Friday, August 29, 2008

American Moralism

While many evangelical Christians seek to make the founding fathers of America Christian, a simple reading of what they said and what they did will show that some of the more famous ones were Deist and in fact disagreed with many foundation truths of Christianity. In fact, the only reason that some of these men held to "religion" was that they thought it was needed to help the people of the country live moral lives, which was necessary for the American experiment to succeed. Stephen Nichols brings this out in Chapter 2 of his book, Jesus Made in America. Read some of the quotes and actions of two of our leading founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Benjamin Franklin, as a young adult, wrote the following words in a letter to his parents who were worried about some of his theological views. He wrote concerning the doctrines a person holds to by saying that if these doctrines do not

tend to make him less Virtuous, he holds none that is dangerous. . . . My Mother grieves that one of her Sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little to my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffered when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue.

Later on in his life, five weeks before his death, Franklin wrote the following to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale and grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who wanted to know that truth of Franklin's faith. Franklin wrote:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of who you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts to his divinity.

So in these two quotations, we seen Franklin admit that he thinks virtue is more important than the orthodox truth of the gospel and we see him deny the divinity of Christ. Franklin has denied the very hope of the Christian religion. If he really believed this, according to Scripture, we must ask if Franklin was truly a Christian.

On the other hand, the liberals of the 20th century have nothing on Thomas Jefferson. During his time as president and again later in life, Jefferson cut and pasted his own version of the New Testament. Since he denied that God acts in the world today, he removed all miracles from the Jefferson Version. His New Testament ended as such:

There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed. Finis

Jefferson ends his "gospel" with Jesus forever in the grave. It is really no gospel at all and offers no hope than any other religion. The apostle Paul even tells us that if Christ is not raised, we are fools and of all men, the most to be pitied. But Jefferson denies the resurrection and in essence the Christian faith. Jefferson also writes:

To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.

Nichols writes, "Jefferson's self-claim to being a Christian, which often gets quoted by evangelicals, comes in the very sentence he denies the deity of Christ. In fact, Jefferson goes so far as to claim that being a Christian demands that one see Jesus as Jesus sees himself, which, according to Jefferson, was as human, never claiming divinity." Again, we see a founding father denying the very claims of Christ Himself as divine and still claiming to be Christian.

Why would Jefferson hold to Christianity while denying the foundational truths that makes it what it is? Again Nichols gives us the answer. "What he (Jefferson) liked best about Unitarianism, however, was not its doctrine, but that it presented a simple and clear morality. What mattered most to Jefferson, especially for the new republic, was that Jesus was a virtuous man." Like Franklin, Jefferson clinged to Christianity for its morals.

I write not to criticize these two men. I believed that if they believed what they wrote, they were not Christians from a Biblical standpoint. But the main purpose of this writing it to warn you that the thoughts of these two men are still rampant today. It is moralism. The belief that man can be saved and made right with God by his morality or good works. A belief that Scripture denies (Isaiah 64:6), but one that will continue until the end of time. We are conceived in sin and our works can never justify us before God. But God sent Jesus Christ. Unlike Franklin and Jefferson, the Jesus of the Bible is the God-Man who never sinned, yet died a sinner's death as a substitute for all those who would put their trust in Him. Our ONLY HOPE is to trust in His work. If we do, God credits the wrath our sins deserve on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ to us. We therefore stand forgiven and are declared to be righteousness in Christ. Do not be deceived, your morality will not save you, only Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the only way to God (John 14:6), can save you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Meditations on Law, Judgement, and Grace

Are you a sinner deserving the wrath of God? I would think that many would say no to this question. But, I believe they are being inconsistent with their response if you consider two concepts in our society that these same people would agree with.

  1. Law - The fact that nations have laws indicates that they believe there are actions that are right and actions that are wrong. Some governing body has legislated the law and it holds the citizens responsible to obey them. It really does not matter whether you agree with the rightness of a law, as a citizen of a country, you are required to obey that law. In the same way, God, the Creator and Sovereign of all that is, has also given us His law in the Bible. It does not matter whether we think it is a good law or not, we as a created being under His sovereignty are responsible to obey His law. Now the Bible goes into a lot of detail about the law, even holding every human being, even those who have never read the Bible, accountable to God and without excuse if they break His law (Romans 1-3). Just as in any country, if we disobey the law, we are law breakers. We are, therefore, what God calls us in His word - sinners.

  2. Judgement - If one breaks the law in a country, they must face the consequences of that action by being judged as guilty and suffer the punishment prescribed. As your watch the news, or perhaps have been a victim of law breakers before, the cry of justice is often heard. This simply means that the law demands that a law breaker suffer the due wrath of the state for the unlawful deed. Again, in the same way, God, the law giver, has declared that all those who break His law, will be judged and face His wrath and punishment for their lawlessness. God is holy and requires perfect obedience to His law to escape the judgement of God. The book of Romans tell us that in fact all of us are sinners or law breakers(Romans 3-5). We are guilty through the imputed sin of our first father, Adam, and this inherited nature produces in us acts of disobedience. We break God's law (we sin) because we are sinners to the very core of our being. So, once again, in the same way that governing bodies punish law breakers, God also will punish law breakers. He will judge them guilty and punish them appropriately. To sin against an infinite and holy God, requires an infinite punishment.

While the comparison is there, what we see in the governments of men is subject to the weaknesses and frailties of men. Is the justice of men really blind? Can men really know and punish every law breaker? But God is by nature just. He defines what justice is. And God sees every thought and intention of the heart, hears every word spoken, and sees every act committed. If one is honest and consistent, one can not really say that they do not believe they are not sinners and do not deserve the eternal wrath of God. It is a hopeless situation for one to be under that wrath of God. No amount of good works will ever make one right with the law giver. The sin must be punished. If God does not punish it, he is not just. But many today rest on the thought that their good works will make them right with God - a fact that overlooks the vileness of sin and the holiness of God. Others rest on the thought that God will just forgive and forget their sin just because - a fact that overlooks the complete justice of God. Face it, you are a law breaker deserving the full judgement and punishment for your sins, an eternal punishment of never ending suffering and wrath poured out on sinners in pure justice. There will be no excuses for God know and sees all. Is there any hope?

"But God" - a glorious phrase found often in the Bible. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5:8. Yes there is only one hope. God must and will punish every act of sin. But, He has provided a substitute, Jesus Christ, His Son, who live a perfect life and did not deserve the punishment of sinners which is death. But Christ did die a sinner's death. And the Bible tells us He did it in the place of all those who would abandon any hope in themselves and put their full hope, trust and faith in Christ alone. For those who do, God credits the wrath they deserve upon His innocent Son and He credits the perfect righteousness of His Son to them. Through this legal exchange, they, therefore, can stand right with and be declared justified before God with this foreign righteousness that is not of themselves. My plea is that you stop trying to earn or gain any favor with God. You can't do it. It breaks my heart to see those caught up in the hell bound doctrine and lie of works righteousness. Flee to the only one who can help. Abandon yourself to Christ. His promises are true. He will forgive the law breaker if you will trust in His substitutionary work alone. It is not faith and works. It is faith alone. For a better summary of this good news, read this site.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jesus - Made in America

I started reading a book today titled Jesus Made in America - A Cultural History From the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ" by Stephen Nichols. It looks like a great book that examines how culture from the beginning of this country has defined who Jesus has become in America. If you want to know how certain views and practices of so called evangelicals in America today have come to be, read this book. I am greatly looking forward to it. Here are a few quotes from the Introduction.
The history of the American evangelical Jesus reveals the such complexities as the two natures of Christ have often been brushed aside, either on purpose or out of expediency. Too often his deity has been eclipsed by his humanity, and occasionally the reverse is true. Too often American evangelicals have settled for a Christology that can be reduced to a bumper sticker. Too often devotion to Jesus has eclipsed theologizing about Jesus. Today's American evangelicals may be quick to speak of their love for Jesus, even wearing their devotion on their sleeve, literally in the case of the WWJD bracelets. But they may not be so quick to articulate an orthodox view of the object of their devotion. Their devotion is commendable, but the lack of a rigorous theology behind it means that a generation of contemporary evangelicals is living off of borrowed capital. This quest for the historical Jesus of America evangelicalism is not just a story of the past; it perhaps will help us understand the present, and it might even be a parable for the future

Take up and read. But be prepared to laugh, probably cry and most likely repent.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Source of True Joy and Satisfaction

In unexpected times;
In times of caution;
In times of quiet;
And yes, even in times of prayer.
They come to me with mighty promises;
Promises of joy and pleasure;
Promises of satisfaction and delight;
Promises that call me to experience the happiness for which my heart desires and longs.
Like Paul, I find myself crying out "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15).

But You, O Lord, the One who is Truth (John 14:6)
have given me Your Word which is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
And your Word tells me that:
The promises of temptations are deceitful lies (Ephesians 4:22)
that never deliver what they guarantee.
That in Your presence alone is fullness of joy
and at Your right hand are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).
That only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8).
That You will never withold any good thing from me (Psalm 84:11).
And that You are faithful and powerful enought to keep Your promises
and bring them to pass (1 Thessalonians 4:24).

Lord, my hope is indeed in You alone.
You are my treasure and my valuable pearl (Matthew 13:44-46).
Your steadfast love is my satisfaction leading to great joy (Psalm 90:14).
And it is by Your magnificent and precious promises
that enable me to escape the corruption of the world and its lies
and allow me to become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Lord, I believe;
Help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Let me draw near You with a sincere heart in the full assurance of faith;remembering that You who promise are faithful (Hebrews 10:22-23).
And also remembering that without faith, it is impossible to please You; for those who come to You must believe that You are and that You are a rewarder of those who seek You by faith (Hebrews 11:6).
For it was this reward that Moses looked to as he considered the sufferings and reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt and the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24-26).

And like Abraham, help me to look, by faith, to the city, whose foundation has God as its architect and builder (Hebrews 11:10),
Let me desire the better and heavenly country;with a city prepared by God (Hebrews 11:16).
Help me to remember that I have in You a better and lasting possession (Hebrews 10:34);
and that I shall behold Your face in righteousness; and I will be satisfied with Your likeness (Psalm 17:15).

When I consider all of these promises and that the One who makes them is able and willing to keep them; May I see the false promises of temptations for what they are;
And pray always that you will satisfy me with your steadfast love;
so that I may rejoice and be glad all of my days;
And may I like the deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1);
thirst for you as in a dry and weary land that has no water (Psalm 63:1);
For you are indeed the living water that alone
can quench and satisty this thrist forever (John 4:13).
And then again as before, like Paul, thought I cry out, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" I will also cry "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thoughts of Heaven, Sinlessness, and a Mediator

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NASB)

John is telling you to think of a world with no sin, no tears, no betrayal, no disappointment, no failure, no rebellion, and no death, and that is what heaven is going to be like. As you begin to meditate on these beautiful truths, you will continually come back and say to the Lord, "Lord, I cannot imagine being eternally free from sin, because I have never even known a moment of such blessedness." Although we cannot experientially relate to such perfection and blessedness, Scripture reminds us to believe and hope in it, because we are going to one day know a world that contains no sin whatsoever. We are going to know a world where there is no suffering, no sorrow, and no death. The Bible continually asks us to think about our life now lived for God, but with all the forms of pain, evil, conflict, and distress of this life removed.

Although we have already spoken about the horrors of hell, there is perhaps one more thing we need to say. It is a surprising thing to note, because so often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. Let me, however, say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator. Hell is eternity in the presence of God, being fully conscious of the just, holy, righteous, good, kind, and loving Father's disapproval of your rebellion and wickedness. Heaven, on the other hand, is dwelling in the conscious awareness of your holy and righteous Father, but doing so through a mediator who died in your place, the One who absorbed the fullness of the penalty of your sin. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with the One who totally eradicated sin from your life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

-----Ligon Duncan in Fear Not - Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What is Better than Life?

David writes in Psalm 63:3 the following:

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You. (NASB)

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. (ESV)

How many commercials do you see every week on television from investment/financial planning companies telling you how good your life can be if you will only use their company in planning for retirement. You will have the "good life." After all, isn't that what life is all about - preparing for your retirement, retiring early, enjoying the fruit of you labors - the good things in life? Well, David gives us a different perspective of life.

While it can be said that David struggled with many things in life, it could also be said that he had a good life. He was the king of a nation and probably did not lack any good thing with respect to the physical aspects of life. But, David tells us here something that is better than the good things of life, in fact, it is better than life. It is the steadfast love of God. John Piper often points out that today some Christians value the gifts of God more than they do God Himself. We see it in our American Culture today where entire theologies are built on the ideas of health, wealth, and prosperity. These things are used to move people to God. Do we treasure God more than His good gifts? Do we treasure God more than life itself?

I think of all the Christians down through the ages who actually had to make a decision between their physical life and the promises of God in his steadfast love. I have a book, published in 2001, that details the deaths of Christian martyrs beginning with Old Testament prophets up to the present. It is 956 pages long and without a doubt not complete. But the point is that many of our brothers and sisters down through the ages have actually had to decide if the steadfast love of God was better than life. Those mentioned in this book said yes it is.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:45-46 the following:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." (NASB)

You must ask yourself if God is your treasure worth more than all you have? Is He your pearl worth more than all you have? Is His steadfast love and precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:4) better than your physical life on this earth? Many Christians down through the ages have answered yes to this question. Many Christians today say yes. What is your answer?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (NASB)

Martin Luther also thought of this question and he gives us his answer in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How to Sleep In Peace

Here are the words of Psalm 4:8 from the ESV:

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This verse is one I come back to over and over again. Some see Psalm 4 as being written by David during his time of fleeing Absalom, his son. It was not a time of peace for David. Yet, we see David exclaiming that he has peace. Why or How is David able to have peace when his own son is after his throne? A few observations:
  1. David says that he is able to both lie down and sleep in peace. Often times, during periods of anxiousness or fear, we may lie down, but sleep does not come easy. Our minds race through contingencies or possibilities that many times never take place. But David proclaims that not only does he lie down, but he is able to sleep. And this is not a light, turning and twisting sleep, but one of peace.
  2. How can David do this? Because he believes that it is the LORD, alone, who is able to make him dwell in safety. David has a firm belief in the sovereignty of God over every event in his life. It is God and only God, that can keep him in safety. That is why he can rest peacefully because he knows he is completely in the Father's hand (Psalm 31:15), the one who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4) and only does good for His children (Psalm 84:11). I love to read quotes by persons who also had this firm faith and confidence in God believing that they were indeed immortal until God's work for them was finished. From the perspective of the world, they would be called courageous, but their courage was in their God, not themselves. They did not trust in their strength or the strength of anyone else.
I pray that God give me this kind of fearless faith. A faith that can sleep in sweet peace no matter what circumstance of life I face (Matthew 6:25-34). A faith that does not fear man or death (Matthew 10:28). A faith that trusts and hopes in God, though He slay me (Job 13:15).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Good Sermons

Here are two good sermons I heard this morning. One by RC Sproul on the promises of God and another by Art Broadwick on being prepared for death. Both contain the gospel.

The Trust of a Man - Part 2

On the Brevity of Life