Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hope for the Religious (John 3)

Both the sinner and the self-proclaimed saint have a problem with pride. The sinner must accept sin as sin and cling to Christ, and the so-called saint to accept that there is no human merit, only abandonment to Christ.

Nicodemus is the quintessential religious person. This kind of person has a mind towards the things of God, an understanding of theology, he gravitates towards morality, and even has the potential to be well-respected in society precisely for his religion. Here Nicodemus is "a leader of the Jews" (Jn. 3:3). He is "the" teacher of Israel (Jn. 3:10). He does what needs doing, and has influence doing it - there is no evidence of malice or insincerity in him.

And that is his very problem (John 3). All this does not indicate favor with God but a love for self - he does not know Jesus nor salvation. For this all he gets from Jesus is rebuke, no commendation (v3, v7, v10). In Nicodemus' conversation with Jesus, What drives his thinking is human ability, where Jesus' corrective is to describe the need for supernatural intervention in his life. He begins with genuine praise for Jesus' works, which Jesus rebuts with his real need - "unless you are born from above, you cannot comprehend the kingdom of God" (v3)
  • from the outset Jesus pinpoints the problem as showing his human merit as garbage, because it does not help "seeing" or "comprehending" the kingdom of God. Obviously, Nicodemus' logical, intellectual and theological prowess could not help him in this comprehension.
  •  "birth" itself in a purely natural sense is one of helpless inaction - a baby has no will in the matter.
Yet, Jesus having explained this, Nicodemus demonstrates how entrenched his deed/merit mentality is. Rather than the response "help me do/understand this", he immediately computes using his "deeds model" and tries to understand how he can do this himself. Self-sufficiency, self-love. Thus the conundrum - the seemingly childish v4 - "can a man enter his mother's womb a second time?". Nicodemus has only one way of thinking - "I must do this", and that's why he's mentally and spiritually stuck. The leader, the teacher, the moralist, is helpless. As helpless as a child, yet unable to see it.

It is there that Jesus explains further:
  • To enter the kingdom, one must have a spiritual nature (v5)
  • Natural birth is insufficient (v6)
  • This transformation, spiritual birth is not visible but it is observable, but it is ultimately the prerogative of the Spirit, who "blows where He will" (v7-8)
This would throw any thinking person into desperation, and it is necessarily the case by design - the breaking of pride and the breaking of the merit mentality go together (which is why a prideful Christian is a contradiction). That which is required is impossible to do (what the Pelagiuses of this world find impossible to accept). Thus, the final picture that Jesus offers is this: snake-bitten people, dying in the wilderness, offered a hope that goes beyond their comprehension or ability (because there is no ability) - absolute, desperate faith in God's remedy (v14). "As Moses lifted us the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" - this is the object of faith - the Glorious, crucified Christ. The scope: "whoever" - anyone (v15a). The means "belief". (v15b) The result of abandonment to faith (v15c) - "everlasting life".

Those who reassure themselves of the love of God by their morality, by their piety, by their theology, by their any deed, they must see this: John 3:16 - God's love precedes your deeds OR your faith. His already existing perfect love for the world is why he "gave his only Son". Nothing about your salvation merits his love, it is all a result of his love. You can know God because He loved you, and the only way to know him is to cast yourself on his mercy, like a dying, snake-bitten desert nomad, lost and hopeless. A disciple of Jesus works not to win love, but works as a result of winning love, by the life-giving Spirit of Christ.

And the good news is that no matter how entrenched you may be in religion, merit, human effort and the tyranny of pride, God is able to help you become a helpless, faith-filled child born of God, which is the only way to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). See, there is evidence of God working in this very man. This same Nicodemus fought for Jesus' defense (John 7), he was there at his death and burial as one of his own (John 19). Indications are that the "Spirit who blows where he will" moved in him, and Jesus became his life.

There is hope for the religious as much as for the sinner, because they are both the same. Cry out to him in your true desperation, "Jesus, save me." And he will.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Gossipers Beware

A note I found from John Piper on gossip:
The New Testament warns against gossiping. The Greek word translated “gossip” means whisper or whisperer. In other words, the focus is not on the falsehood of the word but on the fact that it needs to be surreptitious. It is not open and candid and forthright. It has darkness about it. It does not operate in the light of love. It is not aiming at healing. It strokes the ego’s desire to be seen as right without playing by the rules of love.
From Desiring God

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The end of sin: will sin be destroyed?

Been thinking about eschatology lately. That that is such a volume of texts involved make it vital to be patient and fair when dealing with differing views. One of the issues on my mind is the end of sin in believers.

One of the statements that run around as cliches in the church about the eternal state that "sin will be destroyed". I think the sentiment is true, but the statement is inaccurate (if you believe, as scripture teaches, in eternal punishment). The existence of an eternal hell means there will eternally exist creatures, whether human or angelic, who are in rebellion to God. Thus, sin always will exist, it is not destroyed. Sin is not a thing to be created or destroyed, it is a corruption of conformity to God's nature (thus, Romans 3:23 - "falling short").

Yet, before I get stoned, let me insist that while sin is not destroyed, there will be no sin in heaven.
But nothing unclean will ever enter [the heavenly city], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Revelation 21:27).
Those who sin are outside this city:
Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
(Revelation 22:15)
So in the eternal state, there are two realms, and these do not have influence on each other. But if sin is not destroyed, what distinguishes the ages to come from the beginning of this age? Adam was a perfect being, the Angels were perfect beings, and yet they sinned. I can think of a few reasons why this is different for believers in the age to come.
  1. The memory of salvation history both personal and racial will mean that we have seen the effects of sin in our own life and in our human race's existence. Thus, unlike Adam, the deception of sin with false promises (Genesis 3:5) will have no hold over us, like it did for the first couple and they were deceived.
  2. The transformed nature of resurrected believers (1 Corinthians 15:50-58) indicates that by nature they will be stronger than the first man, Adam. Additionally, those resurrected believers will trace their genes not in Adam, but in Christ, whose glorious resurrection and resurrection body is the firstfruits of this new sinless race (1 Corinthians 15:46-49).
  3. The presence of God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:22-24) is the most powerful reason no more sin in believers during the eternal state. According to the texts there is nowhere in the city that the light of the God and the lamp of the lamb will not shine. Why do believers sin today? Because they are not as consistently close to Jesus as they should be. This problem will be finally solved in eternity, for there will never be a time we do not behold Jesus. Thus, the Apostle John says:
    Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2, emphasis added)
Thanks be to God in Jesus, for the victory is in Him!
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Empathy in Evangelism

"As we turn to consider in more detail how we may speak to people of the twentieth century, we must realize first of all that we cannot apply mechanical rules. We, of all people, should realize this, for as Christians we believe that personality really does exist and is important. We can lay down some general principles, but there can be no automatic application. If we are truly personal, as created by God, then each individual will differ from everyone else. Therefore each person must be dealt with as an individual, not as a case or statistic or machine. If we could work with these people, we cannot apply things we have learnt..." "...mechanically. We must look to the Lord in prayer, and to the work of the Holy Spirit, for the effective use of these things."

"Furthermore, we must remember that the person to whom we are talking, however far from the Christian faith he may be, is an image-bearer of God. He has great value, and our communication to him must be in genuine love. Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person's place and see how his problems look to him. Love is a genuine concern for the individual. As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual 'as ourselves'. This is the place to begin. Therefore, to be engaged in personal 'witness' as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point. The reason we do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in this world. This kind of communication is not cheap. To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly. It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures. Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking."

Francis Shaeffer

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


Though it led to a lack of objectivity, maybe the postmodernist mistake is founded on a right desire for complexity, and a reaction against being simplistic in everything. Even here the issue is complex, because not everything is complex.
"The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity".
- Jacob Burkhardt
**note: "complex" does not mean "complicated", neither does "simplistic" mean "simple".

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Certainty and Biblical Faith

How can Biblical faith be certain? Isn't this contradiction? Isn't the best we can do probable, not absolute?

Maybe it should be understood this way. Certainty is binary. Probability is a mathematical possibility. The two, while both valid, are not to be conflated. Certainty has to do with matters of being in a time frame. "Is" or "Is not", at this time, never or forever. Probability has to do with prediction "probably will". So the certainty of 2+2 being 4 is constant, not probable, for the entire period which 2 and 4 remain 2 and 4. I think, therefore it is certain that I am. If factors do not change, then certainty remains for the future. If factors change, then probability enters the conversation. Thus, if all things remain equal, if X is Y now, then X will be Y later.

Certainty is different from accuracy. It is certain that "the arrow hit the target". To counter this evident occurrence is to confuse categories by redefining terms and context, and not take the statement on its own terms. How accurately the arrow hit the target is a different discussion, based on establishing a standard of accuracy.

Faith, if defined as the appropriation of (acceptance of, dependence on) the certain, is Biblical faith. Acceptance of the probable as certain is not Biblical faith, but wishful thinking. Once you establish certainty, you can build confidently on it - the irony of Christian faith is that without certainty you cannot believe, Christianity is not a "leap of faith". This is what the case for Christ is all about - and it's not just a certainty based on historic facts, but present, ongoing, certain assurances and realities.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beloved, Rest in God

Concerning our lives:

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, He predestined us (Eph 1:3-5)

Concerning our work:

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

Concerning His Church:

He will build His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18)

To him (will) be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever (Eph 3:21)


Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers,

1. be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:57-58)

2. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6)