Friday, January 30, 2015

The Trashing Of God's Grace

When I first got Internet access in 1997, I enjoyed online chat rooms. In some of my conversations in so-called Christian chat rooms, I encountered several people who claimed to love the Lord, but who apparently felt no qualms about sinful behaviors as part of their daily lives. Their comfort with sin perplexed me.

Their comfort with sin also intrigued me, causing me to wonder whether or not I could make moral compromises and still enjoy fellowship with the Lord. When I tried doing so, however, the Holy Spirit showed His faithfulness by making me miserable. Even the most theologically empty praise song would flood me with an awareness that the Lord hated my behavior. I knew I'd dug a gulf between myself and Him.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? ~~James 4:4-5 (ESV)
Why, then, didn't my chat room "friends" struggle with conviction? Why could they rationalize their sin until it no longer conflicted with their profession of  faith? Their accommodation of sin fascinated me, even after the Lord settled it in my heart that He would not tolerate that sort of  behavior from me.

In the years since then, I've learned that many people claim to be Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Christians, but have never truly experienced salvation. As a result, they feel equally comfortable in church or in activities that even militant atheists know dishonor the Lord.

Yesterday I demonstrated that morality, in and of itself, attacks the Gospel by offering a way to earn God's acceptance. Salvation through morality nullifies the need for Christ's atoning work on the cross by implying that we can achieve God's approval. But an abandonment of obedience to the Lord's moral standards, especially by people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians, also blasphemes the Gospel by trivializing sin.

Sin nailed our precious Lord Jesus to the cross, causing Him to suffer the full wrath of God that rightly belongs to you and me. God took sin so seriously that He sent His only Son to suffer its penalty for those who would believe in Him. That grace, however, changes its recipients,  giving us a desire to live in accordance with His character.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
His purpose in redeeming us goes far deeper than granting us entrance to heaven. Ultimately, the Lord desires a people for Himself, who share in His holiness. Those who reduce His grace into license to live self-indulgent lives ignore the serious nature of sin and completely miss the purpose of grace. In essence, they trash the very Bible they claim to believe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Lifestyle Gospel

When asked to explain the difference between nominal Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, a friend of mine replied, "Christianity is a lifestyle."

True, the nominal Catholic she'd said that to exhibited a certain disparity between his professed belief in God and his day-to-day life. Though he'd once attempted to impress me with his claim to be a "Bible scholar" (I really fought hard to keep a straight face), everybody could see that Scripture made absolutely no impact on his moral choices. I believe the discrepancy between his claim of faith and his behavior prompted my girlfriend to describe Christianity as a "lifestyle."

Her description troubled me at the time, and it troubles me even more now. For while genuine salvation definitely leads to a lifestyle that increasingly renounces sin, that lifestyle merely shows evidence of the Holy Spirit's regenerative work in a believer. Moreover, outward morality can be mimicked by all sorts of people who don't believe the Gospel. The Pharisees of Jesus day held to a high moral code, remember, but they rejected Jesus Christ.

In fact, trusting in our own morality, even if we derive that morality from the Bible, completely contradicts the essence of the Gospel. Those who defend their Christianity on the basis that they go to church, read their Bibles daily, remain sexually pure (physically) and drink only in moderation prove only that they trust in their good works rather than in Jesus' atoning work on the cross. Oh, they may say otherwise (they know their responsibility to say all the correct things), but deep down they believe their religious activity and avoidance of certain behaviors is what distinguishes them from non-Christians.

Of course I believe that born-again Christians will grow in holiness, developing a disdain for sin. In that respect, we indeed do have a lifestyle that makes us different from those around us. The epistle of 1 Peter (obviously too lengthy to quote here) shows the relationship between regeneration and exhibiting the values of our Heavenly Father. In other words, we live a holy lifestyle because the Holy Spirit causes us to resemble our Father.

Christianity, then, differs from any other belief system in that God gives us new birth as we admit our own moral bankruptcy and trust in Christ's atonement.
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~~Ephesians 2:1-9 (ESV)
We point to His grace rather than our lifestyle. He alone deserves the spotlight because He is the One Who gave us the new life that, in turn, changes our values and behavior in ways that reflect Him. True conversion never points to self-accomplishment, but instead rejoices in the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Irony Of Celebrating Boldness--Reviewing "God's Not Dead"

Over the past two nights, we watched the movie, God's Not Dead. For reasons that have nothing to do with this blog post, we had to stop watching at the half-way point Monday night and therefore watch the balance last night. Please be advised that, to adequately communicate my disappointment, sadness, anger and fears about this film, I can't avoid talking about the climatic scene. So yes, this is a spoiler. But it fits our discussion of false conversion so well that I knew I needed to write about it today.

First, allow me to quote the synopsis from the God's Not Dead website:
Amazon.com image
Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade. As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead” on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh find himself at a crossroads, having to choose between his faith and his future. Josh offers a nervous refusal, provoking an irate reaction from his smug professor. Radisson assigns him a daunting task: if Josh will not admit that “God Is Dead,” he must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course and hinder his lofty academic goals. With almost no one in his corner, Josh wonders if he can really fight for what he believes. Can he actually prove the existence of God? Wouldn’t it just be easier just to write “God Is Dead” and put the whole incident behind him? 
The premise of people making courageous stands for their faith inspired me, and I honestly liked most of the movie for that reason. As a college freshman, I sadly failed in my attempts to demonstrate that humanism is, in its very essence, diametrically opposed to Biblical Christianity, so I admired Josh for both taking a stand and doing in-depth research to substantiate his argument. The subplot of the Muslim girl who  suffered her father's rejection  when he learned of her Christian faith also made me like the movie. How wonderful to see young people risk so much for their faith.

Sadly, the producers and writers evidently had difficulty risking financial backing and/or industry support for the sake of the Gospel. As Radisson lay on the street dying because of a hit-and-run driver, the pastor gently guides him through a superficial acceptance of Jesus. In presenting his hollow imitation gospel, he briefly mentioned forgiveness of sin, but didn't really tell Radisson that his sin required the blood of Jesus. He said absolutely nothing about hell. Nothing about repentance.

Sure, the immediacy of Radisson's death meant the pastor had little time to embark on a doctrinal discourse. But the writers could have either let him phrase things differently or had another Christian character proclaim the true Gospel during earlier points in the movie. Many of the characters made admirable sacrifices for God, but they barely mentioned the Lord's sacrifice on the cross. And no one said a word about why He sacrificed Himself.

And, for all the discussion about God not being dead, why didn't Josh present the historical evidence for the resurrection during his classroom presentation?

As Radisson passed into eternity, horror gripped me. Had the situation been real, he would have entered hell, clinging to an incomplete (and consequently, false) gospel. A real-life pastor, who presumably would have had training in basic Biblical doctrine, couldn't sugar-coat the Gospel at such a crucial time! Or if he did, he would be guilty of producing a false convert.

Similarly, the producers and writers of God's Not Dead offer a shallow gospel that encourages false conversions among teens and young adults (their target audience). Why didn't they display the fortitude to present the Gospel as Scripture proclaims it? One that might result in true converts?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pictures Of A Storm

Thankfully, one of my PCAs has been staying with us during the blizzard, and so far we've had power. This morning John took some photos from our building's Community Room as well as from our living room. I thought I'd share them.
 John doesn't like the screen in this photo, but I think it creates an interesting effect.
They had just snow-blowered (is that a word?) the walk-way behind our building, and already the snow had covered it again!
 Doesn't really show the snow, but it's a great shot in terms of composition.
The wind blew so hard and the snow was so fine and dry that it didn't stick much to the trees. The snow's dryness minimized power outages, praise God.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Believers Who Miss The Gospel

"False convert" seems to be the latest buzz word in the types of blogs I read, and I struggle with the suspicion that we might over-apply the term. As I mentioned the other day, for example, I can't determine the genuineness of my own conversion during the time I participated in the Charismatic movement.

I embraced a lot of bad doctrine during those years, and yet I knew deep down that much of the theology didn't really square with Scripture. I just didn't know Scripture well enough to argue against Charismatic doctrine. But I did know that I had no claim to heaven apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Trusting in Christ rather than self-effort marks a true Christian. Although we must pay attention to other points of doctrine (particularly the sufficiency of Scripture), the basic Gospel must underscore everything else. The true Christian knows his depravity, and therefore has no option other than to rely exclusively on Jesus to atone for his sin.

In contrast, many false converts have great difficulty understanding the severity of their sin. Oh, they may give lip-service to the concept, but they secretly believe that they either took part in becoming Christians or have some responsibilities in maintaining their salvation. They sing about God's grace, but they can't really believe that He has done all the work. They feel driven to contribute something.

The apostle Paul addressed this prideful attitude in the letter to the Galatians. Of course I can't copy the entire epistle here, but  consider this passage as an example:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ~~Galatians 3:1-3 (ESV)
Charismatics, Catholics, proponents of contemplative prayer and adherents of psychology all can fall into this category of false converts.  All these groups (and probably others) subtly add human effort either to salvation itself or to sanctification while minimizing the doctrine of depravity. In fact, some of them actively seek to bolster self-esteem, teaching that Jesus died for us because of our worth. The focus, in one way or another, reverts to  man's ability to earn God's favor--directly contradicting the  message of the Gospel.

Other false converts minimize the doctrine of sin, either by claiming that they're free to sin because of Christ's death on the cross (which paid for their sin) or by manipulating Scripture to excuse their particular sin. They violate the Gospel by refusing to let it conform them to His Holiness. They expect God to make them feel good, but reject any thought of surrendering their lives to Him.

The following passage from 2 Peter describes the attitude of false teachers, but I believe it also applies to others who use a faulty understanding of grace to justify sinful behavior.
19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” ~~2 Peter 2:19-22 (ESV)
Gay Christians (particularly those who once served as leaders in the ex-gay arena before going back to homosexuality), female pastors and elders and emergent church types provide the most prominent examples of those who minimize the gravity of sin. But by trivializing sin, they also trivialize the precious blood of Christ. Additionally, they pull the emphasis away from the Lord's glory and on to how He can satisfy them.

I've merely given an overview of false conversion today, but I expect to explore the topic more in the future. As we all examine ourselves to make sure He has genuinely saved us, may we keep our gaze on Christ, giving Him all the glory and adoring Him for saving wretches like us. May we adorn His Gospel.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Quotation

The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message, “He is risen.”

J. Gresham Machen

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To This Blog Post

When I woke up this morning, I knew I wanted to address the issue of false conversion. But I planned to approach it by examining my own spiritual history and analyzing whether or not my affiliations in a Charismatic church and a seeker sensitive church necessarily made me a false convert. Maybe my personal story might have interested some people and disappointed others as I challenged the notion that receiving faulty teaching automatically disallows genuine salvation, but just a few hours ago I realized my self-serving motives for wanting to tell my own story.

Yes, it's my party and I can cry if I want to. Or more accurately, it's my blog and I can navel-gaze if I want to. Except that I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, so therefore He has authority over what I write and how I write it. In 2006, I started this as a "vanity blog," admittedly, but the Lord has changed its direction and has made it more about Him than about me.

The topic of false conversion demands attention, certainly, and I will indeed devote some posts to it. Many evangelicals honestly believe they know Christ and adhere to the Bible when they really have adopted a form of "Christianity" that follows worldly philosophies...and sometimes devilish ones. Such people often sincerely desire to live in obedience to Christ and to enjoy His salvation, but they embrace teachings and practices that  contradict the Gospel. Some are, in spite of faulty theology, genuinely saved. Most are not.

As I explore this problem of counterfeit Christianity, I don't see much benefit in trying to figure out exactly when the Holy Spirit regenerated me. I believe He did it when I always claimed He did, but I know that I spent decades struggling with doctrines that encouraged me to think I participated in my conversion. In truth, Jesus saved me at some point, but the particulars simply don't matter. As long as He receives all the glory for taking my sin upon Himself and cleansing me with His blood, I rejoice. And if He can use my posts to liberate others from false conversion into the new birth, I'll praise His wonderful Name.

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