Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category
We have a tendency to regard the truly spiritual as that which is most contemplative and peaceful. Consequently, we bemoan the many mundane and frustrating distractions that tear us away from spiritual things.
It is true that we will enjoy mountaintop experiences where we meet with Jesus and are refreshed by him. In fact, we are privileged to meet with him in this way every Lord’s day. However, consider this description of what it means to be spiritual:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. — Galatians 5:22-26
There is no better time to practice this than when we feel distracted, frustrated, unspiritual. It is little work to be patient when we are surrounded by peace and quiet, but it is great work to cultivate patience when we are beset by storms. In a sense, the time that we feel the least spiritual is our greatest opportunity to be spiritual — not by escape, nor by stoicism, but by walking in faith and in the fruit of the Spirit. Not that this is easy: it requires constant death to ourselves, regular repentance and renewal of our faith.
The Spirit is not opposed to the physical and the natural; the Spirit is opposed to the flesh, that which is of sin and death. As we walk in repentance and faith, the Spirit brings resurrection life to the physical and the natural, to the very messy moments of our daily life.
Creationists insist that the amazing world of the Bear Hunt sprung up ex nihilo for the purpose of telling a beautiful story.
But we know better. By Scientific observation and inductive reasoning we can prove the existence of enormous negative page numbers. We know that inductive reasoning functions as incontestable proof, because we are the keepers and guardians of the sacred truth that all worlds are impersonal machines and not stories. Worlds have no plots, and are filled only with particles, not characters. Creationists are stupid. So are all authors, artists, composers and poets — they are all conspiring in a tremendous lie about worlds and Science (all rise!).
I’ve just finished the book Freakonomics, and it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Seeing how an economist approached life’s situations and problems made me wonder if we could construct an economic argument (speaking in broad terms of cost and incentive rather than merely money) against atheism and for God’s existence. By its nature such an argument wouldn’t be conclusive, but then most arguments for God’s existence function that way — encouraging the faithful but not sealing the deal for non-believers. Here’s how I think we could develop such an argument:
Let’s assume for a moment that there is no God. Does this fit the data that we see? Disregarding the conventional wisdom that religion is an “opiate,” I think we can actually argue that if there is no God, religion is economically unsustainable. If there is no God and man has evolved, then belief in God and the practice of religion consist entirely of costs and no incentives (since there is no God responding to your prayers, nor providing any future hope or joy or reward). This creates a powerful incentive not to believe in God — it is a perfect waste of time and energy. From an economic standpoint we would hardly expect religion to have developed in the first place, and from both an economic and evolutionary standpoint we would hardly expect religion to persist. As supporting evidence, monkeys in zoos don’t form cargo cults; instead, it seems quite obvious that if they worship anything, it is simply themselves. But if monkeys are so sensible about how much of an economic and evolutionary waste religion is, why do so many humans practice religion? Our hypothesis (there is no God) simply does not fit the data.
Let’s assume for a moment that there is a God and that man is uniquely created to fellowship with and worship God. The atheist is quick to point out that this hypothesis does not fit the data either; where are all the indications of God’s fellowshipping with man? Why does God allow such confusion among men as to who God is and how to fellowship with him? Putting aside for a moment the fact that we see God’s fingerprints everywhere, let’s agree with the atheist that if our hypothesis were true we would very much expect to fellowship with God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
But now let’s assume that there is a God, that man is uniquely created to fellowship with and worship him, but that there is some estrangement between man and God. This, then, seems to explain the data! The fingerprints of God can be identified in his careful and thoughtful design of the world. Our being created for the unique purpose of fellowship can be seen in the fact that humans alone are able to reason and communicate. There is now a great economic incentive to believe in God, since there is great joy and blessing to be had as his children; and in fact, it is precisely where Christianity has most flourished that civilization and freedoms have most thrived. Yet this estrangement also creates a great economic incentive to disbelieve in God, or to fabricate one’s own gods and religion, which explains the great confusion man has about God. This estrangement suggests that God might allow himself to be hidden from our sight to a certain degree, but also that he might be working to reconcile us to him — so there is even a suggestion of the gospel!
There are, of course, ways that this argument needs to be further developed. More work needs to be done to demonstrate that religion truly has no economic incentive if God does not exist. And we have assumed one type of God here (a personal and good and gracious God who pursues fellowship with man), but the atheist will be quick to point out that this is a fallacy of limited choice; perhaps there is another type of God who delights in causing chaos — does this explanation fit the data? To the Christian it is certain that it would not, but for apologetic purposes this argument must be developed.
And of course, we should not see God as a mere hypothesis. Stay tuned for Friday’s quote.
What is this trial? It is my wise and loving father teaching me to grow in trusting and loving him. Faith grows best when he is all there is to cling to.
My pastors have been preaching through Exodus, and just finished ten weeks in the ten commandments. They have done an incredible job of helping us to feel the weight and glory of God’s holiness; but without letting us forget that the law sits on the bedrock foundation of the gospel (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you . . . out of the house of slavery”), and that our reading of the law absolutely must be infused with gospel hope.
Yet it is still so tempting for me to hear such a message and nurse my conviction, without really going any farther. Perhaps I resolve to change some things, but in reality my ears are tuning out the very gospel hope and power that are the only way I can possibly move beyond conviction. Mark Lauterbach critiques his sermons on this point, but we should also critique our listening — are our ears tuned in to savor conviction, or savor the gospel:
Is conviction of sin the measure of a sermon? … I used to notice that people would give me the most response to a sermon that was the most demanding. “Oh Pastor, that was such a wonderful sermon, I was so very convicted.” Should I have found this encouraging?
[But] while conviction is a gift to us, it is always conviction to lead people to the cross. I know the arguments about people needing to be slain by the law — and agree that awareness of need of forgiveness is crucial. But if I leave them there, I have not been faithful to the Savior. Conviction should drive people to the cross — and they should leave with hope toward the Savior.
We want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and repent, but we shouldn’t get off the bus there. Our conviction should drive us to look upward to our Savior rather than inward on our sin; the gospel is our only hope and power for forgiveness and for real change.
How do we make that something more than a mantra? How can we practically seize this gospel power to change? Here are some regular practices that can strengthen our faith and empower our obedience; please comment to add more:
- Regularly recount the gospel to ourselves, thanking God that our sins are completely forgiven and that we approach him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
- Regularly acknowledge that whatever success we have in obedience is a gift from God.
- Regularly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to change, knowing that this grace and help will surely be given to us because of the cross.
- Remind ourselves of the reasons that we should obey. Regularly feed our souls with these truths as a way of provoking joyful, grateful, faith-filled obedience:
- God is my creator, and he is good; he knows what is best for me.
- True and lasting joy are only found in God and in pleasing him; these idols that I cling to cannot compare to God’s glory and beauty and goodness and joy.
- God has saved me from condemnation and wrath, and my gratitude at this precious gift should overflow in obedience.
- God is my loving father and I should reflect his character.
- Christ has purchased my very life with his blood and I should reflect his character.
- The Holy Spirit indwells me and empowers me to reflect Christ’s character.
- Read books that fuel our appreciation for the gospel and our love for God, such as Jerry Bridges’ The Gospel For Real Life, C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, and John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (download, purchase).
Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch
God gives us rest and leisure as a gift to be enjoyed. Since it is a gift from him and since we belong to him, the way we receive and enjoy this gift is an important part of how we worship and honor God. There are some principles we can draw from this:
- We ought to see leisure as a gift and enjoy it with gratitude to God. We routinely thank God for providing our food; do we thank him equally for our leisure?
- Leisure is a gift and not a right; we should not make an idol out of it. Do we selfishly demand it and spend it? How do we respond when God allows it to be interrupted or taken away? What are the things we value enough that we are glad to give up our rest and leisure for them?
- Christ is our Lord; our very lives are purchased by his blood. We should spend our God-given leisure time in ways pleasing and honoring to him. We need to do more than ask “is it sin?” We need to ask whether our general pattern is to stir up fleshly appetites or to enjoy Christ-honoring refreshment.
This last point doesn’t mean that we necessarily avoid most movies, TV shows and secular music; nor does it mean that the books we read are always theology books. God is honored even in the eating of ice cream, after all, if it is done with a heart of gratitude. Since it is our heart that is on center stage, two different people may be enjoying the same good gift, but only one might be doing it in a way that acknowledges, enjoys, and honors our Lord. In general, our question should be, what appetite are we feeding: our appetite for the world or for God? Are we generally growing in our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory and beauty as revealed in creation and in his gifts to men? Are we generally refreshing, stimulating and stewarding our God-given minds, souls, bodies, families and friendships? Or are these things beginning to waste away as we enjoy our leisure just because it feels good and because we think we deserve it?
Often we will be able to see a connection between our approach to leisure and the sins we struggle with such as lust, greed, jealousy and envy. As we grow in seeing leisure, sex, wealth and possessions as good gifts from God, we will grow in a faith and gratitude that loves to please him with our enjoyment of these gifts.
Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch
I grew up in a Christian home, yet I came to think of Christian conversion as a dramatic and decisive experience. I never had such an experience, so I struggled for many years wondering if I was genuinely converted. I repeated the sinner’s prayer often in the hope that this time my sincerity would be sufficient. But our assurance does not rest in our own sincerity.
We know that the Holy Spirit’s work may be a quiet whisper of a breeze that can be seen only by its effects. So our conversion may not be dramatic, but its fruit will be seen over time. And yet, as encouraging as it is to reflect on these evidences of God’s grace in our lives, it is not even here where our assurance primarily rests.
Our assurance rests in Christ, and in his sure promises of salvation. Do not ask yourself, “Am I saved?” This is the wrong question, because it looks inward at the very moment you should be looking upward! Instead ask, “Who is my Savior? Is he able and willing to save? Will he keep his promises?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Here is happy assurance.
John Murray writes of this in his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied (pp. 107ff). You might find his language tedious at points, but you will be rewarded richly for lingering over it. Murray reminds us that our assurance — the warrant for the confidence that we have in our salvation — is not found in ourselves, but in Christ and in his promises.
What warrant does a lost sinner have to commit himself to Christ? How may he know that he will be accepted? How does he know that Christ is able to save? How does he know that this confidence is not misplaced? How does he know that Christ is willing to save him? . . .
From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .
When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith.
The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but [it is] trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. And it is of paramount concern to know that Christ is presented to all without distinction to the end that they may entrust themselves to him for salvation. The gospel offer is not restricted to the elect or even to those for whom Christ died. And the warrant of faith is not the conviction that we are elect or that we are among those for whom, strictly speaking, Christ died but [it is] the fact that Christ, in the glory of his person, in the perfection of his finished work, and in the efficacy of his exalted activity as King and Saviour, is presented to us in the full, free, and unrestricted overture of the gospel. It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved. It is to us in our lost condition that the warrant of faith is given and the warrant is not restricted or circumscribed in any way. In the warrant of faith the rich mercy of God is proffered to the lost and the promise of grace is certified by the veracity and faithfulness of God. This is the ground upon which a lost sinner may commit himself to Christ in full confidence that he will be saved. And no sinner to whom the gospel comes is excluded from the divine warrant for such confidence.
Presuming on God’s grace, perhaps in some cases to the point of false assurance, is a problem for many of us who have grown up in the church. But we fight our presumption, not with the fear of false assurance, but with true assurance.
Who is your Savior?