God Does Not Believe In You

I try to stay calm about inane Christian statements, I really do. But I just can’t help it.

The other day I received an email from a Christian organization trying to encourage me to minister to hurting people. I have no problem with such appeals, nor with helping hurting people.

They talked about God’s grace and how God shows compassion on people and never fails. All of that is fine.

And then they said this:

Can we be the ambassadors of God’s favor and say “I believe in you,” no matter what?

Seriously, I try to stay calm.

The organization that sent this email prides itself on their biblical integrity. They even take it upon themselves to teach others what the Bible says.

Yet if you read that statement, they are saying that God shows you grace because He believes in you.

Oh man. I try so hard.

God does not believe in you. He does not show you grace because He thinks you’re super-duper and just need a little self-esteem boost.

God shows you grace because without Him you can do nothing. Because without new birth you are under God’s wrath and a slave to sin. God, through the Gospel, puts you to death and raises you up to new life in Christ.

At no point in the Bible does God say He believes in us. Many points of the Bible say we are to believe in Him. That’s where the belief thing comes in.

We believe in Him to save us because we can’t save ourselves, nor does He expect us to save ourselves, because we can’t. Which is why He doesn’t believe in you. Which is why He sent His Son to die for you and provided everything necessary for salvation.

He does not show you grace for moral failures because He believes in you. That’s like the complete opposite of why God gives you grace. God gives you grace because without it you aint got a chance.

God gives grace to the humble, to people who have given up on themselves, in other words, people who have the same opinion about themselves that God has–without Him I can do nothing.

God gives grace to people who don’t believe in themselves, but rather believe in Him! If we’re not supposed to believe in ourselves, I’m quite sure God doesn’t either!

He gives you grace because without it you are worthless, hopeless, and useless. He puts that worthless person to death and raises you to new life in Christ as a person who is now worthy of eternal life.

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
–Galatians 3:22

Substitution and Transformation

“The foundation and focus of the Christian faith is Christ’s substitution not our transformation. In other words, the language of Christianity is primarily substitutional not transformational.”
–Tullian Tchividian

When I read this quote, my brain went “Wait, what?”

Tullian is a hip pastor with a large church in his past. He was fired from said church due to an extramarital affair. He says things like this quote above that get a lot of applause, but probably also lead to extramarital affairs.

I really don’t get the statement. I have no larger context to judge his words by. All I have is this quote. So, I’ll examine the quote.

He seems to be saying that The Gospel is all about Christ. What happens to me is at least distant second, if not almost irrelevant.

I’ll grant some truth here. Christ’s Gospel is the foundation of everything. Me changing does not save people. So, if that’s all he means, then fine.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s all he means.

I think what he means is that transformation should hardly be talked about. That any talk of transformation is probably detracting from any talk of Christ’s substitution.

Transformation is a biblical concept. It is mention a number of times. Romans 12:2 would be the primary passage no doubt–be not conformed to the world bu transformed by the renewing of your mind.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says we will be changed into the same image of Christ from glory to glory. “Changed” is the same Greek word as “transformed” in Romans 12:2. The Greek word is metamorphoo from which we get our word metamorphosis.

Galatians 4:19 says that Paul labors until Christ be formed in them. “Formed” is the Greek word morph.

Transformation is a thing. It is also implied in many passages–we are now servants of righteousness not unrighteousness, we are new creations in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are new, put off the old and put on the new, raised up to newness of life, etc.

Meanwhile, substitution is mentioned zero times in the New Testament. It is mentioned twice in Leviticus concerning animal sacrifice.

In all honesty, I don’t see the substitution of Christ mentioned much at all. Substitution means in the place of.

Yes, Christ died for us, but nowhere does it say He died in the place of us, or instead of us. What it does say is that He died for us, and by faith we were crucified, bruised, and raised up with Him. “With” is different than “instead of.”

Tullian is emphasizing what Christ did to the exclusion of anything we do. Paul doesn’t put it that way. Transformation is the only way to know you are part of what Christ did.

Granted, my transformation is not as earthly significant as what Christ did for the sins of the world, but it’s pretty big for me! It lets me know if I’m in or not.

Tullian is not alone in this emphasis. Everyone wants everything to be about Christ, with no responsibility, transformation, or anything about me. But read the New Testament! It’s talking about what you do quite frequently!

Don’t make a false dichotomy where there is none. Everything Christ did, He did for our transformation. It’s the reason there is a Gospel.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
–Titus 2:14

Is Jesus a Friend of Sinners?

“If Jesus isn’t a friend of sinners, then He’s no friend of mine.”

I saw this on Twitter last week. It made me pause.

Lots of things make me pause. My brain hiccups. “Wait, what was that? Does that make sense?”

A reasonable response would take up more space than Twitter allows, so I’ll think it out here.

“Jesus is a friend of sinners” is from both Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34. It’s in the passage about how the people didn’t like John the Baptist cuz he was fasting, and they don’t like Jesus cuz He eats with people.

Jesus Christ does not call Himself a friend of sinners. If you note the wording of the verse:

and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.

It was Jesus’ opponents who called Him a friend of sinners, not Jesus Himself. They also called him a drunk. Was their estimation of Jesus correct?

Later, in John 15, Jesus says greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus then goes on to define who His friends are. It’s important for our ears to hear the words of Jesus Christ here:

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

So, here’s the deal. Is Jesus a friend of publicans and sinners? In a general sense, probably. What did Jesus call Judas when he came to betray Him?

Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” He calls Judas His friend. Jesus doesn’t lie. (Although it is a different Greek word!)

There is some truth in calling Jesus a friend of sinners, depending on what you mean by it.

Unfortunately, I think most people mean that being a sinner is ok with Jesus. I can go on sinning cuz Jesus is my friend.

I think that’s the sense of the phrase I saw. If so, I’d throw in some John 15. Then again, maybe they mean it simply as Jesus Christ loved me while I was a sinner.

It just depends. And that’s the problem with most of what people say about the Bible: It depends what they mean. I have little confidence in people to assume they mean something right.

But maybe that’s my problem.

A Botched Sunday School Lesson on Gideon

At our church’s Wednesday night group I have been going over Bible stories, and talking about Sunday School treatments of these stories in comparison to the Bible.

Most Sunday School tellings are not consistent with the Bible. Many details are left out and applications appear to be from left field.

This past week I came across the worst one so far. It boggles my mind.

The story was about Gideon. To refresh your memory: Gideon, who was afraid of the enemy Midianites, was hiding in a winepress threshing his wheat, was called by the angel of the Lord to deliver Israel from the Midianites. He wanted a sign. God gave him a sign. He was also told to destroy an altar to Baal, which he did at night, for fear of the townsfolk.

Gideon was then to go fight the Midianites. But first he asked for two more signs. Eventually he went with his shrunken army and defeated the Midianites.

The Sunday School lesson gave this application. Are you ready for this? Please sit down first. I assure you I am not making this up. This is real. Ready? Here goes:

Gideon felt very unsure most of the time about how God was going to follow through but God didn’t give up on him and reassured him that with His help he could do it.  We might feel small, young, weak, insignificant but with God we can become something special, powerful, a mighty warrior!  God can give us special powers if we trust him and do His will.

Apparently God granted me the super power of not having my head explode upon reading stupidity. I find no other reason why my head is intact.

Unbelievable. This is so wrong on so many levels. Telling kids they will have super powers will create all manner of weird ideas in their head. I’m Batman with Jesus! You know that’s how kids will hear that.

The thing I don’t get is what super power did Gideon have? He was a chicken throughout the whole thing. He never did anything super powerfully. That was, in fact, pretty much the point of the story. God did the delivering; there was no human super power visible at any point.

The real problem with such applications is that they disillusion kids. They will go home, try to obey God, and ask for a super power. No super power will come.

Will they doubt what their teacher told them? Will they rationally consider whether their teacher told them the truth?

Or will they doubt God? The Bible? The Church?

We bemoan the fact that so many kids walk away from the church as they get older. Is it any wonder? We’ve told them so many falsehoods, I’d walk away too.

Be careful what ideas you put in the minds of kids. They are listening, more than most adults. They will try it. If you promise super powers, they will get bummed when they don’t get one.

All this disillusionment will grow over the years, until they hit a point where their brain works, and they’ll rebel. They’ll call you on the lies. Unfortunately, most of them will leave God, the faith, and the church. The damage is done.

Be careful not to put words in God’s mouth. Be careful not to promise things that God will do that God never promised to do. Be careful that you understand a passage before attempting to teach it.

Be careful.

Tools of Faithful Titans

A couple weeks ago I finished reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.

It’s a massive book, 600+ pages, comprised of snippets of interviews Tim did with, what Tim considers to be, successful people.

Much of it was weird. Many push doing hallucinogenics. Many are overly obsessed with diet and exercise to the extent it consumes most of their waking hours, or at least it would if I were to do all that. Most also pushed transcendental meditation.

Many of their heroes and recommended resources were religious in nature, but mostly Buddhist, Taoist, of Gandhi type things.

Not a single one mentioned Jesus Christ. Six hundred plus pages and not one mention of Jesus Christ, not even in a sloppy way. No mention whatsoever.

At first this bugged me, “are you suggesting that no successful people follow Jesus? I mean, seriously?”

But as I thought about it more, this is actually a good thing!

What Tim Ferriss respects are people who are dominant, those who have followers, and material success.

Buddhism allows you methods by which you can attain material success. Meditation is a “spiritual” thing you do to get better physical results.

If a person followed Jesus Christ, they would never be on Tim Ferriss’ show, nor in his books.

Jesus Christ will not lead you to be materially successful.

Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t those who manipulate His teachings to arrive at material success, there are, and they are called false teachers–their god is their belly.

But an honest following of Jesus will leave you disrespected by Tim Ferriss and other self-help gurus. Even if you did achieve financial success, following Christ would make you get rid of that money in a non-flashy, not gonna make it on Tim’s show, kind of way.

Hebrews 11 is God’s version of Tools of Titans.

All these people were massive losers in the world’s eyes. But in God’s eyes, they were eminently successful.

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

The world has no respect for no-name poor people who suffer and then die. Tim Ferriss has no use for such folks. They provide no value to him or his worldview.

Even the great people of faith we do know did not have great material success.

Abraham never saw any of the promises he was given fulfilled, he died still wondering where the fruit was.

Moses couldn’t get anyone to listen to him ever.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were largely ignored and then killed by the people they were sent to help.

Paul died alone, no man stood with him.

Peter was crucified.

And, of course, our Leader, Jesus Christ, was rejected and even forsaken by His own disciples.

He asks you to follow Him in this rejection, in this lowliness and humility. Lose your life to find it.

This is all insane on an earthly level.

Tim Ferriss wrote a 600+ page book about how to be successful on this earth and Jesus was not mentioned once.

I like that.

Definitions of Sola Scriptura Undermine Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura, the idea that the Bible is our sole source for spiritual truth, is a fine idea, not actually applied by anyone ever.

We should uphold Sola Scriptura as our aim, yet honestly admit that much of our doctrine is based on other stuff.

In fact, many who hold to Sola Scriptura have never reada the whola thinga. How, pray tell, do you claim to base all your doctrine on a book you’ve never read, let alone endeavored to understand?

“My doctrine is based on the Bible,” say all manner of people who disagree with each other on basic doctrines.

How can this be true? Is the Bible this open for interpretation? Is it that confusing? Or are people using other things to decide what they believe?

Peter does say the scriptures contain many things hard to be understood. Above that, people twist them all out of proportion. (You can read Peter’s take on that here.)

The Bible does need to be interpreted, but the authors had one intent in mind and it would serve us well to discover that.

But that’s hard. So we fall back on other authorities while still maintaining the veneer that we hold Sola Scriptura.

Check out these definitions of Sola Scriptura that come right out and say Sola Scriptura isn’t actually a thing other than in word.

By Sola Scriptura Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).

There is one word in there that shoots this whole definition to pieces. Did you catch it? The word is “primary.” Primary implies secondary. Primary means there are other sources. It just does. Words mean things. Something cannot be primary and absolute at the same time. They cancel each other out. So, this is either an incredibly accurate definition of Sola Scriptura based on practice, or it’s bad writing.

Get a load of this definition I saw. This one cracked me up

For the Reformers, “Scripture alone” did not mean “Scripture all by itself.” Rather, Scripture was “alone” as the only unquestionable religious authority, not the only religious authority.

Oh, that’s too much, you guys are killing me. Sola doesn’t mean Sola. Again this is either a really honest definition recognizing reality, or it’s bad writing. I think it’s actually being honest. They know Sola Scriptura is just words without meaning, because they just denied the meaning with their words.

Again, Sola Scriptura is a nice idea, but no one does it. There are some who at least admit as much.

We don’t like Sola Scriptura because it puts the Bible in the hands of the reader, which is out of our control, and who knows what they will come up with.

If you let people find out what the Bible says, they’ll probably disagree with you and cause problems. So it’s best to leave the door open for other authorities so you can smash those who veer out of the way. Welcome to Church History.

Sola Scriptura: it’s a nice idea that no one does. Feel free to be the first.

An Example of Grace Gone Bad

Last week I read a “theology” book that drove me crazy. I did this on purpose. It’s fun to voluntarily be driven crazy. It’s why people own cats. I knew by deciding to read this book, I would go nuts at some point.

Boy howdy, did I.

This book was talking about grace and salvation. As many do when talking about grace, they go overboard. They take a fine idea and drive it into the ground until they begin teaching heresy.

Here is the quote I read word for word. Enjoy.

“For grace requires nothing of man but an acknowledgment of his undone condition and complete dependence on God. If an intellectual understanding were necessary to receive the gift of God, then there would be that in man which is meritorious in the sight of God.”

Oh my. Catch this sentence: “If an intellectual understanding were necessary to receive the gift of God, then there would be that in man which is meritorious in the sight of God.”

Did you get that? What he is saying is, “If you are intellectually able to understand the Gospel and respond to it, you have done a meritorious work and thus are not saved by grace.”

I mean, I’ve read some dumb things in my day, but wow.

Therefore, the only way a person can be saved is if they have absolutely no clue, no intellectual understanding, no mental assent to the Gospel. Otherwise, when they get saved they would glory in their superior intellect.

This is Calvinism gone way bad. This is hyper-grace gone way bad.

This means, the only people who can be saved are those who don’t understand the Gospel and thus never come to it knowingly.

I mean, come on. I can see how a person’s theological bias might drive them into this corner to say such a thing, but there’s no way a person can read the Bible and come away with such nonsense.

I am not saying we are saved by our intellect, I’m not saying a person has to understand it all before they can be saved, but I am definitely saying you kind of have to know what’s going on.

Paul told Timothy, “that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Is Timothy not saved because he knew? Was his knowing the Scriptures a meritorious work forcing God to have to save him? Give me a break.

I paced up and down the hall for about half an hour preaching to no one, since I was home alone, til I got that one out of my system. Wow. Not only did the book this quote came from go in the garbage, every book by this author followed.

Although the author of this quote wants you to be stupid, I don’t. I want you to use your brain.