Looking At The Cross

I knew, as my friend explained the good news that Jesus died to take the punishment for my sins, that I owed Him my life. She didn’t tell me how great my  debt was; she didn’t need to tell me.

As I saw the pardon Jesus extended to me by dying as my substitute, I could see both His love and my inability to merit His favor. I also saw that I couldn’t do anything to impress Him, yet He wanted every part of me for His own. Surveying His cross 44 years later still humbles me…and still claims every part of me.

Displacing God’s Word

This morning, as I proceeded through my daily Bible reading, I noticed how the opening nine verses of Matthew 15 apply to many 21st Century churches.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (ESV)

Trashed BibleHow many man-made traditions supplant, or cause us to reinterpret, God’s Word in our present day  churches? When I read this passage today, my mind immediately went to the pragmatic seeker-sensitive movement, which uses the Bible as a springboard to address “felt needs” or to further the leadership’s agenda rather than to simply preach the Word in accordance with the command in 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

Indeed, pragmatic churches often host “non-threatening” activities such as game nights or movie nights, always in the name of “friendship evangelism. They operate on the premise that we attract people to the Gospel by demonstrating that we are “just like them.” But, although I agree that Christians must show genuine love to unbelievers rather than treating them as mere “prospects,” evangelism  mandates that we expose people to the Gospel. That exposure necessitates the use of Scripture (Romans 10:17). Certainly, our behavior must back up what we say about the Gospel,  but let’s never confuse Christian conduct with the Gospel itself.

Additionally, pragmatic churches love devising “strategies” (better termed as gimmicks, in my opinion) for attracting their desired demographic group. Specifically, they want young people with good earning potential. Again, attracting such people, as they see it, requires minimizing doctrinal instruction in favor of shorter, more practical and entertaining motivational speeches. Theologically rich hymns are eclipsed by either hypnotic songs emphasizing emotions or rock music that showcases the Praise Group. But all this clever methodology ignores the simple ministry of God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 4:2).

I write from personal experience, and therefore I’ve seen many instances of Scripture taking a back seat to pragmatism. Sadly, the churches that succumb to such marketing techniques miss the joy of simply preaching God’s Word and watching the Holy Spirit draw people through it. By replacing Christ’s command to teach His doctrine (Matthew 28:19-20) with the methods of the world, they only prove how far their hearts stray from Him.

No Shame Here

Rainbow ChurchThe recent Supreme Court ruling, admittedly a colossal disaster with very serious implications for Bible-believing Christians, has blessed me with a renewed sense  of urgency about proclaiming the Gospel. Our nation’s leaders have officially declared independence from the Lord’s authority, leaving the vast  majority of its citizens without any moral compass.

I suppose some politically-inclined evangelicals (on the conservative side) have the same  kind of hopes of overturning Obergefell v. Hodges that we had in 1980 of overturning Roe v. Wade, but neither battle can really be won. At least, not at the ballot box. As Pastor John MacArthur said so well in his recent sermon, We Will Not Bow, these two decisions merely demonstrate our culture’s degeneration.

In his  sermon, MacArthur contends that the United States now exposes itself as a reprobate nation, likening the national culture to the apostle Paul’s blistering description in Romans 1:18-32 (which I strongly encourage you to review before reading further in this post). Like him, I agree that our country has followed its European counterparts in rejecting both God and His principles. Accordingly, the Lord has let America have its way; He has withdrawn Himself.

Interestingly, two verses before his scathing prediction of humanity’s moral collapse, Paul set forth the beacon of  hope.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ~~Romans 1:16 (ESV)

This verse never suggests that proclaiming the Gospel will result in mass conversions that will miraculously transform society. Again, verses 18-32 make it clear that most people prefer to follow their own lusts (even though those lusts lead them into all types of vile behavior) in favor of living holy lives that honor the Lord. The “power of  God for salvation” comes exclusively to believers as they hear God’s Word and respond in faith (see Romans 10:14-17).

The Oberfell decision signals  difficult times those of us who take God’s Word seriously. Professing Christians, even within evangelical circles, have already adjusted their theology to worldly techniques. As they begin to face economic and social pressure, those who lack depth in their relationships with Christ will either conceal their “convictions” or allow the  world to change their “understanding” of Scripture.

By God’s grace, however, I desire to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, remembering the cost He paid on the cross to atone for my sin. In my human weakness, I will want to shrink from taking a stand for the Gospel, but I know that the Holy Spirit will help me to remain steadfast in speaking the truth. I truly am not ashamed of the Gospel. But I would be extremely ashamed to align  myself with a culture that rejects it.

The Lack Of Discernment

Even as far back as the Jesus People Movement (1968-1980, roughly), evangelicals subjugated Biblical doctrine to the utopian concepts of interdenominational unity and Charismatic experience. Having been personally involved in the movement since my conversion to Christ in 1971, I can commend the insistence that salvation comes exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ, even as I wish we had upheld doctrine more stridently.

To be fair, the man who taught the Bible Studies I attended during my high school and college years gave me a high view of Scripture that (even at my highest points of abandonment to Charismatic theology and practice) kept me from fully surrendering to the deceptions that bombThy Word is a Lamparded so many of my friends. Yet, when I saw conflicts between Scripture and personal experience, I often found ways to interpret God’s Word through that experience. I say that to my shame. I look back and wonder if a greater foundation in the great doctrines of the faith might have helped me mature more quickly.

Of course, my reading habits didn’t help. Christianity Today magazine hardly champions solid teachings!

Four decades later, I notice that many evangelicals allow contemporary culture to affect their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Time this afternoon prohibits me from citing specific examples of evangelical compromise, but I will be  addressing various issues in the months to come. In doing so, I propose to demonstrate how sound Scriptural doctrine provides Christians with discernment.

Doctrine divides, yes. But the division it effects enables Christians to distinguish between truth and error. These distinctions should have accompanied the Jesus People Movement, protecting us from our unhealthy fascination with mystical phenomena, and they certainly can assist us now. Praise God for giving us His Word!

A World Of Compromise

Rainbow BibleThe legalization of same sex marriage, as sinful and misguided as it is, doesn’t disturb me in the sense that non-Christians really can’t be expected to act like Christians. Along the same lines, the impending persecution of Christians who refuse  to embrace LBGT causes may concern me in some respects, but I trust the Holy Spirit to keep me faithful to the teachings of Scripture during times of difficulty. The world naturally hates anyone who faithfully represents Jesus (John 15:18-24). Not that I particularly  want to suffer persecution, mind you, but I understand that following Christ usually results in some level of persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

It troubles me, however, to know that so many people who call themselves Christians now either ignore or twist everything the Bible says about homosexuality (as well as several other topics) in favor of accommodating  the culture. According to CNN’s April 28, 2015 article entitled Religious Support Growing for Same-Sex Marriage, 28 percent of evangelicals and 62 percent of mainline Protestants support gay marriage. So much for fidelity to God’s Word. Apparently, these professing Christians, if they read the Bible at all, interpret it through the grid of political correctness.

Tragically, such people choose the love of the world, erroneously supposing that they can embrace its values and still claim to love God. I say “tragically” because Scripture teaches quite the opposite.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. ~~James 4:4 (ESV)

Being a true Christian requires resistance to anything that contradicts God’s Word, regardless of what contemporary culture says.  Such resistance may cost us jobs, friends, family relationships or even our lives, but the Lord is well worth such sacrifice. I pray that those who claim His Name, and yet align themselves with the world’s values and practices, will repent of their spiritual adultery. The cost may be high, but I shudder at the much higher cost of compromise.

Explaning My TULIP

Yellow Tulip Mask FramedOf course I love tulips! Each spring, I look forward to meandering through the tulip beds in Boston’s Public Garden, admiring all the different colors as they joyously herald an end to another harsh (and very long) New England winter. I also love seeing them, mixed in with white lilies, adorning the pulpit area on Resurrection Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. Tulips, in both cases, represent new life.

But the acronym TULIP has an even deeper meaning. Each letter stands for one of the five points in Calvinism, or Reformed theology.

Total depravity

Unconditional election

Limited atonement

Irresistible grace

Perseverance of the saints

What on earth, you probably wonder, do those terms mean? Rather than taking the time to explain each point myself, I’d like to quote from What Is Reformed Theology on the GotQuestons.org website:

T – total depravity. Man is completely helpless in his sinful state, is under the wrath of God, and can in no way please God. Total depravity also means that man will not naturally seek to know God, until God graciously prompts him to do so (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18).

U – unconditional election. God, from eternity past, has chosen to save a great multitude of sinners, which no man can number (Romans 8:29-30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6,11-12).

L – limited atonement. Also called a “particular redemption.” Christ took the judgment for the sin of the elect upon Himself and thereby paid for their lives with His death. In other words, He did not simply make salvation “possible,” He actually obtained it for those whom He had chosen (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).

I – irresistible grace. In his fallen state, man resists God’s love, but the grace of God working in his heart makes him desire what he had previously resisted. That is, God’s grace will not fail to accomplish its saving work in the elect (John 6:37,44; 10:16).

P – perseverance of the saints. God protects His saints from falling away; thus, salvation is eternal (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-14).

I firmly believe that, while Reformed theology encompasses a lot more essential doctrines, these five main points draw attention to the basic Gospel message. Furthermore, I believe that, although the vast majority of people will reject the Lord in favor of their own selfish desires and man-made philosophies, Christians have an obligation to proclaim the Gospel as clearly and as frequently as possible. The TULIP  acronym helps me remember why I need to constantly return to the Gospel.

I do love the tulips that usher in springtime. But more than their cheerful colors that contrast winter’s bleakness, I take delight in how they call my attention back to the Lord Jesus Christ. Quite simply, I love tulips because I love Him.

The Lord Hasn’t Lost His Grip

Several people have noted that Christians have had a difficult summer, as Western culture has stepped up their celebration of sin. But in the midst of moral chaos and hostility toward Biblical teaching, we need to remember that the Lord maintains complete control over everything. While we absolutely should grieve over the degradation that permeates the world, and even creeps in to evangelical churches, we can take great joy in our God’s sovereignty.

Today’s hymn offers encouragement to  fix our gaze on Christ. He has full power, even over those who presume to oppose Him. Consequently, in spite of all the wickedness we see growing around us, we have confidence that He will ultimately have His way.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ~~Romans 1:16