Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Flood and the Sinfulness of Those of Any Age

I often hear people claim that children are not accountable for sin. Some people say that there is an age of accountability, not because Scriptures say so, but just because it just must be. Others state it in a more-sophisticated way, saying that a person can only be held accountable for what he understands to be sin, on the supposed basis of Romans 4:15 (while ignoring Romans 2:15). And others claim that children are innocent (not comparatively, but absolutely).

However, not only does Scripture not exempt any class of people from accountability for sin, from conception until death, but rather it makes explicit statements regarding the universality of sin.

The first such statement is in Genesis 8:21: "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth." This is the statement by God after the Flood that He will never again judge the world in that way. Why? Was it because sin had been eliminated? No, it was because the elimination of sin would require the elimination of mankind, "from his youth." God here explicitly states His perfect judgment that there is no such exemption on the basis of age or mental sophistication.

God says one thing but human sentiment insists on the opposite. Why? Because human sentiment is part of that very sin nature!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Words of Jesus Contra "Soul Sleep"

The Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have a similar doctrine regarding the intermediate state of the human spirit. According to that doctrine, the soul sleeps (SDA's) or is destroyed (JW's) after the death of the body, only to be awakened or reconstructed at the judgment. Both deny that the spirit of the Christian goes to heaven. However, whichever view one considers, it isn't biblical.

The proof is actually very easy to find. In Mark 13:27, Jesus says of Himself, "Then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven." The essential element here is the last phrase, "the ends of heaven." That is, Jesus Himself, surely a trustworthy witness regarding the matter, tells us that some of the elect are already in heaven. The others are on the earth, i. e., still alive.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Jesus, the God of the Burning Bush

"Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, 'I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.' When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.' And He said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" (Exodus 3:1-6).

This scene is one of the best-known stories of the Old Testament. In fact, the picture of a burning bush is used in a lot of church imagery, such as stained-glass windows, and the symbol of my own church. Yet, O think that little attention is paid to what happens in it.

Most importantly, I want to look at who is speaking. Everyone knows that it is God, of course. But is that all we are told? No, it's not.

Notice first that "God" is not mentioned until verse 6. Before that, Moses tells us that it was the Angel of the Lord, and then just the Lord. That is not God the Father! And, when Moses does refer to God, he says that he was afraid to look at Him. That clinches the exclusion of God the Father, because we know that no one has ever seen the Father (John 8:46). Both this and the reference to the Angel of the Lord tell us that this appearance was by the preincarnate God the Son, whom we know as Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself would later confirm this identity. As Moses continues, He tells us that the Person who addressed him indicates that His name is I Am (verse 14). Then, during His earthly ministry, He told the Jews that He was that same I Am (John 8:58). Some cults try to deny that it was His purpose to identify Himself with the God in the burning bush. However, the Jews understood exactly what He meant and sought to stone Him for His claim (verse 59 and John 10:33).

This is an extremely important claim. By claiming to be the Person who spoke to Moses from the bush, Jesus claimed to be the same God who redeemed Israel from Egypt. He was (and ever shall be) fully God, and their and our salvation depends on that truth!

Jehovah's Witnesses try to pull all sorts of tricks to deny the deity of Jesus. But the fact that their claims are contrary to the profession of Jesus about Himself proves that they are beyond the pale of the Christian faith. No matter what terminology they use, their claim to be Christians is refuted by the denial of the glory of the Christ from whom that name is derived.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

American Pharisees: Lost Without a Physician

"There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!" (Proverbs 30:12-13). 

Among Americans, Satan's primary attack against biblical Christianity is not atheism, alternative religions, or evolutionism, as bad as those things are. Rather, he attacks the faith through complacency.

Luke describes the conversion of Levi (another name for the Apostle Matthew): "Levi made Him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance'" (Luke 5:29-32). At the house of Matthew, Jesus sat at dinner with tax-collectors, a class hated by the Jews, and other sinners. The Pharisees saw this, and rebuked Him for His bad taste in companions. After all, were the Pharisees not the cream of Jewish society? 

But the rebuke of Jesus must have caught those Pharisees completely flat-footed: "I have not come to call the [supposedly] righteous but sinners to repentance." In their moral satisfaction, the Pharisees had no desire for what Jesus had come to give, redemption in His blood. However, the tax-collectors and sinners in Matthew's house knew their spiritual condition, and were looking to Jesus to forgive their sins and restore them to righteousness: "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for Your name’s sake!" (Psalm 79:9).

And this explains the spiritual anemia of America's professing Christians. Too many of us are satisfied with our moral superiority. Rare is the man who can say from his heart, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). Yet Jesus tells us that is exactly the point to which we must come to find Him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Example of William Carey: The Two Sides of the Missionary Endeavor

There is an unfortunate tendency among Christians to define everything in two opposing theses. That is unfortunate because life doesn't work like that. It has a lot more than just two options in almost any circumstance. Think of a questionnaire that asks your favorite flavor of ice cream, and then gives only the options of vanilla or chocolate. Can no one prefer strawberry?

One particular example is the definition of mission. Liberal churches still send out men and women that they call missionaries. However, their work is devoted to social activism or welfare institutions. Under no circumstances do they call anyone to repent, believe in Jesus, and form Gospel-proclaiming national churches. On the other hand, fundamentalist missionaries define their task strictly in terms of how many people have been called to believe. Social institutions are poo-pooed as diversions from their task.

That is a false dichotomy. Have we forgotten William Carey, a pioneer in the modern missionary task? While he translated the Bible and preached the Gospel, in order to gather converts, he also built a missionary infrastructure, such as colleges and orphanages.

Does the Bible address this dichotomy? Yes, it does. "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9).

God's concern is certainly the spreading of the Gospel to unbelievers. The Great Commission is a command to that end, and is so important to Him that He repeated it in different words in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8. But He also tells us, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:15-17). The Christian who preaches the Gospel, but has no concern about the physical well-being of the people to whom he ministers is practicing a truncated and unbiblical Christianity. 

I didn't quote that great Commission on purpose. I will do so now: "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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Notice that it doesn't tell us to explain only how to be saved, as vital as that it, but also to observe, or obey, everything that God commands. And that necessarily includes a concern for the less-fortunate.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Abraham, the Ancient Christian

There is a heresy which has been going around at least since the time of J. N. Darby in 1830, that says that people in the Old testament were saved in a different way from the people in the New Testament. Sometimes it is said that Israel was saved by following the Law. Other times, it is said that they were saved by faith in the sacrifices. This doctrine is associated with various forms of the hermeneutical system created by Darby (and made popular by C. I Scofield) known as Dispensationalism.

Both forms of the doctrine are wrong.

Orthodox Protestants all agree that a Christian is saved by grace through faith, not by obedience to the Law, even in part. This is stated repeatedly in Scripture, such as Acts 13:39, Romans 3:28, and the whole Epistle to the Galatians. Where the Dispensationalist is wrong is his assertion that Old Testament believers were saved in a different way. The Apostle Peter, himself a Jew, said, "We [Jews] believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they {i. e., the Gentiles] will" (Acts 15:11).

And to be more specific, the Apostle Paul, another Jew, tells us, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed'" (Galatians 3:8). Notice that Paul doesn't say just "faith," which might allow for faith in a different object. Rather, he explicitly states that Abraham received the Gospel! That is why Jesus could say, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).

Would the content of the Gospel to Israel have been more obscure? Sure. We understand that the Gospel was given under types and shadows (Colossians 2:17), so that Old Testament faith was more difficult to attain. That is why the New Covenant, the Gospel in the New Testament, is described by the Epistle to the Hebrews as far superior: the types and shadows have been removed, so that the reality is displayed in all its glory!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Can Kids Sin? The Age of Accountability

There are things in the Bible that can make a man uncomfortable. That is no criticism. It represents historical situations without modern parallel. We simply have no comparable experiences in our lives. We no longer live on farms, where we face the daily reality of, for example, the butchering of animals for our food. Meat is something we get in plastic wrap from the grocery store. We are completely separated from how that meat was prepared before that point.

One issue in particular is the Conquest, the period of time in which the nation of Israel, after having been rescued from bondage in Egypt, is called by God to take the Promised Land from its inhabitants. And not just to impose their rule over those inhabitants, as we think of a conquest, but rather to eliminate them: "We captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors" (Deuteronomy 2:34; cp. 3:6, etc.). However, that action was only as God had commanded them: "But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction" (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).

This offends our sense of justice, because God judges even the children to destruction. How can God do such a thing and remain just?

The problem is that we think of children as innocent. And, comparably speaking, that is true. Children haven't committed murder, for example (and even that is no absolute). We are justified in saying that, for example, abortion is evil, because it is exactly that, a genocide of the innocent. The relatively innocent. This has led to a manmade doctrine called "the age of accountability," according to which there is some age under which God does not hold a person accountable for sin.

The problem with applying that to God is that He doesn't judge on the basis of relativity. In His omniscience, He knows what is in the heart of every person, whether it is expressed in action or not. We cannot do the same because we are not omniscient. In addition, we judge as one sinner looking upon on another. That is why we are able to think only in terms of relative innocence. But God's commands to Israel show that He holds all humans to His holy standards, regardless of age, gender, or social status.

God, however, in His absolute knowledge and holiness says that even infants have wicked hearts (Psalms 51:5, 58:3). Therefore, He alone is just in determining to destroy the wicked, even children, in pursuit of His purposes. The doctrine of an age of accountability accuses God of injustice for the inclusion of children in His judgment on the Canaanites.

What the modern mind rarely grasps is that what Israel did to Og and his people or Sihon and his people is what He could properly do to every human in existence. Is it unjust that He exercised His justice in those cases but does not in our modern world? Of course not. That isn't injustice; it is mercy.