Gospel. Culture. Technology. Music.

Month: April 2008 Page 1 of 3

Christian Mysticism and Inclusivism Taking Hold in Evangelicalism

In one sense, as believers in Christ, we are to be accepting and loving toward those who do not know Christ. Yet we also have doctrinal convictions and beliefs that counter those who differ with us and we are to oppose them (lovingly of course). Jesus put it like this: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are to go out preaching the Gospel in its full array of hard truths (original sin, total depravity, just wrath, hell, substitutionary atonement, justification through faith alone in Christ alone, all of which is made possible by grace alone) and yet we are to be innocent as doves in our speech and conduct toward them. We are not to be deceived by false teaching and even more so, we are to oppose it, but do so with reverence, gentleness, and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

However, in our modern day in age, the Protestant evangelical church, to a large degree, has capitulated to the culture, inviting in its pagan practices and belief systems, as orthodox teaching even. What do I mean? Well, let’s consider the millions of “FW: Fw: Fw:” emails circulating the globe right now, sent by those from within Protestant evangelical churches. Most of these entail some form of superstition or myth, that if you do X then Y will happen, without any regard for a sovereign God who rules all things by His powerful word. In addition, many of these emails are already documented as being false out on www.snopes.com (check it out).

But regardless, the principle is that something can be said about what is being taught (or not being taught) nowadays in our churches concerning who God is and how He has acted in history through Christ to redeem us from God’s impending wrath. Something can be said about the teaching because it has resulted in “believers” folding to these mystical “Christian” emails, believing them to be true. I can’t tell you how many of these my dad receives from people within his own evangelical Bible study group. I had to just ask people to quit sending them to me, or in most cases I would find the snopes.com article speaking about that particular email and reply to all with the link. They stopped coming in quickly. I mean it’s not true, right? Why should things that aren’t true spread around as if they were? But that is not my main point.

Something else concerned me today that prompted me to write this entry. I noticed a Facebook group entitled, “100,000,000 Christians Worship God!” And while I certainly hope that is true (while remaining cautious as to the truthfulness of that), something confirmed my cautiousness. I noticed many of the comments on the forums saying things along the lines of, “Are we Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, etc. or are We CHRISTIANS? Too many times we get all worked up in denominations, that we forget we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we are Christians indeed. Why do we continue to put down one another, we all have our faults in the denomination.” Yes the church is imperfect. Yes the church has rough edges, in every denomination. Yes, even Reformed denominations and circles for sure. :] But is there not a good reason, in many cases (though not all), for denominational splits?

A quote from Monergism.com’s Bad Theology section says this: “Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true (Gospel) Christianity…But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin.” Yet this is lost nowadays on our Christian culture at large.

This is where the evangelical church has capitulated to the pagan culture around us and its ideas. How? Instead of holding fast to the Christian understanding of tolerance, to a large degree, we have adopted their understanding of tolerance. This was set in stone for me on the group itself where it gave rules for the members: “If you or anyone is known to say or write anything unkind or negative to anyone in our group we will ban them IMMEDIATELY upon notification.” Now of course, the rule should stand in the instances where people say unkind and things to others, so as to harm them personally. That should not be tolerated. And of course, trying to manage that for 400,000+ users is next to impossible. However, that’s not my point. It was the addition of something in the rule that I think is revealing. Did you see it? “Anything … negative.” Anything? Really? Even doctrinal disagreements that hit at the root of how people are saved and get into heaven for eternity? Hmm. Is this not the adoption of something that our secular culture values, that is moral and religious relativism?

During the 16th century, there was this little theological schism in the catholic (universal) church called the Reformation. Heresy was the issue at hand, heresy having to do with how people are saved, literally, for eternity. And while I personally desire for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, the uproar in the Reformation was over this very issue: how are people to be saved from God’s wrath? Catholics and Protestants fundamentally disagree over how people are saved. Luther was condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms. I hold to Luther’s teachings on the Gospel. To Protestants he should be considered one for whom the world was not worthy for standing strong against false teaching and upholding the Gospel. We do have affirmations together with Roman Catholics on the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and several other important distinctions that can be made over against other religions (like the Mormons, JW’s, and others who would claim to be under the title of Christianity). But are these enough to unite us? No. They go further to talk about certain, extra-scriptural requirements placed upon the work of Christ, if we are to be saved.

We drastically differ on the nature of salvation itself with the Roman Catholics. This is not an unimportant distinction as most seem to think. This is not something we can just look over. This affects our ability to stand together as one people in Christ with Roman Catholics because we both view each other as heretics (heretics being those who believe doctrines that will take them to hell). Yet it seems those who claim to be Protestant evangelical Christians don’t get this at all, which just makes you have to really wonder about their own understanding of the Gospel to begin with (justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone), though of course you cannot necessarily paint everyone with a broad brush, I know.

Regardless, it seemed a majority of people in the group forums were making many of the same statements (though I only read a handful of the thousands of comments) concerning our unity with Roman Catholics in particular, as well as other denominations, that by Biblical, historical, Gospel, confessional standards, are anathema (accursed), enemies of God, enemies of the cross, because they reject the Gospel message itself in their teaching and preaching, either implicitly or explicitly. “They have a form of godliness while denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). Some of the few comments I actually appreciated were those coming from some Roman Catholics opposing the Protestants for trying to bring about this unity. I found this interesting, because the argument by the Roman Catholics was that we Protestants have abandoned the “real” church (Rome) and have no right to call together unity. I agree, not that we have abandoned the real church, but that we have no right to call together unity.

We Protestants, as a group, deny their doctrines that only the Roman Catholic Church can interpret Scripture for us, that she is infallible. We believe in Sola Scripura, that the Scriptures alone are the sole, final, infallible authority for the life and practice of the church. We deny their Eucharist because in it is a most pernicious belief that Christ is re-sacrificed each week at Mass. We deny that Christ’s atonement is incomplete and that only the priests can stand in between us and the Savior. This flies in the face of Hebrews 10:11-13 which reveals that Roman Catholics have simply re-instituted the Jewish sacrificial system all over again each week in their Mass, but instead now, the sacrifice is the “incomplete” work of Christ, at least according to them. And as far as the priests are concerned in the Church of Rome, Christ alone, not a sinful priest, is our intercessor. No man can stand in between us and God. The only One who can, who is qualified, is Christ Himself. The way has been opened, the temple curtain torn in two by His work on the cross. He is our great High Priest. Through the work of Christ alone, we have full, unfettered access to the throne of God above, when outside of it, only wrath and a fury of fire remains.

Surprisingly, even the Roman Catholics (at least those true to the Roman Church) are getting the point in the forums, the very point I’m trying to make: there is and can be no unity between Catholics and Protestants on the basis of the fact that we both have serious doctrinal disagreements on the nature of salvation itself! They see the real issue at hand here: eternity, either with or without God. Maybe we should wakeup too and recover the Gospel in our groups before it is lost amongst our denominations altogether.

All of this in turn makes me consider whether there are 100,000,000 Christians (saved, regenerate, actually believing, Christians) worshipping God right now (through faith alone in Christ alone, the only way to truly worship God to begin with, is it not? (Romans 14:23) if these people claiming to be Christians believe there are other acceptable views within Christianity of how we are saved; and, if they believe there to be no important disagreement on fundamental soteriological (salvation) issues. Yes yes, I cannot know anyone’s heart. I agree with you. No one, not even the person, can really know the heart, but only God knows. Here’s a distinction though: you can know what someone believes (at least outwardly, at face value) by what they state personally as their beliefs, can you not? Is that not what doctrine is, a stated belief in words, sentences, you know, language, that we use to communicate ideas and concepts to others? This seems to be lost now though in our mystical, culturally inclusive, relativistic Christian culture.

Yes, I wish the church could be universal in the sense that there were no denominational splits. But unfortunately, we do not have that luxury, because within many of these different denominations are false doctrines and heresies by which people are being blinded from the very Gospel itself and led straight to hell. That seems to me to be quite important, trumping this postmodern, cultural desire for what really amounts to false unity to begin with. This is frightening and should strike fear in us as believers that we be faithful to the Apostolic Gospel message delivered to us in the Scriptures.

I cannot stand in worship with Catholics or other (theologically liberal or relativistic) denominations even who deny we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I will not. Because I’m theologically arrogant? Not at all. I’m a sinner saved by grace alone. How could I possibly be arrogant if God is the One who saved me when I wanted nothing of Him, blind and depraved, turned away from Him? I cannot. This has everything to do though with the very Gospel itself by which we are saved. We lose that, then what is the point of the church? I will not stand with those who differ on these points because we believe we are saved in two entirely different ways. One is supernatural, the other is fleshly. One is by divine intervention, the other we climb the latter of works to be acceptable. One is by Grace Alone through the finished work of Christ; the other is faith plus works you do to get in good with God (which is just smoke and mirrors for humanistic, man-accomplished salvation really).

Within many denominational splits lies important theological (belief) distinctions that must be understood. If someone says this is unimportant, they have clearly adopted the modern pagan postmodern cultural understanding that doctrines and creeds should be eradicated because, “We can’t really know anything for sure can we?” This is sad, mainly because church history is full of people who died, were tortured, let their families be split apart, all for theological distinctions and doctrine even, because they knew the glory of Christ was at stake. Would those early church doctors and fathers who have gone on to be with the Lord before us say the doctrines for which they willingly perished were unimportant? I think not.

This is Just One of the Forms of Persecution the Church Faces

Christian Ministry Fined $23,000 in Gay Discrimination Case

Much can be said about where the modern notion of “tolerance” is headed in our society: the legal exclusion of those who are religiously and morally exclusive. More and more of these cases are starting to spring up in Europe and North America, not merely homosexual cases, but cases in which a ministry or church takes a stand on morality. We would be wise to pay attention and consider the cost of holding fast to our doctrinal convictions concerning the Gospel and its implications in our lives. Persecution is always good for purifying the church. Unfortunately, we need it, for we have become polluted by the world.

The Courage to be Protestant – A Review

In The Courage to be Protestant, David Wells notes there are three major groups splintering within the evangelical church now that threaten the entire movement’s original cause (though one of them is remaining faithful and seeks to preserve it). There are smaller groups that are splintering of course, but the focus is on the three major movements. The word “evangelicalism” is rooted in the word “evangel” which means Gospel. This was the fundamental basis upon which the phrase “evangelical” came into existence, starting either during or right before the times of the Puritans (based upon the fact that John Owen and Jonathan Edwards used the term themselves in their writings). Now though, things are taking a drastic turn; a turn, in fact, that has not been witnessed in its entire history since the Reformation.

These three distinct groups that are “emerging” (no pun intended) are the Truth-lovers, those who hold a historic protestant understanding of the Gospel as recovered in the Reformation (though all of these people are not necessarily Reformed); the Marketers, that is those who hold to using corporate marketing techniques to, in a sense, manipulate people into the church (marketing primarily to an aging baby-boomer generation); and the Emergents, those who believe it is necessary to adapt and morph Biblical, theological and historical understanding to our postmodern culture in an effort to win them for Christ (marketing themselves primarily to my generation).

While not doubting the good intentions and desires of the Marketers and Emergents, Wells brings stinging indictments that reveals their shift on crucial doctrines of the Gospel itself, which Satan has historically used to tear the church apart from within and eclipse the Gospel itself, all in the name of Christianity. I have not been able to put this book down it is so good. It has really made me consider the need to be even more courageous (yet loving) to hold fast to historic Protestantism (that is the Gospel) in the face of those, even within our churches unfortunately, who employ worldly means to bring people in and in some cases attempt to save themselves through their own doing and “Jesus’ help”.

Within the Marketing and Emergent movements, everything under the sun (including substitutionary atonement even! Check out Al Mohler in this sermon) is being redefined outside of historic, Biblical definitions, but is instead defined upon what our culture thinks, says and wants. However though, in a lot of cases, historic doctrines are held, yet pastors and teachers seem to be ashamed of them and lighten them up significantly, or just never speak about them in the pulpit at all. Are you ashamed of the doctrines of hell, wrath, sin, justice, predestination even? Jesus Himself spoke more about hell than anyone, yet some teachers would make Jesus out to be this guy who spoke some hippie love language.

Shouldn’t we possibly be willing to talk about that which is uncomfortable (sin and wrath in particular) because it is a prerequisite for getting the Gospel right? Isn’t that why people hate us Christians to begin with, precisely because the Gospel is an offensive message to sinful man? And if our message is not met with a good level of opposition, could there possibly be something wrong with our message? It’s the truth, is it not? The Marketers sure do seem to be ashamed of these hard truths though. Are you ashamed of the Bible speaking in terms of absolute truth? The Emergents clearly are, because a majority of people in our culture now are not sure there is any absolute truth, and the Emergents are folding to the pressure to be culturally relevant. They therefore shape their message to fit what the culture wants.

This book is a clear wakeup call for the evangelical church to recover it’s Gospel-roots as its primary focus and not shift on Biblical language, so that we may preserve the movements’ initial cause: the glory of God and the Gospel through which people may be reconciled to God. Either we recover our roots and threads that hold us together, or the historic evangelical cause will be lost. Unfortunately, David Wells believes the movement may already be lost and so it may be time to just move on and start a new movement of Gospel-centrality in the church, for both salvation and progressive sanctification (for growth in our faith). To me, it seems that a new movement is already under way with the advent of the “truth-lovers”. David Wells, summed up, puts it like this in the book:

“It would be quite unrealistic to think that evangelicalism today could look exactly as it did fifty years ago, or a hundred, or five-hundred. At the same time, the truth by which it is constituted never changes because God, whose truth it is, never changes. There should therefore be threads of continuity that bind real Christian believing in all ages. It is some of those threads, I believe, that are now being lost….I do not know what the evangelical future will be, but I am certain evangelicalism has no good future unless it finds this kind of direction again.”

Nowadays, you have everyone from the Oneness Pentecostals to Joel Osteen being called evangelical, yet Osteen is clear that he never wants to speak on anything negative, even if it is true, because it would offend people. Osteen is a Pelagian in his teaching of how people are saved, heresy condemned by an ecumenical early church council, The Council of Orange, in 529 A.D. And then T.D. Jakes does not believe in the Trinity, he’s a Modalist/Sabellian, two heresies, both of which were condemned in the third and fourth centuries. These teachers not only deny historic ecumenical, early church doctrines on the nature of Christ, God, sin (doctrines that even the Roman Catholic Church holds, whom we Protestants have crucial disagreements with over the nature of salvation), but these guys also specifically deny the roots of evangelicalism in not preaching orthodox, Gospel truth. Yet they are called and labeled evangelical! And then if you criticize what they are teaching, that they are in error, in any fashion, you get labeled a bigot, most specifically within the church! There is something seriously wrong with that.

This is a totally unqualified quote with no backing or proof anyone actually said it, but it honestly would not surprise me with the way things are shifting in evangelicalism. Someone told me that a lady had left a Roman Catholic church to go to one of the nearby “evangelical” mega-churches (remaining anonymous) because, “They didn’t teach the Trinity there and I just can’t believe in that.” If this is true (which again, not sure it is), volumes can be said about the methodologies employed at the church, the messages being communicated, the lack of clear truth that isn’t being taught, and most of all, the fact that there is no Gospel whatsoever (the root of evangelicalism), amongst a host of other things.

As those who hold to the historic truths of Christianity as particularly recovered in the Reformation, we must be willing to take abuse for the sake of Gospel-truth and not shift on those doctrines clearly shown to us in the Scriptures. That does not mean we have to stand up and be jerks toward those who differ. In fact, if this just makes you angry and you know you’ll just be mean, please keep quiet. Rather, we should lovingly confront error with the timeless truth of the Scriptures that has been passed down throughout the ages. This book is a proclamation and warning call to hold fast to what is true, even though our times dictate for us to shift our positions. David Wells says, “It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant.” However, to be a theologically historic Protestant is increasingly taking more guts. Lord, help us to hold fast to what is true by Your Spirit.

R.C. Sproul Interviews Ben Stein

Spurgeon on Universal Atonement, John Wesley, and George Whitefield

Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins.

Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice.

That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer—I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.

The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.” I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths [Doctrines of Grace], or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

Excerpt taken from A Defense of Calvinism by C.H. Spurgeon: A Defense of Calvinism

Related article, what a defense! For Whom Did Christ Die? & What Did Christ Actually Achieve on the Cross for Those for Whom He Died? – John Piper

If We Go on Sinning Deliberately

Excerpt taken from http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue65b.htm

Recognizing allusions may also prove helpful in casting light on passages that are often considered “difficult.” This turns out to be the case with the warning found in Hebrews chapter 10:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29)

While there are several issues evident within this complex passage, I wish to focus on the term “sinning willfully” in verse 26. Many have struggled with what exactly the author of Hebrews is trying to convey with this term. The confusion proceeds from the fact that every “sin” is indeed done “willfully” in the sense that all who “sin” do the act of their own volition, thus “willfully” in one sense of the word. Furthermore, the Apostle John makes it quite clear: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus, if we are to maintain that the Scriptures are consistent in its unified message, “sinning willfully” must have some other meaning than that noted above. The question then is: “What does the author of Hebrews have in mind when he writes the term: “sinning willfully”?

Light is cast on this difficult passage when we realize that the author of Hebrews is most probably alluding to a distinct yet similar warning found in the Old Testament. In Numbers 15 we find that those “under the law of Moses” were given instruction and warning regarding “sinning unintentionally” and “sinning willfully.” Note the following:

Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him (Numbers 15:27-31).

Therefore, since the author of Hebrews clearly notes that he is making an analogy to the punishment of those who “set aside the law” (vs. 28-29), we get a somewhat clearer picture of what he means by “sinning willfully.” Since there was a distinction in the Old Testament regarding those who had received the revelation of the Lord through Moses of “sinning unintentionally” and “sinning defiantly,” the author of Hebrews makes the following point analogous to the Old Testament instructions and warning: If those who defiantly spurned the Law after receiving the knowledge of its truth were put to death, how much greater will be the punishment of those who defiantly spurn the Gospel of Jesus Christ after receiving the knowledge of its truth.

After carefully examining the passage and the roots that the author of Hebrews is relating it to, it becomes evident the definition of “sinning willfully” carries with it the meaning of one who defiantly blasphemes the Gospel after accepting the concept that it is indeed true. When this is done, only a fearful expectation of the eternal judgment of God remains for that individual.

Updated: The New Age Trend Within Organizations

The New Age Trend Within Organizations – June 26, 2007

I have done a significant update to my post last year on the New Age trend going on right now on many corporate fronts. I felt it was important to clarify many of my points as well as add more content that I felt was necessary. More and more companies and organizations, including those that are public (such as AT&T and IBM), are apparently picking up this trend. At the end of the post, I have added what I feel to be where all of this could be headed, in the long-term political and private realms. We would do well to pay much closer attention to this and be on guard that, as believers in Christ, we must stand against such things, should they come our way.

Not One Stone Will Be Left Upon Another – Christ Our Great Reward

“And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.'” – Mark 13:1-2

Many people’s reaction to Jesus’ statement in these verses is, “Why do you have to be so serious all the time? Why can’t you just enjoy the beauty of something man has accomplished? Lighten up!” The reason is because Jesus saw the stakes of helping His disciples see the world through His eyes (the eyes of God Himself), moving them away from their temporally focused, fleshly, sinful eyes. Yes the temple was gorgeous, I’m sure. I cannot even imagine the architecture, the craftsmanship, the work involved to have made it what it was. What we have left at the present time in Jerusalem is absolutely beautiful. How much greater was it’s beauty around the time of Jesus?

Of course Jesus could appreciate beauty, He created everything that exists and is Himself the Author of beauty! (Colossians 1:16) That is not why Jesus came to this world though, to appreciate beauty. He came to show a just God who does not pass over sin without any regard for His honor and name; and He came to redeem a people for Himself by His blood. He came with specific intentions, and His disciples were the one’s through whom He would begin building His church. Jesus was not going to let them get distracted from the end for which He entered the world by man made structures and accomplishments. Jesus had an intentionally designed agenda at every point along the way in His ministry: to give them (and us) an eschatological vision that was centrally focused upon the prize, that is the glory and supremacy of God for their ultimate enjoyment and His glory in that enjoyment, forever. It pervaded everything Jesus said, His whole life. This is no exception.

The natural person will of course start questioning why Jesus could not just appreciate the temple with his disciples right before He was going to the cross. This is because the natural person, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Jesus’ statements make no sense to those without the Spirit. Apart from the Spirit giving us understanding into His words, His statements are mere sayings, teachings, or good wisdom. That is why you have so many theologically liberal scholars who seek to equate Jesus’ life and ministry with that of Ghandi, Buddha, and other “wise” teachers. Regardless, Jesus Himself was looking beyond this world and its riches and glory to the one to come, which is infinitely greater. The only way that world would be possible for sinners was by His nearing death and resurrection. Hence, this is why Jesus was so centrally focused upon the end goal, the joy set before Him: the glorification of God in redeeming sinners by His blood.

In Mark 13:1-2, Jesus is instructing His disciples that everything they see around them will fall apart and decay. They have no reason to set their hopes on or find their joy in these things or the things of man at all, for all is fleeting and will pass away in the twinkling of an eye. This was the message of Ecclesiastes. And the message of that book was so depressing for our natural selves really so that we are forced to find our joy not in the things that decay, fade, and fall apart, but in the Rock, in the Redeemer, in Jesus Christ alone. The last chapter of the book ends by saying, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) And we do this (fear God and keep His commandments) by daily fixing our gaze upon Him in prayer and Scripture reading, humbly depending upon the Spirit to move us and conform us to His image. For apart from Christ you can do none of these things.

“There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” Jesus says. Now of course, in the context of this passage, Jesus is specifically speaking about the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. But the same principle still applies for all of us in the present day. Focusing on the here and now with no eternal perspective on the end goal, the glory of God and His people enjoying the presence of His being forever, is foolishness. It is in fact absurd! If our existence upon the Earth as Christians is to just gather “stuff” that the world considers to be the end goal, then we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

But the point of Christian existence in this world is to focus our entire worldview, our entire eschatological understanding and perspective, our entire lives even, upon the reward which is Christ Himself, at the expense of ourselves. This reward is spoken of as it pertained to Moses: “[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) For the glory of God and the joy of our own hearts, we must do the same. Consider the reproach of Christ from a secular world who thinks the cross foolishness as greater wealth than the treasures it focuses upon as the ultimate joy and reason we exist. At your schools, in your jobs, and unfortunately, even in many churches nowadays, be willing to sacrifice yourselves for the cause of making Christ the center of your life and the lives of others, for He is your final, great Reward.

May we all consider that Jesus came not to give us uppity, upper-class, rich lives in the materialistic world’s eyes, or just help us live to the best of our potential, or to help us gather abundance in possessions and create and work for the ends of man. There is quite enough schlock out there already in the name of Christ to make me sick. But rather, Christ came and suffered on our behalf on the cross, so that we could also suffer with Him, and by His work in and through us, build His Kingdom, reversing the curse. And He did this that we can all, as His adopted people who trust Him alone through faith, together enjoy Him as our great Reward forever. There is indeed nothing better in all the universe. Let us look to the Reward and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Enjoy the things God has blessed you with. I’m not saying that we should not enjoy these things, or that it is bad to have them, because they do point to the character and goodness of the One who provided them for you; enjoy what He’s given you to His glory! But let us also consider His words at the same time in the verses at the top, that not one thing around us will be left standing when He comes to execute judgment upon the Earth. Therefore, He is all that matters. We are not to set our final hope and joy upon these temporal things and make our life’s work for the world’s ends, for all of these things will quickly disappear, right before our eyes many times. Christ is the solid Rock upon which we stand, who never changes though, a Person who we can set our ultimate, final hopes upon because of His life, death, and resurrection.

Approaching the Lord Biblically

Earlier, I was talking with my brother, Stephen (who is in Baghdad right now with the Army) on instant messenger. We were talking about the Gospel and how we must be constantly fighting to center every facet of our lives upon it. Our conversations, our relationships, our marriages, our toil, our pain, our struggles, our blessings, our families, everything. Otherwise, we risk either falling into antinomianism, that is, the abuse of God’s grace with total disregard for obedience and submission to Him, or legalism, that we try and please God with our actions as the basis for our relationship with Him, which fails constantly. Both of these errors oppose the Gospel itself because both say, “I am my own Lord and Savior.”

And Stephen said something really practical and encouraging that has helped in his pursuit of Christ while out in the Arabian deserts of Iraq, in particular a war zone, that on its face we may all inherently know but often forget as a rudimentary part of our daily approach to God. I’m simply unpacking what he said to give it some backing. It may help some of you in your respective ministries in helping people towards Christ. He said, “I’ve figured out it’s a matter of taking the time to meditate on who I am and who God is,” to which I then added, “Then we must consider what He did in Christ to bring us to Himself.”

Those three things are vital for the Christian life. When we approach God, these are things we must always consider: 1) who we are, 2) who God is, and 3) what God had to do to bring us to Himself.

All of this is sobering, humbling, and yet because of the third point, all of it brings about the most glory possible for God and the most joy possible for us who believe in Christ, because we are now finally, ultimately accepted before the only One who ever mattered. The first point involves the doctrine of sin and total inability as sinners, as MacArthur spoke about at the T4G conference this past week (MP3). We are enslaved to sin, rebellious toward God. We are desperately sick, rotting on the inside, and arrogant toward Him in our actions and words. The second point involves who God is, His nature, His essence, His character, His justice, His wrath against our sin, and His holy, correct regard for the highest value in all the universe: His name, honor, and glory. But then, the third point, we must always consider what it took for God to bring us to Himself, which reveals His infinite love and mercy toward sinners who disregard Him in all they do.

1) Who we are.

This gets right down to a good, solid, Biblical understanding of who we are as humans in Scripture. If we fail to get this, none of the other parts of the Gospel make any sense: the hell we deserve for that sin, Christ’s blood as necessary to appease God’s wrath, as just two examples, will be regarded as absolute foolishness if we believe we are not this bad. If we merely compare ourselves to others around us in regard to our righteousness, we will not appreciate the Gospel at all. One fault here in our understanding of who we are will taint our understanding of the lengths God had to go in Christ to make us acceptable in His presence. However you cannot have this proper understanding of who you are until you have rightly and Biblically compared yourself to the majesty and holiness of God (in the second point). Isaiah got it in Isaiah 6. So did Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1. And finally, so did Paul in Acts 9. And they got it only because the Lord acted upon them. Ask God to act upon you to show you your desperate condition before Him, and then patiently wait upon Him to act.

Until you see yourself in stark contrast to His nature, His character, His perfections, His frightening majesty, you cannot appreciate how awful you really are before Him. We need Scripture to see this reality, that when the Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men (all of us) to see if there are any who are righteous, He finds not one (Psalm 14:2-3). We need the Holy Spirit, coupled with Scripture, to show us our awful estate before Him, for apart from this, we do not see ourselves as nearly as bad as we should. It is necessary to getting the Gospel right.

2) Who God is.

We must not disregard the Old Testament pictures of who God is in His justice and wrath. Many say the Old Testament presents us with a God of wrath, but the New Testament shows us a God of love and that’s who we need to focus on. This is fallacious. God is both at the same time, always has been, always will be. We must focus on all His attributes, summed up in the person of Christ. Both the Old and New Testaments show us a God of justice and love, paradoxically.

This is most clearly seen in the cross, where Christ, in His love for sinners, satisfied the justice and wrath of God in Himself. God is holy, regards His name and honor above all things in the universe, and our sinning against Him has so greatly offended Him, because each sin treads His glory, name and honor, the essence of His being, in the ground. We cannot be accepted in His presence unless something is done about our offense. We are separated from God because of our rebellion.

There is one and only one God, and yet God Himself exists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a mystery, but is clearly presented in the Scriptures, particularly when Jesus says Himself, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) Three persons, One God, united in being and essence.

We must see that God is the highest essence of being in the universe, that His glory emanates forth in such beautiful and frightening array, both at the same time. There is no potential in God as if He could become greater than He already is, for He is infinitely great in every way already. He is the most courageous and powerful in all the universe, and yet He is the gentlest, mildest, and meekest of all. He is nothing like us. He is holy and burning with righteousness. Should we approach the throne of God without His righteousness on our side, we would be obliterated in destruction forever, because we are filthy, despicable sinners who have despised His name in all our ways.

3) What it took for God to bring us (sinners) to Himself.

When we approach God through Christ though, God come in the body of a human, by His righteousness on our behalf through faith, we can stand upright in the face of God’s judgment, and boldly approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ our own (Charles Wesley). Through Christ’s life-work, from His birth to His resurrection after His crucifixion, and we, being united to Him at every point through faith, do not have to fear the eternal judgment-obliteration spoken of in the last point.

But what lengths God had to go to make us acceptable before Him! He could not just let us pass before Him without regard to His honor and name that have been trodden in the dirt. Something had to be done to bring us to Himself. From eternity, this was the plan of God, to reconcile to Himself a people for His own possession, through the sacrificial death of His own Son for us, all to the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:5-6). Christ, from eternity past, glorious in all His perfections, infinitely intertwined in the love of the Father and the Spirit, emptied Himself by becoming a human in history, taking on our very existence. In doing so, He could sympathize with us in our weakness. As a human, He lived perfectly as we never have though, loving the Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, thus fulfilling the entirety of the Law. He did this to the satisfaction of the Father, who then proclaimed at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Whereas we have all fallen infinitely short of God’s standards of righteousness and can never succeed in making Him love us with our deeds (Isaiah 64:6), He succeeded in doing so, fulfilling the Law on behalf of those with the faith of Abraham. The only one in all the universe, infinitely worthy of glory, gave up all His rights and instead stood in the place of condemn sinners, taking in Himself the full measure of the wrath of God by His blood on the cross. The love He had with the Father and the Spirit from eternity past was cut off at the cross and He experienced hell, a hell beyond anything we humans can comprehend, because this was the God-man who was made utterly miserable. He gave up His life willingly so that He could save many (Mark 10:45). By His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Death did not conquer Him though, but He rose triumphant over sin, death, the devil, and hell. These historical acts, in particular His resurrection, confirm that all He said and did were true. Those who believe and trust in Him and His work for them are truly free and no longer does condemnation breathe down their neck with every breath they take. Rather, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Keeping these three points in our approach to God gives us a proper sense of the reverential fear we should have before Him, and at the same time it gives us the freedom to approach Him without any hindrance, namely our sin. These two results coming from the Gospel creates within us a joy the far exceeds anything in the world. Our response should be, “Why did you save me? A Sinner of sinners? How can it be!?” Praise Christ for triumphantly achieving a reward for those who believe, a reward we don’t deserve: the enjoyment of God forever, the highest of joys, and then giving Him glory for accomplishing that enjoyment for us through Christ!

Further reading on Christ and all of His excellencies:

The Excellency of Christ – Jonathan Edwards

Hope in this Life Only? The Osteen Message of Temporal Bliss as the Gospel

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19

In reading this verse tonight, I could not help but think about the Osteen’s of the American evangelical landscape and their version of the “gospel” which has been totally emptied of all Biblical content. As my dad said recently, and I agree, if you were to take out all of the Bible-words (church, Jesus, God, etc) of their message, you would basically be left with a corporate pep rally, where you have a motivational speaker who encourages unity, who at all times speaks in merely positive terms, uses entertainment for energizing the people, and gets employees fired up to go back into the workplace and do their best. No different is the message of these “preachers”. The only difference is the eternal Christ who became flesh and bore the full cup of the wrath of God on the tree is used as a means to an end, of showing people how they can have their “Best life now”. What about that is the Biblical Gospel by which we are saved, and by that alone?

Now, I realize this verse, in context, is speaking to a different issue Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church. They were being told there will be no resurrection of the dead and thus many in the church body were being disrupted in their faith. Paul’s real point in this verse is to say that if in Christ, we have hope only in this life (if there is no resurrection), then we are of all people the most to be pitied.

With that said, the ultimate hope presented in the “Osteen’s” gospel is one of temporal opulence and ease in a society which possesses more than it could possibly know what to do with. So the Osteen message might as well be saying there is no resurrection of the dead, because your best life is now (or can be by his methodology, using God as your PEZ dispenser in the sky). The fact that so many people flock to such pastors under the guise of evangelical, orthodox Christianity for figuring out how to have their “Best life now” is very telling of where the movement (yes, evangelicalism) is headed quickly. If such preachers can even be allowed to be called evangelicals, the title has lost all meaning, and as David Wells says in his new book, The Courage to be Protestant, we need to think of a different title.

How does such a message square with the verse at the top? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Now obviously the Osteen’s would say, “Well of course we have hope in the next life. You can just get it now because God wants you to have it.” Really? I thought Jesus said we would persecuted and hated by the world? So your best life now, in the form of materialism, mere mended relationships, mere moral uprightness in the world’s eyes, and no pain, all without true reconciliation to the One true God who is furiously, infinitely angry at man for his sin? My friends, Paul would have words with this, probably similar language used in the letter to the Galatian church.

When does Christ being our final, ultimate satisfaction forever, even now in this life, ever leave their lips when they “motivate”/preach? Is their message not merely about the here and now? What about this pesky problem called sin? Osteen himself, on Larry King, has admitted he never wants to speak on that because it is negative and would offend people. Then forget the next point … What about the deserved wrath for that sin the Scriptures (Jesus most of all!) speaks about so frequently? What about the (eternal) hope that Christ offers through faith in His blood, by taking that deserved wrath in Himself on the cross for His people? What about speaking on the coming white throne judgment of God at the end of time spoken of in Revelation where we will all have to stand before God and give an account?

All of these Gospel truths are void from the Osteen message of temporal hope, happiness, financial gain, luxury, and comfort. This is the American way. And it is anti-Gospel. Yet sadly, our churches are filled, it seems, with people who believe Osteen is preaching the historic faith once for all delivered to the saints. And it seems also many youth in evangelical churches believe Christianity is all about feeling good in the here and now “God’s way” and then once they hit college, the voices of liberal scholars who hate the doctrine of substitutionary atonement corrupts their minds and Satan snatches what little seeds had possibly been planted, and they whither and die, having never been converted in the first place. Doctrine matters. Why? Because the Gospel itself consists in doctrinal, historical propositions.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Either these things happened or they did not. No wiggle room. And because they did happen, that means living in the here and now for Me is the antithetical effect of this very Gospel itself. Paul, Christ, all of Scripture, calls us to radical Christian sacrifice in glory to God and service to others in bringing those who are lost into eternity with us to bask in the beauty of His presence forever.

If the Osteen gospel is true, on the other hand, pandering to people’s narcissistic felt needs, that you can have your best life now in materialistic terms, then indeed Paul, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” May we return to the historic Gospel that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

According to Paul in verses one and two of the same chapter, not only is this Gospel how we came to faith in the first place, but it is also the very Gospel by which we are being sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you … by which you are being saved.” Notice the present-tense use by Paul of the word “being”. The Gospel is not merely an initial stepping stone to heaven (or material/relational prosperity in the here and now), but it is indeed the entirety of our faith. As Keller puts it, the Gospel is not merely the A-B-C’s but is the A-Z of Christianity. It is how we are saved but also how we are changed.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) May we not be ashamed of it either, even in our churches, as hateful as people in our culture may be toward its doctrinal content concerning sin, wrath, hell, election, substitutionary atonement, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, the whole thing. It is an offensive message and we must not shift on the Biblical statements concerning it.

This Gospel, that Christ appeased the wrath of God on our behalf by His blood, confirmed in His resurrection, was the message preached all the way through the Old Testament in pointing forward toward the final sacrifice of Christ for sinners, and the entirety of the New Testament is looking back upon the most magnificent work of art in the entire universe for all time, where we see the glory of God shining its brightest for all to see, where He saved sinners in great, infinite mercy, at great, infinite cost to Himself. May we meditate, ruminate, pray over, and massage into our hearts, this Gospel until the day we are finally conformed into the image of Christ and can finally behold His wonderful face. The Christian life consists in self-sacrificial love in joyful submission to the Lordship of Christ, not the obtaining of more possessions, wealth, ease, comfort, and mere moral uprightness in the world’s eyes.

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