Baptism, the Holy Spirit, and Death

Baptism is understood by people in John the Baptizer’s day as referring to the cleansing of sin, making one ceremonially pure.

But looking forward, the Gospels show us something more is coming.

The Bible progressively reveals things. What came before isn’t bad, it was just a beginning. It’s the cute stories you hear in Sunday School as opposed to the in-depth Bible study you hopefully get at Big People Church.

You start small and build. It’s how you educate any kid. One way to look at the Bible and its progression is as a book a parent, say a Heavenly Father, writes to His kids, humanity. View Humanity as God’s kid that God is teaching. The Bible starts with pictures and illustrations and builds into doctrine.

The two fuller pictures that baptism represents are hinted at several times.

In Mark 1:8, John the Baptizer says, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The “he” refers to Jesus. The same context has John saying Jesus is better than him, he’s not even worthy to take off Jesus’ sandals. Jesus is better, so too is Jesus’ baptism.

John clearly is pointing people forward to something better, not dunking in water, but being immersed in and filled with the Spirit.

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Baptism and John 3

Nicodemus comes to talk to Jesus at night, curious about Jesus’ teaching and miracles.

Jesus seems to cut him off in mid curiosity and throws this at him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Nicodemus seems shocked by this statement, wonders how you can enter yo momma again and be rebirthed. So, Jesus responds:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

Many make the leap right over to baptism here. I understand why, but part of me wonders if we’re not jumping the gun a bit.

Some think born by water and the Spirit is the same event and refers to baptism.

Others, myself included, think being born by water is flesh giving birth to flesh—babies reside in a sack of water, the water breaks upon birth, etc. In order to reside in the eternal, spiritual kingdom you need a spiritual body granted by the Spirit not physical birth.

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John’s Baptism

John’s Baptism was a baptism representing repentance, getting Israel ready for the coming of their King. It wasn’t the full revelation of what baptism was about.

This does not mean that there was something wrong with John’s baptism. Jesus asks some testing people if John’s baptism was from heaven or from men. The obvious implied answer is that it was from heaven.

John’s baptism was part of the revelation of the Messiah, the prophet would come first and get people ready. John did that. This was God’s ministry for John. It was a divine and spiritual thing.

It wasn’t the whole thing though.

Paul in Acts 19 asks some people “What baptism did you receive?” Their answer was “John’s.” Paul did not lecture them for having been baptized by John or find fault with it. Instead he said “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

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Baptism: The Old Testament

Matthew 3 is the first mention in the Bible of baptism: John came baptizing.

I like how baptism is an assumed thing. Like this wasn’t weird to anyone. John just comes baptizing and people are like, “Oh, yeah, well of course, guess we should go be baptized, eh?” He didn’t explain why this occurred. It just made sense to the people.

This is probably from an OT understanding of purity and cleansing.

When an Israelite was unclean for any number of reasons, part of the remedy was to bathe in water (Leviticus 14:8-9; 15:13; 17:15). Utensils used in tabernacle and temple service were to be dipped in water to be cleansed.

In Numbers 19:9 the ashes of the heifer “are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” The whole chapter of Numbers 19 is filled with “water of cleansing” talk.

Ezekiel 36:25 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”

The people of Israel knew that water meant cleansing, and it was stated specifically several times that it was for removing sin.

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Baptism: John the Baptist

Or as he was called in the Old Days: John the Baptizer, which I think is totally awesomer.

Understanding baptism has to begin with John. Baptism isn’t mentioned until he shows up.

Matthew 3 introduces him thusly:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

The content of his preaching was repentance, this was the big message. Repentance means to turn around and head the other way. The next verse refers to the OT prophecy that one would come to make straight the way of the Lord.

John’s job entailed cleaning Israel up for the coming of their Messiah, and that was done by repenting of their sin.

People have argued over what the “Kingdom of God” is. I think the simplest way to interpret it here is to relate it to the physical coming of Jesus Christ, the King.

Repent, the Messiah, the King of the Kingdom, is coming. Where the King is, there is the Kingdom. Clean up the Land, He’s near!

The response of the people then was:

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Matthew 3:5-6

John baptized people who responded and sought out John. Notice John didn’t pursue anyone; people had to find him.

The response of those coming for baptism was confession of sins. Confession means “to say the same thing as.” They agreed with God’s revelation of what sin was, saw it in themselves, and agreed fully they were guilty and in need of forgiveness.

John told them to repent because the Kingdom was near in the person of the King. They responded by repenting! It always blows my mind when people actually do exactly what God calls them to do! Even in the Bible this is rare!

One could make the point that baptism is entirely about being washed from sin, as baptism pictures repentance and forgiveness.

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Confusion about Baptism and Communion

Baptism and Communion are two physical observances God gave the Church.

God knows our frame; He knows that we’re made of dust. We are physical beings typically focused on physical things.

God, who is a spirit, is trying to communicate spiritual things to us. We’re slow to comprehend these spiritual things because we’re physical.

Thus, in order for God to get spiritual truth through our physical heads, He uses physical things to teach us.

In the Old Testament He used the tabernacle, priests, sacrifices, circumcision, and the Sabbath Day, among other things, to teach spiritual truth.

Instead of getting the spiritual truth, the Israelites focused on the physical stuff.

“Look, we got circumcised, we keep the Sabbath, and look at all the animals we killed! Where’s our pat on the back, God?”

Instead of a divine pat on the back, the prophets came and blasted them, “Yes, I know you killed animals and were circumcised, but your heart was nowhere near God and you missed the whole point.”

The Israelites never got to the spiritual point behind the physical illustration. Israelites, being physical, only did the physical thing and lost sight of the spiritual point.

Christians, who are physically minded just like Israelites, do the same thing.

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God Can Do Above What We Can Ask or Think

This is another biblical phrase that Christians throw around, typically in response to some temporal win.

–Someone loses their job, but then gets hired at an even better job.
–Someone has their house foreclosed on, but they found an even betterer house.
–Someone has a loser first kid, but God gives them a second child who is far superior (OK, probably no one has said this one, but some have thought it I bet!).

“Boom, see? God does more than we could ask or think!”

As though people who lose their jobs or house don’t ask for better ones, or people with loser first kids don’t beg God imploringly for a better next kid.

Typically all the times this verse is quoted it’s in relation to someone getting exactly what they asked or thought, just slightly better, which they kind of thought might happen!

When people ask for healing and instead their pain gets worse, how is this not God doing above what we could ask or think? You didn’t think you could handle any more pain, well, guess what? You can handle pain above what you can ask or think!

Why is the application always in one happy direction?

But the main point is: why is this verse always applied to earthly, temporal things?

Read the context. I can’t stress how much this will help you understand and use verses correctly. What is the context of “God is able to do above what we could ask or think?” So glad you asked.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
–Ephesians 3:17-20

The context is referring to us understanding the bigness of God’s love and being filled with the fullness of God! This sounds close to God’s peace “which passes understanding.” God’s attributes are eternal and very large. Our minds have trouble grasping the totality of these things.

Yet God, who is able to do above what you can ask or think, can embiggen your mind to understand His love. You have no idea what His love is like. How massively huge it is. You can’t even think about what being filled with the fullness of God is like.

But He can help you understand it more and fill you with His fullness. I can’t even begin to comprehend what that means, which is why God doing above what we can ask or think is brought up here. It has to do with enabling us to grasp the hugeness of His love and being filled with His fullness.

I think this is way cool, and definitely more than you’ve asked or thought, and way better than new jobs, new houses, or better kids.

Jesus Thinks Christians are Dumb

Do you ever feel like you are lazy, sluggish, and somewhat wimpy with your faith? Well, you’re in good company; Jesus thinks you are too!

Read it for yourself.

“for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)

This is Jesus’ conclusion to the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16). This is the guy who got busted by his master and was going to get fired, so he ran around lowering the debts of those who owed his master money. After being fired, these guys might help him out since he did them a solid.

Brilliant, shrewd foresight. Jesus says he did well and is an excellent example for the children of light!

“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)

Jesus seems to be saying that you should use money to be nice to people so when you die (fail) and stand before the Lord these people will put in a good word for you.

Many aspects of this verse bother Christians.

–Is Jesus saying we should buy friends?
–Why do I need people to vouch for me on judgment day? I thought Jesus was all I needed?
–I thought giving stuff to people was out of love, for their benefit, not to use them for my own ends?

We go on and on with our justifications and keep our money.

It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the children of light dumber than children of the world.

Rather than be sensible, we bog down in theological debate. Our theological bunkers keep us safe from responsibility and intelligence.

Some think a lack of intelligence demonstrates faith. Isn’t all that thinking and foresight and planning just a lack of faith? Shouldn’t we trust God and blindly move forward?

Christians are adept at ignoring “you reap what you sow” because we think our great faith and prayer will shelter us. Surely God will deliver me from my terrible decision making.

Or perhaps fatalism steps in. It’s all God’s will, what’re ya gonna do? If God wanted me to do better, He would have made me do better.

At best, perhaps we’re too busy thinking about heaven, or perhaps we don’t concern ourselves with fixing today because Jesus might come back tomorrow. We follow the example of the Thessalonian believers and sit around being gossips because why work and be responsible, Jesus is coming.

Jesus is also saying that unsaved people in the world have wisdom. This bothers a lot of Christians too. There’s an arrogant superiority we carry with us. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people, and that’s us. We know more than all them unsaved heathen scum morons.

We pat ourselves on the back, sit back and judge the world’s sins, and never consider that maybe people in the world are doing some things better.

Paul uses athletes as an example (athletes, otherwise known as “dumb jocks” to smarmy, intellectual, professorial types). But even dumb jocks in the world are smart enough to discipline their bodies and zealously pursue their goals. Paul tells Christians that they should pursue spiritual growth like that. Surely we can be smarter than dumb jocks!

“That’s legalism, Paul!” we shout and then do nothing. Ten years go by, “How come I don’t have any fruit or proof I’ve grown?”

Jesus goes on in Luke 16 to say if we don’t become shrewd and smart like people in the world, He won’t entrust us with spiritual things.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11)

How annoying! “I thought God entrusted everyone with equal stuff. This sounds like works righteousness and merit, man” we argue convincingly with verses and maintain our dumbness.

Be smarter out there. Pay attention. Walk circumspectly. Be sober, in your right mind. Be vigilant. Discipline. Care. Wise as serpents; harmless as doves. If you can’t be smart enough to handle earthly things, why would God entrust you with far more valuable spiritual things?

We’re not called to be empty-headed fatalists. “God is in control. Nothing I can do. Whatever. Grace and stuff.”

We’re called to lay hold on eternal life and put our treasure in heaven. Get busy, yo.

Not Being too Friendly and the Book of Proverbs

When I was a kid I had trouble making friends. I was shy, picked on, and couldn’t see. I was routinely lectured by various family members attempting to be helpful, that I just needed to be friendlier.

“When you walk down the hall; smile at people. When you enter a room; say ‘hello’ to people. If you want to have friends, you need to be friendly. The Bible says that.”

Telling shy and petrified people to smile and say ‘hello’ to strangers is like telling my dog to build a rocket and fly to Mars. Oh sure, she might get one built, maybe even launched, but Mars? Come on, even people can’t do that!

The place where the Bible allegedly says to be friendly to get friends is in Proverbs 18:24, quoted in the KJV says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

Anytime I heard this verse I became annoyed.

I remained annoyed until I read this verse in pretty much any other version. Let me focus in on the “a man that hath friends must show himself friendly” phrase in various translations:

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OK Christians, Time to Do Your Job

In our current state of rancor, arguing, shouting, rioting, and clamoring, I have an idea: how about we listen to what the Bible says a follower of Christ should do and quit following the world’s example.

If we did, we would shine like lights in the world. The good news is that what we’re told to do sounds very refreshing and lovely right about now!

Here’s the main part:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you,”
–1 Thessalonians 4:11

It’s time (actually it’s always been time) for Christians to put their heads down, shut up, and keep busy.

The world is fighting for power and domination. Let em. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Seek first His kingdom and all those things will be added to you.

Continue reading “OK Christians, Time to Do Your Job”

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

Justification is Real

Justification is a word thrown around quite a bit by Christians. Any time Christians throw a word around a lot, expect it to have become battered and bruised.

Justification has become a legal term. It means “to declare someone righteous.” But this is more than a legal term, more than God moving you from the unrighteous column to the righteous column.

Something more is going on.

Unfortunately, for many, justification is synonymous with salvation. The Reformers are talked about “justification by faith.” To the extent that justification now means salvation.

Justification is a part of salvation; it’s not the whole thing.

Justification is a declaration that God makes based on who He has made you.

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

Romans 5:19 is not talking about declaring you righteous! It says you have been made righteous through Christ’s work on the cross.

 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
–2 Corinthians 5:21

Again, this is not just a declaration; it’s a real thing God has made us. We have been made righteous.

So, get this: The reason why God declares us righteous is because He made us righteous!

The common understanding of justification is that God declares us righteous even though we keep living in sin. God just ignores that. God just pretends we’re righteous even though He, we, and everyone else knows we’re not.

Justification understood this way makes God a delusional liar. Yet this is how most people understand justification.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were unrighteous and doing unrighteous things, but now you’ve been made righteous. How so?

Because God has washed you [cleansed you from past sin], sanctified you [separated you from the world and called you to holy living different from the world], and justified you [declared you righteous because that’s what He’s made you].

Justification is not a mind game in God’s head. Justification is a declaration based upon what God has made you through the Gospel.

You used to live in sin, but now you’ve been washed, sanctified, and justified and no longer do those things.

Vincent’s Word Studies says about these verses:

Emphasizing the actual moral renewal, which is the true idea of justification. This is shown by the words “by the Spirit,” etc., for the Spirit is not concerned in mere forensic justification.

Justification is not the whole of salvation, nor is it a make-believe scenario. Justification is a declaration of who we are based on who God has made us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God is not a liar. If He calls someone righteous it has to be because they are actually righteous, not just in His head, but in reality.

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
–1 John 3:7

If We Believe Not, Yet He Abides Faithful

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:13.

I have heard many interpret this verse to cancel out the previous two verses. The interpretation goes like this:

Even if we lose faith, Jesus Christ won’t get rid of us. I can deny Him or not suffer with Him and that’s ok, because Christ can’t deny Himself.

I find this interpretation to be off the mark by quite a bit.

Verse 13 does not cancel out the warnings of the previous two verses. On the contrary, verse 13 is what gives those verses their bite.

Verse 13 is saying that Jesus Christ is faithful, which means He always does what He says. “He cannot deny himself” is the conclusion of the statement.

Jesus Christ cannot go against who He is or what He has said. He can’t deny what He truly is.

People lose faith all the time. People break their promises every day. Jesus Christ never does that, because He can’t deny himself.

To take this to mean that you can lose faith and Jesus will still save you is weird. He said He can’t deny HIMSELF; it doesn’t say He can’t deny you!

In fact, look at the previous verse! He just said He could deny you!

There are many warning passages in the Bible. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 is just one.

There are many who do not heed these warnings because they sloppily interpret scripture to cancel out any need for a warning.

To use a warning passage to prove you don’t need a warning passage is the height of obstinance.

Read the words on the page. There’s a reason God put them there. God always does what He says, He’s not unfaithful like people are.

Read the words and then adjust your life accordingly. You’ve been warned. Get ready.

If We Deny Him, He Also Will Deny Us

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:12, right after “if we suffer with Him, we will reign with Him.”

Suffering is no fun.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes seed that falls on stony ground. A little green shoot pops up, but when the sun rises to its peak, the little shoot gets scorched, withers, and dies.

This seed represents people who believe for a short time until it gets hard, a little suffering comes their way, and they quit.

Suffering has a way of weeding out the pretenders. A little persecution will show who truly believes and who is playing a game.

When you are healthy and wealthy, faith is pretty easy. But when things get tough and life falls apart, what will you do then?

For the believer, suffering increases faith and leads to spiritual growth. For the unbeliever, suffering drives them further from God, they may even blame God and resent Him.

Peter said many confident things in company with like-minded people, but when Jesus was arrested and things turned bad, Peter denied Christ.

Jesus says in Matthew 10:33, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Jesus Christ was/is consistent on this issue. Paul reiterates what Christ said by saying it again in 2 Timothy.

So, what happened with Peter? Has Christ denied him?

Well, Peter repented and came back. The rest of Peter’s life shows that he did not completely disown Christ. He came back. God is always willing to forgive.

But if you deny Christ and never come back, Christ will deny you too. Stern words, but I see no aspect of Christ’s character that makes Him say things that aren’t true.

Jesus Christ always does what He says, which is Paul’s final point in this section of 2 Timothy 2.

If We Suffer, We Shall Also Reign With Him

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:12.

Suffering is part of the deal in following Christ.

By faith we identify ourselves with Christ. Not just with Christ’s resurrection, but with His death. And not just with His death, but also with His suffering.

What Christ did, by faith, you will do too because you are following Him.

Our suffering and death are not atoning for our sins, nor are they saving us or anyone else. They are what happens when you follow the Suffering Servant!

There is a notion within Christianity that Christ did all the bad stuff, so we get all the good stuff: health and wealth, best life now, wonderful plan for your life, etc..

This notion is not from the Bible.

The Bible repeatedly says that since Christ suffered, don’t be surprised when you do. It’s part of the deal.

It’s so much part of the deal that if you don’t suffer, you can safely conclude you are not following Christ.

Paul says in Romans 8 that the witness of God’s Spirit with our spirit that we are children of God is that we suffer. If we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him (8:17).

Paul is saying the same truth here in 2 Timothy.

Paul told the Thessalonian church that their patience and endurance through suffering for Christ was a manifest token of their salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

If you suffer for Christ you will have the assurance of salvation.

People doubt their salvation all over the place today. I believe this is because we rarely instruct people to follow Christ and get suffering.

We live in a happy, luxurious, comfortable age. No one is suffering for Christ, therefore, no one has the assurance of salvation.

Many who do feel assured of their salvation are merely pumping themselves with happy thoughts. They can’t prove their salvation in any tangible way other than, “Well, I’m saved because I think I’m saved.”

Suffering is proof of salvation. Suffering is proof that you are following the Suffering Servant.

Not just bad things happen to you suffering either. Bad things happen to everyone. He’s talking about suffering for Christ. About suffering the loss of all things to gain Christ as Paul did (Philippians 3:8).

People don’t like this message. We don’t like dying with Christ and we don’t like suffering with Christ. So, Paul has to address denying Christ next, because that’s what people do when they run into stuff they don’t want to do for Christ.

If We Be Dead With Him, We Shall Also Live With Him

These words are found in 2 Timothy 2:11.

The Gospel is not just a cute story you believe about what some guy did 2,000 years ago that allows you to go to heaven when you die.

The Gospel is about dying with Jesus Christ. By faith we see ourselves crucified with Christ. Dead to sin. Dead to the law. Dead to the world. Dead to the affections and lusts of the flesh.

In other words: dead.

This is not some kind of philosophical mind-game dead either; He’s talking about real consequences right now.

Dead people don’t care about stuff on the earth anymore. My dead father does not care if I take stuff from his office. He’s dead. He doesn’t care.

Dead people do not get entangled with the affairs of this life. Dead people have nothing to fight over. Dead people don’t demand their rights. Dead people are, in short, dead.

When’s the last time you fought with a dead person? When’s the last time a dead person took advantage of you?

Being dead is pretty easy when you’re dead.

But this is the true sticking point of Gospel living: Although we are dead, our flesh bodies are still breathing. We have to reckon ourselves to be dead. Reckon means to consider it to be so.

We’re dead; live like it.

I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, it is Christ who lives in me.

When Christ died, He resurrected. If we are dead with Christ, we are also raised up with Him to newness of life.

This new life we live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the son of God who gave Himself for you. The new life we live is one that follows Christ.

New life in Christ doesn’t start when you enter heaven; new life in Christ starts when you’re saved.

We present our bodies as living sacrifices. We deny ourselves and take up the cross. It’s not about me anymore; it’s about Christ in me.

This aint easy, but it is what the Gospel is. Your flesh will hate it, but your flesh doesn’t have a clue!

Die with Christ to truly live.

Appointed to Obtain Salvation

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ
–1 Thessalonians 5:9

Speaking verses we ignore because they freak people out. . .

This verse is troubling for several doctrines.

First, we deal with the word “appointed.” This word means, “to set, place, or put as a passive object.” If I set a book on the table, I am the active agent and the book is passive. The book gets put there by me. It can’t put itself there.

God has not put us in a place where we passively must accept wrath. This undermines the Calvinist idea that some are created by God specifically for the purpose of suffering His wrath in hell.

Second, we deal with the word “obtain.” In the context we are obtaining salvation. To obtain means, “redemption which will give possession. Acquire, purchase, win.”

Ellicott’s commentaty says this about obtaining salvation, “Means more than “obtain;” the Greek means “acquire” by one’s own efforts;” earn and make our own.”

Flipped out yet? Theologically triggered?

God has not put us in a passive position to have to take His wrath. Rather, He placed us as human beings, people who had no say in being born, as passive objects, in this world, a place where we don’t have to get God’s wrath; we can obtain, purchase, or get salvation.

He placed us in a place where we can do something to escape wrath and be saved.

This is where the church has overblown grace. We’ve been told that if there’s something you do to get, purchase, or obtain salvation that this is contrary to grace.

But it’s not. We can meet a condition that obtains salvation. We don’t earn it by works, or by works of the law, or by being impressive to God enough so He saves us. We obtain it through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ opened a way of salvation through His Gospel, which we can use to obtain salvation. God gives grace to the humble. Being humble is not a work; being humble is the condition to receive grace. You are capable of being humble. Do so and you’ll obtain grace.

There are two ways people could be saved:

  1. completely God’s work, or
  2. we have something to do with it

Calvinism says it’s all God. If it’s all God then we are passive objects being moved by God alone. But Paul says God has not placed us as passive objects to obtain wrath, but placed us in a place where there’s something we can do to obtain salvation.

Therefore, there sure seems to be something I can do to be saved. A response we are capable of making. We respond by faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not as a passive object, but as an active object that can acquire salvation.

Much of our Christian doctrine is an oversimplification based on a handful of verses rather than what the Bible says in whole.

I’ll let you hash out the implications of this verse and you can figure out what you want to do with it and why I’m an idiot for interpreting it the way I did.

That’s fine. The verse remains. Do something with it.

Getting Mad at the Bible

Reading the Bible is one of the best ways to undermine your faith!

I kid you not.

We are all taught doctrine by other people. Some of those people know what they are talking about and some don’t. Most are trying to be helpful, and there are some who are just in it for their own gain.

At a certain point you have to do some thinking about what you’ve been taught. You have to read the Bible to discern whether you were taught well or not.

Problems arise because we have feelings. We have loving thoughts about some of our teachers, some of whom were our own family members. We don’t want to think critically of them.

Sometimes we hate some of our teachers and it makes us hostile to their teaching even when they actually had some things right, but we throw it all out because of our hatred.

We also have feelings of insecurity. What will happen if I leave these doctrines I’ve depended on? What will happen if people I’ve been with find out I’ve backed off that doctrine? They will think I’m stupid and maybe disown me.

Fear is all over this thing.

Right doctrine will also make you do tough things, which are easily avoided by not believing those right doctrines. So we back off and quit. Leave it for smart people. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and quit this noise.

There are passages of the Bible that freak people out. They know if they took them seriously they’d have to change things. There would be a cost. They’d rather not pay it.

You can find people who will tell you what you want to hear and will agree to ignore the same verses you ignore. You can all carry on in happy ignorance. But what will you do in the end thereof?

Don’t be afraid of those verses. Figure them out. If you want to know the One who wrote the book; deal with His book.

Don’t get mad at the Bible for not agreeing with you–you’re the idiot in the scenario; not God!

Buck up. Do the work to figure it out and deal with the consequences. Eternity in God’s glory will make it all worth while. Don’t chuck eternal glory for temporal comfort. Pay the price, grow, and advance in the faith.

7 Approaches to Parts of the Bible You Do Like

Sprinkled amongst all the verses in the Bible that we don’t like, are verses we do like.

This is intriguing to me. I’m fascinated by what verses people like and ones they don’t. You can tell a lot about a person by the verses they like.

Not just “like” as in being fond of them either, but I mean the ones you totally think you understand and use constantly to buck up your doctrinal stances. The ones you quote in any Christianesque conversation you’ll have with anyone.

What should you do with verses you do like and know exactly what they mean?

Here are a few options:

1. Quote them ad nauseum. No matter what you’re discussing about the Bible, bring everything back to those four verses you like. Make that verse mean everything.

2. Trump your verses. Make your verses so big, so huge, so massively weighty that no other verse in the Bible could possibly come close to meaning as much or be nearly as weighty. Because of this verse; who really needs the others?

3. Don’t learn more about those verses. Just go with what you got and assume you know everything about these verses. Knowing more could possibly make you not like those verses anymore, why take such risks? Life is too short to be correct.

4. Ignore the context. Take those favorite verses in complete isolation. This will help you bend those verses into your favorite meanings. Not only don’t learn more about the verse; don’t dare learn more about what the author actually meant with them in their context.

5. Base an entire doctrine on your favorite verses alone. Romans 9 is all you need. Ephesians 2:8 is all you need. Whatever the doctrine may be, there is a certain proof text for it. Don’t bother going above and beyond outside those proofs. Just keep bashing people over the head with your one-verse doctrine. The less scripture involved; the more certain you’ll become.

6. Don’t even bother with the verses you don’t like. Too much trouble. It might cause doubt. Be firm in what you’ve got and never go outside your doctrinal bubble. There’s antichrists out there waiting to pounce on those who waver!

That’s pretty much it.

Those are your options.

I kid, I kid.

There remains one more.

7. Make all the verses your favorite verses! Seriously. All Scripture is inspired and is profitable. The whole counsel of Scripture was given for us to use. Whatever things were written before were written for our learning. I imagine there is some reason God gave us a whole book and not just five favorite verses.

Go through your Bible and look at the verses you don’t have underlined. Why are they not underlined? Maybe they are the “begot” verses and genealogies. That’s fine. Maybe they are directions for cutting up sacrificial animals or dimensions of temples or obscure prophecies for nations that don’t exist anymore. That’s fine. I’m not too worried about that.

I mean read the words of Christ you don’t like. Study Paul’s verses that drive you nuts. Read James. Learn to like them and understand them. Unconfuse the confusing bits.

Don’t get too focused on any one verse or passage; this will warp your doctrine big time. Notice the verses particularly that contradict your doctrine. Make them carry as much weight in your understanding as the verses that back up your point.

Coaches tell athletes to work on the parts of their game they are weakest at, not just the parts they’re already good at. I suggest the same thing in the biblical learning realm.

God wrote you a whole book; use the whole book.

7 Approaches to Parts of the Bible You Don’t Like

Everyone has parts of the Bible they don’t like.

Even if we don’t admit we don’t “like” those parts, we will at least admit we don’t know what to do with them.

What do you do with the parts you don’t know what to do with!?

Here are some options

  1. Completely ignore them. Yup, just pretend they don’t exist. Maybe if you ignore them long enough they will disappear.
  2. Deny inspiration. Find a way to undermine Scripture’s authority. Blame the individual authors for being wrongheaded. Ignore that bit about “all scripture” being God-breathed.
  3. Trump them with verses you do like. Find a handful of verses that you actually do like and make those verses somehow trump the ones you don’t like. Explain how the existence of this verse means you no longer need to deal with the verse you don’t like. Use the Bible to tell you why you don’t have to use the Bible.
  4. Follow theologians. If you follow esteemed people, it hardly matters whether you like the Bible; just quote your guys. Find the fancy theological loopholes only smart people can come up with and go with those and stop worrying about that silly old Bible.
  5. Don’t read the Bible. If you never read it;; you’ll never come across verses you don’t like! Just take other people’s word for what’s in there. Conform to a group. Leave the Bible on the shelf for all those smart people to figure out. Just float along in cheery ignorance.
  6. Study original languages. If you know Greek and Hebrew you can convince yourself you’re smart enough to know what words really mean and thus be able to redefine any problematic verse you come across. Be smarter than the Bible and bend it to your whims.

That’s pretty much it.

Those are your options.

I kid. I kid.

There remains one more option:

7. Shut up and deal with it! Stop trying to redefine and verbally escape passages you don’t like. Instead, bow the knee, humble yourself, and be taught. Truly find out why the Bible says what it says. Pray for wisdom and insight, not only in the Bible, but in the nature of God, the author behind the book. Keep your mouth shut, ears open, and prepare to learn. When you learn, adjust your life accordingly.

That is the most difficult option to go with (although learning Hebrew and Greek is tough). It’s the most costly and the most inconvenient. It’ll take you places your flesh has no desire to go.

But I highly recommend this approach. It’s the only one that will work in getting you prepared for Judgment Day.

Don’t be afraid of the Bible; these are words of life. Drink deeply and chew thoroughly. You will be filled.

Paul Calling People Names

Yesterday I posted about Jesus’ tendency to tell things as they are, even if it meant calling people out on their sin.

If we are to follow Christ, it seems as if we should do the same thing.

This does not mean besmirching people’s character, or making up stuff, or being rude for the sake of being rude, but it does mean telling the truth.

If, in an effort to soften our verbiage, we end up lying, we are forsaking love’s delight in the truth.

Not only did Jesus Christ call people out, so did the Apostle Paul. There may be some who defend Jesus’ manner in calling people out by saying, “Well, yeah, He’s the Son of God, of course He can call us wicked and faithless.”

Well, Paul is not the Son of God, he’s a sinner like you and me, in fact, he calls himself the chief of sinners.

He calls himself that because Paul speaks the truth. Not only does he call other people stuff, he calls himself names!

In the book of Titus he says:

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true.

In another fascinating passage, Acts 23:3, Paul says to the high priest

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

Paul calls him a name, judges his performance, and calls upon God to smite him!

Paul later apologized for saying that to the high priest with the supposed defense that he did not know the guy was the high priest!

Paul is rather feisty. Jesus Christ was a tad feisty. People who speak the truth will be feisty, or at least come across that way.

Now, being feisty for feisty’s sake is not the issue. I’m not calling you to be a jerk and call people names.

What I am doing is saying that truth tends to hurt. If you speak the truth you will say things about people that they will not take kindly.

Most resentment and offendedness is a result of guilt. People who know they are sinners don’t like their sin to be pointed out. They want to live in the delusional world that they are sinning and getting away with it and everything is cool.

If you are an easily offended person, that’s because you are not walking in truth and righteousness. If you know you’re doing the right thing, what people accuse you of will bother you very little.

A sign of wisdom is listening to reproof and correction. Stupid people are the only ones who get offended at people correcting them, would be another way to put it.

This is a careful issue and I can easily be taken out of context. Hear what I’m saying.

My point is not that we should be judgmental jerks to people.

My point is to speak the truth and also, as you speak it, make sure you’re hearing it yourself. Start by dealing truthfully with your own sin before taking an interest in everyone else’s sin.

Stopping Sin Is Not Magic

Sin is a terrible, persistent enemy. We are told to be standing in the armor of God and watching and praying all the time. Sin doesn’t stop; unfortunately, our spiritual motivation does.

When our spiritual motivation wanes, sin pounces. Sin lies at the door, waiting for you to drop your guard.

There is an idea floating around Christianity, which I think started with John Wesley, or at least came out of some of his ideas, that there is a second birth, or a second conversion that fully delivers you from experiencing sin.

The idea goes like this:

A person gets saved and yet sin still reigns supreme in their life. They reach a point of desperation, an emotional angst that breaks out all at once and leads to a second work of the Holy Spirit, a second conversion where you are now filled for good with the Holy Spirit and conscious sin ceases.

(I say “conscious sin” because this was sort of Wesley’s idea: a believer might still sin, it would just be a sin he was unaware of. He would never knowingly sin. Some theories eliminate all sin, but most have this Wesleyan idea included.)

I’ve met believers who claim to have had this experience, and I’ve met many more who have heard the stories and deeply desire this experience.

I mean, who wouldn’t?! This sounds dreamy! All my fleshly lusts suddenly disappear! I no longer have a desire to do the sins that dragged me down for years! This sounds truly magical. No fuss, no muss, no struggle, just POOF! Sin and its desires are gone!

There is much magical thinking in Christianity. The thing that keeps us sinning is our deep desire to do it. If I could just get rid of that desire once for all, everything would be cured.

Indeed. Again, I do think that through spiritual growth the desire can be killed off. I think this is real and true. I also think it comes through years of battle.

It does not happen in one magical moment or through one deeply emotional crisis.

The Bible does not speak in these terms. I know there are personal stories of this happening, maybe it could, but expecting it sets you up for discouragement.

The Bible speaks as life being a fight and a long race to be run. It does not speak in magical terms about the fight not seeming like a fight or the race not seeming like a race because magic zapping occurred.

There’s a fight. Don’t buy the idea that magic cure-all moments occur. This sounds more like a fleshly, worldly desire than a biblical expectation. Everyone wants the get rich quick scheme. Sounds too good to be true, primarily because it aint true.

Sin is a persistent enemy; it will not stop. One major thing keeping us looking ahead with hope is deliverance, final, victorious deliverance from this body of death.

You can enjoy this deliverance in part now by growing spiritually. You really can defeat sin, and sin less. But until we receive our glorified bodies, sin will remain an active force to be dealt with.

Run to win.

How to Stop Sin

Yesterday I put forth the case that as long as we are in the flesh body we will have a pull toward sin and we will give in to that pull from time to time.

I do not believe the believer should expect to cease sinning until they receive their glorified body.

I also don’t think individual sin has to be inevitable. People tend to flip from one side to the other on this issue: there are those who think they have stopped sinning and there are those who don’t even try, because why bother?

Although I do not believe we can have ultimate deliverance from all sin ever as long as we’re in this body, I do think we can have victory over sin, and increasingly so as we progress in faith.

Sin is a persistent enemy. Those who have told me they have not sinned for a long time, have always communicated this idea with lots of pride. If you did cease from sinning, you’d be the last person to know it, because as soon as you knew it, you’d be proud.

Lots of people say they want to stop sinning. Unfortunately, much of this desire is theoretical. People don’t actually want to stop, they just don’t want to feel guilty or have the repercussions of sin.

Desiring to not feel bad about sin is different from not wanting to sin!

Many desperately want to drop off their smoking, or drinking, or porn watching. The desire was truly there, but so too was a desire to continue doing those sins.

Sin truly is a dog returning to its vomit. It’s disgusting and yet keeps drawing us back in.

The first step in defeating a sin is to actually want to defeat it. Like, for real. Not just eliminate the cost or guilt, but eliminate the sin itself.

Secondly, you need to make sure you’re saved! If you are not saved, if you do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit, you have zero shot at conquering sin. OK, that might not be true. Many unbelievers have stopped being alcoholics and things, but again, the force used is typically pride or some other sin. Replacing one addiction with another.

But to honestly do battle with sin you need the Holy Spirit and the provisions of the Gospel.

Thirdly, you need to do battle. I mean, really do battle. Make war on sin. Flee temptation. Avoid places that lead you to being tempted. Flee youthful lusts. Discipline and control yourself as much as possible. Take steps to make sin harder.

Many Christians hear step three and freak out. “Works righteousness! We don’t have to do anything; Christ does it all.” Good luck with that.

Being disciplined and fighting sin is not legalism, works righteousness, or any such foolishness; it’s the biblical mandate for defeating sin.

We have an enemy. There is a fight. We have been given armor. Use the armor to fight the fight and defeat the enemy. There is no other way to defeat sin.

Take sin seriously. Determine to actually want it to stop. Use all the provision of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit and go fight.

Can We Stop Sinning?

No.

That’s the simplest answer, and also the Biblical answer. As long as we are in this flesh body on this fallen earth we will sin. How do I know that? Ecclesiastes 7:20:

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

There does not exist a person on this earth who does not sin.

Most Christians would agree with this (there are always exceptions). Most, in fact, are more than happy to agree with this!

There are many who have the idea that if the Bible says everyone on earth sins, then sin must not be a problem, nor fought against.

I mean, why bother to defeat what cannot be defeated?

It’s like the Bears trying to beat the Packers with Aaron Rodgers. It aint gonna happen. They might as well stay home the day of that game.

But the Bible also says in many places that sin should be fought, resisted, and even defeated!

An interesting verse to put next to Ecclesiastes 7:20 is 1 John 3:9 and 5:18

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

1 John was written so you would know that you have eternal life. yet many people come across these verses and immediately doubt they have eternal life!

John speaks in absolutes and he also uses continuous verb tenses. John is talking about habitual action, what your character is. The man of God does not continually sin. He is not marked by sin.

1 John talks about confessing our sins and goes on to say that we have a mediator. “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

We’re not supposed to sin, certainly we’re not supposed to continue to sin as if it were no problem. Should we sin that grace may abound? God forbid! If we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, this certainly implies that we will sin.

Some people grab onto the couple verses in 1 John to say that a real believer never does a sin, ever. Some people grab the Ecclesiastes 7 verse and conclude that we all sin so don’t worry about it.

Neither is taking into consideration what the Bible says about sin. Both go to extremes that press the issue not only out of biblical sense, but even out of common sense.

Look, God knows our frame. He knows we are dust: breathing piles of dirt. He knows we sin. God, through Christ, has made a way for our sins to be forgiven.

This shows us two things:

  1. Sin was a massive problem that needed God’s intervention and sacrifice. If it required sacrifice from God to take care of it, let’s try to stay away from it.
  2. When we do sin we have an advocate with the Father.

The fact that we have an advocate when we sin does not imply: so go ahead and sin! Look what the Advocate went through for you!

There is no way that new life in Christ was granted to you so you could continue in sin. He that is dead is freed from sin. He that is dead to sin, how can he live in it any longer?

We’ve been given spiritual armor to resists temptation. The Holy Spirit helps us mortify the deeds of the body.

Yes, Christ covers for the believer when the believer sins, but in no way does this mean sin should be the believer’s normal pattern in life. But nor does it mean the believer doesn’t sin. If the believer never sinned, why would believers be given an advocate?

As is always the case, use the whole Bible to understand a biblical subject. Read and study. Figure it out and then live accordingly.

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