Christian Responses to the Tragedy in Aurora

While this certainly grabs at the heart of every American, it is somewhat nuanced for me in that I attended that midnight showing of The Dark Knight earlier this morning.  But in God’s providence, I watched in Louisville, KY and not Aurora, CO.  Still, the news was, needless to say, burdening and broadening.  Here are two responses from Collin Hansen and Al Mohler.  Praying for these families during yet another sin-evincing crisis, and for all the churches in the Denver area, that they will be granted wisdom, grace, spiritual life, and a gentle boldness in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the hardest realities of this world.

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The Triumphant Gay Revolution, A Book Review by David Murray

This is one of those book reviews that not only covers the essential contents of the book but also informs the church on how to respond to those contents.  And I think his exhortations are wise, balanced, humble, and timely.  I’ll place those just below and you can read the full article here for the rest of the content:

So it all looks rather grim for Christians. We are facing opponents with a well-defined strategy and an energizing moral certainty. Their “kill list” has claimed three out of four targets, and they are pursuing the last (“the most resilient horseman of the gay apocalypse—sin”) with a united, uncompromising, never-give-up, laser-like focus on gay marriage. And many lawyers—including our President—are out to make a great name for themselves in this final “triumph.”

Is there anything we can do? I believe there is. We can repent. Yes, let’s begin with ourselves, the Christian church, and our own sin: apathy, cowardice, defeatism, pragmatism, and inconsistency. Let’s confess it and seek the empowering pardon that Christ alone can give.

We can also pray. Despite our failings, we can pray for God’s mercy to his church and the nation. We can plead, “For your name’s sake, for your glory’s sake, intervene for your beautiful and blessed institution of marriage.”

And we can love. Although the majority of the gay movement hold us in contempt—and, make no mistake, they do—let’s not return evil for evil. In our relationships with gays, and in our public words, while holding firmly to biblical morality, let’s do all we can to smash the caricatures of Christians as gay haters. Gays have declared themselves our enemies. As such, they are entitled to our love—especially the love of evangelism.

Last, let’s not give up on the legal and political avenues open to us. Let’s prayerfully and practically support courageous Christian individuals and organizations who can speak truth to power. Who knows, maybe in God’s providence Hirshman will have to write another book before long: Debacle: How I Helped the Gay Revolution Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory.

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.

Fake Love, Fake War, by Russell Moore

A short but necessary read for every Christian, particularly of the male variety, living in this present generation of rampant pornography and irresponsible gaming.  We were created for much, much more — real love and real war!  Go here.

John Piper Addresses Law Students

Blog post by Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God blog.  Questions asked and addressed include:

Would you agree with the definition that “righteousness seeks the good of the community?” How do you define righteousness?

How do developing countries counter the prosperity gospel?

How can we maintain a zeal for God’s glory throughout our work?

Should churches be involved in social issues, or just individual Christians?

What is the method of discerning whether an institution is the result of hallowing God’s name?

Go here for video.

Jesus, Virtue Embodied: A Balm Against Hypocrisy

If Aristotle regarded the ‘good man’ as the ‘canon’ in ethics, Matthew considered Jesus the ‘canon’ of Christian morality: the Messiah went infallibly right.  Investigation of Matthew’s employment of ‘hypocrisy’ tends towards the same conclusion.  One of the chief charges against Jesus’ chief opponents, the Pharisees, is that they are ‘hypocrites’.  Precisely what that means, especially the extent to which it connotes the pretense of conscious deception, has been the subject of some dispute.  One thing, however, is clear: hypocrisy involves, among other things, disjunction between word and deed.  Recall especially  the striking (Matt) 23.2-3: ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice.’  According to this the Jewish leaders are guilty not of erroneous doctrine but of failure to live up to their own injunctions (*I would add that while Jesus accuses the Jewish leaders for failure to live up to their injunctions, He also accuses them of setting aside the doctrine of God for the commandments of men.  Thus, they should have taught and lived according to God’s Word, but they taught God’s Word, and while minimizing it, elevated their own traditions in its place, bound men to it, but did not live according to either).  In other words, the ability to discern what should be done exists, but not the inclination or power to it.  This is why the Pharisees are the superior examples of how not to behave.  Their words outshine their deeds, as if in illustration of La Rochefoucauld’s famous dictum: ‘l’hypocrise est un hommage que le vice rend a la vertu’ (*hypocrisy is homage paid by vice to virtue).  Matthew’s Jesus, however, is the antithesis of all this.  Thus the disciples not only confront his words but study the Messiah himself: mathete ap emou (11.29, *”learn from me”) means, in effect, akolouthei (9.9, *”follow me”; cf. 4.19).  One learns not just with the ears but also, so to speak, with the feet: education is much more than heeding an infallible wordsmith; it additionally involves the mimetic (*means: characterized by imitation or mimicking) following of Jesus, who is virtue embodied.

– W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, Matthew 19-28, 3:717 (italics theirs; some parenthesis mine, denoted with a star).

“The Absolutely Worst Way to Respond to the Challenge of Secularism”

The absolutely worst way to respond to the challenge of secularism is to adapt to secular standards in language, thought, and way of life.  If members of a secularist society turn to religion at all, they do so because they are looking for something other than what that culture already provides. It is counter productive to offer them religion in a secular mode that is carefully trimmed in order not to offend their secular sensibilities.

Christians should not shy away from the fact that our lives are centered on the divine things.  We offer a different way of making sense of reality and a different way of living, which go against the grain of what modern society offers as the norm.  We also should not shy away from referring to the wrath of God against human sin even though most moderns ignore, disbelieve, or sweeten the pill with deceptions about God’s complaisance over sin.

– Wolfhart Pannenberg, quoted by Daniel Akin in his article “The Emerging Church and Ethical Choices: The Corinthian Matrix” in Evangelicals Engaging Emergent, p. 270 (italics mine).