Idolatry, Money, and Justification by Faith

The Old Testament is filled with warnings about idol worship and falling into false religion. Story after story tells about Israel going after false gods to their destruction and how stupid this is.

The New Testament does not seem to be nearly as concerned with this. Ever wonder why?

The big threat to us today is not Baal, or Molech, or Dagon, the big threat is money.

Colossians 3:5 says:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Wanting more stuff is the idolatry we have to look out for. Wanting money is the big threat today.

When Israel came out of Egypt, they were at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses was taking forever up there talking to God. They got bored. They brought together their precious metals, their money, and threw them in the fire and “out came this calf.” They worshiped the calf, being told, “Behold your gods which brought you out of Egypt.”

The odds that you’re going to melt down your jewelry and make an idol to worship are pretty slim. The odds you’re going to want more shiny stuff is pretty high.

Covetousness is idolatry.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6 that while people pursue riches, they err from the faith. Going after riches means you won’t be going after faith. You can’t have faith and money.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Just in case you’re still resisting the idea that money and faith are direct opposites, read Hebrews 11, the great chapter on people who had faith.

Every single example shows faithful people turning on earthly things to follow God and obey Him. They turned their backs on this world and lived for the Better Country.

Every single person in Hebrews 11 turned on something earthly: wealth, power, prestige, family, loyalty to country, etc, for the sake of faith in God.

If you are living for the things of this world, you will not be living for God. If you love money, you won’t have faith, you will be doing all evil. Money is a snare and a trap. While pursuing money, faith gets choked out.

People love hearing about how we’re justified by faith, because in our minds faith is easy. “Cool, I believe Jesus rose from the dead, just like I believe Santa Claus will bring me presents Christmas morn.”

We think faith is merely agreeing about something. But faith in the Bible is very active, very practical, and very hard.

Paul tells us to “fight the fight of faith.” Most are confused as to what’s so fighty about it? You just say the prayer and then carry on.

Paul says this phrase in the midst of 1 Timothy 6, an entire chapter devoted to the dangers of money. The immediate phrase is this, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.”

You can’t lay hold on eternal life while grabbing all you can in this life. Your hand will hold one or the other.

Your eternity is based on whether you want this world or the one to come. Live now as though you wanted the next world more than this one.

That is justifying faith.

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Money and Justification By Faith

Romans 4 is the essential passage to understand justification by faith. The main character of Romans 4 is Abraham. In fact, when the Bible talks about justification by faith, Abraham is The Guy the Bible uses as Prime Illustration.

“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” Paul and James, who many imagine disagree on justification by faith, both use Abraham as their prime example of justification.

Seems to me we should understand the character of Abraham’s faith, since it’s an example for justifying faith.

There are four main tests of Abraham’s faith, four big times when Abraham showed faith.

Move—Abraham had riches and social position. Then God showed up and told him to move. Leaving was a turning of the back on what he had attained to follow God. He didn’t know where he was going, or even why. God just said “move,” and Abraham moved.

Settling in—Abraham took his possessions and flocks, but he was detached from them and didn’t let them cause friction. This was shown when Abraham let Lot choose land first. Lot picks the best land. Abraham moves into a land that is not suitable for flocks and herds rather than fight for the good land. Abraham’s faith is detached from worldly means of success.

Promise—Since Abraham renounced the better land on his own, he receives the promise that his inheritors would possess the good land. Abraham trusts God for provision, to expand his family and inheritance, not by common sense, human means, but by faith in God. Abraham will only take substance from God, not anyone else. When he is offered reward by nearby kings, Abraham refuses lest they think they made Abraham rich.

Inheritor—Abraham, despite a little bit of weakness and goofiness, finally gets an heir. So then God asks Abraham to sacrifice his heir! Abraham shows ultimate faith when offering his son, his heir, the one who would possess the land Abraham was promised. Abraham is turning his back on all earthly means, all possessions, in his demonstration of faith.

Each major area of Abraham’s faith has to do with earthly things.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Earthly things are the opposite of faith.

Faith means turning on earthly things, instead setting your affections on things above and laying up treasure in heaven.

Faith is the opposite of living for this world and this life.

The sooner you understand this point, the more sense justification by faith will make to you based on everything the Bible says.

James hits the rich hard. He hits respecting persons because of their appearance hard. He hits this stuff hard right in the same passages he talks about justification by faith, which certainly includes the work of letting the things of this world go–like Abraham did when he went to sacrifice his heir.

Faith or riches. You can only live for one.

Why People Don’t Like the Rich Young Ruler Conversation

The Bible’s account of Jesus talking to the rich, young ruler is not liked by many people. Modern readers critique every line of the conversation.

Here are the lines of the conversation and the critical responses I’ve heard from people.

The conversation starts with the RYR asking “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
CRITIQUE: Seriously? You don’t do anything to inherit eternal life, you just get it. If you had to do something, then salvation would be by works. We’re human beings; not human doings, man. Wrong question.

Jesus responds, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother.
CRITIQUE: Wow, did you blow that one Jesus! Not only did Jesus not correct him for asking what to do to get eternal life, He then tells the guy salvation is by keeping the Law! Has Jesus never read Paul? Everyone knows no one is justified by deeds of the law. What is Jesus thinking? He doesn’t know what grace is!

The RYR takes Jesus seriously and says, “All these have I kept from my youth up.
CRITIQUE: Whoa, whoa, whoa. This conversation is completely off the rails now. This guy actually thinks he’s kept the law. No one has ever kept the law. What part of “no one” didn’t this guy get? Jesus better nail him for that answer.

Instead, Jesus takes it further, “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
CRITIQUE: OK. Wow. Where do we begin? Come on Jesus! This is the time to drop guilt on this guy, to question his honesty, to give him a lecture about legalism and self-righteousness. He hasn’t kept the Law, Jesus, who knows everyone’s heart, has to know that. But He just let that go. Even worse, He drops more works on the guy. It’s as if Jesus actually believes people are saved by works. What is up with Him? Where’s grace and that whole ‘gift of God’ talk? Where’s Paul when you need him?

People conclude that Jesus is teaching salvation by works. I’ve heard people explain that Jesus is under the Law and people under the law are saved by works. That Jesus was not preaching the Gospel. That Jesus didn’t know grace.

Here’s the deal: when a passage of Scripture doesn’t fit your theory; it’s better to conclude that your theory is wrong rather than concluding the Bible is wrong.

If you know how people get saved more than God, the Judge of all souls, does, you might want to double check your theory.

There’s a little secret that solves the dilemma of salvation by works or faith in the Rich Young Ruler conversation. If you read the Bible, it’s no secret at all; it’s located in every book of the Bible. If you listen to Christians, you’ll rarely hear this:

Jesus’s answers are all about faith.

The verses immediately before the conversation with the RYR are about the disciples preventing little kids from coming to Jesus. Jesus says “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

He’s talking about how to enter in the Kingdom–how to get eternal life. His answer is to have the faith of a child. Little kids can’t do anything, they are completely dependent upon someone else to take care of them. They cry all the time. Crying is a sign of helplessness. I can’t fix this so I scream my head off so someone else will come fix it.

This is faith.

The Bible frequently talks about how rich people have a hard time getting saved. Rich people don’t need help. They just buy stuff and people to fix their problems. They don’t understand the concept of dependence, helplessness, and desperation.

Line up the two phrases about entering into the Kingdom and notice that there is a point as to why these accounts follow each other in Luke 18:

“Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”
“It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus is talking about faith in both passages. Earthly things like wealth and power keep people from faith. A Rich Ruler has wealth and power. Never been in need–he’s young, which points out this has been his entire life experience. He doesn’t understand faith. Get rid of your stuff and faith will be found right quick!

Jesus is not telling people to earn their salvation, nor is He teaching some aberrant gospel of works. He’s preaching faith the way the Bible has taught faith since the beginning.

Identity Politics and Unity in Christ

Our divided and angry populace is obsessed with identifying with a group based on an external criterion.

People identify by race, political party, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, income level, and who knows what else.

The more we eliminate higher things, spiritual things that call us to live for something better, we are left to identify with ourselves. No God? Fine, I’ll make it all about me. No focus on God leaves to focus on self.

We focus on our unique identifying trait and gang up with those like us, resulting in an Us vs. Them mentality. Eventually your group wants money and power, which must be taken from another group.

Being a legally blind person, I know blind people that want handouts from the government, so they petition for funding and recognition. Who cares what your needs are, we’re blind, we need stuff cuz we’re blind.

Every group lobbies for their rights. Thus we fight, cuz when others get their rights, they take money we otherwise could have had!

So blacks hate whites. Straights hate gays. Women hate men. And vice versa. They threaten our group identification and are seen as the enemy because they aren’t US.

Christianity, which speaks of unity all the time, is the only alternative. It’s vital for us to know the meaning of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:16:

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, because He’s not just a flesh guy we’re identifying with but a possessor of a resurrected, spiritual body, He gives us a new identity. We’re born again. We’re born of the Spirit.

Since we’re new spiritual creations, as Christ is, fleshly identifications are done away with. There is neither male nor female, bond nor free, Jew nor Gentile.

Our main identity is with Christ. That’s it! And Christ is now risen and has an incorruptible, spiritual body. We’re viewing ourselves in Him as spiritual creations.

Therefore, no Christian should fight over identity politics. We shouldn’t belong to groups that divide over externals.

This would be easier if everyone else weren’t so stuck on their identities! Identities are constantly being shoved down our throats, people don’t drop them easily.

But Paul doesn’t tell us to make other people stop doing that. Paul says to see people in Christ. Whether you are black or white, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, gay or straight, I primarily see you in, or potentially in, Christ, and will refuse to fight you.

My primary concern for you is not for you to leave your group, or to defeat your group, or defund you; my primary goal is to see you come to Christ. To get you to a place, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, where you no longer identify yourself with some external criterion, but instead see yourself and all others in the Spirit.

If you’re in Christ, you won’t fight over externals because there are no externals worth fighting for. We wrestle not against flesh and blood.

This is the only hope for human unity. As long as we view ourselves after the flesh we will be fighting. So, stop it! See yourself in Christ, as alive from the dead, and as new spiritual creations in Christ.

Sixteen Precepts for Attaining Knowledge

Thomas Aquinas, a rather intelligent individual, was once asked how one should go about attaining knowledge. Here are his 16 pointers, all worthy of reflection. Keep in mind he was a monk with all stereotypical monkish behaviors. Not sure you need to go to that level, but in general, there is sound wisdom here.

1. Advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson.

I bid you to

2. Be cautious of speech,

3. Slower still in frequenting places of talk:

4. Embrace purity of conscience,

5. Pray unceasingly,

6. Love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar.

7. Show yourself genial to all:

8. Pay no heed to other folk’s affairs:

9. Be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

10. On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world.

11. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men.

12. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but

13. Commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered.

14. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action:

15. See that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved:

16. Lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. ‘Seek not the things which are beyond thee’.

Limited Atonement and Loving Your Enemies

If Limited Atonement (Christ only died for the elect) is true, then God does not love His enemies.

When God tells us to love our enemies, He is asking us to do something more than He did. He’s calling us to a higher morality than His own.

If we did love our enemies, our love and morality would be of a nobler quality, thus making us better than God.

You either conclude that, or you conclude that Limited Atonement is in error and God is calling us to be like Him, who loved His enemies and laid down His life for them.

Praying for Geographical Regions

Every time there is a natural disaster, and there is a new one at least once a day, we are told to pray for the place where it happened.

Pray for Houston
Pray for Texas
Pray for Florida

It just got me thinking: Why? What does this mean? Where does praying for a geographical region come from?

I’m honestly not trying to be snide here. I’m trying to understand something. Getting to the root. In no way am I trying to encourage people to pray less!

The closest thing I can see from Scripture is Psalm 122:6, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Mixed in with this psalm is a longing for The Kingdom and the Davidic promises fulfilled. “Peace in Jerusalem” means the Messiah came. It’s a longing for Messiah, not some sort of generic prayer for a geographic region.

Every other usage of “pray for” in the Bible is directed at people. No doubt “Pray for Houston” means pray for people in Houston. But then again, I don’t pretend to know what any Christian means by any of the words they use.

There is an idea within Christianity that the more people who pray for something, the more likely it is to occur. People assume that if so many people pray the same thing, God will hear the prayer and act.

I have no idea where this is from Biblically. The closest I can come is that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, so your odds of getting one of those to pray increases with the more people who pray!

Other than that, I see nothing in the Bible that if Christians all agreed to pray really hard for some geographical location that disasters would go extinct there.

The Bible is pretty clear that disasters happen to the righteous and the unrighteous. Time and chance happens to them all.

Again, I’m not telling you not to pray! We don’t pray enough as it is. I’m rather encouraging people to pray more specifically. Pray for the church in Houston, for specific believers there, to show the love of Christ. Pray for people you actually know who are affected.

Quite frankly, I don’t normally pray for places where I don’t know anyone. I’m not telling you to follow my example, I just have a hard time throwing out a general request for a general group of people that I’ll never know if it was answered because I’m not even sure what I actually requested!

More than likely, if you don’t know anyone in the affected area, you’ve moved on to the next geographical location and the latest disaster the news decides to cover, leaving last week’s disaster survivors on their own.

It is ironic that the only disasters we pray for are the ones the news tells us about. There are disasters happening on your street, few of which will be on the news. Why not pray locally more?

Remember James’ warning that saying nice things for someone without doing anything to help is worthless. How can you be doing this for every geographical region the news tells you a disaster happened in?

Also wondering how plastering #PrayForSomeplace all over the internet is consistent with that whole pray in your closet and don’t let others know what you’re up to command. When you post this, are you actually praying, or are you virtue signalling? But alas, I imagine I’ve stepped in it enough for one day.

Anyway, not trying to be obnoxious. Just thinking a thing through. Pray. Pray more. Then pray some more. At some point it’s helpful to pray for something you actually know about and can help. Don’t let your prayers be driven by the news; let it be driven by the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.

I’m willing to be wrong. Any verses I’m missing on the issue?