Saturday, May 21, 2005 

Holiness -- The Exception to the Rule of Hell

A question posed by a fellow blogger on my previous post has led me to turn the corner on my series on holiness and focus on the the issue of sin and its resultant place of residence -- Hell. I think in order to understand holiness and to grasp the fullness of the message of the Gospel, we as Christians must understand what sin is and what effects it has on us as individuals and on the world we live in.

First of all, I have found that no two people define sin in the same way. Some say it is "doing bad things" or "consciously committing evil acts." Others view it as simply making a mistake or hurting other people. But I think the Bible defines it much more graphically and in deeper detail. If we look closely at the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, we can see that God established His law through Moses succinctly in the Ten Commandments, but also meticulously throughout the remainder of the book of Exodus, as well as in Leviticus and Numbers. What this tells us is that though the Law can be summed up in only a few main commands (as Jesus Himself did when ask to summarize the law in one sentence), those few decrees have far-reaching applications.

I think that is the case when we approach an imperative statement like the one Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Here Paul is concluding his entire argument for why those stubborn Corinthians should not participate in eating meat sacrificed to idols. He chooses to wrap it up this way, I believe, because to Paul the centrality of sin is found in acting with reference to glorifying ourselves rather than glorifying God. Stated another way, sin is the act of doing anything without conscious regard for the glory of God. Now while that may seem extreme from some view points, I think it is exactly modeled for us in the life of Christ. And later, it seems that Paul indeed seems to strive to live up to this same principle.

So, if that is the case, then we have to realize that we constantly sin. In every single moment of the day, we simply cannot avoid it. And what is ironic is that this seems to be the point that God is making to the Hebrews with the installation of the Law of Moses. As Paul says, it is a tutor to show us what sin is, and subsequently that we cannot help but engage in it.

And so that makes the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the declarative statement that sin is no longer credited to our account, but rather is atoned for, expunged, eradicated from our lives. We no longer are at enmity with God, but rather we now stand righteous in His sight, bearing the perfect obedience of Christ which is imputed or place upon us through the act of justification by means of the grace of God, wrought by the Holy Spirit through our faith. Halleluah! Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Now, when we talk about this being the Gospel and salvation being exclusive to those who have faith, we inevitably must deal with the fact that millions of people die every day without Christ. And we must face up to the reality that many of those who have died, are dying, and will die, do so without anyone preaching the Gospel to them. We can deal with this in several ways which seem to boil down to two options: we either believe the testimony of God given through the Biblical writers which points to the fact that salvation comes by grace through faith or we suggest that somehow this formula can be fiddled with in some way so that men and women who consciously commit sin without believing upon Christ as Saviour and Lord can enter into God's rest.

First, why did I frame the last statement the way I did -- men and women "who consciously commit sin"? Well, it seems that though the Bible teaches that we enter through our mother's womb bearing a sinful nature, we still must commit sin in order to be judged for our deeds (see Matthew 16:27; John 5:29; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11:15; and Revelation 20:12-13) . It is our actions which make us unrighteous before God. So immediately we must throw out any suggestion that the Gospel excludes those who do not understand or consciously commit sin. This would include infants and those who are severely mentally handicapped. In fact, there have been some great points made about the inclusion of these in the kingdom of God by Albert Mohler and Danny Akin in their article, "The Salvation of the 'Little Ones': Do Infants who Die Go to Heaven?"

However, this does not excuse those who have never heard the Gospel and thus cannot reject Christ, as some claim to be the defining experience which determines one's eternal fate. Paul silenced this argument in Romans 1. Now some read this passage and say that what Paul was actually doing here was issuing a loophole for those who have never heard of Jesus, but do worship a god. However, Paul makes clear in Romans 10 that righteousness and salvation come through confession and belief and that furthermore, those who do so can only know this Jesus if indeed one is sent to preach to them. Thus, we can conclude that those who consciously commit sin or act in accordance with the law of sin in their minds and bodies, can only be saved through Christ's atoning work, which is applied by the Holy Spirit to those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and in whom faith in Christ resides.

So in conclusion, I would say that salvation is the exception to the rule -- the rule being that all who sin bear their guilt unless there is One to atone for their sins. That Saviour is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who died a criminal's death so that He might be glorified by the millions upon millions who confess His name and place their trust in Him and so that He might in turn glorify God the Father in heaven. Thanks be to our Great God, for He has provided a way for sinful man to be saved. He has not deserted us and left us to our sin. Without Christ we would all have spent eternity in Hell.

Until Christ is Formed in Us All,

Monday, May 16, 2005 

The Holy Spirit and the Exclusivity of the Gospel

Today, I heard the best sermon on the Holy Spirit to ever enter my ears. It was given by Dr. Tom Schreiner at Clifton Baptist Church here in Louisville. The sermon will eventually be available by clicking here. Because it was Pentecost Sunday, the focus of the service was on the Holy Spirit. Dr. Schreiner explained the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity and how that relates to the exclusivity of the Gospel.

Lately, I have read some rather disturbing things by some who claim to be Christians. It has for some time now been quite a fad for Christians to believe that people who do not confess Christ can somehow be saved in the end. Some say that these who do not confess Christ are saved through their ignorance by means of their faith in a monotheistic God. Others say that these will be given a second chance later on after death. But always these are emotional arguments. I have yet to see a truly Biblical defense of these suppositions. But what I have seen are carefully articulated arguments that point to the fact that one cannot enter into God's rest apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Today I heard yet another great argument for this Biblical truth by Dr. Schreiner -- one that I had never pondered in depth until now.

Often the way that I argue that only those who confess Christ will be saved is by referring to numerous passages that teach this. A few examples are John 14:6; Acts 4:12; and Romans 10:8-21. However, there remains a doctrinal argument concerning the Holy Spirit that I believe is almost as strong of a witness for this view than the verses themselves.

First, we must recognize that the Spirit has placed Himself in subjection to both the Father and the Son. John tells us that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and by the Son in the name of the Son and that He does whatever He is told to do and says whatever He is told to say. In this way, the Holy Spirit acts as a sort of ambassador for the King and His Son. He is co-equal with these Regents, but His role is to work in the world. And as an ambassador, it is His job to point back to Those to whom He is sent, namely the Father and Son. Regarding the Spirit's work, Jesus says:
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been
judged. 12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you (John 16:8-15).

Here Jesus says several things about the work of the Spirit in salvation. First, He convicts of sin. This is the first action wrought in the believer. Salvation does not come without conviction of sin. Those who are poor in spirit understand that conviction. And notice that the sin directly relates to their unbelief in Christ. So not only does the believer get convicted of sin, but of unbelief in Christ. Then the Holy Spirit guides the believer into truth and glorifies Christ. Finally, He discloses the Father's will and Christ's words and deeds to the believer so that He might be sanctified, another act of the Holy Spirit.

Now, those who believe in a salvation for people who do not confess Christ as Lord, they have no outs here. There is nothing in this text or any other that suggest that the Holy Spirit works apart from Christ and glorifies God without glorifying Christ. Both Father and Son are uplifted by the Spirit. Further, the Spirit brings life. He is the one who applies the work of salvation to the believer. Thus He only applies it by means of the formula given by Peter in Acts 2:38, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit can only apply the work of salvation to those who by faith acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Otherwise, He would be working outside of His jurisdiction and thus be making Christ a liar and usurping His subordinate role. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit would be denying Christ His due glory -- the glory due His name, the name at which all men will bow.

So, what we have here is a thoroughly Biblical argument which once again ends in the exclusivity of the Gospel call. No one can be saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit and no one can inherit eternal life without the righteousness of Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot give anyone that righteousness anonymously. He must do it as every good ambassador does, by means of His King, the one who sent Him. In this case, it is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

So, please, if you are reading this and you are beginning to be pursuaded to believe in a salvation that comes apart from the conscious acceptance of Christ as both Lord and Saviour, then repent and accept the testimony of Peter as he spoke these words, "[Jesus Christ] is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12).

Friday, May 06, 2005 

Holiness and Authenticity

After a short absence, I have to report that I have been doing a lot of thinking about holiness as it relates to authenticity. For many years "authentic" has been a buzz word among many younger evangelicals. Unfortunately, it is about as difficult to define as postmodernism, making it necessary to understand in order to communicate to those who use it so frequently.

Authentic is defined by Merriam-Webster OnLine as something "not false or [an] imitation." Further, it is "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." The word GENUINE is given as a synonym and "implies actual character not counterfeited, imitated, or adulterated." I would imagine that this should be what is meant when people say they are looking for "authentic worship" or "authentic people" or an "authentic church." However, what I have found is that what is meant by authenticity tends to be what corresponds to their OWN reality. It is what resonates with them ALONE (or them as a group).

One example of this is in the fad of Christians using profanity. When I was in seminary I often heard people being praised for using profane words (and I have to admit that I have done so as well). This praise came from the idea that the person who expressed themselves in this way was being "authentic." Now, let's dissect this understanding of authenticity. First, the person calling this behavior "authentic" must understand this as being a part of that person's character that naturally comes out when provoked. This is a problem in and of itself, for the one who keeps this language within them is in need not of expressing it, but of weeding it from their mind. They need to purge these worldly thoughts from their mind. Secondly, if this is authentic behavior, does that conversely mean that those who do not use such language are being inauthentic or not worldly enough? Third, if this behavior is encouraged, then it becomes more regular within the community of God, indeed becoming a distraction for some and, even worse, an unfaithful example to those who are weaker brothers and sisters. Here, authenticity becomes not a pursuit of holiness, but a lack thereof. Hopefully, you can see the potential problem with a subjective view of authenticity.

So, what would authentic Christianity look like if we were to take the above definition and the Bible alone as our guides?
1) It would recognize the dichotomy of our human nature -- as Christians called to be set apart, but yet living in a perpetual state of sin, unable to completely break free, but always commanded to do so.
2) It would accept that all Christians are in a state of flux between the two natures. Sometimes we commit grievous sins and other times we are Christ to those in need. Authentic Christianity would see that those sins need loving rebuke and those times of ministry need positive reinforcement.
3) It would seek to lessen the frequency of those sins and increase the frequency of true worship and communion with God through Biblically defined spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, fellowship, communal worship, and (at times) retreat from the culture.
4) It would repent of and rebuke the "ME" mentality and seek to live as those of Acts 2:42-47, sharing their possessions with those in need. Additionally, all in a local body would understand their need to submit to discipline in order to insure a continual movement toward holiness in the community and in prevention of Satanic footholds.
5) There would be a vigorous pursuit of Biblical knowledge such as that of the Bereans, recognizing that all the knowledge of God that a Christian can have is objectively given to us through the Holy Scriptures and subjectively experienced through our emotional interaction with that knowledge.
6) Additionally, there would a vigorous pursuit of a practical application to that Biblical knowledge that would include love for all men, but a firm desire to direct all men to the love of Christ.
7) It would recognize Christ's call for us to live in the culture, but to reject all cultural experiences which do not directly honor Christ as the glorious and Holy God of the Universe.
8) It would seek to hold to the mandate of James when he says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world," recognizing that a Christian cannot keep the first half of the command and yet neglect the second half (as well as vice versa).
9) Finally, it would reflect authenticity by being able to point to the Bible as its ultimate source of all truth, rejecting all competing truth claims as did Paul when he claimed that all false gods are demons and that true Christians cannot simultaneously drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

To me, the above is authentic Christianity. I recognize that authenticity is subjective to all. That is why I tried to point all things back to the Word of God, our only objective frame of reference when it comes to God the Father and Jesus Christ our Saviour. And so through the Word of God we are made authentic worshippers of God.

Until Christ is Formed in All of Us,

About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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