When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

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On the Importance of Preaching

Through preaching those who hear (effectually) are called into a state of grace, and preserved in it.

William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, 7.

 

The Excellency of the Power Belongs to God

If you ask, whence hath the word preached this mighty power? The answer must be, neither from itself nor him that preaches it, but from the Spirit of God whose instrument it is, by whose blessing and concurrence with it, it produceth its blessed effects upon the hearts of men.

First, This efficacy and wonderful power is not from the word itself; take it in an abstract notion, separated from the Spirit, it can do nothing: it is called “the foolishness of preaching,” 1 Cor. i.21. Foolishness, not only because the world so accounts it, but because in itself it is a weak and unsuitable, and therefore a very improbable way to reconcile the world to God; that the stony heart of one man should be broken by the words of another man; that one poor sinful creature should be used to breathe spiritual life into another; this could never be if this sword were not managed by an omnipotent hand.

And besides, we know what works naturally, works necessarily; if this efficacy were inherent in the word, so that we should suppose it to work as other natural objects do, then it must needs convert all to whom it is at any time preached, except its effect were miraculously hindered, as the fire when it could not burn the three children; but alas, thousands hear it, that never feel the saving power of it, Isa. liii.1 and 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.

Secondly, It derives not this efficacy from the instrument by which it is ministered: let their gifts and abilities be what they will, it is impossible that ever such effects should be produced from the strength of their natural or gracious abilities, 2 Cor. iv. 7. “We have this treasure (saith the apostle) in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

The treasure of the gospel-light is carried in earthen vessels, as Gideon and his men had their lamps in earthen pitchers, or in oyster-shells, for so the word also signifies; the oyster-shell is a base and worthless thing in itself; however, there lies the rich and precious pearl of so great value.  And why is this precious treasure lodged in such weak, worthless vessels? Surely it is upon no other design but to convince us of the truth I am here to prove, that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us; as it follows in the next words.  To the same purpose speaks the same apostle, 1 Cor 3.7. “So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

Not any thing! What can be more diminutively spoken of that gospel-preachers? But we must not understand these words in a simple and absolute, but in a comparative and relative sense; not as if they were not necessary and useful in their place, but that how necessary soever they be, and what excellent gifts soever God hath furnished them with; yet it is neither in their power nor choice to make the word they preach effectual to men; if it were, then the damnation of all that hear us must needs lie at our door; then also, many thousands would have been reconciled to God, which are yet in the state of enmity, but the effect of the gospel is not in our power.

Thirdly, But whatever efficacy it hath to reconcile men to God, it derives from the Spirit of God, whose co-operation and blessing (which is arbitrarily dispensed) gives it all the fruit it hath.

Ministers, saith one, are like trumpets which make no sound, if breath be not breathed into them. Or like Ezekiel’s wheels, which move not unless the Spirit move them; or Elisha’s servant, whose presence doth no good except Elisha’s spirit be there also. For want of the Spirit of God how many thousands of souls do find the ministry to be nothing to them? If it be something to the purpose to any soul, it is the Lord that makes it so. This Spirit is not limited by men’s gifts or parts; he concurs not only with their labours who have excellent gifts, but oftentimes blesses mean, despicable gifts with far greater success.

Suppose, saith Augustine, there be two conduits in a town, one very plain and homely, the other built of polished marble, and adorned with excellent images, as eagles, lions, angels; the water refreshes as its water, and not as it comes from such or such a conduit. It is the Spirit that gives the word all that virtue it hath: he is the Lord of all saving influences: he hath dominion over the word, over our souls, over the times and seasons of conversions; and if any poor creature attend the ministry without benefit, if he go away as he came, without fruit, surely we may say in this case, as Martha said to Christ, in reference to her brother Lazarus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; so, Lord, if thou hadst been in this prayer, in this sermon, this poor soul had not gone dead and carnal from under it.

– John Flavel, The Method of Grace, 57-59, vol 2 of 6.

“If You Abide In My Word, You Are Truly My Disciples”

A characteristically helpful sermon by John Piper on John 8.31.

Go here.

Immanuel Baptist Church and the Gay/Straight Alliance

Last Thursday I had a tremendous opportunity. Along with six other believers (mostly from Immanuel) I went to a local public high school to dialogue with a student group called the ‘Gay, Straight Alliance’.

This event was made possible because one of our Pastoral Apprentices, Andrew Wilkinson shared the gospel with, and befriended his lesbian co-worker, who is also the leader of the group. The two them decided that a group of Christians and a group of homosexuals should get together. GREAT IDEA!

A post that hits the biblical mark concerning dialogue with unbelievers, homosexual or otherwise.  A helpful look into biblical “eating and drinking with” and into the increasing necessity of healthy and earnest scattering (of salt) and shining (of light).  Go here for the rest of the post.

Reflections on Genesis 6:5: Depravity and Grace

In the past couple of weeks, the Lord has grabbed my heart for meditation upon four verses in particular: Genesis 6:5, Psalm 42:2, Isaiah 42:3, and Hebrews 12:14.  Over the next couple of days, I hope to post some reflections upon them in that order.

Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

A part of, if not the whole of, wickedness as it is defined by God is “that every intention of the thoughts of [the sinners] heart was [is] only evil continually.”  The doctrine of the verse is the depravity of man, total, universal, and natural.  It is the pervasiveness of wickedness that is prominent in the passage.  It is not some of our intentions, but every intention.  It is not just the intentions of our actions, but our thoughts also.  But it cannot be relegated to our thoughts alone, for it regards the thoughts of the heart, and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks and the man acts.  It is not that our intentions are sometimes good, sometimes neutral, sometimes evil; but only evil.  And there is no respite from this depravity – it is only evil continually!  This is the condition of every man apart from the saving grace of God which regenerates the sinner, imparts a new heart with new proclivities, new loves, desires, passions, and pulses for God, grants a new spiritual principle, the Holy Spirit and resurrection and eternal life.  Now the sinner can take no comfort from the idea that he is not seen by God, for “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”  The Lord saw it!  It is the illusion of the wicked, even mine prior to the mercy of Christ in my own life, that God will not find out our sins and hold us accountable for them.  They say to the righteous, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10); they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Ps 53:1).  The Psalmist writes, “[The wicked] says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it. . . . Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?  But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands . . . break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none” (Ps 10:11, 13-15).  Indeed, such depravity, wickedness, evil, and sin is noted by God, seen by God, and will be called to account before God.  There is no wiggle room for the sinner before God.

Now it is a great mercy that God, Himself, overcomes our wicked nature by sovereign grace, that God regenerates the heart of the wicked and declares Him righteous on the basis of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; for what we read of in Genesis 6:5 is not at all the case with Christ.  While He put on the likeness of sinful flesh, He Himself was without sin; He was in His humanity what we all were created by God to be.  Therefore, bearing our penalty on account of our sin as He did on His cross, He made substitution for sinners, intercession for transgressors, so that all who repent and believe in Him might be forgiven their sins by God, given Christ’s righteousness, reconciled to God, invested with resurrection and eternal life, indwelled by the Spirit of the living God.  Therefore Jesus is the Way from, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” to “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:1-2).  Grace manifest supremely in the cross, where the depravity of men climaxes in the face of the highest display of mercy, is the only Way of salvation in every possible sense of the biblical concept.  Only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from their utter helplessness to save themselves; only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from the insurmountable depths of their depravity; only Christ and Him crucified can bring such a wretch as me to eternal glory.  Only Christ has accomplished such a great salvation, and can speak thus: “Remove the filthy garments from him. . . . Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech 3:4).  May God be praised for His glorious grace!

One Thing You Still Lack!

A rich ruler is a man that seems to have everything going for him, everything that seems to be the idol of most of America: he is rich, and he rules.  He has money and he has power, authority, influence.  In coordination with this, the rich were also perceived to be of that elite group of individuals most prepared for the kingdom of God.  The wealthy were perceived to be the righteous.  Being rich was equated with being blessed.  This was, at first, the ancient wisdom of Job and his friends, and the temptation which almost gained a good standing with Asaph in Psalm 73.  Moreover, the rich ruler in Luke 18:18-30 appears to be a sincere man of means and religion, an astute observer of Christ.  But sincerity, money, and the flattery of Christ are no indication that a man has obtained eternal life, and this fact the biblical text demonstrates.  However, I only want to observe one remarkable phrase from the lips of Jesus – “one thing you still lack!”

Jesus has turned the man’s sincere flattery into a theological introspection intended to bring the man to the answer that he seeks – “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Rhetorically, Jesus teaches the man that none is good but God, and thus, if one will call Christ “good” he must be willing to call Christ “God.”  Importantly, Jesus wants the man to understand the fundamental difference between God and the man, himself.  If God alone is good, and the man is not God, then the man is not good either.  This Jesus seeks to prove by quoting the second half of the 10 Commandments dealing with the man’s relationship to other human beings created in the image of God.  The intent of the Lord, here, is that the man might see that they way to eternal life is recognizing the distinction in goodness between the Creator and the creature, a distinction that has separated the soul of men from God, and thus, He intends to show the man that he must be reconciled to God by the forgiveness of sins.  But Christ’s intention and the man’s response do not concur.  The man replies that he is yet, in his own mind, sufficiently good – he has kept the stated commandments from his youth.

What Jesus does next is interesting.  He does not chide the man as ridiculous, nor does He retort with rebuke over such sinful pride.  Rather, as Mark’s record of this event tells us, Jesus loved this man (Mark 10:21).  But how did Jesus love him?  By saying, “You are who you are, and so long as you are happy with who you are, then you are good with me – God bless you.”  No!  Nor did he, as has been mentioned, speak to the man in frustrated anger or with an argumentative spirit.  Instead, He, understanding the life situation of the man, namely, that he is a rich ruler, brings the first commandment to bear on the man’s soul.  He does not quote Exodus 20:3, where God speaks from the fire, “you shall have no other gods before me,” but it is here presented in the context of that man’s situation.  The rich ruler has another god that he trusts, that he loves more than God – money and power.  Here, he is comfortable.  Essentially, Jesus commands the rich ruler, “you shall have no other gods before me,” when he says, “One thing you still lack.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (that is, get rid of the gods of your trust); and come, follow me (that is, trust in God who is Jesus Christ)” (Luke 18:22).  Besides the fact that this passage presents a remarkable argument for the deity of Christ (that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity), I find it lovely that all a man, any man, still lacks is one thing!

That one things is the transfer of trust, the reorientation of the hope of the soul from every human god to the one true and living God, whom we have seen in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  More simply, it is repentance from every human hope, a despairing of all human means of procuring salvation, and faith in Jesus Christ, the provision of God for the salvation of sinners.  By saying, “one thing you still lack,” Jesus is not agreeing with the rich ruler and his statement of personal innocence, for by applying the first commandment to his life, and seeing that the rich ruler then rejects the command and offer of Christ, Jesus has demonstrated that the man has disobeyed the most fundamental law, and flowing from it, he has disobeyed the rest also.  Rather, Jesus means to make a statement with regard to all men no matter there stature, or means, or sinfulness – all men without distinction lack only one thing!  There is only one thing – I cannot emphasize it enough, one thing! – that keeps a man from being reconciled to God: faith in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, crucified for sin and for sinners, dead and buried, and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures for the justification of all who so believe in Him.  All men stand in the precipice of eternity, as it were, and they can do one of two things, trust in themselves that they are righteous or trust in Christ that He alone is righteous, and so reject or take hold of Christ.  All men are born doing the former.  But the latter is freely offered to that same “all.”  Dear friends, (I do not say brothers), you lack one thing, but it is the most essential one thing that a man can lack, for the gaining of it is bound up with the obtaining of eternal life.  I would implore you then, even as I was once implored, to forsake the gods that you have made for yourself that you think will stand the test of God’s final judgment – gods of silver and gold, gods of good deeds and a seeming morality, gods of power and authority, gods of popularity and sex, gods of religion and, specifically, that one of dating Christ without being wed to Him (that is, you are not yet born again), gods of politics and cutting edge sciences, gods of alcohol and drugs, gods of human ingenuity, towers of Babel.  These will not save you but, as sure as you stand on the brink of eternity at every moment, these actually bind you and tug at you and entice you with sweet words, albeit temporal comforts, so that you will not jump into the faithful and saving arms of the Lord Jesus Christ, yea, the everlasting arms of the eternal God.  It is true that you only lack one thing, but to lack it finally is to lack eternal life.

Dear brothers, and I speak to myself in hope that God will effect this word towards me, let us be bold in evangelism knowing this, that all men lack only one thing – faith in Christ, a faith that we have come to know, and a faith that we have been called to make known.  And may God be gracious to us in filling up this one thing in the souls of those we tend to.