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.

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.

Moving From Slave to Servant to Child: The Soul’s Reckoning of an Immediate Reality of Grace

The soul’s reckoning of God’s work of salvation is a common battle ground for Gospel assurance.  When I say “slave”, I intend that slavery to sin that the unbeliever relishes and continues to live in until they come to Christ.  When I say “servant”, I intend that servitude made explicit in that transference from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ.  And when I say “child”, I intend that sweetest reality that is lavished upon the blood bought sinner.

The Christian, I think, easily understands the transference from slavery to sin as an unbeliever to the reality that any believer finds themselves in at this very moment.  It is, however, with this new relationship to God in Christ in mind, that the relationship of the Christian as servant, and the relationship of the Christian as child, is often unrealized or confused.  This, I have found, is one of the greatest struggles of the Christian life that need not be so.

Do not mistake the title to mean that the Christian is not to be a servant of God – he is indeed!  Paul wrote of himself as the “bondservant of Christ” (Romans 1:1, etc.).  But the Christian is not only a servant in the house of God, no, but a child in the house as well.  He has not only be redeemed and declared innocent on account of the saving person and work of Christ, but in the Beloved Christ, the Christian has also been adopted as God’s true child.  It is the souls understanding of identity in Christ that appears tantalizingly difficult at times, caught between the earthly image of a servant and the biblical reality of the servant-child (and how to reconcile the two).  It is no doubt due to our very nature as human beings living in a fallen existence, living in a culture of merit and demerit on the basis of deeds done or undone.

But this is not how God has redeemed, it is not how He has saved; it is not how He sanctifies or brings home to glory.  No!  The good news of God in Christ is that while we were yet sinners, dead and ungodly, God demonstrated that He loved us in that He gave His Son to die for us then, and not when we had cleaned ourselves up and put on a painting of moral reform.  And God’s love is the love of a Father upon those redeemed.  And while it would have been well enough to be delivered from sin’s mastery and brought into God’s house as a servant only, His love would have none of it; His redemptive purpose intended something much more splendid: in Christ, God adopts the one who was a slave, and so the Christian is made a child of God.  Indeed, the Christian has the place of a child at God’s table.  The Christian is as much of a child of God as God’s only Begotten, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And in Him, our acceptance with God stands on the basis of the perfect Child, Jesus of Nazareth.  Our Father observes and accepts us freely and fully in Him, and thus, legal obstacles removed by the cross, our acceptance is as high, as sure, as unchangeable as Christ’s is – it cannot be any greater, and it will never be any lower, least of all on the basis of what we do or don’t do.

And let not this justification lend itself to licentiousness, for the one who presumes upon such freedom has not understood in the soul the nature of regeneration (that our freedom is a freedom dominated by God’s Spirit, new loves, joys, and desires to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to please our Father) or the joy of childhood (which in Jewish culture implied the imitation of one’s father).  But I will pass on further explanation.

In sum, I submit to you that there should be no anxiety upon these two aspects of relationship – servant and child – for they, while nuanced, are one and the same, or at least complimentary.  For the child loves the Father, and desires to serve Him, even as he has been loved and served.  And the servant relishes his duty, for his duty is rendered unto his perfect Father.  Thus, love and service, that of the child and the servant, are not to be seen as separate, but necessary to one another.

Furthermore, I would bid you to realize, if you are a Christian, that your disobedience will be met not with the lashes of God upon a disobedient servant, but the loving discipline of God upon a disobedient child.  And I would bid you still, if you are struggling with this transition – I say “transition”, but truly, when one is redeemed, he or she is immediately made a child also; but it appears that many battle with the “transition” of this reality from mind to heart such that it enflames the soul with love and wonder, etc. – to consider those sweet passages of Scripture that serve as candles illuminating the soul to the Father and His perfect Fatherhood.  He will not cast you off; He will not leave you or forsake you; no, dear soul, but in Christ, He will love you perfectly, in discipline and compassion, so that you may know your unchangeable place with Him.  You are no longer the slave awaiting auction to the greatest bids of sin; the Father has bought you with the blood of Christ, and you are His child.  And the child loves the Father’s allotted service, knowing that services rendered do not affect his or her status as a true child of God.  Let us rejoice in this, and have our worries dispelled.  The servant is a child, and the child a servant; and the combination of the two implies both our security and the working out of our faith.  And when doubt begins to creep, remember, our Father is good, and He is faithful.  He will deal with you as child, if indeed, that is what you are.  So dear brother or sister, let us take heart in our Divine Father, and His sweetest love.

Piper on Addressing Justification By Faith Alone in Christ Alone with Your Children

“And to make it more pointed, mothers – and all those charged with training up the younger ones in the family and the church – are we teaching the Old Testament and the New Testament to make our children wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? The emphasis is on “faith in Jesus Christ”! Or are we turning the Scriptures into a collection of little morality plays? Do the stories of the Bible point again and again to the need for a Savior or do they point only to the need for you to get your moral act together? Are children getting the impression that Christianity is mainly a list of do’s and don’ts or mainly the story of how God justifies the ungodly through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are they getting the impression that the foundation of their acceptance with God is their good behavior or the perfect behavior and death and resurrection of Jesus received by faith alone? Are they learning to win God’s favor by a righteousness they perform, or by a righteousness that Christ performed for their sake?

Or to make the question more complete, and draw in the larger issue of how the obedience of believers – their sanctification – relates to their justification, we ask: Are the children learning from us that the practical, personal obedience God requires of believers is the way to become a justified person or the way a justified person becomes? When you tell a child to do something, and insist on his obedience – which you should – are you leading the child to think that his good behavior is the root that grows into justification, or a fruit that flows from justification by faith alone? Are we helping the children see saving faith both as the way we have Christ’s righteousness as the basis of our acceptance with God, and as the way we have Christ’s power to become like him in daily life? Are we keeping both those things together but in the right order: faith in Christ as the link first to his perfection and pardon, and second as to his purifying power – the one for justification (his perfection and pardon), and the other for sanctification (his purifying power)? The same faith linking us to Christ for both.”