Monday, July 31, 2017

The Apostles, Tongues, and the Holy Spirit

Pentecostals claim that a sign (sometimes the sign) of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues, a reference to the events described in Acts 2. Oneness Pentecostals go further and claim that a person must speak in tongues to be saved. I have expressed my views on tongues-speaking elsewhere (use the "glossolalia" tag at the bottom).

I have a real problem with either assertion (especially that of Oneness).

Here is one reason why: "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (Luke 4:1). This refers to His actions after His temptation by Satan. Note that it explicitly states that He was "full of the Holy Spirit." What it does not say is that He spoke in tongues. 

What do the Pentecostals say about this passage? It belies their assertion about tongues. He didn't speak in tongues, yet the inspired commentary does not let us deny that He was filled with the Spirit. And it is even worse for the Oneness Pentecostals, because their doctrine means that Jesus needs to be saved. Surely it would be blasphemous to assert any such thing.

The solution is simple. There is no connection between tongues and the filling with the Holy Spirit. The circumstances in Acts (and mentioned nowhere else) reflect the transition from the the direct leadership of Jesus to His indirect leadership through the Apostles. The extraordinary signs were vindications of the Apostles, not the Spirit. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Baptism in Acts: Trinitarian or Jesus-Only?

Among Oneness Pentecostals, i. e., those that hold a Sabellian view of the Godhead, represented primarily by the United Pentecostal Church, there is a believe that the description of baptisms is to be normative, and, therefore, baptisms are to be done, not in the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19, but rather in Jesus's name only. In their theology, this is a salvation issue. A person cannot be saved without their baptism.

Let me grant up front that the baptisms mentioned in Acts all say something to the effect of "in the name of Jesus." What I deny is the significance that the Oneness give to that.

Look first at the Matthean formula: "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). The trinitarian implications are obvious, since we have the one name, not names, for three Persons. The Oneness people point out, correctly, that we never see that formula in Acts. They then claim, with zero manuscript support, that, therefore, the trinitarian formula was added later.

However, their arguments miss several points. First, the words of Jesus in Greek, something which is not clear in the English, indicate that baptism is "into" the name of the trinity. The preposition in Acts 2:38, on the other hand, means "on account of," not "into." Thus, we have, not contradictory statements, but rather references to two distinct things. Jesus in Matthew is talking about baptism as the visible sign of the relationship of the believer to God, in His triune nature. Luke in Acts, on the other hand, is talking about the Apostles, who, by the authority of Jesus, are giving the sign of baptism to new believers. 

In Acts, the emphasis is on the movement between the earthly ministry of Jesus seen in the Gospels, to the ministry of the Apostles as His representatives in Acts. The pouring out of the Spirit in chapter 2 was the visible sign of His enthronement in heaven subsequent to his ascension. Then the rest of the book is about the newfound power, authority, and prominence of the Apostles. Therefore, "in the name of Jesus" is not a formula spoken at the baptism, but rather an insistence that baptizing is the sign of the succession of the Apostles to the leadership of the Christian community. The Oneness folks never seem to notice that their formula is also not repeated anywhere else in Scripture. If it is a salvation issue, is it not reprehensible that Paul, Peter, and John never mention it in their epistles?

That's Paul's point in I Corinthians 1:14-17: "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." He makes a complete separation between the message of salvation, which he saw as his calling, and the rite of baptism, which was not. That is a distinction that he could not have made if he believed that baptism is a part of salvation!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adam Made It Rough: The Sin Nature

Cast out of Eden
The hardest inheritance that all men have received from our first ancestor, Adam, is the promise of eternal life on the basis of perfect obedience to the covenant of works. As we know from subsequent events, Adam broke the covenant, forfeiting salvation by it, and bringing death, both spiritual and physical, on all his posterity (Romans 5:12-19). Yet our hearts have retained that consciousness of the original covenant, and find every opportunity to convince us that a little hard work will restore us to eternal life. This results in the Pelagianism that is inherent in all pagan religions, all forms of secularism, and much of popular Christianity. Apart from orthodox, biblical Christianity, all religions, including secular religions, hold that men are good, or, at least, good enough to claw our way to whatever vision of salvation we hold.

It is biblical Christianity alone that teaches consistently that the covenant of works is broken and hopeless. By its very nature, failure is permanent, leaving no opportunity for second chances: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). And this isn't sin on a curve, i. e., the one who sins more than someone else. Rather, broken means broken, all or nothing: "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11).

Yet, we just naturally keep trying to get back on that train, though it long ago left the station. We all want to get the credit for saving ourselves. It is the same deceptive independence that Satan offered Adam and Eve in the garden: "God knows that when you eat of it [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). "Don't let God rule you," Satan said. "Rule yourselves." And he continues to whisper that same deception in the ear of every human being since then, even Jesus (Matthew 4:8-9). Jesus alone never gave in to that temptation.

That same Jesus tells us the truth about what is left of the covenant of works: "When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10). He is not impressed with what impresses us. While we trumpet each prideful act, He says that ever our best is merely the minimum standard, not anything that gets merit in His eyes.

That's why every philosophy based on human autonomy is a pathway to judgment. It starts with a false premise. God's beginning premise is Himself, with the holiness that is essential to His nature (Habakkuk 1:13). Men always start with themselves, which means with the antiholiness that Adam has passed to all of us. When we agree with Him, then salvation is available in Jesus Christ. All other options are really just one option, judgment. Hear Jesus's words: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Spirituality of the Hypocrite Will Not Save Him

Asaph the Psalmist records a frightening warning to the hypocrite (Psalm 50:16-17):
"To the wicked God says: 
'What right have you to recite my statutes
     or take My covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,

     and you cast My words behind you.'"

Let me start with defining a "hypocrite." In the spiritual sense, a hypocrite is a person who claims a spiritual commitment, while living inconsistently with that profession. He is also called a "false professor." We see it used, for example in the words of Jesus (Matthew 23:27): "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness." He compares them to whitewashed tombs, well-decorated on the outside, but putrid on the inside.
The Hypocrite Cannot Bear His True Reflection

That is the type of person who gets God's warning through Asaph's Psalm. He refers to those who act very spiritual, quoting the Scriptures or mouthing claims to God's covenantal blessings. Yet, he tells them, they actually hate the restrictions in God's word, and live as if they have never heard them.

Is this not a description of most of today's professing Christendom? We even have special words for such people: "Sunday Christians," or "carnal Christians." However, in view of God's statement here, is it proper to refer to such people as "Christians"?

God certainly doesn't think so! He continues with this warning (Ps. 50:21-22):
"These things you have done, and I have been silent;
     you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
     Mark this, then, you who forget God,
     lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!"

For the hypocrite, He says that there is no deliverer. That means that adding the mere word "Christian" after "carnal" brings no salvation, any more than lipstick on a pig makes it a fashion queen.

The good news is that the Psalm has one more verse, one that gives final hope: "The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!" For the person who has merely mouthed the words of God, when those words become joined with a changed heart, then God's wrath will also be converted, into forgiveness. "Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Myth of Ignorance: All Men Know of God

In Acts 14:8-18, we have the account of a visit to the city of Lystra, a Greek city in what is now Turkey. While there, Paul sees a man ion his audience, apparently a new believer, but who was a cripple. Paul heals him. However, the people around them are pagans, and believe that this miracle comes from their pagan gods, inspiring them to attempt to offer sacrifices to these missionaries.

In refusing the sacrifices, Paul makes a very interesting remark (Acts 14:16-17): "In past generations He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Paul is applying the same principle that Jesus described in Matthew 5:45: "He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Willem de Poorter, "St. Paul and Barnabas in Lystra"

Jesus and Paul are both making the point that every human being in history has experienced the goodness of God, because He is good to all!

Yet, elsewhere, Paul also talks about the reaction of most of those humans to God's goodness (Romans 1:18-21): "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them, for His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse, for although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him." That is, while all men experience the goodness of God, and are aware of it, in their heart of hearts, suppress that awareness and refuse to give Him the thanks and honor that are His due.

As Paul tells the Lystrans, God had passed over this offense from men throughout history, until the Gospel age, providing them no good news, no message of atonement through a divine Surety. However, that situation had now changed, and, through Paul, the message of the Gospel had come to the Gentiles. This was as the Father had promised to the Son in the intra-Trinitarian covenant, made before the world was created: "I am the LORD; I have called You in righteousness; I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). The Father promised to the Son both Israel and the Gentiles: "It is too light a thing that You should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6). And this promise would be effectual: "Nations shall come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising" (Isaiah 60:3).

The testimony of Paul demonstrates that there is no one who doesn't know about God, no matter what self-justifications he may make to himself or to others. Therefore, he is held accountable for His refusal to give God the honor and thanks He is due. However, there is also hope for the nations, the Gospel, in which forgiveness is offered in Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Insufficiency of Jesus-Name Baptism

"Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit."
- Acts 8:14-17

This is a very difficult passage. We see some events following the visit of Philip to Samaria, as Jesus had commanded (Acts 1:8). As a result of his visit, a number of people are converted. This man was one of the seven appointed as deacons in chapter 6, men who are explicitly described as "full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). When they received news of this work of God among the Samaritans (compare John 4:39-42 and Matthew 10:5-6), the Apostles sent Peter and John to examine the situation there. We are told that Philip had baptized the Samaritans "only in the name of the Lord Jesus" (8:16), yet they had not received the Holy Spirit.

As Oneness Pentecostals love to point out, all of the baptisms in Acts are done in some variation of the name of Jesus. We do not see the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19. The significance of that is merely that the Apostles have undertaken the authority that Jesus gave them, an important consideration now that the Lord was no longer physically among them. However, this is the only occasion where Luke refers to it as only the name of Jesus, or gives it any negative consequences.

The answer is actually pretty simple.

Acts is a book of transitions. In it, Luke describes the transition from the direct authority of Jesus to that of the Apostles and elders and of the change from a predominantly-Jewish Church to a predominantly-gentile Church. The first is the reason for the extraordinary signs we see in chapter 2; the latter is what we see here in chapter 8. Luke gives us some out-of-sorts events, not to say anything about baptism, but rather to show the Holy Spirit's sign to the Apostles that the Gentiles were coming in. This lesson took some work, as we can see, because it isn't until chapter 11 that they get the point: "[The Apostles] glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'" (Acts 11:18).

T^his passage is a problem, however, for the Oneness Pentecostals. On the basis of their bizarre interpretation of Acts 2:38, their doctrine of salvation is that profession, baptism (in Jesus's name only), and "the baptism of the Holy Ghost," which necessarily includes speaking in tongues, all must occur, and in that order. Yet, baptism, supposedly in the form these people enjoin, left its recipients with no Holy Spirit. While I understand that this was as a sign to the Apostles, it is devastating to Oneness doctrine, because it disconnects the events required in their soteriology!

The error of the Oneness theology is that it assumes that what is temporary, i. e., for a specific purpose, is to be normative for all times. Yet, if baptism in Jesus's name only and speaking in tongues are essential for salvation, are the Apostles not to be rebuked for their failure to say any such thing in any of their epistles? Of course they are! But that actually demonstrates the difference between the historical emphasis in Acts from the doctrinal explanation that is central to the epistles. Oneness theology fails to distinguish between what happens under particular circumstances and that which was intended to be eternal.

And this isn't simply a mistake. I fellowship with Christians who are mistaken all the time. However, a false doctrine of salvation is a dividing line. I must reject as a brother, and, in fact, oppose as an enemy, anyone who denies salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) because he is throwing a stumblingblock between sinners and their only Savior Jesus Christ.

This is the biblical doctrine of salvation: "We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works" (Romans 3:28). No works of men stand between the sinner and salvation in Jesus Christ, including ceremonies like baptism or speaking unknown languages. the Prophet Isaiah said that God offers salvation "without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1), but the Oneness cult tries to set up a toll road and demand fees before the sinner can come to Christ. That makes them a foe, and I must oppose them.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Yes, It Is Black or White: Belief and Unbelief

 In today's society, it has become unpopular to state things in absolutes: truth or falsehood, right or wrong. It seems as if nearly everyone wants the world in shades of gray. Any person who declares certainty about anything is labeled intolerant. However, have you noticed that defining intolerance as evil is the one absolute that is still acceptable? "I can't tolerate intolerance" may be nonsensical, but it is the popular theme of our age.

The funny thing is that the overwhelming majority of those same people profess to be Christians, about 90% of Americans. How does their intolerant tolerance line up with His attitude? Did Jesus not say, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6)? Of course, He did say exactly that, and it is far from a tolerant statement.

He said some other intolerant things, too. We see Him, saying (John 3:18), "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." He also says of unbelievers (John 8:43-44), "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires." Apart from commitment to Him, a person is under judgment. That is, now, not just in the hereafter. Why does a person not believe? Because he is acting consistently with his nature as the seed of Satan (Genesis 3:15). These are black and white categories. Either/or. Jesus is an absolutist!

Another categorical statement that Jesus made is, "Whoever is not with Me is against Me" (Matthew 12:30). That is a shocking statement, even to supposed Christians! I know that it is hip to be neutral. To be for or against anything is fanaticism. Except for certitude. One must absolutely be against that. Don't forget, "I can't tolerate intolerance." However, Jesus doesn't make any effort to be hip, or tolerant, or flexible. Nor does He allow His followers to be any such thing. Rather, if you aren't for Him, then He considers you to be against Him.

"Tolerance" has become the catchword for everyone who wants to be an "individual," just like everyone else. However, the biblical Christian is the real counter-cultural radical. The culture says, "Don't conform!" But it only means "don't conform to Christ." Conformity to culture is the modern standard of nonconformity, and it cannot be an option for the Christian.

The Bible commands us to a form of nonconformity (Romans 12:2): "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." When God says, "Don't conform," He means to the very worldview that is demanding our conformity. At the same time, He also commands a certain conformity (Romans 8:29): "Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." Therefore, in a very black and white contrast, to conform as the world demands is rejected by God. The conformity that the world condemns is the exact conformity that God commands. There is no gray, no neutral territory, no safe zone. It's a matter of faithfulness, and to deny it is an act of idolatry.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Mercy of Christ Means Opposition to All False Teachers

In addition to what I write on this website, I work in informal cults ministry. I won't list here whom I consider to be a cult. My inspiration to perform that ministry is twofold: first, I hate that false and destructive doctrines are promulgated in the name of Christ; and second, I sorrow that people have been brought into spiritual bondage by the false use of the name of Jesus. thus, there are both a righteous wrath side and a compassion side.

And I believe that dual inspiration is biblical.

In II John 1:10-11, that Apostle warned us, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works."

Even more telling is the comment of Jude, the brother of Jesus (Jude 1:3), "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." What I find especially striking is that he tells us that it was not his original intention to talk about false teachers. However, some situation required that he shift gears and address this subject.

Then I have this warning, not to the false teachers, but rather to me: "If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). God is serious about this! If I sit passively by, and say nothing to the cults about the eternal consequences of their false teachings, then I am a murderer, with their blood on my hands. He doesn't hold me responsible for their reaction, but He does for giving warning.

As one might guess, my compassion is hardly received as such. The consistent reaction is a tearful protest: How dare you say that my chosen theology is false! And then someone will always quote, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1), as if it trumps everything else in Scripture. They never go on to cite the next verse: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Jesus's emphasis isn't verse 1, but verse 2. Compare His words to what He says in John 7:24: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." He never intended an absolute ban on judgment, but rather on manmade judgment. We are only to pronounce and apply His judgments from Scripture.

Jude also describes the other motivation (Jude 1:22-23): "Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."
God gives us an invitation to come to Him, not to be brought under bondage, but to free us from our bondages: " Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:1-3). And Jesus gave the same invitation: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Anyone who brings a convert into bondage, makes him heavy-laden, is no servant of Christ, but rather an enemy: "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30. Such a person must expect only opposition from me, no matter what crocodile tears he may shed about judgment!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Unbiblical God of Modalism

There are different versions of Modalism (also known as Sabellianism), but the predominant one claims that Jesus alone is God. Jesus is the Father in heaven, the Son is the flesh only, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus among His people. That is, there are not three divine Persons as orthodox Christians believe. The modalist denies that the Son is God in Himself, or that the Holy Spirit is God in Himself. They believe that there is only one divine Person who has three different titles, depending on the work that occupies Him at any given moment. But note that they never refer to the Son as a divine Person. They insist that the Son is the flesh only, inhabited by Father Jesus.

There are a lot of problems I see with that doctrine, but I will make no attempt to address them all in one post. Rather, there are two biblical teachings that I think utterly exclude the possibility of the modalist deity.

First are the descriptions of circumstances in which all three Persons are present at the same time. Consider the account of the baptism of Jesus: "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from
Sabellius, Founder of Modalism
the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'
" (Matthew 3:13-17). Thus, we have, at one simultaneous moment, the Son's coming up from the water, the Holy Spirit's descending like a dove, and the Father's address from heaven. This cannot be the single unitary deity described by the modalists!

Second is what we are told about Jesus after His ascension: "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing" (Acts 2:33; see also 4:31 and 7:55, both of which are after the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost). When He ascended, where did He go? He didn't come back here as the Holy Spirit, as the Modalists claim. Rather, it explicitly states that He is at the right hand of the Father (and thus distinct from Him), from where He sent the Spirit (requiring that they also be distinct). Paul told us even more: "Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" (Romans 8:34). Where did Jesus go? Again, to the right hand of the Father. What is He doing now? Interceding for us. Paul tells us both where Jesus is and what He is doing right now, and it isn't what the modalists claim! And one final verse to clinch it: "After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). Again, the Scriptures tell us where the ascended Jesus is, and it isn't where the modalists try to put Him.

That old diagram has it right: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; however, the Father is not the Son or Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. And our salvation depends on it. If there is no heavenly Son to plead for us before His Father, then the believer has no hope of justification.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Bible as the Only Means of Sanctification

"How can a young man keep his way pure?
     By guarding it according to Your word.

I have stored up Your word in my heart,
     that I might not sin against You.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
     and a light to my path.

Keep steady my steps according to Your promise, 
     and let no iniquity get dominion over me."
- Palm 119:9, 11, 105, 133

Muslims and cultists around the world speak of the morality of professing American Christians and claim that it is a reflection of the nature of Christianity. And, in a sense, they are right to look at us. After all, if we profess that faith, then we should live accordingly. What is sad, however, is that they understand that, but all of those professing Christians don't. As I have pointed out here, the religion of America ceased long ago to be Christianity, and is, instead, deism, though baptized with Christian terminology.  

However, for the true Christian, what brings moral failure? How should he judge whether his life reflects the Lord that he professes? In the four verses above, the Psalmist gives us clear and explicit counsel.

In each of these four verses, there is a reference to the Scriptures. In the first three, it is called the "word." That emphasizes that the Bible is no mere word of men, but is really the word of God (I Thessalonians 2:13), God-breathed (II Timothy 3:16). And the last verse calls it  the "promise," because it is God's word to us, His message of salvation, of sanctification, and of glorification (Romans 8:30).

Then, also in all four verses, the Psalmist describes a role for the Scriptures in our sanctification, that is, the process of repudiating sin and striving more and more to be like Jesus. He desires to be "pure" (verse 9), "not to sin" (verse 11), to be enlightened (verse 105), and that "iniquity will not have dominion" (verse 133). Each of those phrases describes his desire to repudiate his old life of sin and to live as the new creation he is in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). He refuses the deistic, humanistic mindset, which says that doing right is what he feels is right. Rather, doing right is doing what God says is right. And that we can find only in Scripture.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Self-Esteem in Hell: An Open Letter to Joel Osteen

I am sure that we are familiar with the perfectly-coiffed image of the TV evangelist, with his pearly-white toothsome grin. And no, sin is never mentioned. No hint of why Jesus suffered on the cross. Only positive, uplifting praise. You are worthy. You are great. God can't help but be your best pal!

Is that a biblical message? I certainly don't think so. Rather, this is what I call the "Osteenification" of the church. And I deny that it is the Gospel.

In Acts chapter 2, starting at verse14, we have the record of a sermon by the Apostle Peter to a crowd of unbelieving Jews. I won't quote it; you can read it yourself.

However, it is the reaction of the audience that I want to emphasize (Acts 2:37): "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart." Notice the contrast here. While our toothsome televangelists seek to create warm feelings of self-esteem in their audiences, this biblical sermon is brought to a different conclusion: they "were cut to the heart." These people are brought to the point of shame, sorrow, and repentance. They aren't made to feel good about themselves, but rather to understand their wickedness. They aren't told about how much God loves them and wants to give them nice cars. Rather, they are brought to an awareness that they are under the righteous judgment of God. They don't feel good about themselves, but bad!

That is the appalling sin of the feelgood preachers. By refusing to give people the bad news of sin and judgment, they can have no good news to give of redemption, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus Christ. Until a man understands the bad news, he is not ready to hear and understand the good news.

Joel Osteen, God has a message for you (Ezekiel 33:8): "If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." All of your followers, whether in that false church of yours or the TV audience, are on their way to Hell, because you have refused to give them warning. Yet, that consideration doesn't seem to move you. Maybe this warning in Ezekiel will: if you continue to refuse to repent of your false gospel, your perfectly-coiffed toothsome smile will go into Hell with all of those other people, no matter how much self-esteem you have given them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Predestination: The Sureness of the Decrees of God

"Remember this and stand firm,
     recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
     for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
     declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
     saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all My purpose.’"

- Isaiah 46:8-10

Arminians of all stripes claim that God could not have predestined all of history, because men have "free will." That is, God could not have determined how all of history, both general and personal, could fall out, because those plans are contingent on the choices of men, which, they claim, are free of constraint.

The problem is that someone forgot to tell God that men have a veto on His plans. 

The passage I cite here refers to Cyrus, the king of the Medes (Isaiah 44:28), who was to overthrow the Babylonian Empire, about 160 years after this was written by Isaiah. So, the contingencies here are a series of historical events, including the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the deportation of her people, the rise to power of the Medes, a long line of X marrying Y to produce the family line of Cyrus, and even down to the choice by his parents of the name Cyrus (isaiah 45:13). Yet God is certain of His declaration in this prophecy.

He says, "I will accomplish my purpose." He doesn't ask for permission, or express mere hope, or express any form of uncertainty. His decree was a certainty, not because men would will it so, but because God willed it so!