teaching on what each of these things are and how to avoid them in this post, since that's not my purpose here - we're discussing Once Saved Always Saved.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

This is a 'trustworthy saying' that Paul includes in his second letter to Timothy.
In it he says that if we disown Jesus, he will disown us.
If we are faithless, he remains faithful.

So what's the difference between disowning Jesus and being faithless?

The difference I see is that 'disowning' must be a conscious choice. You don't disown something by accident. You have to decide to disown it. However, you can slip into faithlessness without ever once making a conscious decision to cross the line of faithlessness, because there is no line.

So I don't believe you can 'lose' your salvation, but you can 'give it back'.

So now we come to the two questions.

First, what is the truth? What I see in the Bible is that it is theoretically possible for a believer to lose their salvation.

Second, how then shall we live? For each person individually, Once Saved Always Saved doesn't really matter to you. If you can't accidentally lose your salvation, then you don't need to worry about doing so. At any time, you will be either:

a) A believer who has a relationship with God and is 'saved', and therefore does not have to worry
b) A nonbeliever who does not have a relationship with God and does not care that they are not 'saved', and therefore does not have to worry*
or c) A nonbeliever who does not have a relationship with God but wants to have a relationship with God. In that case, we have good news for you. It's called the gospel. :)

*Well, they should worry that they are not going to Heaven when they die. But the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved shouldn't worry them.

For those who are saved and are worried about losing their salvation:

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)

But still:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

What I see in this verse is that there is a part for us to play in remaining saved, and that we are to pursue that with 'fear and trembling'. But then go back to Hebrews 13:5b again. :)

The time when Once Saved Always Saved does worry people is when they are considering friends who at one time avowed Christ, but now seem to have slipped away from the faith. In those situations, the question is 'Are they still saved?'

I don't have all the answers. I can't tell you whether that person has disowned Christ or is merely faithless. What I can say is:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Pray for your friend. Pray for opportunities to remind them of the gospel and of the faith they once avowed. But do this with gentleness and respect. Don't force it on them, but be bold.

And in all things, to God be the glory.

S. D. G.

**A footnote. Some will say that this a straw man argument, and that I am missing the point, as it says in Romans 6:1-2: Shall we go on sinning ... By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? I agree that the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved does not (or should not) give permission for people to do whatever they want. However, we are debating the second of the two questions at this point without discovering the truth of the first question.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Two Questions: A Framework

I was planning some more posts for the future (some of them requested by readers ... er, a reader, singular) and I realized that this framework is applicable to many of them. So it's in its own post so that I can easily refer back to it.

When discussing an issue, there are two big questions to ask:

1. What should we believe about this issue? (or, what is truth?)
2. What should we do about this issue? (or, how then shall we live?)

It's important to ask both of these questions together. Neither of them should be separated from the other for very long.

The reason is that my actions follow my beliefs. If my beliefs are wrong, then my actions will also be wrong. If my beliefs are right, then my actions will be right.

It's unfair to expect people to act in a right way if they have wrong beliefs. If they don't have the proper grounding in what is true, then of course they won't act in a way consistent with the truth that they don't have.

That's why it's impossible to legislate right actions. A law may increase right actions, but it is very difficult to completely eliminate wrong actions. That's because making a law about something doesn't change people's beliefs about it. The reason that some people's actions do change is because of their belief that 'I should follow the law' or, at the very least, 'I will be punished if I do not follow the law'.

It also goes the other way. If my beliefs inspire my actions, then conversely, my actions should reflect my beliefs. And someone should be able to correctly identify my beliefs based on a knowledge of my actions. (Matthew 7:16)

So why is it important to ask these two questions together?

We can't just ask question 1. If we don't follow it up with question 2, then it remains nothing more than a belief. (Okay ... it will influence our actions, even if we don't realise it is. But I think it's still a good idea to clarify what our actions should be, based on our beliefs. Plus, it acts as a check on our beliefs.)

We can't just ask question 2. As I've already said, we can't come to a correct understanding of what we should do if we don't first have a correct understanding of what is true.

There are some issues where Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) disagree. I feel like applying this framework in those situations could help to allow both sides to understand each other better. Are we disagreeing about an issue because our beliefs differ? If so, then we should inspect Scripture to discover what the truth is (or whether it is an issue on which Christians can legitimately disagree). If we agree in our beliefs and it is our actions that differ, then we can affirm our common ground, stop calling each other names, and work through why we respond to the issue differently. (Which, I imagine, is probably because of other beliefs that interact with our belief about the issue.)

So, next time you are faced with an issue, stop and ask these two questions:
1. What is the truth?
2. How then shall we live?

right: consistent with Biblical teaching and principles
wrong: not consistent with Biblical teaching and principles
belief: what you think is true
action: what you do

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Honesty and Politeness

Honesty is better than politeness. - Cyrus

I've heard this a couple of times. One example is when someone asks you "How are you?"
The polite answer: I'm fine, thanks.
The honest answer: (well, this depends on how you actually are. Be honest!)

By answering with the polite answer, you've missed an opportunity to connect with the person who asked you how you were.

So after I heard this idea, I tried answering questions honestly, rather than politely.

That didn't go too well. Some of my honest answers weren't helpful to the person who had asked me the question. Sometimes, what I was thinking and said honestly was the wrong thing to say and it was hurtful to the person I said it to.

The thing is that while honesty is important, it's not the most important thing. When asked about the greatest commandment, the two commandments that Jesus talked about shared a common theme: Love.

So my modified statement is that honesty is better than politeness, but it has to be honesty tempered with love. Honesty tempered by fear is politeness (I'll say the truth unless it will make you not like me), but honesty tempered with love says "How can I build up my brother or sister in Christ?"

Ideally, in the end, our thoughts will all be ones of love, and we will be able to speak honestly without thinking about tempering our words with love - our words will be of love just because that's what is in our hearts. But personally, I'm not there yet. My thoughts aren't all pure. But by God's grace, I'm learning to speak from love rather than from fear or other motives.

I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be. - John Newton (paraphrased)

Honesty + Love > Politeness

S. D. G.