Making God As We Want Him

You’ve all heard it: “My God would never [fill in the blank]!”

When someone takes offense at a Biblical statement, that’s often the default response. The person doesn’t care what the Bible says about God’s nature; she simply wants God to fit into her preconceived notions of Who she thinks He should be. Sometimes she’ll even picture Him as a She. In essence, people who tell others about their God really believe in a god of their own making.

The God of the Bible, in contrast, has never tolerated such foolishness. As a matter of fact, He opens the Ten Commandments with a clear statement that we must worship Him instead of worshiping gods of our own imagination.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. ~~Exodus 20:2-6 (NASB95)

Starting with verse 5, God explains His reasons for forbidding idolatry by revealing a few aspects of His character. The first aspect focuses on His jealousy, which few people would dream up if they invented an object of worship.

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Flashback Friday: Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Originally published July 20, 2017:

Broken Heart Cross

If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

Understandable Assumptions Don’t Mean Correct Understanding

My friend pointed to the girl across the room, acting as if I’d never noticed the severity of the girl’s Cerebral Palsy. My friend balked at the announcement that the girl would be baptized that evening, but not because she suspected the girl hadn’t really placed her faith in Christ. On the contrary, my friend knew that baptism signifies repentance from sin, and consequently wondered why we wanted to baptize her. She whispered critically, “Why does someone like her need to be baptized? How could someone that disabled possibly sin?”

I sort of understood my friend’s perspective. Like me, the girl was a quadriplegic, but she didn’t have the ability to type with a mouthstick or headstick. Like me, she had an extreme speech impediment, but I was really the only one who could decipher her grunts and facial expressions well enough to translate for her (thankfully my speech was clear enough for me to do so). Outwardly, the girl appeared to have few desires beyond skipping her peanut butter sandwiches in favor of dessert. How could someone that disabled possibly be considered a sinner?

I knew better. Having grown up with her at the school for disabled children, I knew quite well of her strong will and intense desire to have the social advantages that I enjoyed. Sadly, her learning disability prevented her from being mainstreamed part-time into regular school, and her unintelligible speech kept her from meaningful friendships — even with other disabled kids. Yet she definitely knew what she wanted, and she had no problem expressing her frustration in violent outbursts.

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The Fourth Spiritual Law Has The Wrong Emphasis

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If you’ve missed my earlier articles examining The Four Spiritual Laws, you can find them here, here and here. Although I don’t consider this tract to be false doctrine, and I gratefully acknowledge that God has used it in evangelism for at least half a century, I believe it gives an inadequate explanation of the Gospel. Therefore I’ve been taking you through all four laws, encouraging you to evaluate them Biblically.

Today we look at the final Law. It reads: “We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.” Okay, that’s probably a good starting place. The wording is technically correct. I’d even say that the writers used John 1:12 and Ephesians 2:8-9 appropriately. And I’m pleased that they recommend reading John 3:1-8.

If they had then moved into a discussion of responding to the Lord with faith and repentance (Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9), things would have been hunky-dorey. But the writers chose to quote Revelation 3:20 — a verse written to Christians who had lost their zeal for the Lord.

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Don’t Fear Looking At Your Sin

We live in a culture that tells us to love ourselves. Self-esteem is, according to almost everybody, an essential virtue — one that we must teach our children as soon as we possibly can. Even in evangelical circles, people frown upon those who speak too often about our wretchedness.

But can’t self-esteem frequently keep Christians from examining themselves periodically to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5)? Can it cause us to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Romans 12:3)?

You and I definitely should ask ourselves these questions when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. When we don’t see evidence of genuine repentance in our lives — or at least grief over our sin — we need to ask ourselves if we have really been born again.

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Throwback Thursday: Rightly Dividing And Wrong Division

Originally posted January 9, 2016:

Those of us who believe in adherence to sound Biblical doctrine frequently endure accusations of divisiveness. The majority of present day evangelicals believe that unity among Christians requires an abandonment of doctrine to the degree that salvation and discipleship revolve around a “Jesus” who conforms to individual preferences.

Empty PewThose of us who stand up for doctrinal purity quickly learn that doing so invites censure. We learn that we must keep our convictions to ourselves, lest we cause “division.” We dare not question women leading worship, church growth strategies, contemporary music that lacks theological content, contemplative prayer or replacing Bible Studies with small groups that focus on subjective impressions of how Scripture speaks to each member of the group. Standing for truth, in an increasing number of evangelical churches, means that we cause division.

Yet Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament epistles, saw division very differently than 21st Century evangelicals see it. Consider this quote:

Paul regards divisiveness as those who depart from sound doctrine. Doctrine is not the cause of disunity, departure is. ~Carl Trueman

Responsible reading (not to mention study) of Paul’s epistles bear out Trueman’s point. The apostle wrote several of his epistles (most of them, actually) with the purpose of clearing up doctrinal error and preserving correct teaching. As a matter of fact, right doctrine meant so much to Paul that he refused to tolerate those who would corrupt it with human philosophies. He furthermore warned church members to reject anyone who deliberately and persistently deviated from the truth.

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

Notice that the divisions Paul condemns thwart the doctrine that he and the other apostles taught. He never targeted Christians who stood for God’s Word in opposition to attempts to dilute or distort it to suit their own agendas. As he saw it, the Body of Christ could only experience true unity by teaching and obeying the doctrines given by the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. Those who watered down those doctrines caused disruption in the church.

And today, the very people who plead for “unity” seek to erode theological truths around which Bible-believing Christians should unite. Instead of  blindly accepting repetitious “praise” songs that focus on human feelings rather than the Lord’s character and work, for example, we should courageously point out how these songs deviate from Scripture. Similarly, instead of embracing pragmatic church growth strategies, we should encourage our pastors to preach expository, verse-by-verse sermons so that the Word will produce faith that results in genuine conversions.

Those of us who insist on doctrinal purity do so because we love the Lord. We want to see His church united around  His Word, forsaking subjective interpretations of it in favor of understanding it properly and obeying it faithfully. We grieve when people deviate from the clear teaching of Scripture to follow evangelical fads, agreeing with Carl Truman that true division comes though such people.

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Throwback Thursday: He Could Have Turned Away

Originally posted on February 6, 2016, and appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

Broken HeartEach morning, he’d be there promptly at 7:30 to feed his wife. I never really saw her, though I lived at that nursing home for two years, but I knew she was in a “vegetative” state. If she knew he was there, she had no way of showing recognition, so it obviously follows that she couldn’t express appreciation, let alone affection or companionship. He’d feed her, change her Depends, and leave carrying a bag with her soiled diaper. Then he’d return each evening, shortly after 5:00, to feed her supper. Again, he’d leave with a bag.

He was good-looking, probably in his mid-sixties. He could have had an active social life….if he’d chosen to divorce his wife. Instead he’d come to the nursing home seven days a week, always cheerfully, and sometimes with goodies for Read More »

False Converts: Evaluating Myself And Others

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In general, we probably would do well to avoid trying to determine whether or not someone is a false convert. I feel a temptation lately to analyze one of my friends who exhibits signs that she may not genuinely know the Lord.

For that matter, I sometimes try to figure out if I was really saved as a teenager or if my true conversion occurred in the last 15 years. There’s ample evidence to support both positions.

Over the years I believed a lot of bad doctrine, but over those same years I believed a lot of solid doctrine as well. Over the years I justified some of my sinful behaviors, but over those same years I grieved over other patterns of sin in myself and desired to please the Lord. I have concluded that I can’t evaluate my past spiritual status. I can only say that Read More »

Make America Christian Again?

 

Constitution

Another 4th of July is almost upon us, making me wish I could get into Boston early enough Thursday morning to hear the Declaration of Independence read from the balcony of the Old State House. But missing that annual event doesn’t disappoint me nearly as badly as the evangelical assumption that America began as a Christian nation.

Some of America’s Founding Fathers may have been genuine Christians, but I haven’t studied enough of their biographies and writings to determine how many of them actually demonstrated signs of true conversion. I’ve read some of David Barton‘s materials, which warrant great skepticism, so I seriously question his assertion that 52 of the 55 Declaration of Independence signers were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” (Actually, Barton’s orthodoxy might well be questioned also…but that’s another blog post.) So let’s agree that we really don’t know how many of the Founding Fathers Read More »

Throwback Thursday: The Grace Of Absolute Truth

Originally posted April 12, 2017.

2th 3v5The continued exodus from Biblical Christianity doesn’t shock me as much as it used to, but it saddens me. Friends whom I once greatly respected as sterling examples of Christians, both for their doctrinal fidelity and their moral purity, have been embracing liberal theology and/or moving into blatantly sinful behavior patterns. A few, but only a very few, are honest enough to acknowledge that they aren’t following the Lord. Most, however, foolishly believe that He has led them to make these tragic choices.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

There have been far too many times I’ve looked down my sanctimonious nose at erring friends, not so secretly congratulating myself that I would never go into sin like they did. Really? In my eagerness to judge them, I’d conveniently forget the times I’ve tried to rationalize certain beliefs, attitudes and behaviors with the Bible, knowing full well that I violated God’s standards.

At other times, I admitted my deviation from the truth, and seriously considered turning my back on Jesus in favor of following my selfish desires. Sometimes I still feel that way. No room for self-righteousness here!

But I always come back to the Lord, repentant and convinced that He is my only hope of salvation. You see, when all is said and done, I actually believe everything the Bible says. As a result, I believe I’d spend eternity in hell if I embraced my sinful desires in rebellion against Him.

I’d also miss the joy of fellowship with Him and His people. Sin just doesn’t offer the deep satisfaction of a right conscience before Him. Sacrificing my relationship with Christ for the transient pleasures of sin simply isn’t worth it. I’ve seriously tried to compromise my faith, and I’ve tried to abandon it altogether, but I’ve always come back to wanting the Lord and knowing that He is the Truth.

I can’t leave Jesus, even when I’d very much prefer going my own way, nor can I reassemble my understanding of Him to accommodate my rebellion. Despite the prevailing philosophy that all truth is relative, I am sure that Jesus is the Truth. His Word, the Bible, is absolute, and therefore not subject to personal interpretation. Simply stated, Jesus has a hold on me.

As I watch dear friends pervert Scripture and distort their lives, I must credit the Lord for keeping me anchored in Him. Why He hasn’t given me over to deception puzzles me. I can’t take credit for my steadfastness, though I’d like to believe I’m that much of a spiritual giant. Jesus keeps me following Him, however imperfectly, by convincing me that Truth is exclusively in Him.

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ~~John 6:66-69 (ESV)

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