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Category “Faith”

The Liberty of Restraint

I was struck the familiarity of the following complaint, recorded by Philip Hone, New York City, 1837:

We have become the most careless, reckless, headlong people on the face of the earth. ‘Go ahead’ is our maxim and pass-word, and we do go ahead with a vengeance, regardless of consequences and indifferent to the value of human life.1

If there is one characteristic that most wholly encompasses the definition of worldliness, it is lack of restraint. Mankind has always strived to push past boundaries. Eve, in the garden of Eden, defied the sole restrain in the universe because she “saw that it was good to the eyes,”2 and the scoffers of the last days will “walk according to their own lusts.”3 We built towers up to heaven when God said to “fill the earth,” and we crucified the Holy One who came down from heaven, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.”4 Even as infants, we break rules merely because they restrict.

The world defies restrictions. They must be systematically and methodically eliminated, regardless of the ultimate cost. This is why those who live according to the example of Christ will be hated by the world. Life in Christ consists of servitude and restraint – the bending of our will away from ourselves and toward the will of God – anathema to a world enslaved to self.

A. T. Pierson, the famous 19th century abolitionists and urban preacher, wrote the following:

True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it.5

So it is with followers of Christ. May we embrace the restraint of Christ and resist the prideful anarchy of the world, so that we can share in the life of true liberty from sin and self.6

 

  1. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848, by Daniel Walker Howe, p. 214 []
  2. Genesis 3:6 []
  3. 2 Peter 3:3 []
  4. Luke 19:14 []
  5. Taken from William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary, excerpt from commentary on Galatians 5:2-15 []
  6. Weird footnote: I got the idea for this blog post while reading What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848, by Daniel Walker Howe. He quotes the “famous Christian businessmen and philanthropists Arthur and Lewis Tappan.” The quote led me to the Philip Hone passage, written in 1837. Then, in reading various other passages, I came across the last quote by A. T. Pierson, as recorded by William MacDonald. I looked up A. T. Pierson, and to my amazement, he was born in 1837 and was named after Arthur Tappan. Such a strange set of coincidences! []

Circles of Fellowship

Ryrie on fellowship across theological lines:

We also need to be realistic about the matter of priority in fellowship. Fellowship means sharing in common, and all areas of fellowship are not equal, simply because they do not involve the same sharing. Fellowship on the horizontal plane (that is, with other human beings) is like a series of concentric circles.

The largest circle includes all people with whom we have a certain kind of fellowship. We are to do good to all (Gal. 6:10) and to show respect in our speech to all people, believers and unbelievers, simply because all were created in the image of God (James 3:9).

The next largest circle includes all Christians. We have a certain kind of fellowship with them regardless of their affiliations or beliefs. God has done something miraculous and eternal for every person in that circle of fellowship, and we all share in common that internal divine work.

Some of the smaller circles may be our particular church fellowship or a doctrinal fellowship, such as is shared in an educational or mission affiliation. It could also be a small group or a Sunday school class, or a group of Christians serving in a specific ministry.

Cutting across all these circles is the personal factor. We obviously do not share to the same extent the fellowship we have within a given circle. Our Lord shared certain things with Peter, James, and John that He did not share with the others who were in that circle of the Twelve. As well as personal factors, there may be legitimate sociological factors that cut across the circles, and certainly geographical factors themselves limit fellowship.

The point is simply this: Circles of fellowship are not in themselves wrong; it is our failure or refusal to recognize some of them that is wrong. When someone fails to recognize the larger circles and builds a wall of doctrine or practice around the smaller one, refusing ever to move out of these circles for any reason, he is in error. Equally wrong is the attempt to make believers have the same kind of fellowship with all other believers and not allow them to have the smaller circles of fellowship.

From Charles C. Ryrie’s book, Dispensationalism, Chapter 12: A Plea

We Have Forgotten What This Is Like

From William McDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary:

These are some of the ministries of the Spirit which are realized in a person the moment he is saved. Everyone who is in Christ automatically has the baptism, the indwelling, the anointing, the earnest, and the seal.

But the filling is different. It is not a once-for-all crisis experience in the life of a disciple; rather it is a continuous process. The literal translation of the command is “Be being filled with the Spirit.” It may begin as a crisis experience, but it must continue thereafter as a moment-by-moment process. Today’s filling will not do for tomorrow. And certainly it is a state greatly to be desired. In fact, it is the ideal condition of the believer on earth. It means that the Holy Spirit is having His way relatively ungrieved in the life of the Christian, and that the believer is therefore fulfilling his role in the plan of God for that time.

How then can a believer be filled with the Spirit? The Apostle Paul does not tell us here in Ephesians; he merely commands us to be filled. But from other parts of the word, we know that in order to be filled with the Spirit we must:

  • Confess and put away all known sin in our lives (1 John 1:5-9). It is obvious that such a holy Person cannot work freely in a life where sin is condoned.
  • Yield ourselves completely to His control (Romans 12:1-2). This involves the surrender of our will, our intellect, our body, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Every area of life must be thrown open to His dominion.
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). This involves reading the word, studying it, and obeying it. When the word of Christ dwells in us richly, the same results follow (Colossians 3:16) as follow the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:19).
  • Finally, we must be emptied of self (Galatians 2:20). To be filled with a new ingredient a cup must first be emptied of the old. To be filled with Him, we must first be emptied of us.

Does a person know it when he is filled with the Spirit? Actually, the closer we are to the Lord, the more we are conscious of our own complete unworthiness and sinfulness (Isaiah 6:1-5). In His presence, we find nothing in ourselves to be proud of (Luke 5:8). We are not aware of any spiritual superiority over others, any sense of “having arrived.” The believer who is filled with the Spirit is occupied with Christ and not with self.

At the same time, he may have a realization that God is working in and through his life. He sees things happen in a supernatural way. Circumstances click miraculously. Lives are touched for God. Events move according to a divine timetable. Even forces of nature are on his side; they seem chained to the chariot wheels of the Lord. He sees all this; he realizes that God is working for and through him; and yet he feels strangely detached from it all as far as taking any credit is concerned. In his inmost being, he realizes it is all of the Lord.

This Is What It’s Like to Break Every Rule

When I was still young, I realized that I was missing something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but then someone told me. I was being imprisoned by the dictates of a theocracy that denied my most basic rights.

Not long ago I did the one thing almost everyone said I shouldn’t do, what good God-fearing girls don’t do. I may have lost my innocence, but I gained so much more. I understand now what it’s like to make my own choices, to have a will all my own, to be responsible for my own decisions. I feel a freedom that only those who leave behind everything they loved can feel. I have a sense of life that only those who truly understand mortality can have. I was liberated – able to finally do what was right in my own eyes, and not in the eyes of others.

When I told my companion that I feared doing it, he suggested to me that that those who judge often have ulterior motives. The desires that I had kept hidden away from everyone were justified – I needed to break the bonds they put on me. I wanted the best for me. They wanted to keep the best from me. I believed him.

When I did it, the effect was immediate. I felt vulnerable, very exposed. Something you didn’t think anyone would know about, suddenly everyone knew. I wasn’t alone in my decision, though. The one I thought would be most resistant chose to accept my decision. Seeing his shift to my way of thinking was amazing – it gave me confidence in my decision. His participation with me really validated my choice. But those I thought were closest to me were the first to condemn me. They said my decision put an almost insurmountable barrier between us. I was told that I had to leave my home or else. Their henchmen picketed my place of birth. Some carried threatening weapons. I was separated from everything I was meant to be. I felt like I had to hide, to cover myself.

I came out of my past into a different creation, and it’s been a hard journey. There’s a lot of things in my past I’ll never be able to get back, and I have to learn to live with it. But it has transformed the way I see the world, the way people experience me, like I’m 100% human. It feels like everything has gone from black or white to a rainbow of choices. Everyone has noticed it. It changed everything.

I tasted the forbidden fruit, and I have grown wise because of it.1

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened…”2

  1. Obviously, you’ve figured out this is a reference to Eve. However, this is a counter-factual Eve, a caricature of what she would be like in our post-modern, celebratory-of-sin society. She gained wisdom, but is forced to ignore or downplay the reality of her decision’s terrible costs. []
  2. Genesis 3:6-7 []

Abortion – The Modern Moloch

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were constantly straying into idolatry, and one false god that snared them is specifically connected to the hideous practice of infant sacrifice. The Ammonite idol Moloch was worshipped first by the Canaanites, who then transmitted their practices to the Israelites. The worship of Moloch, which included ritualized carnal acts as well as infant sacrifice, was associated with intercession for the idol’s favor – a plea for prosperity.

Jewish tradition describes the practice of infant sacrifice:

Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass, having the face of an ox; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.1

This practice is depicted as possibly the worst offense committed by the Israelites, as it is often listed first, and frequently singled out – though it could be included in the general condemnation of idolatry. God, speaking through Ezekiel, said,

Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire?2

This offense is so great that, even after its chief perpetrator, Manasseh, repented in his old age and his grandson, Josiah, led a great revival, God still pronounced destruction on the Israelites of Judah:

Now before [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.3

modern molech cartoonThroughout history, Moloch has been portrayed as a proxy for the sacrifice of innocents in order to gain material well-being. In 1923, backlash against a frightening increase in the number  of pedestrian children being killed by motor vehicles led to a St. Louis Star political cartoon entitled, The Modern Moloch, in which a man offers a platter of children’s corpses to the leering grill of a monstrous car. In Fritz Lang’s 1927 blockbuster silent film Metropolis, workers are thrown to their deaths to oil the cogs of Mol0ch, a giant machine that powers the wealthy upper city.  In his volume, The Gathering Storm (1948), Winston Churchill described the near worship of Adolf Hitler and his prewar economic reforms in Molechian terms.

The similarities between this idolatrous infant sacrifice and today’s mass murder of the unborn are revealing. Most abortions are at the alter of modern prosperity – a sacrifice in order to increase the chance of gaining or keeping prosperity. Attempts to keep mothers from seeing imagery of the unborn children conjure up the drowning out of infant cries with beating of drums in an attempt to keep the mother’s “heart from being moved.” The methods of killing are far more cruel than even Rabbi Itzhaki’s chilling description.

Despite American evangelicalism’s fixation on sexual impurity, it does seem “a small matter” compared with the fifty-six MILLION unborn legally killed in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973. By 2020, the number of children killed in the U.S. will be higher than TWICE the current population of Canada. I fear that, even if we experience a revival equal to that of Josiah, the “great wrath” of God will not be stayed, because of “all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.”

God help us.

 

  1. Commentary on Jeremiah 7:31, by Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, 1040-1105AD []
  2. Ezekiel 16:20-21 []
  3. 2 Kings 23:25-26 []

Right Questions, Wrong Places

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, November 10, 2014 – Review of the move Interstellar

It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest. But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right? Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking—people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood.

Interstellar will unavoidably help us look at the cosmos more as cathedral than void—a place to contemplate the riddles of space and time, yes, but life, death and love too. That’s explicit in the movie.

 

Manna from Heaven

Ever wonder about the spiritual significance of manna?

And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”
Exodus 16:14-15

After feeding the five thousand, Christ compares himself to the manna of the Old Testament. “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven… I am the bread of life.”1

Manna only lasted for one day, two if the next day was the Sabbath. Each person was to have one omer, about 3 pints – no more. If a person gathered manna in excess it became noxious and wormy. As such it pictures the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, wherein the necessary sacrifices were required daily. In both the manna and the Levitical sacrifices we see an imperfect and temporary provision that required constant renewal. However, there was one bowl of manna that lasted more than two days – in fact, much longer. In Exodus 16:33-34, Moses is commanded to store an omer of manna as a testimony. We learn in Hebrews 9:4 that it was kept in the ark of the covenant along with Aaron’s rod that budded and the matching tablets of the ten commandments. The ark itself is a picture of Jesus Christ, its gold covered wood a symbol of his full deity and humanity. In him and only in him is the bread everlasting. Indeed, the body of Christ lay in the tomb more than two days, yet unlike the manna he emerged uncorrupted.

The gathered manna not only spoiled quickly, it also lacked in sustenance. It not only had to be gathered daily, it had to be eaten daily. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.”2 It could not grant lasting life. But the Lord Jesus said of himself, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”3

The people who followed Christ across the Sea of Galilee wanted more miraculously provided bread – manna from heaven. But the Savior had a better bread in mind: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”4

  1. John 6:32, 35 []
  2. John 6:49 []
  3. John 6:51 []
  4. John 6:35 []

I’ve started contributing to Why We Web’s blog. Why We Web (WWW) is an organization dedicated to helping Christians navigate the digital pathways of the 21st century. They host seminars and webcasts, review software, and host the WWW blog. Go read my first post!

Last Words of Murdered Men

There are two surprisingly similar yet startlingly different passages in the Bible that involve the stoning of God’s messengers. The first involves the prophet Zechariah:

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you.'” So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The LORD look on, and repay!”1

The second involves another prophet of God, Stephen:

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth… Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him… Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”2

Both men addressed the leadership. Both men spoke with conviction from God. Both induced a violent reaction. Both had something to say before they expired. But what they had to say is the startling difference. Zechariah said,  “look on and repay.” Stephen said, “do not charge them with this sin.” What happened to create such a dichotomy of response? Zechariah operated under the dispensation of the law. His example was Moses, communicating the Law of Jehovah God. “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death… you shall give life for life.”3 Stephen operated under the dispensation of grace.  His example was Jesus Christ, communicating the Love of Jehovah God. “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him… Then said Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'”4 Praise God for his Son, whose substitutionary sacrifice both fulfilled the demands of the law and became the archetype of love. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”5  Because of his sacrifice, we too can pray for our enemies, recognizing with pity their blindness even as they seek to injure us.

  1. 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 []
  2. Acts 7:51-60 []
  3. Exodus 21:12, 23 []
  4. Luk 23:33-34 []
  5. Romans 5:8 []

Works on Fire

There will come a day when the works of believers will be tried with fire. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 states, “If anyone’s work which he has built on [Christ] endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss…”

Fire is seen throughout the Bible as consuming the impure. Fiery swords guarded the entrance to Eden from the sin of Adam. Fire consumed the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. Fire from the Angel of the Lord consumed Gideon’s sacrifice. Fire devoured the offering of Elijah so thoroughly that the altar and surrounding water was consumed as well. In the end, fire will consume the Earth. Most importantly, from the lighting of the sin offering’s fire by God in Leviticus 9:24 until the time of Christ, offering after offering was burned up. No offering was perfect, so all were consumed.

The Bible describes works that are not satisfactory as wood, hay, and stubble. These are works that are performed outside the will of God. “Bondservants, be obedient… with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”1

It is sure that a portion of our works will be destroyed at the seat of reward, less for some, but sadly more for others. Fortunately, this isn’t a question of our eternal security. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”2

The Bible likewise describes works that are satisfactory as gold, silver, and precious stones. These are works performed in the will of God, and they will last forever.3

There is only one person who had or will have no works burned. Jesus Christ said, “I do nothing of myself,” and, “I always do those things that please Him.”4 Even at the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus stated, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.”5 There was not one action in his life that was selfish or insincere or willful.

His works were flawless.

When Jesus Christ went to the cross and became sin for us (his greatest work), the fire of God’s wrath toward that sin fell on him. Under the cload of darkness, the penalty of our sins was poured out on the Savior… but praise God he was not consumed! Fire consumed the impure, but the perfect Savior was still there. Hebrews 10 records this glorious revelation: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…”6

We see then, that there is no work of ourselves that can be pleasing to the Father. If we would have works that will be preserved for eternity, monuments to magnify the glory of God, then our works must be done in Christ’s will.

In the words of C. T. Studd,

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

  1. Ephesians 6:5-6 []
  2. 1 Corinthians 3:15 []
  3. 1 John 2:17b – …he who does the will of God abides forever. []
  4. John 8:28-29 []
  5. Luke 22:42 []
  6. Hebrews 10:11-12 []