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(20 posts)

Ponder This …

Monday··2006·06·19 · 10 Comments
The Old Testament Patriarchs did it. The Prophets did it. Jesus and the Apostles did it. The Early Church Fathers did it. The Reformers did it. The Puritans did it. Then, in the last century or two, someone figured out what all of them had missed for those thousands of years. Well, good for them. What I can’t figure out is why God did not providentially place a couple of Southern Baptists in Cana of Galilee on that fateful wedding day to prevent his son from doing such a foolish thing. If you’re interested, here is my non-wise-guy treatment of the issue: God Gave C2H6O

God Gave C2H6O Part 2: Sola Scriptura and the SBC

Wednesday··2006·07·19 · 17 Comments
As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, this issue has been raised in the last few weeks because the Southern Baptist Convention has passed a resolution expressing “total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.” Please take the time to read the resolution for yourself. The resolution cites as its justification the negative results of alcohol abuse and addiction, attributing them all to “alcohol use.” It attributes the acceptance and advocacy of alcoholic beverage consumption by “some religious leaders” to “a misinterpretation of the doctrine of our freedom in Christ.” If the words “alcohol use” were replaced with “drunkenness,” I would agree with every part of the resolution except the part about “supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation.” We already have laws against drunk driving, boating, and handling firearms. Those are good laws. We certainly do not need to waste our time and efforts pressing for redundant laws. The witness of the church has suffered enough from the crusades of those who have confused the Great Commission with the Great Political Campaign; but that’s a topic for another post. While the legalistic nature of the SBC resolution should be evident even to abstentionists, and while legalism is certainly spoken of in Scripture as a great evil, my greatest objection goes much deeper than that. I believe that this issue, although it may seem superficial, is a fair litmus test of one’s view of Scripture, and therefore of God. Is Scripture true, or not? Is it the sole source of doctrine, or are there additional doctrines that need to be added? Does Scripture contain the whole counsel of God, or did he leave some things out? This resolution, and the history of fundamentalist prohibitionism, is no less than a rejection of sola Scriptura, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that. That, and not my enjoyment of a drink, is what fuels my passion on this issue. As I approach this issue, sola Scriptura will be the first guiding principle. The second, which is Siamese twin to the first, is tota Scriptura, the doctrine that all of Scripture is authoritative and relevant. While prohibitionists are always quick to cite Scripture forbidding drunkenness or describing special circumstances calling for abstention, I have yet to hear a serious treatment of passages such as Psalm 104:14–15 or Deuteronomy 14:22–27. It seems as though they have taken white-out to the two-hundred-plus passages mentioning wine. The final principle governing my approach, which should really go without saying, it that of 2 Timothy 2:15—“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Perhaps the most glaring deficiency of the SBC resolution is the atrociously amateurish hermeneutics. If this is a good example of the authors’ exegesis and hermeneutics, I wouldn’t let them teach my five-year-old’s Sunday school class, let alone represent an entire denomination. So far, I have only stated my position without proof. As in all things, Scripture alone and Scripture in full must be our authority as we consider this important issue. In my next installment, I will begin answering the question, Exactly what does Scripture say about wine? Suggested homework: Search the Bible for the words wine and strong drink. Ignore those that obviously address drunkenness, unless you’re looking for a defense of it (time-saving hint: you won’t find any). Read each passage in context. Ask the text, Is it a good thing? Consider the passages calling for abstention. Ask the text, Who, why, when, and for how long? This is the time to leave comments involving passages that you believe support an abstentionist or prohibitionist position, but do so with 2 Timothy 2:15 in mind. If you’re too lazy to do the work, chances are that I’ll be too lazy to consider your comment. Next: Part 3: What Does Scripture Say? The following is a list of verses containing the words wine and strong drink, generated by E-sword from the KJV. Genesis 9:21, 24; 14:18; 19:32, 33, 34, 35; 27:25, 28, 37; 49:11, 12; Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 10:9; 23:13; Numbers 6:3, 20; 15:5, 7, 10; 18:12; 28:7, 14; Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23, 26; 16:13; 18:4; 28:39, 51; 29:6; 32:33, 38; 33:28; Joshua 9:4, 13; Judges 9:13; 13:4, 7, 14; 19:19; 1 Samuel 1:14, 15, 24; 10:3; 16:20; 25:18, 37; 2 Samuel 6:19; 13:28; 16:1, 2; 2 Kings 18:32; 1 Chronicles 9:29; 12:40; 16:3; 27:27; 2 Chronicles 2:10, 15; 11:11; 31:5; 32:28; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 2:1; 5:11, 15, 18; 10:37, 39; 13:5, 12, 15; Esther 1:7, 10; 5:6; 7:2, 7, 8; Job 1:13, 18; 32:19; Psalm 4:7; 60:3; 75:8; 78:65; 104:15; Proverbs 3:10; 4:17; 9:2, 5; 20:1; 21:17; 23:30, 31; 31:4, 6; Ecclesiastes 2:3; 9:7; 10:19; Song of Solomon 1:2, 4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:9; 8:2; Isaiah 1:22; 5:11, 12, 22; 16:10; 22:13; 24:7, 9, 11; 27:2; 28:1, 7; 29:9; 36:17; 49:26; 51:21; 55:1; 56:12; 62:8; 65:8; Jeremiah 13:12; 23:9; 25:15; 31:12; 35:2, 5, 6, 8, 14; 40:10, 12; 48:33; 51:7; Lamentations 2:12; Ezekiel 27:18; 44:21; Daniel 1:5, 8, 16; 5:1, 2, 4, 23; 10:3; Hosea 2:8, 9, 22; 3:1; 4:11; 7:5, 14; 9:2, 4; 14:7; Joel 1:5, 10; 2:19, 24; 3:3, 18; Amos 2:8, 12; 5:11; 6:6; 9:13, 14; Micah 2:11; 6:15; Habakkuk 2:5; Zephaniah 1:13; Haggai 1:11; 2:12; Zechariah 9:15, 17; 10:7; Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; 15:23; Luke 1:15; 5:37, 38, 39; 7:33; 10:34; John 2:3, 9, 10; 4:46; Acts 2:13; Romans 14:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:3, 8; 5:23; Titus 1:7; 2:3; 1 Peter 4:3; Revelation 6:6; 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3, 13

God Gave C2H6O Part 6: Answering Objections

Thursday··2006·08·03 · 1 Comments
Part 1: Introductory Comments Part 2: Sola Scriptura and the SBC Part 3: What Does Scripture Say? Part 4: Abstinence in Scripture Part 5: To Abstain or not to Abstain In this post, I will answer questions and objections that have been brought up in the comments on this blog, as well as those I have encountered elsewhere. Some of this will be redundant, it may be a bit rambling and unorganized, and it might get long. As I address some of the comments that have been left on this blog, it should not be construed as singling out the commenters as stupid or foolish. The objections I will address are common ones that have been around as long as people have been promoting abstinence. All of them have represented my point of view in the past. For every time I have used the word “ignorant,” I must confess to having been ignorant myself. Ignorance is no cause for shame. An unteachable spirit is. With that stated, I will dive in. “Abstinence is easier than moderation.” That was the first objection raised in my comments by Daniel, an eminent Canadian philosopher and theologian (whom you should blame or thank for provoking this series). He raised it here in jest, as we had already discussed it at his blog and in emails. I know he will agree with my answer because he has already told me so, and I am simply copy-and-pasting from my email to him. Daniel applied the argument of Augustine, who was speaking of sexual abstinence, to alcohol consumption. My answer to him was, On your statement, “complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation,” that may be true, depending on the person. My concern, as I’m sure yours is, is not what is easiest, but what is right; and I definitely don’t believe it’s right. First, moderation is no virtue if, in your heart, you are immoderate—and that is the confession of one who says he abstains because it’s easier than moderation. He imagines he is a drunk at heart, and responds, not in repentance and faith, but by taking a supposed “better way.” You see, the drunk’s problem is not alcohol, but his sinful desire. If he abstains, he saves himself and possibly others from the consequences of his drunkenness, but not from his guilt. Wanting to sin, and choosing not to, only appears innocent; but the guilt remains. So the one who abstains because he has no Galatians 5 self-control is no less guilty than the one who drinks with abandon. In fact he may be worse off because he believes he has conquered his sin, when in fact, he has only suppressed it. He may be worse off because he believes he has conquered it by his own will-power. Second, when God has said “Here, take this gift, a token of my love for you, given for your benefit,” I hardly think the right answer is, “No, thanks. It’s easier to pass.” Daniel also expressed disgust with “some who set out to champion ‘Christian Drinking,’ not out of a desire for a clear understanding and application of scripture, “but because they love the world and the things in the world, and they desire to live in the world without being hassled by ‘the man.’” When I began this series, my biggest fear was that I would be the recipient of drunken high-fives from the frat-boy types who seem to revel in their “authentic” journey to follow Christ their own way. I want it to be clear that I abhor that attitude. If that describes you, I do not speak for you. Christ did not die so that I could continue “just as I am.” He died to free me from my sin—its penalty and its power. That is the true meaning of Christian Liberty: freedom to do what is right. If you profess faith in Christ but still willfully live in sin, I cannot consider you a brother in Christ. Your faith is dead. I can only entreat you to repent. Another commenter suggested the application of 1Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” He asked, Is it wise or profitable to drink alcohol when it is not a necessity? Within the cultural context of the Scriptures wasn’t it wise and profitable to drink alcohol due to the dangers of drinking unsanitary water? Wasn’t Timothy practicing abstinence to the point of losing his health and Paul basically had to command him to drink alcohol for its medicinal value (1 Timothy 5:23)? At a time and place in history when there are plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available that are sanitary and profitable, is there wisdom in placing yourself in a position of coming under the power of alchohol which could lead to drunkenness? Due to the warnings of Scripture about the power and danger of alcohol (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 31:4) isn’t it wiser to abstain if possible? Yes, according to Scripture, it is wise and profitable to drink alcohol. I think we have looked at enough Scripture to demonstrate that. Scripture never presents it as a necessity, just a good thing, so whether or not it is necessary is irrelevant. As for the unsanitary water argument, I just don’t buy it. Wine was not given because there was no clean water. What was the Samaritan woman drawing from the well? Why did Jesus ask for a drink of it? The water was clean, and if it hadn’t been, it could have been boiled. If God, who is sovereign over all and perfect in his providence, chose to supply them with chemically dirty water, he certainly would not have provided a morally dirty substitute. No, God gave wine, just as he said, to make the heart glad. Furthermore, medical science testifies to the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Whether or not we live “at a time and place in history when there are plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available that are sanitary and profitable” is debatable. I would be interested in knowing what those choices are that are actually healthy. Surely not soda pop, especially diet sodas. Water, milk, and fruit juices have been around since Genesis, along with wine. Is it wiser, due to Scriptural warnings, to abstain from alcohol? Is it wiser, due to the plethora of Scriptural commendations of alcohol, to enjoy alcohol? Yes. Or no. Take your pick. Whatever you do, do it based on what Scripture teaches, and with a clear conscience; but leave the rest of us alone (Romans 14:3). The warnings in Scripture all apply to immoderate indulgence, that is, drunkenness. Certainly, abstinence is wiser than drunkenness, but is it better? Maybe, but maybe not. See my answer to Daniel, above. Another commenter objected to my use of the word “legalism” to describe the SBC resolution: You may disagree with their hermeneutic, but they are by no means “legalists” by virtue of the fact that you disagree with them. Legalism is always connected with trying to establish your own righteousness apart from Christ and then applying your righteousness establishing rules to other people. It always has to do with pleasing God apart from faith in His Son. I do not think most intelligent supporters of this resolution can be call legalists. It is not fair, and when the word “legalism” is used so loosely it looses its value as a word to describe anything. . . . One more thing that should be considered: An SBC resolution is by no means a law that every SB must obey. It is voted on by the people to represent the denomination’s opinion on the matter. It is not imposed upon anyone. SB churches are autonomous. The convention doesn’t rule over them; it is designed to serve the churches, not force the churches to serve it. There are a couple of common uses of the word “legalism.” One is attaching justification (salvation) to obedience to any law, including God’s law. The other is imposing man-made laws under the name of righteousness, sanctification, holiness, or “standards.” It is the second definition that I am applying, and it fits. Whether or not the resolution is binding on churches or individuals is irrelevant when the unmistakable message is that it represents Biblical standards of holiness and those who do not submit to it are less sanctified, less wise, and are failing to live up to some supposed higher standard set by the authors. Certainly, they are not “‘legalists’ by virtue of the fact that [I] disagree with them.” Nothing is true just because any man says so. Isn’t that a major point of this series? They are legalists because they impose the traditions of men on others. If you still object to the term “legalist,” I’m willing to go with “Pharisee.” Although I stated at the beginning that I would not be addressing the “wine back then was Welch’s” argument, one commenter brought it up, and I just want to answer the basis for his suggestion. He said, Do you realize that the word wine historically can mean either fermented or non-fermented grape juice. eg. Noah Websters Dictionary: “Must, New WINE; wine pressed from the grape but not fermented.” (1828 A.D.) English definitions are useful when exegeting works written in English, but the Bible was not written in English. For a correct interpretation, we must define the original Hebrew or Greek word in its original context. We must determine what it meant to the author, and how it would have been understood by the original audience. What it meant to them is what it means to us. Are [meat sacrificed to idols and alcohol] really parallel? They both might offend but meat was once prohibited by Law, however, wine/strong drink was not. Actually, only certain kinds of meat were prohibited to Israel. Meat sacrificed to idols is a different issue, however. Paul said that there was no prohibition on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Really, anything that someone could mistakenly believe is wrong could be a parallel to meat sacrificed to idols. 1 Corinthians 10:31, in this very context, says. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Times and cultures change. Alcohol abuse hasn’t always been the problem it is today. Don’t we need to consider the present-day culture and abstain for that reason? Look at all the pain and suffering caused by alcohol today. It hasn’t always been like this. Are you kidding? Do you imagine that drunkenness and debauchery are modern innovations? Let me introduce you to a fellow named Lot. He got drunk, committed incest with his daughters, and became the father of his grandchildren. That was in Genesis. First century Corinth was Partytown. People were making pigs of themselves and getting drunk at the church pot-luck dinners. There is nothing new going on now. Besides, who says alcohol abuse is such a widespread problem? To hear the prohibitionists talk, as surely as use leads to abuse, there must be rampant bacchanalia going on everywhere, since more than half of Americans drink alcohol, and most other countries have an even higher percentage of those who drink. However, most people, Christian or not, drink moderately. This is largely the result of growing up. Most people reach adulthood, get jobs, have families, buy homes, and live lives that simply are not compatible with irresponsible behavior. They work hard, manage their money, drive carefully, and stay sober. So, while there is a drinking problem, it is nothing new, and it is not a problem that most people have. If you want to talk about a problem that really is widespread, read this: Study: More Americans too fat for X-rays, scans Obesity hurting accuracy of images, doctors say. Thursday, July 27, 2006; Posted: 2:12 a.m. EDT (06:12 GMT) WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- More and more obese people are unable to get full medical care because they are either too big to fit into scanners, or their fat is too dense for X-rays or sound waves to penetrate, radiologists reported Tuesday. With 64 percent of the U.S. population either overweight or obese, the problem is worsening, but it represents a business opportunity for equipment makers and hospitals, said Dr. Raul Uppot, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We noticed over the past couple of years that obesity was playing a role in our ability to see these images clearly,” Uppot said in a telephone interview. . . . “It is a major issue because . . . the patient may still have a tumor, the patient may have appendicitis, the patient may have other inflammatory processes,” Uppot said. Full article at CNN Most people who drink don’t get drunk, but most people who eat do overeat. With two thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, where is the resolution against ice cream? I apologize for the long, rambling nature of this post, at least to those of you who stayed with me to the end. I have tried to answer all objections, but if you think I have overlooked something, hit me in the comments. I will either answer you or point you to the post where I already have. Just be sure you have actually read the whole series first, please. This was to be the last part of the series, but I want to do a summary and concluding post. That will be the last, I promise. Part 7: Epilogue

The Parable of the Wiser Location

Thursday··2006·08·10 · 2 Comments
Long ago a city was born. It was located on the eastern edge of Minnesota, and called Minneapolis. It was a city of renown, and people traveled there from all over the country, yea, even the world, to visit its attractions. Everyone knew where it was. Those who drove followed maps that directed them, by way of various state highways and interstate freeways, to that same location, which never moved, in southeastern Minnesota. Those who came by airline, train, or bus bought tickets indicating “Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Citizens of Minneapolis received mail addressed to Minneapolis, Minnesota and posted mail return addressed from Minneapolis, Minnesota. In short, that Minneapolis was located in Minnesota was well documented and undisputed. Then one day, not so long ago, a group of cartographers began producing maps placing Minneapolis in Iowa. When the accuracy of those maps was challenged, they presented what little defenses they could. “Interstate 35 runs through Iowa. Minneapolis is on Interstate 35. Furthermore, the alleged Minnesota location is only a short drive from Wisconsin, barely in Minnesota at all.” Others who wished to defend the Original Maps confronted them with evidence—maps, travel tickets, mail—but the cartographers responded with their reasons that Minneapolis, while technically situated in Minnesota, should be placed in Iowa. “Iowa has milder weather and safer road conditions than Minnesota. If Minneapolis was in Iowa, it would have fewer traffic accidents; so again, while technically situated in Minnesota, it would be safer if it was in Iowa.” Again, they were confronted with the evidence—maps, travel tickets, mail—but the cartographers were immovable. “I had an uncle who went there once. He thought he could drive safely, but he ended up in getting killed in a wreck. Therefore, while technically situated in Minnesota, it would be wiser to put it in Iowa.” “Minneapolis was originally incorporated in Iowa. The city people now call Minneapolis is, um, not Minneapolis.” Wearily, the defenders of the Original Maps replied, “But Minneapolis is in Minnesota—always has been. Look at the evidence. In spite of all of your criticisms, Minneapolis, in Minnesota, is a nice place. Look at all of its good features—The Twins, the Vikings, the Timberwolves, Minnehaha Park, Valley Fair, Bethlehem Baptist Church, several lakes . . . yes, there is the possible hazard of the Mall of America, but that is easily avoided. Did we also mention that Minneapolis is in Minnesota?” The cartographers condescendingly replied, “After all we have told you about Minnesota, why do you want Minneapolis to be there? It seems as though you have a desire live dangerously. What makes that location so important to you? Could it be that you have a secret desire to drive on icy roads?” The defenders of the Original Maps shook their heads and went home, sad that many people were ending up in Iowa when all they wanted was to see a Twins game and go to Valley Fair.

I’ve Got to Do Better!

Monday··2007·02·12 · 2 Comments
I have spent the majority of my life so far thinking that a good sermon was one that was hard-hitting and left me with the feeling that I’ve got to do better. Then I would go out and try really hard to do better, succeeding to some degree, but failing over all. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I came to see the folly of the kind of moralistic preaching that I had thought was so good. Don’t take me wrong. I do not believe that the purpose of the Law is merely to bludgeon me on the head and send me, helpless, to the cross, as some say. I believe the Law actually represents God’s will for my behavior. (This simple statement should not be taken as a complete expression of my opinion on the subject; but I don’t want to go into that now.) But if all a sermon, or our witness, accomplishes is to convict us of our sin and send us away trying harder, all it has done is make us more dependent on ourselves, more self-righteous, and more doomed to fail. And I can testify to years of my life when that was exactly my condition, when my religion was all about me and how well I was doing in getting myself sanctified’and I failed, over and over, because the solution was always in myself and my better efforts. Sin must be addressed. When a text is preached that deals with sin, it ought to result in conviction for any listening child of God. But what then? Our response ought not to be, I’ve got to try harder, but I need to draw closer to my Savior. I need to cling to his Word. I need to stay close to Jesus, where no sin can dwell. That is where the conviction of sin should lead. If it doesn’t, the result will only be a better legalist. The cure for my sin is not my righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness.

“Free Grace” Legalism

Monday··2008·10·20 · 7 Comments
I came across the following quotation at The Riddleblog: The biblical picture of a saving experience is masterful in its clarity and simplicity. A single, one-time appropriation of God’s gift results in a miraculous inward transformation that can never be reversed. Since this is true, we miss the point to insist that true saving faith must necessarily continue. Of course, our faith in Christ should continue. But the claim that it absolutely must, or necessarily does, has no support in the Bible. . . . It is sufficient to observe that the Bible predicates salvation on an act of faith, not on the continuity of faith. —Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free We advocates of so-called “Lordship Salvation” are called legalists for insisting that genuine saving faith is God’s gift to those whom he has regenerated as new creatures, whose lives are then marked by the new behavior that comes naturally to the new nature. We have the audacity to believe that if God transformed a cat into a dog, it would from that day forward bark, and not revert to meowing. But observe the inherent legalism of the quotation above. Salvation results from the performance of an act. God offers the gift, but the sinner must do something—something that is contrary to his nature, like a cat barking—to receive it. It sounds like Free Grace is not Absolutely Free. In fact, it sounds Absolutely Impossible. Observe also the contradiction: performing that act “results in a miraculous inward transformation that can never be reversed,” but we are wrong “to insist that true saving faith must necessarily continue.” Exactly what is this impermanent permanent transformation? Is it something like the Arminian temporary eternal life?

Pre-Post on Music

Monday··2009·03·30 · 2 Comments
I had a conversation with a legalist on music last week. It didn’t go very well. I’m really not very good at verbal communication. I do much better in writing (which should give you some idea of just how bad I am in person), so I thought I would put my thoughts on subject in writing. I rattled off a post on the subject last night for posting this morning, but it seems to have disappeared during the night. I’ll try to reconstruct it sometime this week. In the mean time, since my practice of listening to secular music is what sparked the controversy, I’ll leave you with some food for thought from Paul Simon. Leaves That Are Green I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song I’m twenty-two now but I won’t be for long Time hurries on And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl I held her close, but she faded in the night Like a poem I meant to write And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand I threw a pebble in a brook And watched the ripples run away And they never made a sound And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand Hello hello hello hello Good-bye good-bye good-bye good-bye That’s all there is And the leaves that are green turn to brown

Music and Legalism

Friday··2009·04·03 · 4 Comments
This Monday, I promised a post on music and legalism. This is it. I listen to quite an eclectic variety of music. This caused offense to a certain legalist I know, and so, since I’m better in writing than in person, and since I can write without being rudely interrupted, you are now the recipients of this post. My favorite music, which I’m convinced is nearest thing on earth to what will be played in heaven, is from the late baroque period. Handel and Bach will no doubt head up celestial music department. If you disagree, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re going to feel awfully silly when (or should I say if?) you get there and learn the truth. But that’s only a narrow slice of my listening range. A look at my mp3 library yields the following names: Bach Bartók Beethoven Brahms Chopin Copland Debussy Grieg Handel Liszt Mendelssohn Monteverdi Morricone Mozart Pérotin Puccini Rachmaninoff Ravel Rodrigo Schütz Schubert Schumann Sibelius Tchaikovsky Verdi Villa-Lobos Vivaldi Andrea Bocelli California guitar Trio Charlotte Church Christopher Parkening Earl Klugh Enrico Caruso Jake Shimabukuro John Williams José Carreras Josh Groban Mario Lanza Milva Plácido Domingo Sissel Kyrkjebø Yo-Yo Ma Aretha Franklin B. B. King Bill Withers Count Basie Dean Martin Harry Connick, Jr. Louis Armstrong Lyle Lovett Mills Brothers Nat King Cole Percy Heath Perry Como Ray Charles Sam Cooke Tony Bennett Wynton Marsalis Chet Atkins Dillards Dwight Yoakam Gene Autry George Jones Gordon Lightfoot Hank Snow Hank Williams Jimmie Dale Gilmore Jimmie Rodgers Jimmy Buffet Johnny Cash Lynn Anderson Marty Robbins Randy Travis Roy Clark Slim Whitman Tennessee Ernie Ford America Bachman-Turner Overdrive Beach Boys Beatles Boston Carly Simon Deep Purple Dire Straits Doobie Brothers Don McLean Dr Hook Edgar Winter Eagles Elvis Presley Eric Burdon Fabulous Thunderbirds George Thorogood Huey Lewis J Geils Band Jimmy Buffet Joe Walsh José Feliciano Neil Young Simon & Garfunkel Steve Miller Band Stevie Ray Vaughan Stray Cats Three Dog Night ZZ Top That’s just a partial listing of the classical and pop sections, without going into the religious end. You will notice I don’t say Christian (or sacred) music, but religious. That is because I object to the separation of the sacred and secular. All things are under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and no exceptions; but only redeemed souls are Christian. Things and activities are not Christian. Under the umbrella of the lordship of Christ exist both the secular and religious. Both exist for the glory of God. Here is where the legalist said, “There is no way secular music glorifies God,” to which I am inclined to answer that everything and everyone glorifies God, but not necessarily in a positive way. But I know what he means. He is thinking that only specifically religious expressions can glorify God in a positive way. For the person who is determined that this is true, it’s nearly impossible to convince them otherwise; so I’m not going to try. I’m just going to proceed as though, as any reasonable person knows, it is not. After all, if we are going to forbid secular music, are we also going to forbid all other forms of secular media? What about movies? I don’t know how many times I could stand watching Fireproof Should our wall hangings be limited to Thomas Kinkade and the like? God help us! But that is where this thinking leads us. What I am going to do is answer this question: Are there any limitations on what we should listen to? Yes, absolutely, and before I’m finished, you might think I’m the legalist. My legalist friend was annoyed at my secular listening habits, but what really caused his apoplexy was my “double standard”: I hold religious music to a different standard than secular music. I hold this double standard for both lyrics and music. What follows will be an attempt to explain my basis for judging these things. It is not my intention to lay out any rules, but only to offer for your consideration my attempts at being a discerning listener. I am going to deal first with lyrical content, and then with musical composition. Next Monday . . .

My Musical Double Standard

Monday··2009·04·06 · 7 Comments
This is the conclusion to a post began last Friday. I suggest you read that first, if you haven’t already, as this will make even less sense if you don’t than it will if you do. As I concluded, or rather, didn’t conclude, last week, I have a double standard when judging music. I have one standard for secular music, and one for religious, or sacred, music. This double standard is applied to both music and lyrics. As you read, I ask you to remember my penultimate sentence last time: “It is not my intention to lay out any rules, but only to offer for your consideration my attempts at being a discerning listener.” Lyrics It goes without saying that blasphemous or obscene lyrics have no place in a Christian’s music library. It goes without saying because such things are repulsive to those who love God. Christians don’t need to be told that, because it just comes naturally. But that’s as much law as I’m willing to state on lyrics in general. But here comes my double standard. Religious lyrics must be true and reverent. Theology must be accurate. If you’re going to sing about God, get it right. Secular music can be less precise. It can even be silly. In fact, a lot of the secular music I listen to is silly. But I will not tolerate silliness in singing about or to God. Tangent 1: Until someone can make good sense of Days of Elijah, I won’t sing it. Until I actually “hear the brush of angel’s wings,” I won’t say I do. And if the words “yes lord yes lord yes yes lord yes lord yes lord yes yes lord yes lord yes lord yes yes lord amen” ever cross my lips, I hope someone has the good sense to put me away where I can’t hurt myself. Music I don’t believe music is neutral. I think those who insist it is are being obtuse, and I’d like to come to their house and lullaby their children to sleep with a few numbers by John Phillip Sousa. Music arouses an emotional response. A lullaby produces a different reaction than a military march. Do we really need this explained to us? If we acknowledge that different types of music arouse different emotions, we must also acknowledge that some music will arouse bad emotions. Can we really believe that heavy metal, punk, and emo (or who-knows-what is the newest fad of the angst-filled) have no connection to the messed up minds of those who listen to them? Of course they do. But as you saw in the partial play list previously presented , I don’t come from the Bill Gothard school of Piano Onlyism. And I don’t want to make a list of good vs. bad music, not even if I could do so infallibly. Some of these things are obvious, some less obvious, but each of us have to discern them for ourselves, and humbly remember our own fallibility. Music should fit the lyrics. Some music is happy, some is sad. Some is sober, some frivolous. The accompaniment for a joyful song like Wonderful Grace of Jesus would not be appropriate for a somber hymn such as O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. That would be absurd in the extreme, and irreverent. An inappropriate tune can be as bad as silly lyrics. It can destroy the message of the song. Now we come again to my double standard. With secular music, sometimes the inappropriateness of the tune adds to the entertainment value. This is, of course, entirely subjective, and reflects my weird sense of humor. I think it’s hilarious to hear Marty Robbins singing Knee-deep in the Blues. The happy tune and smiling face (on video) juxtaposed onto the lyrics, “My life just don’t seem worth livin’, and it’s been this way for years,” just cracks me up. In general, melody should match lyrics. Even in secular music, it makes no sense otherwise. But an occasional departure from the rule can be harmless and fun. Now my double standard gets serious. Some musical forms which may be good for secular music are inappropriate for sacred music. Some forms are just too entertainment-oriented. They cannot be taken seriously. I’m not going to name what they might be. That would take us down a side-road that I don’t care to travel just now. I would rather just suggest the principle to you and let you think it through on your own. If I did make a list, it would include some genres of which I’m unsure. For example, I tend to think Jazz is generally not fitted for sacred music. I’m convinced that some sub-genres of Jazz are definitely wrong for it. On the other hand, Louis Armstrong singing Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego seems just perfect. So I’m not claiming to have developed an exact science, nor do I even want to. Tangent 2: I don’t believe all music that is acceptable in general is appropriate for a worship service. I wouldn’t invite the late Satchmo to play “Shadrach” on Sunday morning. But that’s another subject. The “Rules” I’ve made two rules for myself: First, enjoy the music. God has given talent to believers and unbelievers alike. The display of those talents brings glory to him, and so should bring joy to me. Second, don’t listen promiscuously. I rarely just turn on the radio and listen to whatever plays. That includes “Christian” radio. Maybe especially “Christian” radio. In the age of the mp3, it’s easier than ever to exercise control over our listening. When I buy a CD, I load only the tracks I want onto my hard drive, and forget the rest. When I download music, I seldom buy complete albums. There are many artists in my library who are only represented by one, two, or a handful of tracks. I think we can all agree on those two rules. How we each apply them to our own practice will vary, and we ought to be humble and charitable toward one another. And that is that. I don’t think I dare say much more without risking becoming the legalist who inspired me to write on this topic in the first place.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, wondering if it is needlessly contentious. Perhaps it is, but having nothing else to say today, I’m posting it anyway. Warning: At the time of this writing, I had loosed my inner curmudgeon. It was predictable. Tim Challies posted a nice review of The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield, the beer alarm went off, and ignorant legalism abounded in the comments. The most ignorant of all are those who actually believe alcohol consumption is sinful. Most are not that ignorant. But admitting, as we must and most will, that Scripture does not forbid it, there will still always be a vocal bunch who say we ought to avoid offending the so-called “weaker brother.” So I’ll just come right out and say it: Christians who want to drink—I’m thinking particularly of believers in the United States—should usually just do it, pretty much wherever they are, no matter who is looking. Forget about offending Christians who don’t like it. About this time in 2006, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of alcohol consumption called God Gave C2H6O. At that time, I had a much more conciliatory attitude toward Christian prohibitionists than I do now. That is not to say that I was very soft on them then; I wasn’t. However, I have had several occasions during the last four years to consider whether I should be a little more accommodating, and each time, I have come to the same conclusion: no, I should not. In fact, I am convinced I should be less accommodating than I have been. I don’t mean that I want to be cantankerous and start arguments about it; I don’t even want to talk very much about. I mean that I’m through looking around and wondering who might be offended, and altering my behavior accordingly. Read John Piper on Why Was Timothy Circumcised?* If you understand Piper’s reasoning of why Titus was not circumcised, you’ll understand why I don’t think we should cater to the feelings of legalists in the church. I think our situation today, concerning alcohol, is much more Titus than Timothy. It’s a gospel issue. So here is my response to Christian prohibitionists and abstentionists, á la Galatians 5:11–13: I wish you would stop drinking altogether, and dehydrate completely. * Don’t get me started on that.

What Is the Mission of the Church?

In an interesting providence, the very morning I was choosing between two books to begin—What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, and Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones—both came up in my feed reader, here and here, respectively. I chose the former. “Social justice” is possibly the hottest evangelical fad going today, hotter than the embrace of figurative readings of Genesis the downgrade of prophesy and miracles (my opinion, not DeYoung and Gilbert’s, at no extra charge).The Missional movement is largely to blame for the confusion over the title question of this book. What Is the Mission of the Church? is not, however anti-“missional”, or in any way a diatribe against that movement. The authors are simply concerned about the confusion that is evident in some circles about the mission of the church, and its effects. They write: 1. We are concerned that good behaviors are sometimes commended but in the wrong categories. For example, many good deeds are promoted under the term social justice, when we think “loving your neighbor” is often a better category. Or, folks will talk about transforming the world, when we think “faithful presence” is a better way to describe what we are trying to do and actually can do in the world. Or, sometimes well-meaning Christians talk about “building the kingdom” or “building for the kingdom,” when actually the verbs associated with the kingdom are almost always passive (enter, receive, inherit). We’d do better to speak of living as citizens of the kingdom, rather than telling our people that they build the kingdom. 2. We are concerned that in our newfound missional zeal we sometimes put hard “oughts” on Christians where there should be inviting “cans.” You ought to do something about human trafficking. You ought to do something about AIDS. You ought to do something about lack of good public education. When you say “ought,” you imply that if the church does not tackle these problems, we are being disobedient. We think it would be better to invite individual Christians, in keeping with their gifts and calling, to try to solve these problems rather than indicting the church for “not caring.” 3. We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 21–22. Concisely, We want the church to remember that there is something worse than death and something better than human flourishing. If we hope only for renewed cities and restored bodies in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied. —Ibid., 23.

What Is Justice?

Scripture defines justice, and it is not what “social justice” advocates say it is. And without a clearly scriptural mandate, no one has the right to lay the burden of their own convictions on another. Justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. We are often told that creation care is a justice issue, the gap between rich and poor is a justice issue, advocating for a “living wage” is a justice issue. But the examination of the main social justice texts has shown that justice is a much more prosaic category in the Bible. Doing justice means not showing partiality, not stealing, not swindling, not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you. We dare say that most Christians in America are not guilty of these sorts of injustices, nor should they be made to feel that they are. We are not interested in people feeling bad just to feel bad, or worse, people thinking there is moral high ground in professing most loudly how bad they feel about themselves. If we are guilty of injustice individually or collectively, let us be rebuked in the strongest terms. By the same token, if we are guilty of hoarding our resources and failing to show generosity, then let us repent, receive forgiveness, and change. But when it comes to doing good in our communities and in the world, let’s not turn every possibility into a responsibility and every opportunity into an ought. If we want to see our brothers and sisters do more for the poor and the afflicted, we’ll go farther and be on safer ground if we use grace as our motivating principle instead of guilt. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 176–177.

Is the Chicken Local?

Wednesday··2014·04·02 · 6 Comments
Ah say, ah say, it’s a joke, Son (just not the funny kind). I freely admit that this post by Bethany Jenkins of The “Gospel” Coalition, Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From, made me angry, and not only because the title ends with a preposition—and yes, I did just put the word “Gospel” in quotation marks. I did that because, if that post is representative of the coalition, if the issues addressed are even on the radar of a supposed gospel-focused organization, leftist politics and, yes, leftist theology has supplanted the gospel. But enough beating around the bush; let me tell you how I really feel. Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From, no matter the angle from which it is viewed, no matter how tightly the viewer squints, is a disgrace. Jenkins has no idea how economies work or how the majority of us live, but is quite adept at parroting leftist propaganda. This is all very hip, I’m sure, and is probably what it takes to maintain street cred in Portlandia, but if I had any editorial control at T“G”C, I would be mortified that such ignorance was allowed to slip by, and at this very moment would be covering my hindmost parts with my very best “mistakes were made, etc.” There is so much I could say, and so many directions I could go with this. The political and economic issues could make a whole series of posts. In particular, the pretentious sanctimony of “fair trade” and “social justice” fatuity is a wonderful catalyst for what, in my house, is called “another one of Dad’s rants.” While those issues are important for Christians to understand, I’m going to leave all that aside and focus on something a little closer to home. Let’s pretend for a minute that I accept the fantastic* ethical premises undergirding Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From. Just for fun, let’s also pretend that the benefits of actually meeting the farmer who produces your food are real, and not just a romantic notion. In that world, I suppose everyone is a suburbanite with a high-five or six-figure salary. My world is a little different. Most of the people I know are not counting their grocery pennies because they are cheap. Many, if it was even logistically possible to shop as Jenkins suggests, would have to choose between eggs and luxuries such as shoes for the kids. $5.00 eggs? $4.00/gallon gas is killing us, and causing the cost of everything else we buy—groceries in particular, especially meat—to increase. And this is the situation of the families around us who live like most families I know, that is, with two incomes and as many children. Not all of us live like that, even. Some of us—our family, for example—have lived for twenty-six years on one (non-union, blue-collar) income, with eight children—six still dependent, some in college with all related expenses, and others who are still outgrowing or wearing out clothes on a nearly-weekly basis. $5.00 eggs? I don’t think so. (Some might suggest that those life-choices were foolish and poor stewardship. Go ahead. I dare you.) And we are by no means poor. Many families live on tighter budgets than ours. Some families are just thankful to have chicken at all. To suggest to most people that they should care where their chicken comes from shows just how trivial your concerns are compared to theirs. To connect such concerns to moral imperatives is despicable. I wish (dare I hope?) that Bethany Jenkins and T“G”C would take a step back, examine what they have done, and repent. I wish they would reconsider and abandon the entire Every Square Inch project, allowing me to remove those quotation marks. Alternatively, they could just pack up and move to Portlandia. * fantastic adjective 1a : based on fantasy : not real   b : conceived or seemingly conceived by unrestrained fancy

Freedom Friday: Fair Trade Fantasy

When it comes to alleviating poverty, you have a choice to make. You can live in a utopian fantasyland in which the self-righteous look, sound, and feel as if they’re helping people, while killing businesses and jobs and generally depressing economies, or you can think like an adult, face real-world facts, and actually help people. Think about that while you’re having your morning coffee.

Lord’s Day 22, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector,standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. —Luke 18:10–14 Hymn 131. (L. M.) The Pharisee and publican. Luke xviii. 10, &c. Isaac Watts (1674–1748) Behold how sinners disagree, The publican and Pharisee! One doth his righteousness proclaim, The other owns his guilt and shame. This man at humble distance stands, And cries for grace with lifted hands That boldly rises near the throne, And talks of duties he has done. The Lord their diff’rent language knows, And diff’rent answers he bestows; The humble soul with grace he crowns, Whilst on the proud his anger frowns. Dear Father! let me never be Join’d with the boasting Pharisee; I have no merits of my own But plead the suff’rings of thy Son. —The Psalms & Hymns of Isaac Watts. Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Book I: Collected from the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 1997). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

“Good preachin’, Pastor!”

One of my favorite messages from Reformation Montana 2014 was Voddie Baucham’s first message in which he demonstrates that Genesis 41 is not the zenith, but the nadir, of Joseph’s life. Consequently, I purchased his book, Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors. The story of Joseph, like most biblical narratives, is typically interpreted as a moral tale, like one of Æsop’s fables or a Veggietales episode. And that is how we tend to see most biblical passages: do this, don’t do that. Baucham explains why we do that: We all want black-and-white rules. We want someone to tell us, ‘This is right . . . that is wrong.” It’s clean. It’s simple. It requires little or no self-examination. Consequently, the legalist that resides in every last one of us wants law! Thus, those of us who teach the Bible (and we have the same tendency) get a unique kind of response from people when we give them moralism. ‘That’s good preachin’, Pastor!” In my experience, this kind of response almost always follows a law/rule/morality-based statement. It’s a sort of, ‘Attaboy. You sure told them” response. And frankly, it feels good! We all have to guard against this tendency. We look at the world through a lens that is calibrated for legalism. We see something sinful or unjust, and we know immediately (1) that it is wrong, and (2) what ought to be done instead. This is not wrong, per se; it’s just not enough. Sure, Joseph’s brothers were wrong to be filled with such hatred for him. That’s a no-brainer. However, did we need the story of Joseph to show us that? Certainly there’s another point to be made. Ultimately, we lean toward moralism because it’s easy. Moralism is, as noted earlier, the low-hanging fruit. It’s the way we’re all wired, and it takes very little effort or creativity to pull off. And it feels good to boot. We all feel better when we’re taking the speck out of someone else’s eye. Especially when it looks nothing like our plank. In other words, it’s easy for me to preach hard against plotting to murder your brother and then throwing him in a pit to be sold into slavery when I’ve never done anything of the sort. Several years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against alcohol consumption. The resolution read: RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages. Aside from the terrible wording of the resolution (i.e., this statement technically excludes anyone who eats chicken marsala), it has zero scriptural support. However, it is incredibly easy to adopt such a resolution. The SBC has never had a problem with drunkenness among its clergy or denominational leaders. The SBC is by and large a teetotaling bunch. Hence, it took absolutely no courage to pass this statement. On the other hand, the SBC considered another resolution the same year calling for integrity in church membership. That resolution did not pass. What would it have required? Simply that churches be honest about how many members they have and clean up their roles of inactive, nonexistent members that inflate their numbers. The drinking which nobody does (the speck) was much easier to deal with than the bearing false witness (the log) that characterizes the overwhelming majority of the churches in the Convention. The SBC is not alone in this hypocrisy. You and I do the exact same thing every time we read the Bible! More importantly, we act out our hypocrisy in practical ways every day of our lives. We look for specks in our children, our coworkers, our teammates, and our friends. And our hypocrisy infects the way we read the Bible in general, and Old Testament narrative in particular. —Voddie Baucham, Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors (Crossway, 2013), 19–20.
Sorry, I don’t have much for you today. Just to fill the space, I’ll throw this out: Once again, I’ve heard the claim that “they (the prophets, apostles, church fathers, reformers, oh yeah, and Jesus) drank wine back then because the water wasn’t safe.” This time, it was Martin Luther drinking beer because it “was safer than water then.” This is truly a silly claim, as just a little thought will prove. First of all, the biblical/historical record says otherwise. Just to name one example, remember that day in Samaria when Jesus commanded the woman at the well to give him a drink? Although it isn’t recorded, I think we can assume she gave it, and he drank it, straight from the well, no filtering, no boiling. Speaking of which, If the water was really unsafe (as, no doubt, some sources were), why not just boil it? Having just bottled a batch of our own homebrew, this strikes me as an obvious question, considering the following factors: My cost of brewing 10 gallons (about 100 12-ounce bottles) of beer: malted barley, $40; hops, $28; yeast, $10. Growing my own hops saves $28 for a total of $50 (not including water and electricity). The whole process requires about 10—12 man/hours. Winemaking (unless you’re just fermenting a jug of Welch’s) is similarly costly and time-consuming. I don’t know how much it costs to boil 10 gallons of water, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess less. Like a few cents for the water and electricity. I do know about how long it takes. Brewing, I bring 14 gallons to a boil in less than an hour. Sure, technology has changed, and therefore, so have the numbers, but you know the principle still applies. If anything, winemaking and brewing were a lot harder “back then.” It’s a lot of work now, and it was a lot of work then. So imagine, if you will, some Old Testament character, upon contracting Montezuma’s Revenge, saying, “Honey, we’d better start boiling the water.” “No,” she replies, looking up from her flour-grinding, “I’ve got a better idea. Let’s plant a vineyard, spend hours cultivating and pruning, harvest the grapes, mash the juice out of them, and ferment it for a few weeks, so we’ll have something safe to drink. I’ll get right on that in my spare time, after I milk the goats.” Sure, that sounds realistic.

What Mortification Is Not

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I’ve decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. In Chapter V, Owen offers five examples of what mortification is not, “that we be not mistaken in the foundation.” The third is one to which I think we are all especially subject: judging ourselves by outward appearance, by the absence of spectacular sins, while more subtle sins go undetected. It is quite likely that the sins we take pride in subduing are really not those to which we are naturally drawn. The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigour to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:25. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)]

A Description of Self-Righteousness

I count all things to be loss . . . so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith —Philippians 3:8–9 Self-righteousness comes in a several varieties. It may be nice, good, moral, religious, not-bad, or (presumptively) earned. None is of any value. Some rely much upon a natural righteousness, that which we call good nature; if others persuade them, or they can persuade themselves that they are of good dispositions, mild, candid, gentle, ingenuous, kind and peaceable temper, they rest here, and are apt to conclude, the Lord will not be so severe as to cast so good nature (though there be nothing more than nature in them) into hell. Some rely upon a positive righteousness, and observance of some rites and circumstances in religion. They are baptized, and accounted members of the church, and partake of ordinances, and come under church order, submit to this or that form of ecclesiastical government, and adhere strictly to some outward observances prescribed by God, or perhaps received by tradition from their superiors or forefathers. Here they ground their hopes of heaven. This was part of the Pharisees righteousness, and that in which their false teachers grounded their confidence, which the apostle here opposes, and overthrows elsewhere, when he tells us, ‘The kingdom of God comes not by observation,’ &c., Luke xvii. 29; Rom. xiv. 17. And Christ raises it: ‘Except your righteousness,’ &c., Mat. v. 20. Others rely upon a moral righteousness, because they have some care to observe the duties of the second table, because they are just, sober, temperate, liberal, love their neighbours, do no man wrong, give every one his own; hence conclude they are sure of heaven. Whereas if this were a sufficient ground of confidence, we might conclude many heathens in heaven, such as never knew Christ, nor heard of the gospel. If such righteousness be sufficient, then Christ died in vain, as the apostle concludes to like purpose, Gal. ii. 21. Others rely upon a religious righteousness, their outward performances of some religious duties. Because they pray, and hear the word, and read the Scriptures, receive the sacraments, converse with those that are religious, and in some sort observe the Sabbath, upon this are confident that they shall die the death of the righteous, and it shall be well with them in the latter end. But even this support the apostle rejected as rotten; though he was one of the most religious sort among the Jews, and blameless as to his outward performance of religious duties, yet he durst not be found with this righteousness alone; he disclaims all confidence in it. Others rely upon a negative righteousness. Because they are not so unrighteous, not such idolaters, atheists, not such apostates or heretics, not such swearers or Sabbath-breakers; because they are not drunkards nor adulterers, not murderers or oppressors, not covetous, proud, or ambitious, therefore it shall go well with them. This was the Pharisees’, as in the parable; but it was far from justifying them, Luke xviii. 11, 14. Others rely upon a comparative righteousness, their being or thinking themselves to be more righteous than others, because they do more in a way of religion, of justice, of charity, than others who have like engagements; whatever their principles be from which, or the ends for which they do it, conclude for this they shall be saved. This is like that of the labourers sent into the vineyard early in the morning. They expostulate about their wages, as though they had deserved some extraordinary reward in having borne the burthen and heat of the day, Mat. xx. 12. There is a sad intimation, that though these were called, yet they were not chosen, ver. 16, Mat. vii. 22. Others rely upon a passive righteousness. Because they have suffered for the truth, being jeered, reproached, persecuted for some way of religion, therefore they are confident that for these sufferings they shall be saved and pardoned. But the apostle here sheweth the vanity of this confidence, for who had suffered more than he, who had suffered the loss of all things for Christ? He makes not his sufferings, but Christ, the ground of his confidence; he durst not be found, not in his sufferings for Christ, except he might withal be found in Christ: that he desired above all. Nor would he rest in anything but in Christ: ‘Not having his own righteousness;’ he counts it loss so far as it was unuseful and insufficient, he counts it dung so far as it invades Christ’s prerogative, so far as it would usurp the place and office of his righteousness; it was no better than dung when it would supplant and dishonour the righteousness of God. —David Clarkson, Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:281–282.

A Worthless Pedigree

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more . . . But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. —Philippians 3:4, 7 For all his life as a Pharisee, Paul had believed eternal life would be won through ritual, race, rank, religion, and right living. His religious credentials were second to none, according to how the Pharisees ranked advantages. He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5)—maintaining the Hebrew language and customs, even though he was born in a Gentile region dominated by Hellenized Jews. He came from an especially noble tribe. (Benjamin was one of only two tribes that did not join the rebellion against the House of David after Solomon’s death.) He was born into the household of a Pharisee and circumcised as an eight-day-old—precisely as commanded in Genesis 17:12. In other words, he was still a newborn infant when his parents started him on a course of fastidious observance to the ceremonial law. He never overtly defiled the Sabbath or violated the Pharisees’ traditions regarding the sacrifices, washings, or other ceremonial law works. He had thus managed to keep his reputation unblemished, so in his own estimation, and from the perspective of any devoted Pharisee, he was “blameless.” The proof of his pharisaical zeal was his savage persecution of the church. Any Pharisee would be deeply impressed with such a pedigree. But when he met Christ, Paul saw that both his ancestry and his accomplishments were permanently and irreparably flawed. It was nothing but one large mass of liabilities. Therefore, he trashed it all in order to gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). Paul was not saying he gave up doing good works, of course, but that he realized first that those were not really good works at all, since there was nothing truly righteous about him. So he gladly gave up trusting that his own tainted, pharisaical “good works” might earn merit with God. Merely adding Christ to his religion would not have sanctified it. Remember, he said he counted it as excrement. Decorating skubalon doesn’t alter the reality of what it is. So Paul put all his faith solely in Christ. His only aim from then on was to “be found in (Christ), not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). He is, of course, describing justification by faith and the principle of imputed righteousness. If anyone tries to tell you Paul never spoke of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, point out that it is the focus of his own personal testimony. To be found in Christ is to be clothed in Christ’s own righteousness, “not . . . my own righteousness . . . but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). This establishes the most intimate imaginable relationship between the believer and his Lord. It is an inviolable spiritual union. What motive could possibly take a devoted, overzealous Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus and persuade him gladly to abandon his lifelong efforts and convictions, labeling them all “dung”? Paul himself gives the answer to that question. He did it “in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ” (Phil. 3:8 NASB). Having seen the radiance of Christ’s glory in the bright light of gospel truth, nothing else would ever again take first place in his heart. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 132–134.


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