Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Without Confession and Repentance, there can be no Salvation

There are many verses that assure us that if we seek God we will find Him (Mat. 7:7-8; Deut. 4:29). However, there are other verses that warn us that there are some sinners who seek God and not find Him:

  • “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.” (Proverbs 1:28-29)

Proverbs makes it seem that some seekers are disqualified by their rebellious past. Hosea had echoed a similar message:

  • When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. They are unfaithful to the Lord. (Hosea 5:6-7)

I too have been unfaithful to the Lord. What assurance do I have that I will “find Him?” When we come acknowledging our sins, we can be assured that He will receive us (1 John 1:9-10). Despite his chilling warning, Hosea also affirmed this several verses later:

  • I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” (Hosea 5:15, NASB)

Without acknowledging guilt, we are still in rebellious denial. We come to God only for His help and afterwards, we turn our back. Instead, when we “earnestly seek” God, we seek Him in truth from our inmost being. This entails confession of sin. Anything less is disingenuous and offensive before God. So when we come to Him, we must bring sincere words of truth:

·         Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

How do we return to God? With words of truth – words of confession of sin! If sin had been our problem, then confession of sin must be part of the answer.

For Jesus, repentance and confession of sin had always been the answer:

  • “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Without confession and repentance, there could be no true forgiveness and restoration, only dis-fellowship:

  •  “If they still refuse to listen [and confess their sin], tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:17-18)

According to Jesus, what applied to the church also mirrored the heavenly reality. A refusal to confess real sins before the church was like a refusal to confess before God. In both cases, restoration to relationship depended on confession and repentance.

In order to demonstrate the necessity for humble confession, let’s take an example. Your friend has destroyed your reputation by gossiping behind your back. Meanwhile, whenever he sees you, he brings you expensive gifts. Will the gifts suffice to maintain the relationship? No! Nothing short of sincere confession (and perhaps also a willingness to repair the damage) can bring real reconciliation.

The Case of Rape and how it is Used to Discredit the Bible

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (Deut. 22:28-29)

Often, have I seen these verses thrown up to show Christians that their religion is sub-standard.  Therefore, we need a ready response.

The way these verses stand, it seems that women were regarded as mere chattel. However, this is clearly not the case (Gen. 1:26-27). Instead something else is going on here.

First of all, forcible rape was a capital offense. Evidently the fact that this “rapist” did not receive the death penalty reflected the fact that there was some uncertainty about his deserving it. Instead, she might have been seduced, especially if it took place in town where her cries for help would have been heard. If, instead, the “rape” took place out in the fields where there was no one present to hear her cries, the charge of “rape” and the imposition of the death penalty might be hard to justify.

The above verses seem to indicate that a forcible rape might not have been involved. The language - “they are discovered” – seems to suggest that the woman might have been a willing accomplice. There was no mention here that her screams were heard. Instead, it seems like they both were found in the act.

In this case, where capital punishment might not have been appropriate, the matter would understandably fall back upon the family. While the “rapist” was legally required to marry his quarry, the family did not have to accept him:

·       “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17)

Of course, if the woman had been seduced, marrying her seducer would represent the best prospect for her future. It would have been difficult for her to find someone else to marry her after she had been discredited. Consequently, her father would naturally comply to the marriage. However, if she refused because she had been forcibly raped, the father would most likely settle for the money. Who would want their daughter to marry a rapist and who would want such a son-in-law!

Monday, March 24, 2014

While there is always Room for another False Teacher, the Truth is very Demanding

Jesus warned that the last days would be characterized by mass deception:

  • “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:23-24)

Deception comes in many packages – the most appealing packaging arises from within the church itself. Paul lamented:

  • “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)

Several scholarly wolves have even insisted:

  • In the beginning, Christianity did not have a fanatic concern about doctrine and orthodoxy. This was an aberration that introduced later.

This represents one of many attacks on the teachings of the Bible originating from our postmodern culture in its disdain for truth. Instead, this culture favors mystical techniques to “experience God.” However, from every indication that we have, the central focus of the Bible is the teaching of truth/doctrine. The early church was “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). They insisted that “everything we need for a godly life [is given us] through our knowledge of him” (2 Peter 1:3). Likewise, Paul proclaimed that the Word of God “can build you up and give you an inheritance” (Acts 20:32).

It can be argued that everything that the Apostles wrote and taught reflected their overriding concern for right doctrine. Paul insisted that anyone who taught a different take on Jesus’ teachings should be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9) and that anyone who disagreed with his teachings was misguided:

  • If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)

Not only was Paul himself profoundly concerned about right doctrine, he insisted that these truths had to be safeguarded and used as the standard to correct false teaching. Therefore, Paul insisted that elders had to be able to teach according to the Gospel and that “opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). The elder had to be able to “refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9) and to oversee the teaching ministry of the church (1 Tim. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 3:9-10; Rom. 16:17). All of this gives us the impression that doctrine was of utmost importance.

The other Apostles reflect the same priority. The Book of Revelation contains letters to seven churches. Two of them were castigated by the Spirit for allowing teachings that contradicted the Gospel (Rev. 2:14, 20). John concludes with a warning:

  • I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Rev. 22:18-19)

Clearly, John not only regarded his epistle as authoritative doctrine, he also regarded it as Scripture! In contrast, the false teachers claim that the Apostles never regarded their teachings as Scripture. However, this is clearly untrue. Paul declared his own epistles to be Scripture:

  • And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

Despite their differences, Peter also regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), as he did the other apostolic writings (2 Pet. 3:2). All of the Apostles seemed to have regarded their writings as authoritative and normative for the church. Consequently, those who rejected these teachings were to be brought up on charges and subjected to expulsion if they refused to repent.

Equally problematic are the charges of the false teachers that, “Jesus came to bring a new life and not a set of stale doctrines.” However, this charge is also meritless. Jesus was intimately concerned about right doctrine. He was the herald of the Good News. This took precedence even over healing. Therefore, when Peter instructed Him to return to the village to heal the many people who had assembled, Jesus corrected him:

  • “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)

His message was weightier than any of His other blessings. Embracing His message was a matter of life and death (Mat. 7:24). It was both the key to salvation (Luke 11:52; John 6:29; 8:24; 17:26) and sanctification (Mat. 13:23; John 17:3, 17). He therefore amply quoted Scripture and insisted that it was life:

  • The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:3-4)

For Jesus, the Word of His Father was everything. He had no doubt that Scripture was the Word of God. Therefore, His disciples would have to live by His every word or teaching! Scripture and its teachings were of such preeminence that Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand it:

  • Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:45-46)

Having a saving relationship with Jesus was unthinkable without also following His teachings (John 15:7-14; 14:21-24). Consequently, when He commissioned and sent His disciples out, He instructed them to instruct the nations to embrace everything that He had taught them (Mat. 28:19-20). He never said anything like this: “Don’t worry about the teachings as long as you love one another.” Clearly, Jesus is doctrine-centered. It would be impossible to live the life He had taught without His teachings.

As obvious as all this should be, many have drifted away and have adopted a doctrine-less Jesus – a Jesus who suspiciously resembles the dictates of their own hearts.

Hope can Kill as well as Comfort

What is the most valuable thing that you can give to someone in pain? Hope! Traditionally, hope was to be found in an all-powerful and all-loving God. In 1978, Martin L. Gross wrote of the advance of a new game-changing hope, one promoted by modern psychology (MP):

  • This change in inner man has taken place quietly, yet it has altered the nature of our civilization beyond recognition. The major agent of change has been modern psychology. (The Psychological Society, 3)
  • For many, the [Psychological] Society has all the earmarks of a potent new religion. When educated man lost faith in formal religion, he required a substitute belief that would be as reputable in the last half of the twentieth century as Christianity was in the first. Psychology and psychiatry have now assumed that special role. They offer mass belief, a promise of a better future, opportunity for confession, unseen mystical workings and a trained priesthood of helping professionals devoted to servicing the paying-by-the-hour communicants. (9)

The hope that MP offers for a “better future” is the hope in ourselves. This hope is reflected in these kinds of statements: “You got whatever it takes.” “You got to believe in yourself!” “You have to empower yourself.” “You have the answers within you!”

As the hope in God began to wane, other sources of hope were sought to fill the vacuum. Various utopian schemes were tried and found lacking. These gave way to a hope in ourselves, a hope that now occupies a pinnacle of almost unquestioned acceptance – a self-evident truth.

But is it a self-evident truth or a destructive form of addiction – a mental rut? Let’s consider some ramifications of what happens when we place our hope in ourselves:

1.    In order to truly hope in ourselves in terms of both our moral status/identity and our abilities to handle the challenges of life, we are coerced to think more of ourselves than we ought. For one thing, we are filled with moral defects and failures. If we are to trust in ourselves, these will have to be glossed over or denied.
2.     Any management requires accurate data. However, if we can no longer clearly regard ourselves, we can no longer effectively manage ourselves.

3.     High self-esteem is positively correlated with anti-social behaviors.

4.     With our unwillingness to truly regard ourselves, self-alienation results – alienated from who we really are!

5.     Relationships require a shared common ground. However, if each party has an inflated view of themselves, that common reality is eroded. Dissonance then undermines intimacy.

6.     We understand life by seeing through the lens of self. If we cannot clearly see ourselves, we cannot clearly see others. If our understanding of ourselves is distorted, this distortion will affect everything else that we observe.

7.     In order to maintain a high self-esteem, criticism must be avoided. However, we require accurate feedback to make appropriate adjustments. This is especially true for relationships – work and otherwise.

8.     If our well-being rests upon a high estimation of ourselves, we will naturally become self-focused and self-absorbed. Where our treasure is, so too will our heart and attention be. Instead of offering freedom, self-trust  imprisons.

All of these raise the question – “Do we actually undermine ourselves when we place all of this weight of self-concern on our shoulders?” Jesus offered a different remedy:
  •   “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Will the Real Homophobe Please Stand Up

Those of us who oppose Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) are routinely demeaned as “homophobes” – those who hate gays. And if you are a hater, then you shouldn’t have a voice. Therefore, any who disagree with SSM shouldn’t have a voice.

But do we really hate gays? One way to decide this question is to determine who actually causes harm to gays? Is it those who oppose SSM or those who promote it?

  • According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control that analyzed data from 2011, approximately 62 percent of gay men who know they have HIV/AIDS do not use condoms when engaging in sexual relations. (LifeSiteNews)

If anyone hates gays, it is these 62%. However, it is not just these, but it’s also those who encourage homosexuality, claiming that the many costs that gays incur are just the result of social intolerance. Certainly, it is not intolerance that causes gays to lie about their health status. Nor is it intolerance that has caused the STD epidemic and attenuated lifespans among gays. Intolerance cannot explain the plethora of problems plaguing the gay lifestyle – mental health, substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence issues.

We can also ask, “Who is it who really cares about gays – those who indulge them or those who warn them?” Of course, we Christians are accused of condemning gays to hell and of  treating them with contempt.

Against these charges, I try to explain that, however haltingly we might walk in the love that we profess, it is our duty to love the gays as Christ has loved us. Since we have learned that we are nothing without our Savior, we are in no position to look down on anyone else. (Although my assertion has never been met with applause, I want to set the record straight anyway.)

What then is love? Love is a commitment to the ultimate welfare of others. It speaks truth. Sometimes, it warns. However, it should never acquiesce to the establishment of an institution – SSM – that will further normalize a behavior that has already been so self-destructive.