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(25 posts)

The Gospel in Spider-Man 3

Thursday··2007·05·10 · 7 Comments
I have previously written on this subject here, and now I’ve been reminded of it again. As we watched Spiderman 3 the other night, this statement from the movie grabbed my attention: “First, you must do the hardest thing. You must forgive yourself.” Concerning that, I have two things to say. First, assuming we buy the psychoskubalon of self-forgiveness (as though such a thing as a sin against self exists), it is not hard to forgive ourselves. What could be more self-indulgent? and what is more definitive of human nature than self-indulgence? Letting ourselves off the hook for our sins is as natural as breathing. Second, in answer to the objection, “Well, you know, it’s not a Christian movie. You can’t expect them to get it right,” I reply, “You’re right. In fact, I should expect them to get it wrong; and when they do, I should be prepared to say so.” You see, whenever anyone, whether Christian, Roman Catholic, Jew, Muslim, or atheist opens his mouth on anything touching on God, theology, or spirituality, he is obligated to get it right. God will accept nothing less. There is only one God, one Way, one Truth, one Life. God makes no allowance for false theology, even due to ignorance. "But it’s just a movie. It’s just entertainment. No one came to hear a sermon.” But they did hear a sermon—a moralistic, man-centered sermon. A sermon that leads away from Christ, even while promoting moral character. That is damning, and it needs an answer. This does not mean you can’t go see Spiderman 3 and enjoy it for the entertaining (though mediocre) work of ignorant men that it is. Just be prepared to answer those who praise the good moral of the story with the true Gospel.

Forgive Yourself—One more thing …

Thursday··2007·07·05 · 9 Comments
A little more than a year ago I posted a short article called Forgive Yourself, in which I said that, as there is no such thing as a sin against self, there is no need or possibility of self-forgiveness. Today, an astute reader asked a question that deserved an answer, and I thought I would post it here for your consideration. She asked, What about committing fornication? God clearly states in the Bible that that is a sin against yourself—and there are those in the Bible who did commit fornication. How does one personally repent of these sins against themselves? How do we ask God’s forgiveness? How does this sin differ from others? I answered, That’s a reasonable question. I assume you’re referring to 1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Sinning against your body is not sinning against yourself. Your body is not you. The real you is your soul, or mind. Your body is simply the vessel that you live in during this life. Furthermore, your body does not belong to you. Verses 19–20 continue: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. So, a sin against your body is actually a sin against God alone. After further consideration, I would add that not even you, that is, your soul, belongs to you, so there really is no way you can sin against yourself.

The Good of Society

When considering the nature of sin, Wilberforce said, the vast bulk of Christians in England estimated the guilt of an action “not by the proportion in which, according to scripture, [actions] are offensive to God. but by that in which they are injurious to society.” Now, on the face of it that sounds noble, loving, and practical. Sin hurts people, so don’t sin. Wouldn’t that definition of sin be good for society? But Wilberforce says, “Their slight notions of the guilt and evil of sin [reveal] an utter [lack] of all suitable reverence for the Divine Majesty. This principle [reverence for the Divine Majesty] is justly termed in Scripture, ‘The beginning of wisdom’ [Psalm 111:10].” And without this wisdom, there will be no deep and lasting good done for man, spiritually or politically. Therefore, the supremacy of God’s glory in all things is what he calls “the grand governing maxim” in all of life. The good of society may never be put ahead of this. That would dishonor God and, paradoxically, defeat the good of society. For the good of society, the good of society must not be the primary good. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 121–122

The Idolatry of Ingratitude

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts . . . to degrading passions . . . to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . . —Romans 1:21–28 Notice in the text [Romans 1:18–32] the steps or stages of (heathen) perversion. The first step of their idolatry is ingratitude: they were not thankful. So Satan showed Himself ungrateful over against His Creator before he fell. Whoever enjoys God’s gifts as though he had not graciously received them, forgotten the Donor, will soon find himself filled with self-complacency. The next step is vanity: they ‘became vain in their imaginations.’ in this stage men delight in themselves and in creatures, enjoying what is profitable to them. Thus they become vain in their imaginations, that is, in all their plans, efforts and endeavors. In and through them they seek whatever they desire; nevertheless, all their efforts remain vain since they seek only themselves: their glory, satisfaction and benefit. The third step is blindness; for, deprived of truth and steeped in vanity, man of necessity becomes blind in his whole feeling and thinking, since now he is turned entirely away from God. The fourth step or stage is man’s total departure from God, and this is the worst; for when he has lost God there remains nothing else for God to do than to give them up to all manner of shame and vice according to the will of Satan. In the same way also, man sinks into spiritual idolatry of a finer kind, which today is spread far and wide, ingratitude and love of vanity (of one’s own wisdom, of righteousness, of, as it is commonly said, of one’s ‘good intention’) prevent man so thoroughly that he refuses to be reproved, for now he thinks that his conduct is good and pleasing to God. He now imagines he is worshiping a merciful God. Whereas in reality he has none, indeed, he worships his own figment of reason more devoutly that the living God. Oh, how great an evil ingratitude is! It produces desire for vain things, and this again produces blindness; and blindness produces idolatry, and idolatry leads to a whole deluge of vices. Conversely, gratitude preserves love for God and so the heart remains attached to Him and is enlightened. Filled with light, he worships only the living God and such true worship is followed immediately by a whole host of virtues. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 29–30.

They could have said it that way

Literate readers are not the only ones insulted by dynamic equivalence Bible translations. In the urge to relieve allegedly inexpert readers from the need to make interpretive decisions, and to guard readers from misinterpretation, dynamic equivalence translator overlooked one important thing: in the overwhelming number of instances where these translators believed that they need to change, explain, or clarify the original, the original authors could have said it that way and chose not to. The psalmist had the linguistic resources to say (in Ps. 78:33) that God ended the days of the wicked “in futility” (NIV) or “in emptiness” (REB) or “in failure” (NEB) instead of saying that “their days vanish like a breath” (RSV, ESV, NRSV). At the heart of the dynamic equivalence experiment is the attempt to fix the assumed inadequacies of the Bible for modern readers. This maneuver is not an example of sophistication as opposed to naïvete; it is instead and unwarranted affront to the original authors (an extension of the “what the author was trying to say” fallacy that has become so prevalent). —Leland Rykend, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 68. And let’s be clear: the “original author” receiving this “unwarranted affront” is none other than God himself.

The Heart of Sin

The rejection of objective truth in postmodern thought has its roots in something much deeper than the professed desire for “conversation” and the focus on the “journey” rather than the destination. David Wells writes, At the heart of [the] sin that holds us captive is pride. The essence of sin is finding in the self what in fact can be found only in God. So pride, as Cornelius Plantinga writes in >Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, leads us to think much about the self and much of the self. We imagine that within ourselves we have power enough, wisdom enough, and strength enough to live in security, in the fullness of happiness, as we want to live, amidst all the conflicts and opportunities of life. Very finite preoccupations are therefore substituted for those that are eternal, and we then confidently take the place God once had. We therefore redefine reality. Is this not the ultimate explanation as to why life in the postmodern world has lost its center? What I am describing here, within a biblical framework, is what others in the postmodern world are seeing without this framework. This is the “autonomous self.” —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 103. This is the root of the rejection of absolute, objective truth. Postmodern man, indeed, modern man, and all who have come before and, no doubt, all who will follow, rebel against the claim that they cannot determine for themselves what is true and right, that there is an authority outside themselves that is eternal, unchanging, and absolute. Most unacceptable of all, this authority is not subject to their judgments, and couldn’t be less interested in their opinions. This authority, of course, is God; and this exaltation of self is no less than a rejection of God.

Images of God (1)

Tuesday··2008·10·21 · 2 Comments
Images as aids to worship: a disputable matter? Growing up as an evangelical (in the historic sense) Lutheran, this was never a question. We were not Catholics, were we? In this increasingly ecumenical age, however, things are not so black-and-white. As Scripture is seen as less and less of a divine document, it is also considered less authoritative, if it holds any authority at all. But let’s pretend, shall we, that we actually consider the Bible to be the very words of God, and are thus the infallible rule of faith and practice. What would we conclude about the use of religious images? What does the word idolatry suggest to your mind? Savages groveling before a totem pole? Cruel faced statues in Hindu temples? The dervish dance of the priests of Baal around Elijah’s altar? These things are certainly idolatrous, in a very obvious way; but we need to realize that there are more subtle forms of idolatry as well. Look at the second commandment. It runs as follows, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:4–5). What is this commandment talking about? If it stood alone, it would be natural to suppose that it refers to the worship of images of gods other than Jehovah—the Babylonian idol worship, for instance, which Isaiah derided (Is 44:9–20; 46:6–7), or the paganism of the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, of which he wrote in Romans 1:23, 25 that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” But in this context the second commandment can hardly be referring to this sort of idolatry, for if it were it would simply be repeating the thought of the second commandment without adding anything to it. Accordingly, we take the second commandment—as in fact it has always been taken—as pointing us to the principle that (to quote Charles Hodge) “idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also by the worship of the true God by images.” In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of pictorial or visual representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship. The commandment thus deals not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues of the One whom we worship are not to be used as an aid to worshiping him. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 43–44.

Images of God (2)

Wednesday··2008·10·22 · 2 Comments
J  I Packer explains why religious images used for worship are prohibited by the second commandment. The Dangers in Images It may seem strange at first sight that such a prohibition should find a place among the ten basic principles of biblical religion, for at first sight it does not seem to have much point. What harm is there, we ask, in the worshiper’s surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God? We are accustomed to treating the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ as they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such ornaments than they can in churches that are bare of them. Well, we say, what is wrong with that? What harm can these things do? If people really do find them helpful, what more is there to be said? What point can here be in prohibiting them? In the face of this perplexity, some would suggest that the second commandment applies only to immoral and degrading representations of God, borrowed from pagan cults, and to nothing more. But the very wording of the commandment rules out such a limiting exposition. God says quite categorically, “Thou shalt not make any like-ness of any thing” for use in worship. This categorical statement rules out not simply the use of pictures and statues which depict God as an animal, but also the use of pictures and statues which depict him as the highest created thing we know—a human. It also rules out the use of pictures and statues of Jesus Christ as a man, although Jesus himself was and remains man; for all pictures and statues are necessarily made after the “likeness” of ideal manhood as we conceive it, and therefore come under the ban which the commandment imposes. Historically, Christians have differed as to whether the second commandment forbids the use of pictures of Jesus for purposes of teaching and instruction (in Sunday-school classes, for instance), and the question is not an easy one to settle; but there is no room for doubting that the commandment obliges us to dissociate our worship, both in public and in private, from all pictures and statues of Christ, no less than from pictures and statues of his Father. But what, in that case, is the point of this comprehensive prohibition? From the emphasis given to the commandment itself, with the frightening sanction attached to it (the proclaiming of God’s jealousy, and his severity in punishing transgressors), one would suppose that this must really be a matter of crucial importance. But is it? The answer is yes. The Bible shows us that the glory of God and the spiritual well-being of humans are both directly bound up with it. Two lines of thought are set before us which together amply explain why this commandment should have been stressed so emphatically. These lines of thought relate, not to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 44–45. We’ll look at those lines of thought in the next two days.

Images of God (3)

Packer continues explaining why images of God are prohibited. The prohibition is not related “to the real or supposed helpfulness of images, but to the truth of them.” 1. Images dishonor God, for they obscure his glory. The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator. “A true image of God,” wrote Calvin, “is not to be found in all the world; and hence . . . His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. . . . Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption His majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is.” The point here is not just that an image represents God as having body and parts, whereas in reality he has neither. If this were the only ground of objection to images, representations of Christ would be blameless. But the point really goes much deeper. The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent. To illustrate: Aaron made a golden calf (that is, a bull-image). It was meant as a visible symbol of Jehovah, the mighty God who had brought Israel out of Egypt. No doubt the image was thought to honor him, as being a fitting symbol of his great strength. But it is not hard to see that such a symbol in fact insults him, for what idea of his moral character, his righteousness, goodness and patience could one gather from looking at a statue of him as a bull? Thus Aaron’s image hid Jehovah’s glory. In a similar way, the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity. Whatever we may think of religious art from a cultural standpoint, we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. And this is why God added to the second commandment a reference to himself as “jealous” to avenge himself on those who disobey him: for God’s “jealousy” in the Bible is his zeal to maintain his own glory, which is jeopardized when images are used in worship. In Isaiah 40:18, after vividly declaring God’s immeasurable greatness, the Scripture asks us: “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?” The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence. Its purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modeled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 45–46.

Images of God (4)

Looking to images of God causes us to misrepresent God in our minds, essentially causing us to worship a false god. 2. Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God. The very inadequacy with which they represent him perverts our thoughts of him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will. Aaron, by making an image of God in the form of a bull-calf, led the Israelites to think of him as a Being who could be worshiped acceptably by frenzied debauchery. Hence the “festival to the Lord” which Aaron organized (Ex 32:5) became a shameful orgy. Again, it is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior. These examples show how images will falsify the truth of God in the minds of men. Psychologically, it is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 46–47.

Images of God (5)

The second commandment forbids making images of God. But if we only refrain from crafting physical, visual images of God, we miss the point. The reason, as we have seen, for prohibiting images of God is that they cause us to think of God untruthfully, as other than he is. It follows then that we may be guilty of breaking the commandment without actually constructing a physical representation of God. The realization that images and pictures of God affect our thoughts of God points to a further realm in which the prohibition of the second commandment applies. Just as it forbids us to manufacture molten images of God, so it forbids us to dream up mental images of him. Imagining God in our heads can be just as real a breach of the second commandment as imagining him by the work of our hands. How often do we hear this sort of thing: “I like to think of God as the great Architect (or Mathematician or Artist).” “I don’t think of God as a Judge; I like to think of him simply as a Father.” We know from experience how often remarks of this kind serve as the prelude to a denial of something that the Bible tells us about God. It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment. At best, they can only think of God in the image of man’as an ideal man, perhaps, or a superman. But God is not any sort of man. We were made in his image, but we must not think of him as existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of him, not to know him. All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper—the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination. In this light, the positive purpose of the second commandment becomes plain. Negatively, it is a warning against ways of worship and religious practice that lead us to dishonor God and to falsify his truth. Positively, it is a summons to us to recognize that God the Creator is transcendent, mysterious and inscrutable, beyond the range of any imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable—and hence a summons to us to humble ourselves, to listen and learn of him, and to let him teach us what he is like and how we should think of him. . . . The question which arises for us all from the line of thought which we have been pursuing is this: How far are we keeping the second commandment? Granted, there are no bull-images in the churches we attend, and probably we have not got a crucifix in the house (though we may have some pictures of Christ on our walls that we ought to think twice about); but are we sure that the God whom we seek to worship is the God of the Bible, the triune Jehovah? Do we worship the one true God in truth? Or are our ideas of God such that in reality we do not believe in the Christian God, but in some other, just as the Muslim or Jew or Jehovah’s Witness does not believe in the Christian God, but in some other? You may say, how can I tell? Well, the test is this. The God of the Bible has spoken in his Son. The light of the knowledge of his glory is given to us in the face of Jesus Christ. Do I look habitually to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as showing me the final truth about the nature and the grace of God? Do I see all the purposes of God as cen¬tering upon him? If I have been enabled to see this, and in mind and heart to go to Calvary and lay hold of the Calvary solution, then I can know that I truly worship the true God, and that he is my God, and that I am even now enjoying eternal life, according to our Lord’s own definition, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 47–50.

What Is Godliness?

Moral living is not Godliness. By itself, morality is nothing but bare legalism. Genuine Godliness goes much deeper. Godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. In this description of godliness, I shall observe four facts. . . . First, for the act, godliness is a worship. Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker. It is that service and honour, that fealty and homage, which the creature oweth and tendereth to the fountain of his being and happiness. It is the tribute which we pay to the King of kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him. “Give unto the Lord the honour due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” To worship God is to give him the glory which is due him. It is a setting the crown of glory on God’s head. To render him due honour is true holiness; to deny this, is atheism and irreligion. All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word enjoined, is included in this one word worship. . . . Secondly, the object, the true God. All religion without the knowledge of the true god is a mere notion, an airy, empty nothing. Divine worship is one of the chiefest jewels of God’s crown, which he will by no means part with. God alone is the object of the godly man’s worship. . . . God alone is to be worshipped, because he alone is worthy of worship. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for thou hast created all things.” To hold anything in opinion, or to have anything in affection for God, which is not God is idolatry. . . . Thirdly, the extent, in heart and life. Godliness is the worshipping God in the inward motions of the heart, and the outward actions of the life; where the spring of the affections is clear, and the stream of the conversation runs clear, there is true godliness. . . . Heart-godliness pleaseth God best, but life-godliness honors him most; the conjunction of both make a complete Christian. In a godly man’s heart, though sin may be left, yet no sin is liked; in his life, though sin may remain, yet no sin reigns. His heart is suitable to God’s nature, and his life is answerable to God’s law, and thence he is fitly denominated a godly man. . . . Fourthly, the rule, according to his revealed will. Every part of divine worship must have a divine precept. . . . The institutions of Christ, not the inventions of men, are the rule of worship. Our work is not to make laws for ourselves or others, but to keep the laws which the great prophet of his church hath taught us; that coin of worship which is current amongst us must be stamped by God himself. We are to be governed as the point in the compass, not by the various winds (the practices of former ages, or the fashions of the present generation, which are mutable and uncertain), but by the constant heavens. Our devotion must be regulated exactly according to the standard of the word. It is idolatry to worship a false god, or the true God in a false manner. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 91–93.

Linking about Thinking

I just can’t blog today. I am much too worried about the outcome of today’s elections.* Instead, I am going to direct your attention to two articles posted today that address the foolishness of modern Christianity. I’ve already shared these links via Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and now I’m posting them here in the main column, so that should tell you how strongly I feel about these issues. The first, by Jared Moore, deals with psychic Christianity: Why is That Christian Dressed Up Like a Psychic?. The second, by Dan Phillips, debunks one manifestation of psycho-Christianity: How to forgive yourself: a Biblely appraisal. Read and think. * Not really. Even if Vladimir Ilyich himself was on the ballot—you know, like two years ago—and won—like two years ago—I’d still know that God was on his throne, directing all things according to his good pleasure.

Forgive Yourself (repeat with update)

Originally posted 26 May 2006. Tim Challies posted a good article today on discernment. The topic he chose to address in his discernment excercise, self-forgiveness, caught my attention and inspired a few thoughts. You would probably benefit from reading his post first. I can’t think of a single Biblical example of anyone sinning against himself. It just doesn’t happen. The real motive of “self-forgiveness” is to put it all behind us. We are not supposed to do that. Continuing regret over sins of the past, although forgiven, is a good thing. Three main points come to mind: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” may not be a Scriptural proverb, but it definitely is a truism. Forgetting past sins means forgetting the lessons learned from them. Gratitude to God requires us to remember our sin. How can we remember how much we have been forgiven if we forget our sin? The memory of our sins should serve to increase our love for God (Luke 7:47). The desire to put it behind us is really a desire to justify increased self-love. The memory of our sin should cause us to abound in grace towards those who sin against us (Matthew 18:23-35). Remembering sin is not the same as wallowing in it. If you’re doing that, your problem is not guilt, but pride. It is only pride that makes you focus on yourself and suffer from so-called low self-esteem. Get over yourself. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. Remember how much you have been forgiven, and give thanks. Never forget. Update: That was almost five years ago. Reading it now, I wonder how I could have left out one very important point: You’re not God, and presuming to forgive yourself puts yourself in his place. It is really just another expression of the idolatry of self. If you have turned to God in faith, repenting of your sin, you are forgiven. It is finished, once and for all. That’s all there is to it. What can you add to God’s grace?

Freedom Friday: Check Your Patriotism at the Door

Friday··2011·05·06 · 1 Comments
These Freedom Fridays are normally all about politics. But it is necessary from time to time to remind ourselves that political concerns, important as they are, must be kept in their place. Our ultimate freedom is in Christ alone, and to mix the two kingdoms in which we live does not serve either. Carl Trueman writes: [P]atriotism is a civic virtue—I am a patriotic Englishman myself and, even as a resident alien, felt a flush of satisfaction when I heard about Sunday’s special operation [the killing of Osama bin Laden]—but it should have no place in the church. The church should be the place where all people from all nations and cultures should be able to meet together in the unity of the Spirit. Yes, every church exists in a specific culture; and I do not expect my church in Philadelphia to be anything other than a church which reflects to an extent the immediate culture of its surroundings. It is not Gloucestershire, after all. But we need to make sure that national agendas and patriotism are checked at the church door. While we fight for the freedom of our nations, let us also keep our churches free from political pollution. We can start by taking down our flags. Fly them in public places and on our personal private properties, but keep them out of the church. Furthermore, our Lord’s Day worship should be the same even when it falls on July 4th (or whatever your national holiday may be). And remember that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and that he is not interested in imitating ours. He has no flag or pledge of allegiance, so let’s do away with that idolatrous bit of Christian kitsch, and anything that goes with it.* Jesus prayed that his disciples “may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us” (John 17:20–21). The previous verses indicate that our unity is in “the truth,” God’s Word. That, then, is the only thing that should divide us. And why this desire for unity? “So that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Our witness of Christ to the world is dependent upon our unity in the gospel. Every other division blunts our testimony. Let there be no American Christians. Let all Christians—Asian, African, Australian, European, North and South American—be seen by the world as one body, though separated by geography, not by national identity. * I’m curious: does the “Christian flag” exist outside of the USA?

Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Evangelists

Tuesday··2012·02·14 · 6 Comments
A pastor I know told the story of a young man he encountered at a truck stop. This young man was standing by the magazine rack, perusing a pornographic magazine. Seeing this, the pastor stood alongside him and said, softly, “What would your mother think if she could see you now?” Embarrassed, possibly shamed, even, the young man put the magazine back and walked away. The pastor felt quite satisfied that he had done a good deed in turning the young man from his vice. He considered himself to have been a good witness for Christ. Several people I have known have told of their experiences with coworkers and other acquaintances who habitually take the Lord’s name in vain. Their approach is to tell the offenders how bad it makes them feel to hear their Lord and Savior blasphemed. They often achieve positive results by this method, and therefore think they are good witnesses for their faith. Less looking at porn, less cussing—good things, don’t you think? But you’ve probably guessed that I don’t think very highly of the “witnesses” in either case. Can you see what’s wrong with these pictures? The answer: Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Idolaters

Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Idolaters

Wednesday··2012·02·15 · 4 Comments
In reply to my question of yesterday: The first problem that most will recognize is that both examples are pure law, and as one commenter yesterday pointed out, it’s not even good law. At best, it only produces, and indeed, only aims to produce, changed behavior. Changed behavior might be nice for polite society, and might even put the offender on his way toward his “best life now,” but it is meaningless to God, who sees the inside of the cup and the dead bones beneath beautiful gravestones (Matthew 23:25–28). But the fundamental fault of the finger-wagging evangelists is that they preach idolatry, and no yeah-buts about it. They both appeal to an authority other than God, and thereby replace Yahweh with another god. In the first case, the pastor appeals first to Mom-god. Mom would be offended if she knew what Sonny was up to, so Sonny should stop. Second, he appeals to Sonny’s sentiments about Mom. Really, he isn’t laying aside his porn for Mom’s sake, since she’ll never know, anyway. He’s laying it aside because of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of porn plus Mom. So, depending upon Sonny’s disposition, the pastor’s Mom-god is auto-translated into a Mom/Sonny-god, or just a Sonny-god. And if that isn’t bad enough, there is a third possibility: Sonny only walked away because that busybody pastor annoyed him. He’ll be back, because really, he is his own god, and nothing has changed. Nothing, that is, except that he is now more hardened to preaching in general, including genuine gospel preaching. Way to go, Pastor! The second case is much like the first. This time, the blasphemer is asked to desist in deference to the preacher’s feelings, making the preacher God. Again, as in the first case, there is a good chance that the offender is complying out of self-interest. He might simply be taking the path of least resistance for the sake of peace, or he might do it for the satisfying sense of self-righteousness his better behavior will produce. The reason for this is fundamental: we can preach a mom-god or a me-god, but all to whom Jesus is not Lord recognize only one god, that is, self. So they will respond in whatever way pleases their deity most. Now, some might object and insist that I have a better idea before criticizing others. Some might shoot back with, “Oh, yeah? Well, I like the way I’m doing it better than the way you’re not doing it.” To the latter, I submit Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” That’s right: the way I’m not doing it—assuming I’m not “doing it”—is better than the way you’re doing it. Therefore, to the former, I can say that, no, I don’t need a better idea before criticizing a really bad one, any more than I need a good meatloaf recipe before telling you not to eat raw pork. Nevertheless, a person should be prepared to apply the gospel when opportunities arise (1 Peter 3:15). So, what would I do? In the first case, probably nothing. Unless I was given some other opening into his life that might lead to the gospel, I wouldn’t pounce on him for something that, frankly, does not matter. Porn is not his problem; his problem is that Jesus is not his Lord. The last thing I want to do is anything that might make him feel improved outside of Christ. The same is largely true of the cursing coworker. Honestly, I can’t think of a single reason to confront an unbeliever over his language (and this is a situation most of us have probably faced). Now we’re talking about people we know. We have the opportunity to live out our faith in front of them. They notice how we behave. They know what’s important to us. Eventually, we are likely to have the chance to talk about it. Will we? Let’s not let them think that our tender ears are what matters to us. Let’s not set any false gods before them.

Let Jesus Define Himself

The Jews were waiting for a Messiah to liberate them from roman rule and set up an earthly kingdom. They were wrong about who their Messiah would be. They were not the last to pin their hopes on mistaken expectations. The problem of misguided expectations is common to mankind. We regularly trust the wrong people or expect them to provide what they cannot or should not give. Some Americans expect our superior armed forces to keep us perfectly safe. Some expect their skills to make them prosperous and secure. Jesus says the wise man builds his house upon the rock—not “a” rock, but “the” rock, that is, Jesus, the Christ (Matt. 7:24). Still, those who try to build on the rock can suffer disappointment, if they remake Jesus in their own image. How so? They may expect Jesus to make life easy. They may think they can know Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. But we must let him define himself: he is both Savior and Lord. —Daniel Doriani, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 13.

More about Him, Less about Us

My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. " />He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever. —Luke 1:46–55 Such is the extent of our natural self-centeredness that even our praise to God betrays a focus on self. In her Magnificat, Mary sets a better example. Mary had good reason to magnify the Lord. She had been promised a son—not just any son, but the Son of God, conceived by the spirit of the Most High God. Her Magnificat is a song of gospel joy. Yet in it Mary says nothing specific about her son. This is the reason for her praise, but she does not mention it explicitly. Why not? The answer is that Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show his greatness. She wanted to magnify God, not her own position as the mother of the Son of God. She knew that she was blessed because of who God was, not because of who she was. Therefore, she wanted God to be seen to be great, not herself. The way to show this was not by thinking only about what God was doing in her life, but by enlarging her vision to see the majesty of God. . . . It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us. We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God. Then, when we speak about what God has done for us—as we should—it will be more about him and less about us. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 74–75.

Love of Darkness

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. —John 1:10–13 Jesus came as the Light of the world. It is by this light that truth is revealed to all people. Yet that light is rejected, because the natural man loves darkness and hates light (John 3:19–21). And it is not only the irreligious and those who might be considered “bad” people who prefer darkness, but also those who are commonly considered “good.” John 1:10 tells us why irreligious people reject Christ: they are spiritually darkened and morally depraved. But John 1:11 shows why moral and religious people often reject Jesus. They want to keep his glory for themselves. They don’t want to trust and worship a Messiah; they want to be Messiahs; they want to be worshiped. Instead of humbling themselves before a Savior, the moral achievers want to be glorified for their own works. The irreligious love darkness because it provides a cover for their sin. But the religious unbeliever loves the darkness because it makes him seem so much better by comparison. In the dark, the light of a candle shines brightly. But when the full, blazing light of the sun rises up, candles are shown up as the dim lights that they are. The true light that is Jesus Christ came into the world to enlighten everyone. He exposes the dimness of every other supposed light and shows even the religious people’s need for a Savior. In the presence of Christ and his holy perfection, we are forced to humble ourselves and confess our wickedness. This is why the Jewish leaders hated Jesus. Sadly, many today would rather put away the Savior, even to their own ultimate destruction, just as Israel did, rather than put away their pride and humble themselves before Jesus. We should realize that the example of the Jews condemns us all. Far from thinking, “What terrible people they were,” we should realize that they were the most enlightened of all people. We are no better. Apart from God’s saving grace, we all reject Jesus rather than humble ourselves, confessing and forsaking our sin. The example of Israel merely shows the total depravity of the human heart and our total need for the saving grace of God to enable us to believe. —Richard D. Phillips, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 171–172.

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

The Proper Use of Images

Calvin was not opposed to all visual art, but only that which attempted to portray God. And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [Ex. 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory. And lest they think us alone in this opinion, those who concern themselves with their writings will find that all well-balanced writers have always disapproved of it. If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness, much less will we be allowed to worship it as God, or God in it. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations. Within this class some are histories and events, some are images and forms of bodies without any depicting of past events. The former have some use in teaching or admonition . . . —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.11.12. He did, however, oppose all paintings and sculptures in one setting: the church. But setting aside this distinction, let us in passing examine if it is expedient to have in Christian churches any images at all, whether they represent past events or the bodies of men. First, if the authority of the ancient church moves us in any way, we will recall that for about five hundred years, during which religion was still flourishing, and a purer doctrine thriving, Christian churches were commonly empty of images. Thus, it was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of churches. I shall not discuss what reason impelled those who were the first authors of this thing; but if you compare age with age, you will see that these innovations had much declined from the integrity of those who had done without images. Why? Are we to think that those holy fathers would have allowed the church to go for so long without something they adjudged useful and salutary? Of course it was because they saw in it either no usefulness or very little, but very much danger, that they repudiated it out of deliberation and reason, rather than overlooked it out of ignorance or negligence. Augustine even states . . . “Images have more power to bend the unhappy soul, because they have mouth, eyes, ears, feet, than to straighten it, because they do not speak, or see, or hear, or walk.” . . . And by the dreadful madness that has heretofore occupied the world almost to the total destruction of godliness, we have experienced too much how the ensign of idolatry is, as it were, set up, as soon as images are put together in churches. For men’s folly cannot restrain itself from falling headlong into superstitious rites. But even if so much danger were not threatening, when I ponder the intended use of churches, somehow or other it seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them to take on images other than those living and symbolical ones which the Lord has consecrated by his Word. I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . —Ibid., 1.11.13. I don’t know if I would take as hard a position on this as Calvin did, but I do think there is a great deal of wisdom in his reasoning.

Angel Worship

According to Roman Catholicism, angels as well as saints are appropriate recipients of prayer. Calvin, and Scripture, say otherwise. It remains for us to cope with that superstition which frequently creeps in, to the effect that angels are the ministers and dispensers of all good things to us. For at once, man’s reason so lapses that he thinks that no honor ought to be withheld from them. Thus it happens that what belongs to God and Christ alone is transferred to them. Thus we see that Christ’s glory was for some ages past obscured in many ways, when contrary to God’s Word unmeasured honors were lavished upon angels. And among those vices which we are today combating, there is hardly any more ancient. For it appears that Paul had a great struggle with certain persons who so elevated angels that they well-nigh degraded Christ to the same level. Hence he urges with very great solicitude in the letter to the Colossians that not only is Christ to be preferred before all angels but that he is the author of all good things that they have [Col. 1:16, 20]. This he does that we may not depart from Christ and go over to those who are not self-sufficient but draw from the same well as we. Surely, since the splendor of the divine majesty shines in them, nothing is easier for us than to fall down, stupefied, in adoration of them, and then to attribute to them everything that is owed to God alone. Even John in Revelation confesses that this happened to him, but at the same time he adds that this answer came to him [chs. 19:10; 22:8–9]: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you . . . Worship God.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.10.

Spiritual Adultery

For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. —Isaiah 54:5 There is such a thing as spiritual adultery: ‘O ye adulterers and adulteresses’ saith St. James. And God frequently complains of his people’s playing the harlot. Hence it is that St. John, in the most endearing manner, exhorts believers to ‘keep themselves from idols.’ For the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and pride of life, are always ready to steal away our hearts from Jesus Christ. And every time we place our affections upon anything more than Christ, we do undoubtedly commit spiritual adultery. For we admit a creature to rival the Creator, who is God over all, blessed forevermore. ‘Little children, therefore, keep yourselves from idols.’ —George Whitefield, “Christ the Believer’s Husband” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:231.

Miniature Gods

I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins. Why is it that even Christians tend to view sin casually? It is because, says Albert Mohler, we tend to bring God down to our level. A deficient view of God naturally begets a deficient view of sin. Christians find themselves in a crisis of truth. A deficient grasp of the horror of sin empties the cross of Christ of its splendor. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the total and universal depravity of all mankind. Christians must go where David [Psalm 51:1–4] did. All must see their sin as God himself sees it. The failure to grasp the horror of sin rests in the miniature god Christians have fashioned in their own image. Christians are guilty of diminishing the holiness and grandeur of God’s incomparable glory. We cannot rightly understand the graveness of our offense if we do not behold the glory of the One we offended. Puritan preacher George Swinnock wrote, “If God be so incomparable, that there is none on earth, none in heaven comparable to him, it may inform us of the great venom and malignity of sin, because it is an injury to so great, so glorious, so incomparable a being.” Sin, therefore, must be measured in the depth of its offense against the splendor of the One it offended. If God be so infinitely glorious, more glorious than all the stars of the galaxies combined, then the weight of our sin against this God embodies evil of the highest order. Another Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, drew out this implication: So strike at God and you wish God would cease to be God. This is a horrible wickedness indeed. . . . What will you say to such a wickedness as this, that it should enter into the heart of any creature, “O that I might have my lust and, rather than I will part with my lust, I would rather God should cease to be God than that I would leave my lust.” Christian, your sin amounts to nothing less than a desire for God to cease being God. Your sin rebels as cosmic treason. Your sin against God beckons him to step off his throne that you might ascend its steps. Your sin wishes the Creator to relinquish his rightful rule and claim to glory and give way to your will. We fail to grasp the weight of sin because we fashioned a small god to worship rather than the splendid, infinite, supreme, excellent, beautiful, and eternal Creator. We have a shallow view of his glory. Swinnock concluded, How horrid then is sin, and . . . heinous a nature, when it offendeth and opposeth not kings, the highest of men, not angels, the highest of creatures, but God, the highest of beings; the incomparable God, to whom kings and angels, yea, the whole creation is less than nothing! We take the size of sin too low, and short, and wrong . . . but to take its full length and proportion, we must consider the wrong it doth to this great, this glorious, this incomparable God. If Christians are to glory in the riches of the forgiveness of sins, then they must first cast down the inglorious, unholy idols they have fashioned and called “god.” Christians must come and behold the terrifying and awesome glory of God in order to grasp the horror of sin. Failure to see God in all his glory necessarily leads to a diminished view of sin. An anemic view of sin will give way to a cheap gospel, a pointless cross, and a Messiah who need not to have shed his blood. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 173–175.


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