Monday, December 30, 2013

Suppressing the Truth

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 01:18-19, NKJV).

We live in a world filled with lies like the sea is filled with water. There is no escape. Truth is rare and precious and to be valued as a priceless gift from God, sought after and held onto like a rope dangling over the edge of an abyss.

For without truth, there is only darkness.

One of the things I remember most vividly when I first became a Christian was the fury I felt when I realized that my whole life up until that time had been based on deception. The things that I was taught by the world, lived by, and believed, were lies originating from the Father of Lies.

What was most infuriating was that most of these falsehoods were how I defined myself; they were the basis of who I thought I was and for 40 years I had been a willing dupe, an effective and compliant participant and coconspirator in my own blindness.

I believed that humans were accidents of chance over time, that the earth was an ancient piece of luck and nothing more. I believed that unborn babies were parasites, not persons, and that we adults were doing them a favor by allowing them to be born. Or perhaps it was no favor at all.

I believed that God, if He existed, was uninvolved and cruel, whether intentionally or because He lacked the ability to meaningfully control anything or anyone.

I believed that every human was born, lived and died, blinking out of existence at the end like a meaningless blob of incidental life that just happened for no reason, and no purpose.

And above all I believed and lived as if I knew the real truth of things, and all who thought otherwise were either ignorant, insane, or childish.

There was deep inside, however, a small part of me that rebelled against these beliefs, that longed for something different, that frantically searched for something that would give me the one thing that my religion of lies could never provide: hope.

Looking back, it is a wonder that I survived as long as I did, for I often behaved as if my life, and the lives of those around me, had no value at all, and I would be better off dead. Or more precisely, that it really didn't matter whether I lived or died.

To emerge from that entrenched darkness into the light of the knowledge of Christ is a miracle. It is a release from prison, a gifting of sight to the willfully blind, and when it happened the scales of deceit fell off and I saw, for the first time as an adult, Truth.

You must not think that I had anything to do with my own transformation. There was nothing special or redeeming about me that enabled my release from the prison I was in, nor did I seek some “better” path. For what I did was exactly what Paul describes above. I “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness”.

Everyone, everywhere, has an innate knowledge of God. It is part of our essential being. He builds it into us. For want of a better word, we call it a “conscience”, and there is no naturalistic explanation that accounts for its existence. It does not aid our physical survival, or the survival of our species. In fact, acts of conscience are very often diametrically opposed to mere survival.

We have it from our beginning, and it is placed there by a merciful and gracious Creator who desires that we come to know Him, and walk with Him so that we may live forever, and not die.

But because we are also born as rebellious sinners, descendants of our sinful forebears, genetically incapable of righteousness and godliness, we practice burying that part of ourselves that knows right from wrong, that speaks to us in the language of God.

And the world helps us do that in every way it can. It promotes deceit, removes God as far away as possible, and aids us in believing the lie that we are accountable only to ourselves.

Its methods are subtle and ingenious. When it cannot completely destroy a person's innate awareness of God, it undermines that awareness by misdirection and illusion, appealing to the one ally that each us carries around like a congenital (from birth) tumor – our self pride.

In and of ourselves, we are no match against this campaign of deception, and as we mature, we become willing traitors, crushing the impulses of our conscience, searing them with the fiery heat of practiced sin and encouraged lusts.

Instead of resisting, as we age, we feed the enemy, allowing it to gain more and more ground in our hearts and minds until we reach the point where we cannot do anything different, when we are confirmed in our evil alliance beyond hope of redemption.

For every man, woman and child, that point of no return is known only to God. We cannot know it in ourselves or in anyone else, and often the person whom we deem to be utterly beyond salvage is the very person that God transforms before us in the miracle of rebirth.

For it is God who opens the eyes of the blind, who gives light in the darkness, who replaces a hardened heart of sin and pride with a new heart that longs to follow after Him. Our part in this transformation is that we come to the end of ourselves and admit that we are beyond help and hope.

It is only then that we begin to cease suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. It is only when we catch a glimpse of who we really are in ourselves that we seek a Savior, and everything we encounter in the world fights against such self-surrender, and rabidly seeks to prevent it from happening.

Understand the three primal forces arrayed against you in this life, seeking to turn you away from God who is your only hope. Each of these enemies has one powerful weapon in common, deception, and is practiced in using it with ruthless effect.

First, and most intimate, is your own “old nature”, the being who you are “naturally” without God in your heart. It is she that haunts your every waking thought and can invade your dreams, and who will be at war with you all the days of your life on this earth. She is what the Bible calls the flesh, and she desires dominion.

Her two allies, the world and Satan, will use every lie at their disposal to embolden your flesh, to strengthen it in the battle, to provide her with ammunition and power to overcome that part of you made new in Christ.

The battle will sometimes seem hopeless. It will often be that you will feel utterly defeated and helpless, but that is also a lie, for you are never alone in the fight. Christ has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. He has promised to be with you even in the darkest night, and is far more powerful than all of your enemies combined.

But it is a war waged every moment. You will be tempted to turn away, but He will provide an escape for every temptation (1Co 10:13).

And remember this above all else, that the only protection against this pervasive deceit is immersion in the truth, and the only source of truth is Christ, who is “the way the truth, and the life.”

So my beloved...

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints-- (Ephesians 6:11-18, NKJV).



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Revealed from Heaven

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 01:18-19, NKJV).

While in this context what is “revealed from Heaven” is God's wrath, the concepts of Heaven and divine revelation are worthy of discussions in and of themselves, and much could be said about both.

First, our full knowledge of God is dependent upon His revelation of Himself. While it is true that Creation, in all of its immense and microscopic complexity, speaks of His power and intelligence and glory, it says little about His innate character.

Many ancient, so-called primitive cultures recognized that power and glory by observing the world and sky around them, but their conception of the Being (or beings) behind it all was limited by their own feeble imagination. They guessed, but could not know, and in their guessing they devised fantastic and nonsensical tales that attempted to explain everything they observed and experienced.

Interestingly, every culture throughout human history has at least two mythologies in common: Creation; and at least one instance of global destruction. Even naturalists recognize a beginning of things, and call it the Big Bang, and admit to evidence that geological catastrophe occurred in the past on a more or less global scale. Usually, this devastation is attributed to a “natural” event, as in a meteoric collision.

The Bible's explanation of these two events is the only ancient account that is ordered and logical. Creation being explained by four immensely profound words, “In the beginning God...”, and the global devastation by the catastrophic flood which God caused to occur during Noah's time.

Both these explanations have lost favor during our lifetimes, but that is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. The point is that we could not know what happened with any precision without Someone providing an eyewitness report. For us, that eyewitness is God Himself, who inspired His Word to be recorded and preserved for mankind throughout the ages.

Which brings us to a very important subtext (underlying theme) of divine revelation, called Inspiration.

Ask yourself this question, if an all-powerful God exists, could He cause information to be known about Him in any way He chose? The obvious answer is, yes.

Given that, if this same Being ordained that faith is the vehicle by which His fallen creatures could return to Him, then how could that information come about that would both inform, and not invalidate that required faith?

While it is true that God could declare His existence unequivocally by ripping open the fabric of the Universe and stepping into Causality unmistakably at any time, (something He has promised to do in the future - Ro 14:11; Php 2:10), that act would absolutely negate faith. It is impossible to have faith in what is actually seen (Ro 8:24,25).

So then, what method of communication meets the requirements of accuracy without negating the opportunity for belief? The answer is the written word penned by holy men of God empowered (inspired) by the Holy Spirit.

The written word is objective and persistent. It is there for all to see throughout time and not subject to the vagaries (unexpected change) and miscommunication of the spoken word. The fact that these “oracles of God” were men does not in anyway detract from the claim that their writings were of supernatural origin; that they were, in fact, words “revealed from Heaven”.

God inspired these men to record exactly what He desired recorded.

Now this “inspiration” is not at all similar to what occurs in occult practices where a human claims to be “channeling” a non-material entity. When such happens in reality, and it undoubtedly does, what is taking place is not inspiration, but a type of possession.

That is not how God works at all. When the prophets who wrote our Bible operated under God's inspiration, these men were not possessed, but directed. They retained their own consciousness and identity, and wrote as God instructed of their own free will. They in no way became God, nor were they any less themselves, but instead faithfully recorded the words or visions God gave them.

Now can we prove that this happened? No, not in the scientific sense, but we can in an evidentiary sense in that much of what was given was history recorded beforehand (prophecy), so that the authenticity and origin of the information would be confirmed.

In fact, the Bible, by some reckoning, is more than two-thirds prophecy, and all of these that have been so far fulfilled have come to pass literally, just as foretold. The most verifiable among these are those 300 or so directly related to the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, all detailed centuries before taking place in time and space exactly as predicted. No other holy writings come close to such a track record, and no other writing stakes its claim to authenticity and its reputation on such prophecy. And given the accuracy of the events already fulfilled, there is no reason to conclude that the remaining, as yet unfulfilled, prophecies will come about in anything other than an equally literal sense.

One final point to make here is that this inspired revelation, like God's wrath, originates from Heaven.

Heaven is discussed at some length in Scripture, not perhaps as exhaustively as we would like, but with enough details to provide us with the following:

  1. It is the abode of God.
  2. It is a real location somehow apart from our four-dimensional reality of time and space, at least for the here and now.
  3. Between here and there is a separation impossible to cross in a physical sense, and requires either physical death or an explicit translation by God.
  4. At some future date, Heaven will emerge into our reality, and what has been separated, likely since the Fall of Man, will once again be reunited.
  5. It is a place where evil cannot abide.
  6. It is where a believer's true citizenship resides.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind from the above list is this: Heaven is where God is, and is therefore the Source from which our own reality emerges. All that we see and experience in this life is but a pale shadow of what there is in Heaven.

Whatever beauty exists here comes from there. Whatever joy and satisfaction we may encounter here is but an echo of the joy and satisfaction we will experience there, if we believe in Christ.

Remember, Dear One, we are finite creatures who live on the edge of the Infinite. God has provided us from Heaven all that we need to know of Him now so that we can choose to believe in Him and abide with Him eternally.

Is it possible to understand fully what all that means? No, but it is enough to exercise our God-given reason to understand enough of Him to evoke rational faith sufficient to bring us into His presence forever more.



Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Wrath of God

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 01:18-19, NKJV).

God reveals Himself as an emotional Being. He has feelings and expresses them, and because we are made in His image, we are emotional beings, as well.

Yet, it would be a mistake to presume that we fully understand what or how God feels, in much the same way that it would be a mistake for a young child to presume the same about his or her parent. There is a depth of experience and being that the child is simply not equipped to plumb.

Along this line of reasoning then, there is at least one very prominent emotion of God that we barely know - His wrath.

Do not mistake human wrath for divine wrath. Humans tend to have outbursts of wrath. These are impulsive eruptions of anger that are entirely based on circumstance and are always harmful. The Bible unequivocally condemns such explosions and summarizes their effect by denouncing their impact:

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19, 20, NKJV).

God's wrath, in contrast, is neither impulsive nor circumstantial. It is based entirely on His character and is directed against only one thing, although that thing is huge and has far-ranging consequences. Its target is sin.

God's wrath is His inevitable and settled response to all things that are in antipathy (opposed) to Him. It is His wrath that will, one day, cleanse all of Creation from that which is not of Him, and until that day, it is His love that delays that final act of Judgment.

It is God's righteous wrath that makes His mercy that much more miraculous and astounding. It is His wrath that makes His grace that much more measureless.

In fact, if we understand, at least in part, the vehemence and power and comprehensiveness and righteousness of His wrath, we will that much more appreciate His patience in allowing time for our repentance from sin, and the unimaginable lengths He has gone to in making that repentance possible through faith in the sacrifice of His own Son on the Cross.

It is God's chosen response to His wrath that makes His justice available, for in His wrath against sin He ordained the penalty of sin – eternal death – while, in His mercy, providing His Son as a vessel to contain that wrath.

However incomprehensible it may be to us, God appointed His Son to suffer the consequences of our rebellion. He has made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become His righteousness in Him.

His wrath demands our eternal punishment, since we, in rebelling against Him and His eternal goodness, rejected His gift of eternal life. By His design, the only alternative remaining to us is the torment of eternal death.

As the one is unknowably blessed, its opposite is unthinkably severe. We cannot therefore fully comprehend His kindness until we more fully comprehend what His kindness protects us from – His wrath.

Now the world hates God, partly because it has an instinctive understanding of its accountability to Him, and of the fact that we are rightful targets of His judgment. It alternately dismisses Him as a figment of collective imagination, thinks of Him condescendingly as the sin-excusing “Man upstairs”, or pictures Him as a bloodthirsty God of petulant vengefulness.

Obviously, He is none of those things, but is a holy, righteous, loving and patient Being with all power and knowledge. He is all that is good, and nothing that is bad. Scripture describes Him as someone in whom there is no variation or shadow of darkness.

His purity and goodness annihilates all that is impure and evil. By definition, to be in any state of opposition to Him is to be subject to that judgmental destruction.

And I believe that the most needful component in understanding God's wrath is to place it in the context of His deferring that judgment until the time of His choosing is fulfilled. That deferral, that containment, that temporary refusal to pour out that which would destroy evil forever is what He has described in His Word as His wrath.

In postponing Judgment, He has altered the otherwise instantaneous cause and effect of sin and cleansing, and is storing up the consequences of mankind's rebellion. He has named that trove of judgment, wrath, and will release it onto a Christ-rejecting world when the time is right, because to do otherwise would be to make His goodness and mercy a lie, and to undermine the purity and immutability of His love.

Without choice their could be no love, without Hell no Heaven, and without the judgment of God's wrath, there could be no everlasting life in His presence.

Do not fear His wrath for yourself, daughter, for Jesus has taken it upon Himself in your place, but fear it for the sake of the unbelieving world, and look upon unrepentant sinners as doomed prisoners of their own willful ignorance, destined for the fires of Outer Darkness.

Your job as an ambassador of Christ is to see them as He sees them, and by your love, show them His, so that they might also come to repentance and live.



Friday, December 27, 2013

The Just Shall Live By Faith

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 01:17, NKJV).

This highlighted phrase appears four times in the Bible; once in the Old Testament, and three in the New (Hab 2:4; Ro 1:17; Ga 3:11; Heb 10:38).

It has been said that the prophet Habakkuk introduces the concept, contrasting those who live by pride; that here in Romans Paul defines who “the just” really are; that in Galatians he explains how the just should live; and in Hebrews what “faith” means.

Now, the word for “just” conveys two meanings, “righteous”, and “acceptable to God”, and is therefore the perfect summation of a believer's standing in Christ. We are made righteous by Jesus having taken our sin upon Himself at the Cross, and, in exchange, He gives us His sinless righteousness. Because of that transaction, we are cleansed and made acceptable to God.

But, and this is extremely important, we are made righteous and acceptable by faith, and this is in direct opposition to the idea that we earn our way into eternal life.

Do you see how magnificent those six words truly are, now. Think of it as both a promise and a command. We are made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, and because our sins have been forgiven through His death on the Cross, we are no longer under the penalty of death. We shall live, and not die.

But there's more. Faith is not only the means by which eternal life is granted to us, it is how we are to live now, day by day.

What does this mean, living by faith?

Paul says it this way:

For we walk [live day by day] by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NKJV).

Proverbs puts it another way:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV).

And again in Corinthians, Paul writes:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18, NKJV).

This echoes how Hebrews defines faith itself:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV).

To live by what we believe rather than merely by what we see or experience is the distinguishing characteristic between believers and unbelievers.

When we allow the Spirit of God free reign in us, our view of the world and of our circumstances goes beyond what is obvious and apparent, and focuses on the underlying purposes and meaning of even of all the events surrounding us.

We understand that nothing is by accident, and that all things work together for good, although we may not be in a position to see that good all the time.

That is why in the New Testament and throughout church history we read of men and women who undergo horrendous pain and loss and yet find themselves able to praise God for His grace and mercy.

It is not that we Christians are masochistic (deriving pleasure from one's own pain), but that we, living by faith, see past the moment into eternity.

I have lived life from both sides of this equation, as a non-believer and as a believer.

I can attest from years of personal experience that there is no comparison between living by sight versus living by faith. The latter is so far superior to the former that the contrast is almost inexpressible.

And this is not something that I have achieved through my own puny efforts. In fact, it has often been despite my natural tendency to focus outward on my circumstances rather than upward upon my Savior – the author and finisher of our faith.

I believe that faith sees the truth of things underneath everything, like a kind of x-ray vision, or what artists see when they look at a simple bowl and observe so much more than the bowl itself, but also light and patterns and shadow and infinite color.

C.S. Lewis thought that until Heaven, we live in something he called the Shadowlands. It looks real enough and full-bodied, but once seen in the True Light, it becomes as vapor and silhouettes.

And this is what the gift of faith provides, True Light, not as some magical incantation, but as the ability to perceive as we have always been meant to perceive; as Adam and Eve did in the Garden before The Fall.

And one day, perhaps soon, that kind of sight will be as natural as breathing again, as much a part of us as our skin.

Until then, He gives us glimpses into the True World, like Gehazi, Elisha's servant:

And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17, NKJV).

Remember this, Little One, His love for us knows no bounds. He is noble and virtuous in ways and to a depth that we can only imagine.

But living by faith, we come close to seeing who He really is, and in seeing that, our hearts are filled with joy that never fades.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From Faith to Faith

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 01:17, NKJV).

But what does that mean?” I asked a beloved brother in the Lord early in my walk as a Christian.

I was referring to the highlighted phrase in the verse above.

Faith first and last,” he said. “Faith beginning to end.”

That satisfied me for the moment, but now, years later, I think it means even more than that; more than faith alone; more than some ancient colloquialism (a word or phrase that is not formal or literary).

You see, when the object of faith is God, and in this particular context, God's righteousness being revealed, the phrase “from faith to faith” is an indication of the self-replicating nature of faith. By this I mean, faith in God becomes broadened and deepened by itself.

Faith is that thing or activity which, when directed to its proper focus, becomes more of itself. In other words faith is nourished by faith.

I conclude this for two reasons. First, Scripture exhorts us repeatedly to be encouraged by one another's “mutual faith”. Earlier, in verse 12, Paul has alluded to that very effect; that being around those of like-minded faith builds up our own.

The writer of Hebrews says more or less the same thing, that “we should not neglect the assembling of ourselves together.” Why? Because the church is designed by God to keep herself going, needing nothing from the world, but only her Head, Christ, and the spiritual gifts that He distributes for the edification (building up) of itself in love.

Secondly, faith is the first step in understanding spiritual things. The Bible, without being mixed with faith, is merely a collection of ancient writings, but with faith, it becomes alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. Faith recognizes that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.

Here is a word picture of what I think of as the Divine Spiral. It is painted like this:

The smallest measure of faith gives us a glimpse of God, a tantalizing understanding that He IS there and knows each one of us. If we nourish that faith with even the slightest acknowledgment, it grows and blossoms, causing us to hunger for more of His presence, more knowledge and understanding of Him, which increases our faith, which gives us a greater hunger, and so on.

I picture it as a beautiful, increasingly vast upward spiral leading to the very gates of Heaven.

Faith in God, like His grace towards us, changes everything.

It starts on the inside and works outward, transforming a cold-hearted sinner into a lover of God through Christ, His Son.

It makes the blind see, the lame walk, and cleanses the leper, and the more we exercise the measure of faith we are given, the larger, broader, and deeper it becomes.

Now be prepared for the world to attempt to corrupt and pervert this glorious progression, dismissing it as magical thinking, or misdirecting it toward, not faith in God, but faith in faith.

To protect against such attacks, just remember what it was like to believe in Jesus when you were a little child. Back then, there were no cynical complications, no pernicious (harmful) doubts, no recognized outside pressure to disbelieve. There was just you and Jesus, and it was as natural a breathing to know He was there and loved you.

The world thinks that Biblical Christianity requires us to check our brains at the door, but that is not so at all. What it really requires is to examine the evidence that God has provided in His Word, in the world, and in a changed heart, with the purity of a little child, as yet unscarred by the ravages of sin.

When we are confronted with doubt, or with things we don't understand, we need only to fall back on the things we do understand, and ultimately, to come back to the Cross, for that is the destination that faith intends us to reach.

Consider this magnificent prayer that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, NKJV).

Faith in Christ is not something that you grit your teeth and break out in a sweat to experience. It is something far deeper than that, far more basic, like breathing air.

But unlike breathing, it is possible to deny faith by stubbornly refusing to believe that which your conscience, all of Creation, and that still small voice within urges you to accept. If you reject Him long enough, if you refuse to see, then there will come a time when that is all you can do, and He will grant you your wish to be left alone for all eternity.

That is one of the very definitions of Hell.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Righteousness of God

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 01:17, NKJV).

This concept, the righteousness of God, is important to understand primarily because it is often called into question by life itself. It is also frequently the opening salvo in human attacks on the character of God, in the form of, “how can a righteous God... [fill in the blank with whatever excuse or circumstance apparently justifies the question]?”

The best definition I can give is that righteousness is the “state of someone who is as he or she ought to be”. That is, that the person possessing this characteristic is aligned with the universally understood qualities of moral correctness.

Now, morality is a squishy beast in this day and age. It has become victim to the forces of relativism in that instead of representing an intended absolute, it is now subject to the winds and currents of human thought and imagination. That is almost never a good thing.

But in the case of morality, it is all a show of smoke and mirrors to bolster the logically untenable position of denying God's existence, for even the most devoted follower of Relativism is personally offended by unfairness or injustice when, let's say, someone cuts in front of him at the line for the doctor's office.

If morality at its core where truly relative, or circumstantial, there would be no universally perceived offense since it would be entirely possible that, to the rude perpetrator, it was moral to put himself first.

In fact, this innate sense of fairness or justice that is shared by all functioning humans, is inexplicable in purely naturalistic evolutionary terms. Where did it come from, the primordial goo from which we all supposedly originate?

We humans behave as if there is indeed some universal standard of justice outside ourselves, imposed from some external source that wrote all the rules beforehand. We are merely players on the field, aware of, and sometimes even following, those rules, but clearly not the author of them. Even the most depraved psychopath knows (and delights) in breaking them.

These rules of right and wrong come from God, who is Himself perfectly “as He ought to be”. And he wrote them in our DNA and conscience so that we are without excuse when we break them.

This aspect of His character, this perfect righteousness, is one of the many reasons He is trustworthy, for as far back as Genesis 18:25 we discover that the “Judge of the earth” will only do what is right.

For us, this righteousness of God means that if we obey Him, we are protected from His justifiable wrath against human depravity and sin; and to obey Him, we need to know and understand what He commands.

Fortunately, miraculously, mercifully, graciously, the single most important command in this regard is to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”.

It need not have been that way. His righteousness could have demanded our own perfect righteousness with the slightest misstep disqualifying us from eternal life and guaranteeing our entrance into eternal punishment.

If that were the case, we would be bereft of all hope, and it would have been better for each one of us never to have been born.

But instead, His righteousness, His perfect judgment has been tempered by His measureless mercy and grace. He made it possible to gain entrance to Heaven not by our own righteousness but by way of His Son.

In His brilliant and glorious plan of redemption formulated in the eternal counsels of the Godhead before the foundation of the earth, God declared the penalty of sin (missing the mark of His standards of right and wrong) is death, and that the soul that sins must die.

He created Adam, as our representative, and gave this creature made after God's own image every opportunity to obey the one restriction placed upon him, and when Adam failed (as God knew He would), we all failed in him.

But He promised there would come another representative, a Last Adam, who, through perfect obedience, would fulfill all of God's righteousness and thus, as a Man, qualify for Heaven.

And then came the most incomprehensibly glorious aspect of this plan: instead of showing us the way and leaving us to our own devices leading to inevitable failure, this Last Adam, this sinless representative, took upon Himself our death. He died in our place, taking our punishment, not only on the Cross, but in being separated from God.

You see, God had declared that Adam's sin would result in death for himself and all his descendants after him. He likewise made provision for that required death to be satisfied by the substitutionary sacrifice of His own beloved Son, and thus grant life to all those who, by faith, become Christ's descendants; who by belief in that provision would become children of God rather than children of Adam.

But God's righteousness demanded that Jesus must die for that exchange to take place.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).

The world asks how can a righteous God allow the evil so evident all around us to exist? How can He allow babies to die and the innocent to suffer?

But the real question that should be asked is this: how could a righteous God place upon His sinless Son the punishment that we sinners deserve?

And the only answer that satisfies is perhaps the most famous verse in the world.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV).

So, when you find yourself unsure of His love for you, remember this:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NKJV).

Do not think for one nanosecond that He does not love you, for in giving us His Son, He proved for all eternity that His love for you knows no bounds.

You know the old saying about how someone can “love you to death”.

There is only One who has, and in doing so has really loved you to life.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Power of God

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 01:16, NKJV).

Even as a Materialist immersed in so-called Scientific Naturalism, I knew – I just knew – that there was Something or Someone that had some kind of power beyond what I could see, hear, feel, or measure. It was a conviction based on suspicion rather than desire, for I certainly did not want such a thing to be.

It was also a conclusion reached solely by logic, that is, that there had to be at least a Divine Finger that knocked over the first Domino and then sat back and watched the rest fall in succession. I could not conceive (and still can't) of Something coming from Nothing, which is what the purely Naturalist viewpoint required as an explanation for All That Is.

Of course, I fought against this suspicion “tooth and nail”, for I did not want it to be true.

When I finally became a disciple of Jesus Christ (for, by definition, that is what all true Christians must be if the label “Christian” has any meaning), I realized that even my sneaking suspicion of a Deity behind the whole works was woefully simplistic.

How could the Finger of God just initiate the first Event (the falling Domino), without having created the successive Events waiting to happen? In the word picture of my example, Who or What created all the Dominos, lined them up just so, and then formulated the Law of Cause and Effect so that things proceeded along some inevitable course from that Initial Action forward?

It couldn't have been that Deity got the ball rolling and then sat back and watched. It first had to create the playing field and the rules. And if It could do that, then what couldn't It do?

You see, Atheism, the willful denial of the existence of God, is too childish a concept to hold any water. From first to last, all its premises are far too weak to explain anything. They waft away in the wind of rational thought.

There MUST BE a First Cause, and given the intricate complexity of subsequent events, that First Cause must have, at minimum, Eternality (existence outside of time in order to start the clock ticking, so to speak), Intelligence (the ability to design and plan ahead), and Power (the means to create and cause action).

To say it another way, God must exist. He is the Inescapable Conclusion.

And since He must exist as God, He must have Power, and the Apostle Paul in the verse above begins to detail perhaps the most important aspect of that power to all of Creation: the power to save.

Think of it this way: even beyond our own existence (also the result of the power of God), salvation is the most important event in the Universe. Without the possibility of escape from the inevitable destiny of eternal punishment through whatever means the Creator has ordained, it would be, as Jesus Himself said, better to have never been born (Mark 14:21).

Now, some think it strange that we need to be saved at all. I know I thought as much before I came to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But once I understood that my existence was not a matter of random chance over time, but was due to an act of power by Deity, then it was no great leap to consider that the same creative Deity had the authority to determine my destiny according to His rules.

I knew I was far from perfect, that over the course of my life I had committed evil, and that I fell far short of the standards of right and wrong that, even in my most God-hating years, I had to admit existed in my and the world's consciousness. (As can readily be observed, the concept of Justice, is an inherent component of every thinking person – be he a mass murderer, a thief, a philanthropist, or an every day, run of the mill liar.) Given that, the inevitable question is: where did the universal idea of “fairness” come from, the primordial goo from which we are all supposed to have emerged?

The need for salvation then, is only a ridiculous notion if you willfully ignore the facts of life. And not only does it apply to each individual, but to the whole creation which, Paul will tell us later, was corrupted when Adam fell into sin. All That Is groans and labors until now awaiting the restoration that comes when sin is finally eliminated.

Following the same line of reasoning, while some may admit to the need of redemption, they chafe at the means outlined in the Bible. Many of the objections can be expressed as these questions:

How can mere belief or faith in Christ wipe away my sin? It seems too easy.

How could His death make me righteous? It seems barbaric and cruel to make someone else pay my penalty?

How can God, being God, die?

How can someone in a grave for days be made alive again?

In one sense, the unspoken aspect of all these inquires is the implied statement, “Well, I certainly wouldn't do it that way.”

Taking these one by one, then – there is nothing “mere” about faith, especially in regard to the fallen and corrupt human heart. True and sincere faith in Someone else is antithetical (directly opposed or contrasted) to the natural human mind. Suspicion and doubt is the norm, particularly when it comes to life and death. To believe in Christ is, in itself, a supernatural work of God. While we are all “dealt a measure of faith”, placing that faith in the Person and work of Christ alone is a miracle. It flies against our desire to “do something” ourselves, or to have some personal control over our destiny. Trusting in Jesus exclusively to avoid Hell is not easy because it requires a regenerated spirit and a recreated human heart.

On the other hand, if it weren't “mere faith” that saves, but rather attaining godly perfection ourselves, there would be no hope. We would all fail before we took the first step. If God did not choose to make belief in His Son the prerequisite for entrance into eternal life, no son of Adam or daughter of Eve would escape eternal death.

But Jesus's death, in itself, does not make anyone righteous. His death wipes clean the debt of sin, and is the necessary first step that allows the Holy Spirit to work in us towards sanctification, which is our gradual transformation into the image of Christ. And while it may seem “barbaric and cruel” to us, the Father did not compel His Son to die, but His Son did so out of love and obedience voluntarily. He willingly went to the Cross so we might live. The fact that He had to demonstrates the horrific nature of sin, and the depths of His love.

Next, because it was our forefather Adam, a man, who began the long, bloody road of rebellious human history, it had to be a perfect Man who ended that journey. Sin kills. To kill sin necessitates a death. There was no other way in the brilliance of God's plan of redemption. It is the ultimate outworking of the ancient equation of justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.

And that Man had also to be of infinite value, and sinless, so that His death would take away sin for all humanity who believes. So He had also to be God. Therefore, it was the second Person of the Divine Trinity who emptied Himself to become one of us so that as a Man, His death would satisfy God's decree that the “wages of sin is death”, and “the soul that sins must die”. Is it possible to know all the magnificent details of how this was accomplished, how Deity became humanity, how immortality became mortality, how God could separate from God, and of what it means for God to become one of His creatures?

I don't think so, at least not for this father in this life. But I recognize this – for the whole thing to work out as it has, literally took the “power of God”. Nothing else would do.

And the final objection, how can Someone be raised from the dead, can only be answered by again pointing to the gospel. One the one hand, it makes perfect sense that death could not hold Jesus, because death is the result of sin, and Jesus was sinless. But on the other hand, once truly and utterly dead, life itself is not possible. There is no way to conceive of death being undone; like unscrambling an egg, or transporting into another Reality.

Yet, that is precisely what happened. Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. He was made alive again. Interestingly, the Bible credits all three persons of the Trinity in His resurrection; Romans says He was brought to life by the Father, John says Jesus Himself had the power, and 1st Peter tells us He was resurrected by the Holy Spirit.

And this fact of the Resurrection is perhaps the greatest tribute to the power of God.

Of course, to us who believe that God created the Heavens and the earth, that He built All That Is, it may not seem that bringing the dead to life again is all that much different, but I submit otherwise.

In a way difficult to describe, I suspect that creation ex nihilo, Latin for making something out of nothing, is somehow “easier” than restoring specific, immensely complicated, and measurelessly profound life to a conscious being made in the image of God. How much more of an accomplishment to do the same with the life of God Himself?

That last bit is just me, thinking out loud, but one thing is certain - Paul's statement that the gospel of Jesus Christ IS the power of God to salvation is something not to be overlooked. Again, I suspect that we will have all eternity to explore and marvel and what all that really is.