Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Unger’s Dictionary on The Lord’s Prayer

Unger’s Bible Dictionary is pretty sketchy when it comes to anything Jesus Christ said. They’re just fine in telling you where Ur is located, but anything deeper than that and they get weird quick.

Unger’s entry under Sermon on the Mount says the church can apply general principles, but certainly don’t need to do what Jesus says. It’s not consistent with the age of grace for some unstated reason.

If Unger doesn’t like the Sermon on the Mount, you can bet all your money he will do all he can to outright dismiss the Lord’s Prayer.

Here is what Unger has to say about the Lord’s Prayer:

“This prayer is in reality a prayer for the Kingdom and in the Kingdom. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ can only be realized in its contextual meaning in the coming Millennial Kingdom.”

Thus saith Unger.

Clearly God’s will is going to be done during the Millennial Kingdom, but the idea that a person cannot pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven right now is just plain silly.

“Your will be done” is like the quintessential prayer of all time. You actually can do God’s will on this earth right now, you don’t have to wait for the Kingdom to come.

But Unger says you shouldn’t pray it now.

I just don’t even understand. This age, before the Kingdom fully comes in, is actually the only time this prayer does make sense! It makes no sense to pray this in the Kingdom at all because everything you’re asking for is already present.

I suspect the real reason people like Unger don’t like the Lord’s Prayer is for the “forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us” line. Many construe this as being opposed to grace, putting a condition on forgiveness that sounds like a law type yoke of bondage.

Any time these sorts of dispensationalists get anywhere close to the Bible saying you have to do something to get something, they will immediately theorize their way out of the obligation.

This is a misunderstanding of grace, the Bible, and common sense (if you can’t forgive other people, in what sense do you understand the greatness of God’s forgiveness to you?).

Unger has no verses listed as to how he gets from Point A to Point B. He just states it. He relies upon a theory that theologian-types invented over the plain words of Scripture.

Rather than dealing with the tough teachings of Scripture, people get busy finding loopholes to defend their disobedience. I’d be curious to watch these people as they stand before the Lord to give an account.

Telling God you didn’t listen to Him because you determined you didn’t have to, doesn’t seem like a winning argument.

It does, however, seem very consistent with human nature. Church history is filled with human attempts to explain why they don’t have to listen to God. In fact, the Bible is filled with the same thing.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
–Matthew 15:8-9

Jesus spoke this regarding the Jews of His day. It was originally said by Isaiah regarding the people of his day. It can just as well be said about people today.

Guess what? God doesn’t care about your theories. Listen to Him.

Unger’s Dictionary on the Sermon on the Mount

Last year, for some reason, I read the entire Unger’s Bible Dictionary from cover to cover. It was not thrilling reading. I probably mostly read it to say I read it. Kind of like Mount Everest: instead of climbing it, you read a book about it because the book was there.

I learned very little, mostly because it was about obscure biblical names of people and towns, none of which are distinguishable after reading 1392 pages of them.

What I did learn is that Unger is pretty good until he attempts to explain anything theological. Then he gets, shall we say, peculiar.

One of the entries that stood out to me was “Sermon on the Mount, The.”

Quoting from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary from 1988, under the heading “Its Application,” we are told this about Sermon on the Mount, The:

“Careful exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount must not confuse it with the era of grace initiated by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.”

His point is that Sermon on the Mount, The is not for the church primarily. He maintains that “the application to be literally the establishment of the future Davidic Kingdom.” Otherwise known as the Millennial Kingdom.

Putting those things together, Unger is saying that Sermon on the Mount, The is not for the church but for the Kingdom period when Christ literally reigns on the earth and Israel is regathered to their land.

He does concede that Sermon on the Mount, The does have “all-time moral application, and hence its principles are applicable to the Christian.” Nice of him to grant that. He thinks it’s nice for you to be merciful and pure in heart, just don’t expect any blessings from it.

According to Unger, “This discourse gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth [during the Millennial Kingdom].”

The thing I do not understand is that if this is only applicable in the Kingdom where righteousness reigns, why would people need to be told to do these righteous things? Righteousness is already reigning. At what point would a person in the righteous kingdom be blessed for being evil spoken of or reviled? That’s not going to happen there.

At what point would a person be blessed to mourn in the Kingdom if righteousness is reigning, there would be nothing to mourn about?

Unger is not the originator of this interpretation of Sermon on the Mount, The. As far as I know, Lewis Sperry Chafer popularized the idea, which really wasn’t held by anyone until he got famous.

The position has never made sense to me. The idea that Jesus wasn’t speaking to us in actual application seems crazy. Unger lists no verses to prove his point; it’s all theory and speculation.

Quoting some actual verses from the Apostle Paul, who knows more than Merrill F. Unger,

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

The Apostle Paul says people who don’t listen to Jesus Christ’s words and doctrines of godliness are proud, know nothing, like to argue about words, and think that godliness is proved by making respectable amounts of money. Paul says to stay away from these people.

Sermon on the Mount, The says we should give things away, be taken advantage of, and should be content with mourning, persecution, and being merciful.

There’s a reason people try to eliminate the Sermon on the Mount: it’s hard and does not look like fun to your flesh. Anyone who pushes away from the teachings of Christ is listening to their flesh, not the Spirit of God.

Watch out for people who tell you it’s not necessary to listen to Jesus Christ. This is a dangerous error which will have devastating effects as time goes on. The fruit of this teaching will not be pretty. And, one who reads Sermon on the Mount, The and applies it, will clearly understand this point, for here is how it ends:

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
–Matthew 7:16-20

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.