Book Plunge: The Gospel Precisely

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Renew? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Matthew Bates for his friendship as I was one of the people he contacted in order to promote his new book. It’s an honor to be in that circle. I find Matthew Bates to be a highly informed scholar, but I am super thankful that he is not just staying in an ivory tower, but is taking advanced New Testament studies and breaking them down for the layman to understand the gospel in a whole new way.

Too often, our idea of the gospel is way too shortsighted, which is a tragedy because what we have is really good already and yet we miss that there’s so much more. We are more content with making mudpies when a day at the beach awaits us. We are pleased with what we understand of the gospel, and we should be, but we miss that there is a lot more.

So let’s start with what is the gospel. Most of the time, we make the gospel about ourselves. This is what God is doing to forgive us. With that, we are ultimately the subjects of the gospel. It is about us. The gospel is not about us. It is about Jesus. We are the ones that are being used for the glory of God. God is not to be used for the glory of us.

One aspect that we miss is the gospel is Jesus becoming king. I remember hearing once that John Dominic Crossan said about Mark 1:1 that talked about the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s a short little verse, but Crossan said it could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

If he said that, he’s not wrong.

Jesus is coming and declaring Himself to be the king who will rule on God’s behalf. This is part of the gospel. This is one of the reasons He was crucified. You don’t get crucified for just teaching good ethics and sharing parables. Jesus was a majorly political figure as well as a religious one.

Why does this matter? Because we were created to be the rulers of this world on God’s behalf. Unfortunately with sin, we all failed at that one. Jesus was meant to be fully human and fully God so that He could rule and reflect God perfectly but also be a man ruling like God intended. Part of the good news is also that not only are we forgiven, but we are to be rulers of the new creation with Jesus Christ. God saves us so we can serve.

This is however also good for non-Christians for the time being. The world is meant to be a better place with the coming of Christianity and where Christians aren’t being what they were supposed to be. Most people, Christians or not, do support the life and ethics of Jesus. I still remember a non-Christian friend saying on my Facebook wall that life would be a lot better if we all tried to live like Christ.

Oh. Let me explain something with that. When we speak of Christ, we shouldn’t treat Christ as just a name. Some people actually think that he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. I wish I was joking. I can still remember years ago someone asking “Why would a Jewish guy have a Greek last name?”

The closest idea we have to Messiah is King. In our country, that’s something that seems foreign to us, but we might not be too far from us. A friend of mine thinks we might naturally move as a society towards monarchy. Every four years, we are having “The most important election of our lifetime” which should show that we place way too much emphasis on the president, no matter who he is.

Of course, if we’re servants of God, we need to know who this God is. The Trinity is not just an add-on. If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, the Gospel is completely changed. Christians need to learn how to understand to some extent the Trinity and how to defend it.

I’m only giving snapshots here because honestly, i want you to read the book yourself. Some of you might be concerned with reading a whole book on this. Good news. The book is only about 100 pages. You could easily read it in a day or two, and it would be a day or two well-spent.

Finally, how do we share the gospel? This is where it might get difficult as Bates lists ten items that he thinks we need to remember and share. Those complaining about this might want to think about what they have memorized about sports teams, TV shows, music, or video games.

So final opinion? Get this book. It’s a great one to understand the gospel and will show you how much you are missing. It has five chapters and while I said you could read it in a day, if you wanted to read one chapter a day, you could do so easily and read it in a week and you would be blessed for doing so.

Matthew Bates is a gift to the church that keeps on giving and thanks to him for his work and being considered part of his team to help share his material. It’s material worth sharing and it’s an honor to be a part of it. And oh yes, there is one part where he does show that he does believe Jesus was born of a virgin so he does affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm, the obvious important sign of anyone wanting to share the gospel.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

The Requirement To Forgive

How serious is the call to forgiveness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In Jesus’s new Kingdom, forgiveness is kind of a big deal. After all, the only way anyone else gets into the Kingdom is through forgiveness and grace. If you are a recipient of that forgiveness and grace, it follows that you should show it to others.

Jesus later gives a parable illustrating this. We know it as the parable of the unmerciful servant, though perhaps we should also consider it the parable of the merciful master. The servant begs the master for just a little more time to pay off a debt that he must be deluded to think he could ever pay off. The master doesn’t give it, but instead he just cancels the debt entirely. The servant leaves and finds a fellow servant who only owes him a small amount. He demands this servant pay him immediately and when he is begged for time, he throws the other servant in prison. The master finds out and has the servant brought to him and then the same is done to him.

Jesus ends saying that if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. In other words, it must not just be the lip service that is done. It must be real and honest forgiveness. In our world, it might be easy to say something before the cameras that looks really good, but God knows the heart and won’t be fooled at all.

This is something that should give us all pause. If we are not showing mercy to one another for their sins, it is because we do not trust that we have been shown mercy. The unforgiving servant still thought that somewhere he had to pay off the debt. Had he really believed he had been forgiven, he would be able to show forgiveness.

This should give us pause because there is no indication Jesus doesn’t mean what He says. Forgiveness is not optional. It is a requirement. If your brother comes to you and asks for your forgiveness, there is no question about it. You give it. You don’t test. You don’t ask for proof. You don’t withhold. You just forgive.

The Kingdom is to be a place of grace and thus its citizens must be gracious. To not be gracious is to say one would rather inflict suffering and judgment on another instead of showing the love that is required in the Kingdom of God. This is one reason also to believe in the forgiveness of God. To believe God has not forgiven us when we come to Him is to believe that He would rather punish us than to show grace to us.

This is a big requirement, but a necessary one, and maybe if we took it more seriously we would find ourselves becoming a better people. We would be more gracious of the wrongs of others considering how much grace has been shown to us. Maybe that would be the kind of Kingdom most of us would like to live in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Do Protestants Have A Problem With Works?

Is works salvation really a major issue today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday at a Bible Study at the Orthodox Church my wife attends, we were going through Revelation 14 and I heard the priest get to the verse about those who die in the Lord for they will rest and their works will follow them. He remarked that Protestants have a problem with this verse. For me, I was sitting right there as the Protestant in the room and thinking, “I don’t have a problem with it.” I don’t know how we could get statistics on how many Protestants might have a problem with it, but I figured it could be something interesting to write on.

I think those of us who are Protestants have rightly emphasized salvation by grace through faith. It cannot be earned. It is a gift. It is not wages that are given out because we are good boys and girls.

So when I see this verse in Revelation, I think it means the work that the person has done immediately is done. They themselves will work no more, but the effects of what they have done will live on. Why would that be a problem?

If we go back to the Reformation, I am convinced the Protestants had the better arguments, but their exegesis was still not the best overall. Now I think there’s more evidence that what is being discussed in Galatians is not if salvation is by works or if it is by grace. It is instead being discussed what is the identity marker of if one is a Christian? Is it keeping the Law, i.e. circumcision, or is it faith in Christ?

If we’re Protestants, we shouldn’t balk when we hear works being talked about. Works are great and wonderful things. Picture a man who goes to an altar one day next to a woman he loves and says, “I do.” Then he goes back home to his parents and stays there. He never interacts with his wife or has sex with her or provides for her or anything, but he insists that he is married. We would all seriously question that one.

If you are a Christian, then along the way you ought to show the signs that you are a Christian. If you are not producing any fruit at all, we have reason to doubt your Christianity. This shouldn’t be a problem. It’s abundant in Scripture. Christ says He who abides in Him will produce much fruit. Ephesians 2:8-9 is followed by a verse saying that we are saved by grace through faith and the very next verse talks about the works that we do. While James 2 is often misunderstood, it is certainly right in the emphasis on how important works are and I would argue that James is talking about justification before men and not before God.

While I do think the comment yesterday might have been exaggerated, we who are Protestants do not need to shy away from doing good works and we need sermons on the importance of doing good works. Again, none of this is so that we can be Christians. We do good works because we are Christians and we have a job to do. We are to do the Great Commission.

It still is a tragedy to me today that there are three branches of Christianity today and I do look forward to the unity of all three one day. Still, we should all agree on the importance of doing good works. If a tree doesn’t produce any fruit, we can rightly speculate that the tree is dead. If we do not produce any fruit in our Christian walk, people can rightly speculate that our faith is dead.

Again, I don’t know how many Protestants really do have a problem with the passage, but we shouldn’t. We should be greatly emphasizing the importance of doing good works. Those start with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Forgiveness

What is the big deal with forgiveness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Forgiveness is always something we seem to struggle with. One of the most popular posts I have written concerns the issue of if someone’s murderer will be in heaven. Also, I have written about if Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven or not. With skeptics, if God punishes sin, He’s in the wrong. If God forgives sin, He’s in the wrong.

When it comes to us, we always think there has to be a catch. No one just forgives. In reality, this is the Christian way. This is what we are all told to do. Why should we though?

To begin with, everyone of us who are Christians has been forgiven. We have been forgiven of divine treason. Whenever we have sinned, we have in essence been saying that we wish God was dead. We have denied something about Him to be true. We have called into question who He is.

That’s a serious charge.

Yet we are forgiven. Forgiveness was offered when we did not seek it. We definitely did not deserve it. We definitely did not earn it. There was no obligation to provide a way of forgiveness to us. God could have let us all go our own way and go to Hell and have it be He and His angels in eternity together and no one could have said, “You did wrong.”

Forgiveness cannot be earned. If it could, it’s not really forgiveness. Forgiveness, like love is a gift. What does it mean?

To forgive does not mean that there are no consequences to the action. There may be. There may not be. You can forgive someone who abused your kids. It doesn’t mean you’re going to hire them immediately to be your babysitter.

What it means is there is no personal debt they owe to you. The relationship may or may not return to normal. Sometimes it does, but it takes time, such as in cases of infidelity.

If we are hesitant to forgive though, it is because we do not realize what we have been forgiven of. We are the person in the parable of the unforgiving servant who refuse to show mercy despite the great mercy that has been shown to us.

If we put a catch on forgiveness, then we are not realizing what we have been forgiven of. Is that risky? Yes. Is it hard? Absolutely. Do we want to push against it? Yep. We have to let go of any desire for revenge or to teach someone a lesson.

As I said though, forgiveness does not mean no consequences. Someone can be in prison and come to Jesus for forgiveness, and they will still be in prison. Someone can forgive someone for murdering a loved one, but that doesn’t mean the state will drop charges. We can choose to forgive. We cannot choose the consequences.

Forgiveness is also freeing not just for the other person, but for the forgiver. It’s a way of ending the cycle of retaliation. It’s a way of letting bygones be bygones and work towards and restoration that can be of the relationship.

I also consider it important to wait for the other person to ask for forgiveness first. The gift of repentance is a great gift to give. That being said, one should always have the attitude of forgiveness. It is not always wise to approach someone you need to forgive. Sometimes, you might not be able to, such as if the person has died. Sometimes, it could be risky, such as if the person has hurt you in some serious way such as abuse. Have in your heart the mindset of forgiving them, but let them approach you before you pronounce forgiveness.

If someone says they forgive you also, try to forgive them, and if they bring it up again, let them know they gave forgiveness. Work on rebuilding the relationship if it is possible. It depends on how much the relationship is valued, but God is in the business of doing things like that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Love Deserved?

Can someone earn love? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There is a thought I have been pondering lately about the love of God. When I hear someone complain about the God of the Old Testament and the claims of genocide and such, I always ask what God owes anyone. After all, does God anyone any moment of life whatsoever? God can take anyone’s life and be just in doing so.

What about us today in the times since the New Testament? What are we owed? Necessarily, nothing. The only thing God will have to give us is something that He has promised us, not because we deserve it, but rather because He is a covenant God who keeps His promises.

What about love? We live in a society where love is often conditional, which makes sense since we are fallen human beings. This is a world where too often marriages fall apart. We often have a hard time thinking that there is love that is unconditonal.

There is. This does not mean some sort of universalism where everyone gets accepted into heaven in the end then because God loves everyone. God loves them and respects their choice to want nothing to do with Him in this life and be excluded from the blessings of the covenant. God being loving does not mean a warm sentimentality where everyone gets to feel good about themselves in the end.

This also puts us in a strange position since we are used to earning love. Today, we have to win someone’s heart for their affections. In a sense, this is understandable. After all, you don’t give your heart to just anyone. There are degrees of trust in relationship and love never means putting up with abuse.

With God, it’s vastly different. The love is unconditional. This doesn’t mean we get special privileges for being a Christian either. We can spend ages in the presence of God and we still will not deserve the love of God. After all, that would mean that at some point God owes us His love. He won’t. He doesn’t.

Love from God is always a gift. It is based more on who He is. The idea of Scripture is while we were enemies, God still loved us and gave His Son for us. We can never make up for it. We can never do enough good that it is owed. Love is not ever going to be a debt just as grace and forgiveness aren’t debts.

How this works out on a horizontal level is more difficult, but it is the kind of love that we should strive for. We can often put conditions on love that are needless to make sure that we are protected. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to hurt, but we can be so protective we also cut off love.

But when you pray, please keep in mind that love is not earned. God’s love for you is always a gift. You will never just be so awesome and special that you will deserve the love of God. After all the ages, you will still not deserve the love of God. God will always be giving you a gift in the gift of Himself.

Keep in mind you also never lose the love. The love is always a gift. A gift is not earned. It is freely given. Enjoy the gift.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Makes Grace So Amazing?

Why do we call it amazing grace? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We really don’t understand grace. For many of us, there has to be a catch. No one can be like that. It gets to be a real problem when we talk about whether grace is deserved.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article on this kind of topic. Many of us I think fear being taken advantage of. We fear being in someone else’s debt. We fear having the floor pulled out from under us when we dare give someone else our trust.

In a thread discussing the article I wrote earlier, someone talked about God giving more grace than we deserve. That’s actually a contradiction. If you deserved any of it, it would not be grace. Go to work and do your job and if your employer pays you, you don’t consider that an example of unmerited favor. You gave of yourself, He gives back to you.

Grace is never deserved. Grace is never earned. That’s a contradiction in terms. We really don’t get this today. When it comes to love, we often put so many conditions on it. The wife and husband can say “I love you” but often thought to be secretly implied in that is “Provided you keep doing XYZ or you avoid doing XYZ.” They way the love is expressed can change, but the love should still be there. (This is of course, excepting serious cases like infidelity and abuse. With the former, love can still be there for restoration and with the latter, that is still true, but one must have serious work done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.)

What I have found as a secret to doing this in my own personal walk is to remember the love that I have been shown. God has forgiven me and anything I have done to Him is far worse than anything my fellow man could ever do to me or, dare I say it, anything I could ever do to them. Should I not give that same kind of love and forgiveness? If I do not, am I not being just like the unmerciful servant in the parable of Jesus? If I really believe I have been forgiven of divine treason against God, essentially wishing He was dead so I could sit on the throne, then should I not show forgiveness towards everything else which is petty by comparison?

And yes, all sin is divine treason. When we sin, we deny either or all of the following about God:

His omnipotence because He doesn’t have the power to judge.

His omniscience because He either won’t know about it or doesn’t see how He’s clearly against me and doesn’t have my best interests at heart and doesn’t know what He’s talking about with this sin deal.

His omnipresence because He’s not present to notice the event.

His justice because He either won’t enforce it or He is misusing it.

His love because we have to go against Him to get what is really good.

His eternality because the sin will eventually go away on its own.

I could go on and on. The last one comes to me as well since Lewis said once we have this idea that time will erase wrongs. It won’t. Sometimes I’ll remember things I did wrong even back in Elementary School and it could be tempting to just say “I was young and stupid then,” and that could be true, but I ask forgiveness. There is no expiration date.

Just now, my wife brought in our cat to see me. As I held him, I thought that we’re a lot like him sometimes. Our cat doesn’t really like to be held and is quick to whine when it happens. We can picture him sometimes saying he wishes we would love him less.

We might have to ask if we want God to love us less.

Some of you might wonder why we would want a thing like that.

Because when God loves us, He doesn’t just come and forgive us. That’s a big matter, but it’s just part of it. He comes and does a work on us because He loves us that roots out the very nature that led us to give in to temptation. He does divine surgery, and most of us don’t delight in surgery.

When I was nearly 16, I had scoliosis surgery done or else in a decade, I would be walking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Today, I walk and even run and jump just fine, but back for about a year after the event, I was not like that. I was not lying on a couch thinking it was so awesome that I was given surgery to recover. I was in excruciating pain constantly.

Sometime after that, I went through a time of deep depression. That lasted longer and I consider it far worse. Still, that time was essential for my growth. It made me into the person I am today.

We always have to remember God has a purpose for any suffering that comes into our lives. It will help others, but it’s not just for them. That suffering is for us. If we deny that, we are making a statement to God about how we see Him. This is why we often want Him to love us less really. We’d like to just get forgiveness without the change that comes with it, or if we have the change, please make it an American change that happens pretty much instantly like popcorn fixed in two minutes in the microwave or a problem on a sitcom that is resolved in half an hour.

That’s also because of our fixation with happiness. God will give us happiness in the long run, but the goal at the moment is holiness. It’s God’s love that we must relish in and long for all the more. We must make that love and that desire central. That comes over any family love, any sexual love, any romantic love, and friend love, any love of any kind.

But to get back to grace, it is always unearned. It is always a gift. It is foolish of us to reject the gift because we don’t deserve it. Of course, we don’t! If we did, it wouldn’t be grace. Wouldn’t it be the height of arrogance to go to God and say that He owes us a blessing or forgiveness because of the good that we have done? (And most of us, myself included, have done that.)

This I also find something to keep in mind in suffering. I look at all the good I do have in my life. How much of it do I deserve? The sun comes up and shines on our city every morning. How do I express my thanks? I sit here at the desk in my office looking out the window at a world of vibrant colors and life everywhere outside and a world bigger than any video game or comic book world that I could imagine knowing even more is coming someday than I could ever fathom. What thanks do I give? Do I treat this as if it was a given and expect more? It’s not and I don’t deserve more.

This is why thankfulness is so important to us all. If we could think about the good things we have, I think most of us would have a better mood. There can still be sorrow and sadness, and that’s okay, but could it be we’d have far more joy if we had more thankfulness?

Perhaps we could.

And maybe one of the first things to be thankful for is amazing grace. If you are a Christian, every sin that you have committed is not held against you. You are clear before the throne of God. Think about that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Jeffrey Dahmer in Heaven?

Can someone who’s a cannibalistic serial killer be with God forever? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Atheists often like to talk about the atrocities of God in the Bible that they see. If God kills someone in the Bible, well He’s wicked and evil. What is amazing also is that if God is gracious, He’s also wicked and evil! Let’s consider this image.

I wrote something about a similar post once in addressing if your murderer will be in Heaven. Some atheists I have seen discussing this picture have asked what it will be like for someone who was ate by Jeffrey Dahmer to see him in Heaven. Awkward?

No. Not really.

It assumes that when people are around the throne in Heaven, they will be still in their same sinful natures. Not at all. Heaven is a place of grace and forgiveness. There are no grudges or desires for revenge and there is no hatred there. If anything, those who were victimized will be happy to see Dahmer because they want to see him get the same grace they have received.

Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that Dahmer did have a real conversion. I know some people could bicker that maybe it was a fake one, but for the sake of this discussion, I am going to assume it was real. Why is this really a problem for Christianity?

If anything, this shows how much God is willing to forgive. God loves His creation so much that He does forgive all the sins of the past. This doesn’t mean that everyone will experience Heaven the same way as I think there are degrees of reward in Heaven, but it does mean that one will at least get into the city.

If forgiveness could ever be earned, it would not be forgiven. When you forgive someone, you just forgive them. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences whatsoever, but it means there is no debt between the two of you. It won’t be used against you further.

I don’t need to repeat a lot in this post since much of it is in the earlier linked post, but this whole scenario always boggles my mind. God is a problem because He is angry at sinners and wants to kill them all supposedly, but then He’s also a problem because He will freely show grace to all sinners and pronounce forgiveness for them.

Besides, for my fellow Christians. My big amazement is not that Jeffrey Dahmer is going to make it. Many of us will happily talk about the grace given to sinners.

Our big amazement as Christians and the one we usually doubt is that we’re going to make it.

But we are, and this is mind-boggling. If we think the goal is to get people around the throne of God, the cross should show us that God is more serious about getting us there than we are. God’s ultimate goal is to include as many as possible and not to exclude. No. That’s not an inclusivism where there are many roads to God or something like that. It is a call that God has made it as simple as He could for us to come to the Kingdom by giving us the Son.

Atheists. Don’t think you’re going to make me doubt my Christianity by talking about the grace of God for Jeffrey Dahmer. I’m amazed enough that He has grace for someone like myself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 3

Do we have a problem with evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re going through David Pye’s book again and looking at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity. I consider this chapter to be a weak argument for what it sets out to prove, but hard-hitting for the content. I am still really considering sharing this in some Christian groups to get us all to remember why we do what we do.

At the start, Pye says that Christians believe someone is either a Christian or lost by default. I think it is more likely they are, but there is the question of those who never heard and Christians have different answers to that. My answer is that God will judge us based on the light that we have. The judge of all the Earth will do right.

Pye goes on to say about evangelism that

Both the evangelistic crusades of the past and the Alpha course of today are, I believe, significant evidence against Christianity being true. If Christianity were true we would expect to see Christians integrating into their lives what they say they believe – sharing the Gospel with their relatives, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. In which case neither the Evangelistic crusades of the past nor the Alpha course of today would have been necessary.

This is a giant non sequitur. Let’s consider how we could put this in a logical form.

Christians are supposed to evangelize.
Christians do not evangelize like they should.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

There are any number of reasons why Christians do not do this, many of them bad. Also, keep in mind that knowing what it is we should do doesn’t seem to lead to us doing it many times. Many of us know about diet and exercise from our doctors, but we don’t do it. Many of us know that we are to treat our neighbor better, but we don’t do it.

If you want to show Christianity is not true, you have to show that Jesus did not rise. You can show Christians aren’t following their marching orders, but that only says something about Christians. It doesn’t say anything about Christianity. Keep in mind that Pye bases this on what he sees in the U.K. There is nothing about data in third world countries, especially those where doing evangelism can lead to execution.

From here, Pye goes through a list of reasons why people don’t evangelize. One of the first ones is that they want their lives to be the witness. I agree that this is a flimsy excuse. Some people do that and no one ever asks them anything. You have to lead a radically, radically different life for this to work.

Generally, in face to face relationships, I try to get to know the person first and then try to weave my way into any openings. I’m not as good at face to face which is why most of my work is done on the internet. There is a fine line. You don’t want to be obnoxious where people think you shove Christianity down their throats, but you don’t want to be totally silent so people have no clue you’re a Christian.

The second reason is that some people say God hasn’t called them to evangelize. I think this is weak as well. Do you have the Great Commission in your Bible? That’s part of your marching orders. I agree with Pye that it is tiresome to hear people talking about doing what they feel called to do or led to do, this without any Scriptural warrant.

I used to attend a church and when the offering would go around, the pastor would say “Give as you feel led.” Part of me wanted to be sarcastic and put a penny in and say “That’s what I felt God was leading me to give.” I suspect I would have been told I wasn’t listening. Just because we have the Holy Spirit doesn’t change that we are to follow wisdom, such as in Proverbs. If you want to know about giving, read a passage like 2 Cor. 8-9.

It’s also amazing how often these “signs” that people follow coincide with what they already want to do. This is not to say God cannot do something like this, but we should not expect it to be normative. I agree with Pye. This is often an excuse and giving divine authority to our feelings is dangerous.

A third reason is that God is in control. After all, if God wants them saved, He’ll do it. Even many of the staunchest Calvinists today would say God will do it, but He’ll do it through evangelism. I also wonder if Christians will do this in other areas. Need food? Don’t go to the grocery store. God will give you food if He wants you to eat. Don’t put on your seat belt when you drive. God will keep you safe if He wants you to live.

Pye shares a verse from a poem about this.

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side

There is also the adage that goes back to Augustine of to pray as if everything depended on God and work as if it all depended on you. It would be wonderful for an Arminian to have the confidence in the sovereignty of God that many Calvinists do. It would be wonderful if many Calvinists thought they absolutely had to do evangelism like Arminians do.

The fourth is about the leading of the Holy Spirit and identical enough to the second that we need say nothing more.

The fifth is that people already know the Gospel. Many of them do, but many who think they do also misrepresent it and not necessarily intentionally. We should not presume that someone does.  Many Christians I think don’t even really know the Gospel.

A final reason is that it’s better not to have heard than to hear and reject and be lost. I consider this quite flimsy. I don’t think it even deserves a response if a Christian treats this seriously.

There are other reasons though. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Sometimes they don’t know what could turn a person off. For this, I honestly think the church needs some classes on evangelism.

Finally, we end with some questions on Hell. Now my perspective on Hell is different from many others. I also think there are degrees of suffering in Hell and degrees of reward in Heaven. This is a complex question and simple answers won’t do.

I also agree with Pye that we should take no delight in people being in Hell. If it weren’t for the grace of God, it would be us. Moody is once said to have said that if you speak on Hell, you’d better have tears in your eyes. I sometimes see Christians say eternity is a long time to be wrong. If someone says that, they’d better think about what that means.

Pye presents two scenarios then:

(i) A 65 year old Christian, Clive, is retiring from the job he has been in for the last 30 years. On his final day there is a presentation to him and he is shown a great deal of warmth and affection. Likewise Clive feels a deep love for his colleagues who he’s spent so much time with and with whom he’s been through many good times and bad times – challenges, disappointments, joys, successes. None of these colleagues are Christians.

A few days later, alone at home, Clive reflects about the eternal destiny of these people who he worked with and loves. Can it really be that they are condemned? he wonders. Can it really be that they’re destined for hell? Surely not? He imagines himself in heaven with the knowledge that these dear people are suffering in hell.“Would I be able to enjoy heaven in those circumstances?” he asks himself. He vaguely wonders whether he should at some point have tried sharing the Gospel with any of them.

Then he reflects further: “‘For your thoughts are not my thoughts’ saith the Lord.” With a deep sigh Clive reflects “Who am I to argue against the Word of God? Who am I to think that I can judge better than God what the consequences of unforgiven sin should be?”

And with this he makes himself a cup of coffee and switches on the TV.

Clive is pathetic and might I add misusing a text of Scripture. No Christian should applaud what Clive is doing. Many of us wouldn’t, but in many cases we do act like Clive.

He then gives a second story

(ii) A man, Donald, goes through his working life employed in a factory. He is a decent man, hard-working and honest. At 20 he marries his childhood sweetheart and they go on to have 3 children. Life is hard. Donald’s health is poor but he rarely misses a day’s work. He and his family constantly struggle to make ends meet. People who know Donald see him as a devoted husband and father, a man who is kind, reliable and trustworthy. Family life is happy and joyful despite the lack of money.

Donald retires aged 65 but within a year he has a heart attack and dies. In his life Donald never became a Christian.

Pye asks how we feel about this, but really, does that matter? I don’t feel good about many things in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything about them. Reality doesn’t change depending on my feelings.

On the other hand, would Pye prefer the more Islamic system of angels recording good deeds and bad deeds and you’d better hope the good outweighs the bad? How is this system not arbitrary? Who decides how many points X is worth for good and how many points are deducted for Y? How do we know the point system?

The reality is God gave a non-arbitrary system. Perfection is the requirement. He also offers to pay it for us. Donald did do good things, but how did He treat the greatest good out there and if Christianity is true, God is the greatest good. Does one spurn God and say they will go their own way? The thing about Pye’s system is really God is irrelevant to it. That’s not a Christian system at all. Of course, Pye is not a Christian, but how could this system be compatible with Christianity?

The next chapter will be about faith. I have my concerns about how that will go, but we will see.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Turn Or Burn?

What kind of choice is that? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my last post, I wrote about the claim that God is petty. I was told I did not say much about the turn and burn aspect often given. I thought I had, but just to make sure, let’s address that. We’re often told that God is often saying to His creation “Love me or burn!” Few of us would call that love.

I don’t think I need to say much on how few conservative scholars today think that passages about Hell being a fire and brimstone place need to be interpreted in a literalistic way. Hence, if I see someone speaking in this kind of language, I know I’m talking to someone who has not read the best material on the topic. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all a cakewalk in Hell.

Also, most don’t think that all suffering in Hell is equal nor is all joy in Heaven equal. Everyone will ultimately get a treatment that is fair. No one will be able to legitimately say that they were wronged on the day of judgment.

The problem with this choice is it’s not really accurate. The person assumes in the argument that they have done nothing that deserves any sort of punishment whatsoever. Yet if God is real, then something has been done.

I happen to think Romans 1 is accurate and it tells us that there’s enough evidence in creation alone for us to know that God is real. This doesn’t mean that there’s evidence in creation alone that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rose from the dead. You need history for that.

Also, the more one knows about this God, the greater the culpability one has, but there is the question of how do we respond to this evidence. Do we turn and seek the one the evidence is pointing to or do we just ignore it and take light explanations and do what we want? The people in Romans 1 chose to deny that the creator was supreme and treated things that were created like they were the supreme.

For we Christians, we should fear the judgment the most because we claim to know the most about God and have the greatest revelation of God making our sin all the worst. I have often compiled a list of attributes of God we deny when we sin. Let’s go through it again.

We deny His omnipotence when we deny He has the power to bring about judgment.
We deny His omniscience when we say we know better than He does.
We deny his love when we say He’s holding out on what is good for us.
We deny His omnipresence when we say He does not see what we do.
We deny His authority when we say we have the right to rule over our lives.

In essence, we are committing divine treason every time. This is a serious charge. Even if we don’t have the revelation of Christ, everyone knows that we do not live the way we ought. We all have ways we need to improve. Interestingly, it’s often the further we get on the path of virtue that we realize how far off we are on the path.

If this is true, then the offer is not turn or burn. At least, it’s not in the way presented. It’s not, if you do not want to be with me, then you will burn. It’s more just an offer to be come and be a part of the family of God.

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about Mephibosheth, who was the grandson of Saul and the son of Jonathan. In the ninth chapter of 2 Samuel we read about him. David wanted to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family. He was not required to. It’s not as if he was up for reelection and he wanted a good gesture to be done to win the favor of the people that the media would like. He did it just to show kindness.

Something interesting in this passage is three times you find a reference to eating at the King’s table. This is a message of grace entirely. Mephibosheth did nothing to earn this. It was all a gift.

The offer is really great. Not only does God forgive us, when we have done nothing to deserve that forgiveness, but He makes us a part of His royal family and allows us to eat at His table and we’re given all the rights of a son. It is a horrible misrepresentation from atheism and the exact opposite of the real scenario.

The problem presented is a false one. Of course, there are other issues and those could be dealt with. For now, turn or burn just doesn’t work. Present instead the real offer of grace.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Are Your Thoughts And Ways God’s?

Is there any relation between what you think and what God thinks? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the problems in our age with Biblical interpretation is many times we can get so centered on one way of interpreting a passage and we hear it so often that we never consider that that could be a wrong interpretation. The danger of a wrong interpretation is twofold. First off, we will believe the text says the wrong thing. Second, we will miss the truth that the text is giving us.

Isaiah 55 has one such spot. Let’s go to the text.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So what is going on here? A lot of Christians will look at this and say that it means the thoughts of God are totally foreign to us. You cannot think what God thinks. It’s entirely different. Some use this to say that God can even be illogical. God can make a contradiction true for instance. Is that what is being said?

No. In fact, I have deliberately left out the surrounding context. If you think anything that is true, you agree with God. You say God exists? God agrees. You say that Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead? Assuming you’re properly understanding what those terms mean, then yes, God agrees. While there are aspects of the mind of God we cannot know, we can know what He has revealed to us.

So if that is not what is being said here, what is being said? The reality is that this is a beautiful passage on grace and forgiveness. Our bad interpretation has caused us to miss the truly good one.

Let’s look at what comes before it.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Many of us have a mindset that we fear God will judge us for some big sin that we’ve committed or something that we picture as a big sin. We also have a hard time accepting forgiveness. “I just can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done.” In this way, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and our ways are not His ways. We are treating God like a common man and saying that this is what we would do, so this is what God would do.

God says it’s not. His way is to forgive. If the wicked will come, they will not be condemned. They will instead receive the mercy and grace of God. This passage isn’t making a claim about the mind of God being totally foreign to us. It’s making a claim that God does not act like we do towards the wicked or dare I say it, even ourselves.

We can all seek to know the truth and be in further agreement with God, but one truth we should accept is grace. We all when we sin are the wicked. Our ways with ourselves are not God’s. His ways are higher.

In Christ,
Nick Peters