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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How Pastor-Counselors Differ from Secular Counselors, by David Powlison

The uniqueness of your message is easy to see. But you already know this. I won’t rehearse the unsearchable riches of Christ, or the 10,000 pertinent implications.

But I do want to note the uniqueness of your message by contrast. Every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does your message compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say.

To discover what they do not say and what we have to say, go here.

A Few Edifying Stanzas on Justification

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head!

This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.

Nicholas von Zinzendorf

Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.

Augustus Toplady

And concerning that heavenly city,

Glorious things of thee are spoken
Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou mayest smile on all thy foes.

See! The streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply Thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Savior, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

John Newton

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.

If They Go To Christ

Those who come to Christ, need not be afraid of God’s wrath for their sins; for God’s honor will not suffer by their escaping punishment and being made happy.  The wounded soul is sensible that he has affronted the majesty of God, and looks upon God as a vindicator of his honor; as a jealous God that will not be mocked, an infinitely great God that will not bear to be affronted, that will not suffer his authority and majesty to be trampled on, that will not bear that his kindness should be abused.  A view of God in this light terrifies awakened souls.  They think how exceedingly they have sinned, how they have sinned against light, against frequent and long-continued calls and warnings; and how they have slighted mercy, and been guilty of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, taking encouragement from God’s mercy to go on in sin against him; and they fear that God is so affronted at the contempt and slight which they have cast upon him, that he, being careful of his honor, will never forgive them, but will punish them.  But if they go to Christ, the honor of God’s majesty and authority will not be in the least hurt by their being freed and made happy.  For what Christ has done has repaired God’s honor to the full.  It is a greater honor to God’s authority and majesty, that, rather than it should be wronged, so glorious a person would suffer what the law required.  It is surely a wonderful display of the honor of God’s majesty, to see an infinite and eternal person dying for its being wronged.  And then Christ by his obedience, by that obedience which he undertook for our sakes, has honored God abundantly more than the sins of any of us have dishonored him, how many soever, and how great soever.  How great an honor is it to God’s law that so great a person is willing to submit to it, and to obey it!  God hates our sins, but not more than he delights in Christ’s obedience which he performed on account.  This is a sweet savor to him, a savor of rest.  God is abundantly compensated, he desires no more; Christ’s righteousness is of infinite worthiness and merit.

Jonathan Edwards, Sermons of, “Safety, Fullness, and Sweet Refreshment in Christ,” 24-25.

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!

The Cross of Christ in the Divine Plan of Distributive Justice

If our own hearts condemn it, we shall be ready to admit, without complaint, that God also condemns it.  And what can we say against God in the matter?  What wrong has he done?  His distributive justice does no wrong in treating the unholy according to their character.  If he has done any wrong, it must relate to the department of public justice, which, as formerly explained, seeks the greatest good, and is the same as universal benevolence.  Now, who will say that God’s plan will not produce the greatest good?  Who is wiser and better than God, to teach him a preferable way?  When Satan gained his conquest over our first parents, God could have confined him at once in the pit, and inflicted on him the full torment yet in store for him; and he might have annihilated the whole race of man in the original pair.  This would have terminated the difficulty by an act of power; but who will affirm that it would have been wisest or best?  God would have appeared disappointed and defeated.  Distributive justice would have appeared relieved rather than developed.  Satan triumphed by artifice, and God has chosen to defeat him by the counsel of his wisdom.  Satan exalted himself to dominion over the world; God chose to overcome him, not by power, but by humiliation.  Satan gained his success by means of the first Adam; God, in the second Adam, bruised the serpent’s head.  Satan, by his success, gained the power of death; God, by death, the death of Jesus Christ, has destroyed him and his power.  Who will dare affirm that God’s way is not best?  It becomes us to feel assured, whatever darkness may yet remain on this subject, that God would not have given up his Son to free us from condemnation, if that condemnation had not been just; and that he would not have made so great a gift, so costly a sacrifice, if the scheme had not been worthy of his infinite wisdom; or if some other, by which the sacrifice might have been spared, would have been preferable.

Manual of Theology, pp. 161-62, by John L. Dagg

The passage is framed within the context of the properness of distributive justice, that is, that each man’s depravity, originating in Adam, is nevertheless our own, and thus, “We should feel that our depravity is our own, however we came by it.”  Now God’s just condemnation against poor, depraved sinners finds resolution in the divine wisdom of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Sinner, look to Christ, for He is full of salvation.  Dear Christian, endeavor and enterprise to make our Savior known, for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:1.  God be praised that all men, sinners that we are, may find life in Christ alone, as God has purposed and worked it.