Annoying Christian Books

I finished reading the short book on Romans 5-8. It was only 90 pages, mostly fluff, and lots of white space.

I was annoyed with it on page four, and became annoyed about every 12 pages throughout.

Many books say things that strike me as “off.” Not wrong, necessarily, just “off.” As in, not exactly what the verses say that you just quoted. For instance:

–the book said we “will all die not because we all sin like Adam, but because we all sinned in Adam.” Then they quote Romans 5:12, “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Now the issue of Original Sin is large, not going to rehash it all here, but just note that Romans 5:12 doesn’t say that we all sinned in Adam, it says we die because we all sin. The author of this little book adds words. It annoys me when books add words to verses.

–the book said in relation to Romans 8:16, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” that we know we have the Spirit if we pray to the Father. Seriously? Plenty of people say the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father, who art in heaven) who are not saved. The fact that you pray does not mean you have the Holy Spirit. Prayer might be one thing, but it’s certainly not the whole thing. The emphasis of the chapter is on mortifying sin, doing righteousness, suffering with Christ, and things like that. That’s how you know you have the Spirit, not cuz you pray to the Father. Praying to the Father is much easier than doing those other things, how convenient and coincidental!

–the book talks about “whom He foreknew, them He also predestinated” and says “The difference between foreknowledge and predestination is, perhaps, that God’s electing choice was formed in His mind before He willed it.” I’d emphasize the “perhaps” a little more. That’s not what it means. He foreknew something that He based His predestination on. Saying it’s simply just that God knew what He was going to do before He did it is largely unnecessary to say. When has God ever done anything He didn’t think about doing first? They can’t define foreknowledge as anything to do with us because then our salvation is supposedly dependent on us and he already told us yesterday there’s nothing we can do to get God’s approval. So, let’s change the plain meaning of Scripture into something non-sensical to keep our theories alive.

That’s the kind of stuff. So many things are just slightly off. Even worse, it’s the same slightly off as everyone else says. Anytime people are all saying slightly off things that the Bible isn’t saying, you know people are just listening to people and not the Bible.

Why is it so hard for people to just say what the Bible says? Why do we feel a need to explain things in such a way that makes the Bible not say what it’s saying?

I could go on, but I’m not going to because it’s a beautiful day. Actually, it’s quite cold, but it’s still a day with many more possibilities in it besides me expressing frustration on the internet over dead authors.

Carry on.

Faith and Works, Gospel and Law

I’m about half done with my copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. I agree with him that the case Erasmus makes, at least the parts he quotes, isn’t that great. But I also don’t think Luther is doing that great either.

The main issue is over free-will and whether we have it or not. But there are minor issues that come up that are off too.

In the midst of attacking Erasmus’ definition of free-will, Luther says:

As for those things that ‘lead to eternal salvation,’ I suppose they are the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will so that it may apply itself to them or turn away from them. I take the ‘words of God’ to include both the law and the Gospel; the law requires works, the gospel faith.

This one phrase stood out to me: “the law requires works, the gospel faith.”

I think this is a root misunderstanding that leads to lots of trouble.

It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good. Jesus corrects this, as does everyone else in the New Testament. In fact, most of the prophets are trying to correct that.

But since the Pharisees did that, everyone assumes that’s how people were saved under the law. Paul says in Romans 10:5, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

See, there ya go; people under the law were saved by works!

Read the law. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Show me where, like in the entire book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone was saved by the law. It never says that. The law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel to stay in their land. If they kept the law they would live and prosper there, if they did not keep the law they would be kicked out.

Never once does Moses say by keeping the law, doing all the works, you will go to heaven and be with the Lord.

When the Gospel comes along, people assume a BIG CHANGE occurred. Instead of doing works, we just have faith. Faith alone. Easy.

What this misses is that anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace through faith. There is no other way of salvation. Whether Abraham before the law, David under the law, or us today under the Gospel, everyone is saved by faith (Romans 4).

People under the law who were saved by faith did indeed desire to do the works of the law.

But get this, today people under the Gospel who are saved by faith desire to fulfill the works of the law too! It’s a little thing called “love.”

The idea that people under the law were the only ones who had to do what God said is crazy. What we do is different because the covenants are different. But faith always desires to do what God says.

“Faith without works is dead,” this is true under the law as well as under the Gospel. There is no difference in faith and it’s desire to do what God says. God says to do different things under each covenant, but faith wants to do what God says.

Luther wanted James ripped out of the Bible. Luther, when translating Romans 5, said we were justified by faith alone. Never mind that he added the word “alone” in there.

Anyone remember what the Bible says about people who add or subtract words from the Bible? Anyone? It says nothing good about them. Don’t do that.

There Are Few Who Are Saved

It is clear that Luther thinks there are few who are saved. The guy he’s arguing with in Bondage of the Will, Erasmus, agrees. This is one of the few things they agree on.

That’s interesting to me. Not so much that they believe that to be the case, most of the Early Church all the way through the ages believed it and it is what the Bible says, but more because so few believe it today.

Everyone and all their dead relatives are saved, is the way I hear it all the time. I mean, we know Hitler and Stalin didn’t make it, but not the cute old people in our family. I mean, maybe the ugly old people in your family didn’t make it, but certainly not the cute old people in mine!

We are deceived on this issue. The church in America has large buildings, tons of money, supposed political influence, and 80% of Americans say they are Christians.

Yet the morals of our land clearly deny such claims.

But since we’ve fallen for the idea that works mean nothing and saying The Prayer or being baptized means everything, we don’t think our lack of morals means jack squat.

There is a broad road that leads to destruction, a narrow one that leads to life. Not only are there few on the narrow road, Jesus says few there be who even find the narrow way.

Hell is a real place and the majority of people on this planet end up there. Luther says it’s because God doesn’t want to save them, which is insane. People on the other side say it’s because people reject the offer of salvation, which seems much more biblical and logical to me.

God has done all manner of things to show His love to you; love is out the window if He forces you to take it and keeps others from having it. That’s not love. That’s simply dictatorial power.

The Bible says “God is love,” it does not say “God is power.”

If you’re mad at God because people are in hell, you’re not hearing things correctly. Humanity is the dumb one in the equation. The majority of humanity is denying God, His love, and choosing the pleasures of sin for a season.

It makes no sense why we do this, but I know for sure it isn’t God’s doing.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9

Alexander the Great, Ezekiel, and Tyre

Reading a biography of Alexander the Great. Got to the portion where Alexander desires to wipe out the city of Tyre.

This is an interesting piece of history because the Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre. The prophecy says:

And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

The original city was on the mainland. It was wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar. He left a bunch of ruins on the mainland while the people moved to the island. The presence of the ruins contradicted the prophecy of being scraped bear and thrown into the sea. Except Alexander the Great came along, threw all the ruins into the sea for the causeway and now the prophecy is complete.

The author of the biography says, “What Ezekiel foretold had now come to pass in all its terrible finality.” Always fun to see such things about the Bible in “secular” history books!

But Ezekiel also says, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

This has been taken to mean that Tyre will never be a city again. It will never be rebuilt. There is a city of Tyre today. The author of the biography says about this, “Tyre was repopulated, and whatever Hebrew prophets may say, thrives again today.”

So the parting shot is that the Hebrew prophet got lucky, but probably should have stopped before that last bit!

There are many theories about this. The new city of Tyre is not in the same place. The prophecy says people will be there spreading their nets, so obviously Ezekiel knew there would be people there. Someone has to spread nets!

You can also take it to mean it won’t be built as a massive place like it was before, its grandeur won’t be rebuilt. Also, Ezekiel was talking about judgment upon the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was never rebuilt. The Phoenician empire was done away with right at the time Tyre was done in.

Another historian writes, “Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.” Tyre was removed from consideration as a place of any importance, which is the main thrust of the entire prophecy (Ezekiel 26-27).

The main point of the prophecy was a judgment against the Phoenicians. Tyre today is not a Phoenician stronghold. It’s a nice city with a harbor. The prophecy concerned the enemies of Israel, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was also on the mainland and not where Tyre is today. There are archeological excavations on the original site, even if a city called Tyre exists nearby.

All in all, the prophecy of Ezekiel about Tyre is one of the more literally fulfilled prophecies in the Bible that should give strong evidence of the Bible’s uniqueness. It should also aid you in knowing that when God says stuff; He means it literally.

Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Converting To What?

Christianity is divided into multiple doctrinal camps. Division reigns supreme. Many people wonder why this is the case. Many conclude it’s because the Bible is too hard to understand.

I agree there is too much division, I do not wonder why though, I think I know. And it’s not the Bible’s fault for being too confusing.

The main cause of division is that few are using the Bible anymore as an authority. Sure, they have verses and favorite passages, but few comprehensively use the Bible and fewer submit to what it says.

Today’s doctrine is largely based on what other guys said. When people argue you into their theological camps, it’s generally not out of a concern for your soul but it is 1) a defense of their doctrinal camp and leaders and 2) an attempt to get you into their camp to make their camp look bigger and better.

As we know (from reading the Bible), there is nothing new under the sun. People have long been more interested in defending and building their group than in the eternal state of your soul. Here are two biblical examples:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
–Galatians 6:12-13

The main reason most stayed away from the Gospel is because it would cause them problems. They wanted to appease those who would persecute them for following the Gospel. Best way to do that is to defend the old camp.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
–Matthew 23:15

Pharisees of Jesus’ day are acting the same as those messing with the Galatian church. They would rather count you in their camp than get you right with God. In order to escape hell, you have to first escape the bad teaching and then embrace the good teaching, that’s my interpretation of “twofold child of hell.” You have to be saved from bad teaching and then saved by good teaching, as it were.

People, in general, don’t care about your stand before God; they care about their stats. Better stats means playing a people-pleasing game, winning people to our side so we win. The more we win the more we feel like we are right.

Surround yourself with your camp and you’ll never have to face reality. Unless, of course, you find a camp that deals with reality, by which I mean, the reality God explains in the Bible.

There are no shortcuts and avoid anyone who offers you one. Use zeal, effort, energy, work, toil, labor, and get this right. Beware of theological camps and doctrines named after people. Read the Word so much you know when you’re hearing false teaching.

Having the Spirit teach you the Word through His means (which can be other people with the Spirit; I’m not throwing away all people or churches here) is the only safeguard we have against false teaching and division. Pray for wisdom, then do the work to get it. Be sober, watch and pray.

The Law Cannot Justify

Repeatedly the New Testament tells us that we are not justified by the law.

“Justified” means to declare someone righteous. The law does not declare people righteous.

The law was not designed to make people righteous, nor to declare anyone righteous. The law was written to declare everyone a sinner!

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
–Romans 3:20

The law tells you what sin is and makes you guilty

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
–Romans 3:19

The law declares people to be sinners. Paul says in Romans 7 that the law actually stirs up the flesh to sin more. The law makes sin abound.

You can’t be justified by the law because the law could never declare anyone to be righteous. The law points out how unrighteous you are.

The law has NO POWER to make you righteous. If the law can’t make you righteous; then the law can’t declare you righteous.

The only way you can be truly declared righteous in God’s eyes is if something existed that could make you righteous!

That aint the law!

But it is the Gospel!

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
–Romans 5:19

The Gospel declares you righteous because the Gospel makes you righteous, not just in God’s head or your head, but in actual conduct.

The law cannot do that because the law is weak through the flesh. It has no power to make you do anything right, therefore, it can never declare anyone righteous because before it; no one is righteous.

The law won’t justify you; the Gospel will. Come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be made righteous.

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
–Romans 6:17-18