The Best We Can Do Is Sin

Young Lady 01Perhaps the biggest difficulty in evangelism is getting people past the belief that they are basically good. Most people will, of course, acknowledge that they’ve done a few things that they probably shouldn’t have done, but they quickly take refuge in the thought that their good outweighs their bad. So when we tell them that Jesus died for their sin, they give us quizzical looks as they shrug off the Gospel.

Evangelism that minimizes human sinfulness and presents Jesus as a Cosmic Personal Assistant exacerbate the problem by marketing a false salvation. Such evangelism ignores the holiness of God as well as Christ’s demand for repentance. As a result, the real issue gets obscured, and Christianity becomes just another way of satisfying selfish desires.

The Gospel, to be proclaimed accurately, depends on the understanding that we are absolute wretches who desperately need God’s grace. Without recognizing that nothing good dwells within us (Romans 7:18). we have no way to appreciate the wonder of Jesus taking God’s wrath on Himself in our place. Grace, therefore, loses its significance, and we  really don’t comprehend the Lord’s stunning holiness.

Teachings on human sinfulness never feels warm and fuzzy, admittedly. I struggle daily to see how depraved I am apart from Christ, and I suspect most Christians fight similar battles. If those of us who genuinely know the Lord have trouble accepting the truth regarding our sinful condition, imagine how hard it must be for non-Christians to face their sin!

But both Christians and non-Christians must come to terms with the gruesome reality that we are children of wrath unless we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:3). Unless we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, our perceived good works become filthy in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Left to our own devices, we have no choice but to sin. It’s literally the best we can do.

Thankfully, once someone sees the inescapable prison of his or her sinful condition, Christ’s mercy and grace becomes precious and beautiful. At that point, the Gospel indeed proves to be very Good News, and we find ourselves unable to stop adoring the Lord for taking the punishment that properly belongs to us. What a wonderful Savior!

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Showing Compassion Doesn’t Mean Discarding The Bible

Rainbow and Cross“Why are Christians against gay people?” The broader society asks that question frequently, and I think many times they ask it sincerely. For those who don’t accept the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, we certainly seem like narrow minded bigots who arbitrarily hate a segment of society that we just don’t bother to understand.

I get what they’re saying. I know, as someone with Cerebral Palsy, how it feels to be stereotyped and excluded. People often misunderstand me by judging that my inability to hold my head erect, speak without slurring my words or swallow my saliva indicates that I’m intellectually impaired. Yes, being different, and therefore rejected because of those differences, hurts members of the LBGTQ community in much the same way as it hurts me. And, if you remove the Bible from the equation, it indeed does resemble irrational fear and prejudice on the part of Christians.

But as Christians, we must not dismiss the authority of Scripture. True, we need gentleness and compassion, realizing that people with homosexual feelings honestly believe they were born gay. Or that transgendered people genuinely believe they have the wrong body parts. At the same time, the Word of God mandates that we accept God’s pattern for human sexuality, even when doing so makes us appear callous and arrogant.

In responding to charges that we hate gay people, we must begin by explaining that same sex attraction does not make homosexuality a person’s actual identity. Those with same sex attraction will automatically balk at this distinction, and we need to understand that they’ve experienced these attractions since early childhood. Similarly, we can tell them, we’ve experienced sinful feelings like anger, greed, egotism or anxiety since our early childhood, but we separate those powerful predispositions from who we are, correctly naming them as sins.

From that point, we absolutely must affirm that, though we hate homosexuality (just as we hate our own sin). we love people trapped in that sin enough to call them to repentance. Typically, that affirmation will be met with great cynicism. We must accept the cynicism as a result of all the rejection people with these particular sins have historically endured.

Yet we cannot allow compassion and understanding to modify the truth. No matter how gently and lovingly we express the Biblical view of homosexuality, and no matter how much we understand their perception that calling homosexuality a sin attacks their very identity, most people suffering with this sin simply won’t believe us. They will demand that we reject Scripture’s authority in order to prove that we accept them.

Absolutely, let’s do our best to treat people with compassion and respect, no matter what sins dominate their lives. But let’s also adhere to God’s Word as our ultimate authority, praying that some will comprehend the truth and turn to the Lord.

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The Trouble With Emphasizing Our Woundedness

Michele SmithThere’s something comforting in hearing someone confess their flaws and vulnerabilities, isn’t there? If she’s as imperfect and broken as we are, she makes us feel better about ourselves. Therefore, we gravitate to her blogs, books and/or conferences, knowing that she’ll make us feel good. She’ll assure us that God thinks we’re awesome, that He wants to date us and that He validates all our feelings. As He met her in her woundedness, so He will meet us in ours.

Lately, I’ve confessed, not cute little flaws in my character, but outright sin. Maybe you feel that I’m more approachable because of my transparency. That’s flattering to me, I’ll admit, but it’s also a little troubling.

If I use self-disclosure as a means of attracting followers, the focus goes to me. That’s not going to benefit either me or my readers. It may make me feel important and influential, but it probably does little to build the kingdom of God. And the possibility that I’m building my personal empire rather than investing the abilities He gives me in advancing His kingdom terrifies me.

The apostle Paul gives a glimpse into how the Lord will judge believers. Please read the following passage with the understanding that it refers to God judging how to reward Christians, not about salvation. Jesus Christ has already determined salvation by His death on the cross. The judgment in this passage focuses on whether believers have used our natural and spiritual gifts for Christ’s honor and glory.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ~~1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

(No, that’s not about Purgatory.)

When a Christian uses ministry to draw attention to herself, she’s failing to build on the foundation of the Lord Christ Jesus. Her fan base may believe she’s a personal friend to each one of them because she’s been so authentic about her brokenness. They wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with her while she empathized with their brokenness.

I have no problem with a Christian blogger, writer and/or speaker extending empathy to hurting women. Please don’t misunderstand me on that point. God’s Word specifically commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But at some point, the empathy must lead to Christ. Sin must be confronted and the Gospel must be presented in its entirety. Above all, Jesus must be exalted.

So much so-called ministry these days revolves around making people feel good about themselves, prompting bloggers, writers and  speakers to parade their flaws and vulnerabilities without discretion. But many times their veneer of authenticity covers us a thirst for applause instead of a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And they forfeit eternal rewards.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf 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.

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Saturday Sampler: July 2 — July 8

Butterfly SamplerWhat a wonderful way to begin the week! Sunny Shell, in her Abandoned to Christ blog, writes #PsalmSunday: Psalm 48:10-11 as a brief, but powerful, devotional on why we should rejoice over God’s judgments. She gives us good food for thought with this one!

As Americans celebrate Independence Day, Clint Archer’s Heavenites: Our True Citizenship in The Cripplegate puts patriotism in its proper perspective. Loving America has its place, but Christians may want to rethink how closely we align ourselves with this present world.

They say history repeats itself. The Reformation 500 blog demonstrates this principle through its post Jesus Overthrows a Corrupt Priesthood.

Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day consistently produces outstanding blog posts, but Is it normal to feel like I’m sinning more? easily ranks among her best. She deals with a common fear that few Christians dare not ask out loud.

Make time to read Does Abstinence Teaching Really Promote Purity? by Aimee Byrd of Housewife Theologian. She takes the responsibility of sexual purity way beyond external behaviors. Doesn’t that approach remind you of something Jesus would do? Anyway, her angle on teaching purity can apply both to young teens and those of us who have been married for years.

Using the life of Solomon as an example, Jim Elliff of For The Church issues the warning, Don’t Just Tweet Your Proverbs to those of us who are in the latter stages of life. Younger people, however, also need to consider his admonition. Praise God for His faithfulness in bringing this piece to my attention.

John and I enjoy Christian podcasts. Because our disabilities limit our church involvement, we appreciate being able to augment the Sunday sermons our pastor preaches with sound teaching from men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Mike Abendroth and Alistair Begg. Yet we understand that Man (Or Woman) Cannot Live on Podcasts Alone, as Courtney Reissig of The Gospel Coalition Blog helps us see. Unless physical limitations (such as those John and I have) prevent you from active participation in your local church, please don’t depend on podcasts as your primary source of spiritual nourishment.

Providentially, a brief teaching in Biblical Woman offers encouragement to those of us who actually have been relegated to the sidelines. How Do You See the Difficulties in Your Life comments on Philippians 1:12-19 to redirect or perspective on our limitations.

In Hanging on to the Life Ring Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life shows us how to survive the flood of false teaching that engulf present-day evangelicalism. Ladies, please don’t overlook this one!

Scripture-twisting is epidemic among professing Christians, and the 4th of July can bring some examples out of the woodwork. Michelle Lesley demonstrates this problem in her post, Top Ten 4th of July Twisted Scriptures. Dearest sisters in Christ, please remember to read verses in their proper context before you apply them to 21st (or 18th) Century America.

I’ve confessed before that I battle the sin of anger. Tim Challies brings much needed conviction to me with his article, Angered At and Angry With. He approaches the topic from a different perspective than usual, which makes it all the more interesting.

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Saturday Sampler: June 25 – July 1

Polygon Flowers SamplerAlas! After 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church still resists the Protestant Reformation. Tom of excatholic4christ gives chilling evidence of this fact by writing Coming soon to a Protestant church near you: the “Ecumenical Rite of Mass”. In this piece, he explains some of the reasons why Protestants mustn’t participate in such activities.

Social media certainly has a grip on teenagers and young adults. If you have teenaged kids, perhaps you worry about their infatuation with Facebook, Snap Chat and text messages. Although your concerns definitely have great validity, Kristen Hatton, in a post for The Gospel Coalition Blog, suggests that Social Media Isn’t Your Teens’ Biggest Problem.

In What does a true revival look like? Part 1, The End Time‘s Elizabeth Prata takes us back to the Great Awakening to show how God worked to bring people to repentance.

Yes! Mary Liebert of The Verity Fellowship reminds us that Exposition Is For Women, Too. This message simply can’t be overstated, especially when so many women’s Bible Study groups focus on emotions and girl talk. Ladies, God makes His Word as available to us as He makes it to men.

In his article for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Jay Harrison exposes The Hypocrisy of Phariseephobia. I have noticed the same phenomenon, but Jay’s personal struggles with homosexuality give him greater credibility in calling out this sin. His thoughts should inspire all of us to repentance.

Eric Davis, in a truly exceptional post for The Cripplegate, absolutely nails a major problem with psychology. Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves brings out a number of ways that the myth of self-forgiveness clashes with Biblical Christianity. The Lord used almost all of Davis’ points to convict me of my arrogance in this area.

I hope you won’t miss Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches by Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life. Her observations are challenging, and most of us certainly need those challenges. I definitely do!

For an interesting angle on judging, take a look at Peter Stayton’s essay, Why I Need My Friends to Judge Me, on his blog One Degree to Another. I won’t spoil it by hinting at how he approaches the subject other than to say I’ve never seen it quite this way before.

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life? asks R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. As a former Charismatic, I greatly appreciate this little glimpse into Sproul’s life, as well as the resulting wisdom.

Allen Cagle, blogging at Parking Space 23, probably writes Receiving Criticism primarily to his fellow pastors, but all Christians can benefit from the Scriptural principles he presents. As the Internet sets us up for hostile attacks from those who disagree with us,  these principles can help us handle criticism in godly ways.

 
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Why High Self-Esteem Threatens Your Eternity

Faint CrossIn one respect, I don’t want to write yet another essay on why Christians should avoid psychology. Any regular reader of my blog knows quite well that I believe mixing psychology with a form of Christianity necessarily compromises the Gospel. Can I really add to everything I’ve been saying these past two years?

Listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts this week made me think that I actually do have more to say on this topic. MacArthur spent an entire broadcast comparing psychology’s emphasis on improving self-esteem with Christ’s demand that His followers deny themselves.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~~Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)

Psychological therapy, for the most part, seeks to make us feel better about ourselves and more in control of our lives. Even when we do actually identify a pattern of thought or behavior as sin, Christian psychology encourages us to diffuse our guilt by trying to figure out the root causes of our struggles. Often, counselors guide us to blame our parents for our sinful habits (I saw this practice a lot during my time in ex-gay ministry). The realization that someone else is responsible for our sin makes us feel better about ourselves, thereby boosting our self-esteem.

Nifty little system, huh?

Except for the fact that high self-esteem  blocks us from accepting our abject sinfulness and our consequent need for a Savior. Oh, it’s fine to give lip-service to the idea that He somehow saves us from hell, but as our self-esteem grows, we find it hard to believe that we really deserve eternal damnation. We even convince ourselves that Jesus saved us because He saw something in us worth saving.

But the Lord explicitly says that going after Him requires self-denial. One aspect of self-denial is admitting our worthless conditions apart from Him. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us that our salvation points exclusively to God’s grace toward us despite our wretchedness.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel emphasizes our wretchedness and the Lord’s incredible grace toward us. Psychology blunts His grace by dulling our understanding that we are actually sinners, completely unable to escape the judgment of hell. High self-esteem lowers or appreciation of His wonderful mercy in giving us the faith to receive salvation.

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