The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We Are The Body, But We Are Not All The Same

This is my first blog post that is being written for The Tulip Driven Life. And to inaugurate this blog, I felt I should write on something that is very dear to me, something I am very concerned about and dogmatic about, and yet something that others may not fully agree with me on. I also think this entry will embody the purpose of this blog- to think critically about how we as Christians are to live our lives in accordance with the will of God.

The Bible speaks frequently in the New Testament of spiritual gifts. The main places that these are discussed are 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. I get the title of this blog largely from Romans 12:4-8 which says:

4 "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

So we see that all of us Christians ARE part of the body of Christ, but we do not all serve the same function, the same role, the same purpose. We do share the same ultimate purpose- glorifying God, but the way we do this is different according to the spiritual gifts that God has given us. In verse 6, God commands us to use the gifts that have been given to us by grace, whether that be prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, or showing mercy.

When we bring in the other passages that speak about spiritual gifts and their purpose, such as 1 Cor. 12, we begin to see the full picture of the spiritual gifts and why God gives certain gifts to certain people. Notice 1 Cor. 12:14-26

 14 "For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."

Here we see that God has made things so that we all have differing spiritual gifts, and that God has made each spiritual gift an honorable one. Therefore, we should not be envious of someone else's spiritual gift, nor should we brag about our spiritual gift, as if ours were more important than some other person's spiritual gift. The body is just as dependent, if not more dependent, on the feet and the hands as it is the eyes and the nose. So there is an interdependency amongst the spiritual gifts. We all need each other to function properly and to properly honor God and be the body of Christ.

The implications are huge. 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 goes on to say that there are apostles, prophets, teachers, and after that miracles and then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and varieties of tongues. Paul then points out that not all of us are going to be apostles or prophets or teachers or miracle workers. Not all of us will have the gift of healing or speak with tongues, and then Paul leads in to chapter 13 by showing us a more excellent way, and this more excellent way is to do all that we do, whether teaching or prophesying or being full of faith and a person of prayer or feeding the poor or being martyred, with love. Christian love. So we must not only find out what our calling and spiritual gift is and do it, but we must do it in a loving way. We must have the right heart attitude and motivations for doing what we are doing, or else what we are doing, no matter how much outward good it may appear to bring, is not pleasing in the sight of God.

We have not been desiring that God manifest His glory through all the various gifts. Too often, our attitudes and demands of others show that we expect and want God to manifest His glory through our particular spiritual gift only, or even perhaps that the only way God can show His glory is through our spiritual gift.

There should be unity in diversity when it comes to our gifts and particular callings and ministries. Those who teach and preach the Word of God, and those who are more inclined towards gifts of ministering to the needy and poor and sick should not be pitted against one another, as if they are serving to different causes or have two different agendas. Does not true, biblical teaching and preaching seek, in part, to proclaim the true doctrine of how we are to minister to others, both believers and unbelievers, and why we are to minister to others, both believers and unbelievers? And is not true that right biblical thinking by preachers and teachers is what leads to right biblical living and ministering by the body of Christ?

Also, it should be noted that there are the offices of both deacon and elder in the church. Deacons are servants, dealing more with the monies and ministering of the local church, and elders have more to do with the teaching and spiritual oversight of things. These two offices are part of the same body of Christ and are ultimately dependant on one another to function properly and to rightly glorify God. Yet how often are these two offices pitted against one another! Those who are inclined to teach and deal with theology often turn their noses up at those who are just out there living out the faith, and those who are out there on the streets ministering to the poor and needy often turn their noses up at the theologians and preachers, accusing them of not being passionate enough about living out the faith!

I think there is a key point that both sides are missing and that is this- SOME have been called primarily to minister to the believers, the church, while SOME have primarily been called to minister to the unchurched, the unbelievers. This does not mean that those who have been giving teaching gifts, or gifts primarily for the edification of believers (see Ephesians 4, particularly verse 12) are "freed" from the call to share the gospel to unbelievers, or to extend mercy and compassion to others. However, the truth is, there are some who are called to spend the great majority of their time and their lives honoring God by teaching His people the truths of His Word, and it is the job of the sheep, the flock, to listen and obey their shepherds, ordained by God.

There is a reason we minister to the poor and needy, but I will bet you the reason is not what you think. There is a reason that God has called us to preach the gospel to every nation and to do good to all, but I bet the reason we are to do so is not what you think, at least not fully. Remember, we are to do all things for God's glory, and the only way we can do all things for God's glory is not simply by doing what He says, but by doing what He says with love, and to do what He says with love means to rightly see the reason that we do what He has commanded us to do and to rejoice and delight and praise God for the reason that we are doing it.

In other words, if we are doing outwardly what is right without understanding, or for the wrong reasons, we are not functioning properly as the body of Christ. And this is precisely why teachers and pastors are needed. Many today want to do away with theology and orthodoxy and just do orthopraxy. Instead of talking about what to do, just do it is the philosophy of the day. The problem with that is the assumption that we actually know both what we are to do and why we are to do it. This is a bad assumption. I thought I knew quite a bit about this Christian life and about God before I became a Calvinist, but once I saw the doctrines of grace I quickly realized I had a very very shallow understanding of the gospel itself!

Another important point- God has created us in such a way that the truth and knowledge of why we do what we do gives us a delight in the doing (the carrying out) of what we do. The more, the clearer, the better we understand why we are doing what we are doing, the more our delight will be in serving God and serving others. Further, our delight and joy in living for Christ and living for others will not only be magnified, but we will also do it rightly more consistently. We will better know how to respond and react and treat others, both believers and unbelievers, when we study the word and listen to the word of God being preached. And the depths and riches of Scripture are so great that we do need some whom God has gifted to spend their whole lives searching His Word for these great, hidden truths so that they can be proclaimed to the sheep. And we also need those who are gifted as evangelists and have a special heart for the poor and needy to spend the great portion of their lives proclaiming the gospel to these people, denying themselves of modern comforts and living amongst these people proclaiming the good news of the gospel to them. This is why some are called to be missionaries, some pastors, and some are simply called to live a regular 9-5 job and just be good sheep, listening to their pastors, studying Scripture, raising their children in the ways of the Lord, and influencing those in their own sphere.

Now, next time, I am going to discuss what I think will be the actual controversial part of this mini-series. And that is going to be on why we minister to unbelievers, both spiritually and physically. I need time to fully gather my thoughts on that and gather the verses that illustrate what I will be trying to say. All I ask is that you let Scripture speak for itself. If you do this, I am convinced you will see that I am only echoing what God's Word itself teaches and commands us.    

Monday, January 10, 2011

Passion Conference 2011

I attended the Passion conference with some friends in Atlanta Jan. 1-4. If you have not heard of the Passion conference, you can check out their website here:

I got sick on the fourth and have not been able to write anything on the conference until now. My mind is still a little fuzzy but I would like to attempt to share my thoughts on the conference as best I can.

The Music

As many of you know, I am not a huge fan of most Christian music that is being put out today. This is largely due to the shallowness of the lyrics at best and the unbiblical views of God and Jesus and man at worst. There also seems to be a real emotionalism and even romanticism that pervades the Christian music of young people today, and it has begun to infiltrate the church on Sunday mornings.

Having said that, many of the songs at Passion I had never heard of before. Apparently Passion's music is pretty well known worldwide, but not to me. I can at least say that some of it was decent. For instance, Matt Redman's song "You Alone Can Rescue" says:

Who, oh Lord, could save themselves,
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still

You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

You, oh Lord, have made a way
The great divide You heal
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes, your love goes further still

Other songs gave me mixed feelings, such as Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockel's Where The Spirit of the Lord Is. I do agree with the lyrics when it says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," however, when they start saying things like,

You're all that we want
You're all that we need
You're all that we want
You're all that we need

I have to ask, is this really true? Yes, it IS true that Christ is all we need, that I am not disputing. But is it true that all we want is Jesus Christ and His righteousness? No, even as Christians, we still want sin. I know I have been guilty of thinking that, since we are dead to sin we somehow in some way at some level only want Jesus. But I don't think that is what Scripture teaches any more. As Christians, we have both a sin nature and the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit, so that we do not do what we want to do (Gal. 5:17). Therefore, even when we want to do good and serve Christ as Christians, sin is right there with us every step of the way, even when we want to do good (Romans 7:21).

Another concern I have, both with the music and with the main speaker and leader of Passion, Louie Giglio, is this mentality that we are somehow a "chosen generation" and that we are going to change the whole world. There seems to be this strong belief that we are this chosen generation that is going to change the world for Christ, or at the very least such a generation is about to come and there is going to be a large number of people being converted to Christianity and Christians will be living passionately for Jesus. While I hope this is true, I do not think there is any Scriptural warrant to make such a guarantee. In other words, I do not think we can predict when, or even if, we will ever have another great revival or awakening in the world. One of the songs that we frequently sang that reflected this mentality was Chris Tomlin's Chosen Generation.

However, the music we sang at Passion was far better and far more God glorifying than what I was accustomed to hearing from a rock type of praise music. There did seem to be lyrics that praised God for saving us and dying for us and that we are to live to display His glory. Nothing really came off as romantic, which was very relieving for me. Initially, I feared this was going to be just a bunch of emotionalism again, and no doubt for some it was, but I do feel that the majority of the students praising and worshiping God at Passion were genuine.

The Speakers

Once I am able to find the messages delivered by the speakers online I will write a more detailed review of what they said, but for now I just want to hit briefly on my three favorite messages given at Passion by David Platt, Francis Chan, and John Piper.

David Platt:

Platt spoke very passionately on the gospel. But this wasn't merely a gospel message, this was also a call for Christians to live as they have been called! He shared how so many in this world are lost without the gospel having been brought to them. He also spoke on how so many churches spend huge money on their own church buildings but so little on helping the poor and needy. He also emphasized the devotion we must have to Christ if we are to be Christians. Our love for Him must be so strong that it appears we hate everyone and everything else in comparison. We must take up our crosses daily and preach the true gospel, not reduce the gospel to saying a simple prayer to get saved.

Platt showed me that we have it so easy here in America. Our comfortable Christianity has softened our love and devotion and passion for serving Jesus, denying ourselves and living for Him. We must be reminded of the high cost of following Christ and that He demands we give Him our lives if we are to be saved.

Francis Chan:

Francis Chan's messages escape me the most right now. That's probably because he does a decent bit of rambling and on several occasions he pretty much forgot what he was talking about too. I do know at one point he started showing off his rap skills which was pretty funny. The biggest thing I recall is when he pulled out this balance thingy, where on one side you sit a weight and on the other side another weight. If the weight is equal, the balance is equal, but if one side is heavier, the heavier side will drop down and the lighter side will go up. Chan's point was that we should live our lives in a balanced relationship to the gospel. I often say that we should be living in light of the gospel, and Chan used this very terminology himself. Living in light of the gospel means that our profession of faith in the gospel should be in line with our actions. In other words, our life is out of balance if we are not proclaiming the gospel and ministering to others, both believers and unbelievers, since we claim to be followers of Jesus. Our lives should match up with the gospel call. If we truly believe that there is a hell, we should have a great concern for this world to hear the gospel of grace that can save from sin and hell. This is the essence of Chan's messages.

John Piper:

No doubt, John Piper is one of my favorite pastors and theologians. He was given the main message at Passion, which is no surprise to me. His message was by far the deepest, although I do feel that he bit off a little more than he could chew in the hour or so he spoke. His message was "Getting to the Bottom of Your Joy" and can be listened to here:

What he wanted us to think about was the reason we love God. Do we love God because He makes much of us, or do we love God because He enables us to make much of Him? The answer to this question, says Piper, determines whether or not you have been born again. And if you are not born again, you are not saved. The foundation of our joy is supposed to be delighting in living and serving God. In other words, at the very bottom of our joy, at our very core, our devotion to God should be all about glorifying Him. If we love God because He makes much of us, if that is the fountain of our joy, we are only lovers of ourselves and have created a false god. The new birth is about the bottom of our joy going from self to Christ. Christ should be the bottom of our joy, not self. This exchange happens in the new birth/regeneration.

Apparently, Piper's message from last year or at some other point had caused some confusion and controversy, so he constantly tried to affirm that he DOES believe that God makes much of us, but He makes much of us because we are in Christ. He then listed seven examples of how God makes much of us, such as giving us rewards in heaven, telling us well done good and faithful servant, the fact that we will in some way be judging angels, that we have become co-heirs with Christ, etc.

The Causes

There were ten different causes that Passion partnered with that attendees could give money to. These causes ranged from ending sex trafficking, feeding the poor, donating Bibles to unreached people, clean drinking water, and building homes for those affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Before I left for this conference, I checked out the website for each of these causes. I had made up in my mind that if they did not talk about the gospel itself, I would not attend. Much to my delight, most of them made it clear that they were concerned about the spiritual needs of the people as well as their physical needs. The gospel would be preached to the lost, and this is what excited me. I am also very pleased to report that over 1.1 million dollars were raised for these ten causes, all by donations from the 23,000 or so that attended Passion 2011 in Atlanta!This isn't including the 40,000 socks and towels that were brought to Passion for the needy people in Atlanta.

The Passion

I do feel like the young people and the leaders of this event were very passionate and serious about glorifying God and living for Him. Each event started with a lot of praise and worship music, where many were very demonstrative with their expressions of worship to God, raising their hands, jumping up and down, crying out to God, etc. For some, this may seem like empty emotionalism, and I can understand that because that is what I often think as well. However, these very same people sat attentively (by and large) to the 50-60 minute messages given by the speakers, and many even kept notes. So, given that and the amount of money that was raised, I think these people at Passion are serious about their faith.

Atlanta has a lot of poor people. This was very evident as we walked the streets and the underground. I am glad to report that I saw several from Passion giving to the poor people on the streets of Atlanta and even talking with them, I presume about the gospel and their need of salvation.

On a more personal note, I came across a man and woman that were homeless in underground Atlanta. There names were Jeff and Lily. I was with two friends and we were in a food court of sorts. We had just finished eating some chinese food, and Jeff asked if we had any food left. I had eaten all my food, but the two I was with had plenty left, and they gave it to him. We had to get back to get in line to hear Piper speak, so we gave them their food and left. But as we rounded the corner, it dawned on me that I was failing to do the very thing I am so adamant that everyone else do, namely that we don't simply feed poor unbelievers, but that we preach the gospel to them. No doubt the Holy Spirit was convicting me of this. I told my friends that I felt I should go back and talk to them about the gospel, but I didn't think we had time. They encouraged me to go back and talk, and after a moments hesitation, I did so.

Thankfully, Jeff and Lily were still sitting there. I asked Jeff if I could talk to him about God and he said yes and had me pull up a chair next to him. I quickly realized that Jeff was a believer! He told me he knew that it was God who provided the food for him that he and his wife were now eating, and that he had repented of his sins and knew the gospel. I was quite pleased to see this man's faith, given his dire circumstances. They stayed in a place which name escapes me, but the way Jeff described it it sounded like a run down building. I was going to ask him if I could get his number, or at least some number that I could contact him with, but before I could ask he was giving me a number! He didn't want this to be a one time thing either, he wanted to stay in touch with me. Seeing this man and his wife's needs and love for God, I felt compelled to give him all the money I had on me. I kicked myself for using some of my cash to buy food with earlier, but I still had about 30 bucks on me and I gave it all to them. To see Jeff's gratitude is something I will never forget, and I do plan on getting in touch with him soon.

Gospel Centered Fantasy Writing

It seems to me that many in the world of Christian fantasy are writing and reading books that aren’t actually Christian. I know that may seem like an outrageous claim, but it seems to be true. I’ll labor to make my case.

First, we must determine what makes Christianity different from all other religions and all other worldviews and forms of thought on life. After we have determined what makes Christianity unique, what the basis of our faith is that separates it from all other faiths, then we must simply center the message of our writing on this.

Sadly, I think many in Christendom, including pastors and theologians, have forgotten our foundation. We have forgotten the message of the cross. In other words, we have forgotten the true gospel. Given that the Church so often fails to even preach the gospel correctly in church to the congregation and share the gospel rightly to the lost and dying world, is it any wonder that the gospel has been lost in our writing as well?

I think our loss of the gospel in all its glory, combined with pressure to make money and sell copies to unbelievers, has contributed to Christian authors writing fantasy novels and calling them “Christian” when they really aren’t. I would not consider myself a huge reader of fantasy, but that’s probably in large part due to the lack of both good Christian fantasy writing and also fantasy writing that is actually, in any meaningful sense, Christian. I will not bother to read a book which writing is mediocre at best and is altogether lacking of anything that is distinctly Christian.

What I see in many Christian fantasy novels today is morality, or being kind, generous, forgiving, loving, gracious, merciful, faithful, heroic, loyal, etc. But my friends, when are we going to wake up and realize that none of these things exclusively belongs to Christianity? Don’t get me wrong, it is true that Christianity has rights to all of these things, but there is a reason why we have rights to these virtues- they all come from Christ and the cross. In short forgiveness, love, justice, grace, wrath, bravery, sacrifice, humility, all of these things that we like to write about are defined and understood and have their true and clearest meaning in the gospel, in the cross of Christ. The secular world has hijacked these terms, redefined them, and made them their own. So when Christian authors extract the gospel from the virtues and values that the gospel reveals (which is every virtue and value) then we have just defined these virtues and values the same way that the secular world does, which is apart from Christ, outside of Christ. And that changes everything.

Many Christian fantasy books will talk about being faithful to some kind of higher power, but rarely do we see the need to pray and trust and draw strength from the higher power in order to remain faithful to it. And when we remove this aspect from our writing, we remove the gospel, and thusly Christianity from our writing. The only unique thing that Christianity has that nobody else has is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our life as Christians is in Christ. We have our being, our meaning, our purpose, in Christ, in His death and resurrection. Therefore, any writing that does not reflect this does not reflect Christianity. Many religions, and many non-religious people, see worth and decency in being kind to others and exhibiting sacrificial love and justice and faithfulness and bravery and so on, but they do not see its worth rightly, because they try to define these terms apart from Christ and His cross.

As Christians we know that in us nothing good exists. That the only good is God, and that we live and obey Him by the power of the Spirit of Christ, and we receive the Spirit of Christ at salvation when we trust in the gospel of Christ to save us from our sins. We know that before we were saved, we were enslaved to sin, incapable of doing good because of our own sinfulness. But those who are Christ’s have been set free from the slavery to sin by His blood, by His death and resurrection. So when we write “Christian” fantasy and we alter this truth, we lose the gospel and thus the book is no longer Christian. If we just say that we must be faithful to a higher power in our writing, and that we do this by our own power and we do not need to be saved from our own sinfulness, then our book is not only not Christian, it is anti-Christian. Yet there does seem to be Christian books out there that lean in this direction- that we simply must be faithful to god, and if we are faithful he will bless us, love us, and reward us in some way. But that’s what the other religions believe. That is what makes other religions at the heart all the same. But the gospel is what makes Christianity different. Christ died not just to forgive but also to save His people from slavery to sin, and life as a Christian is growth in sanctification, defeating our sinful flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit and continually looking and praying to God for strength to overcome.

Now, I see two basic ways in which you could write a gospel centered, and therefore Christian, fantasy story. One way is to write in such a manner that it is targeted to unbelievers. The other way would be to write a book for believers, to help them better understand the riches of God and to grow in sanctification. If you are writing with an unbelieving audience in mind, the story would likely have to start with, or at least heavily involve, someone who is an unbeliever, but then becomes a believer in the true God through the true gospel. If the fantasy begins or has in mind the real world and not a fictitious world, then it would be reasonable to use the same names for God and Jesus and so on. If you are writing a high fantasy, I see no problem with, in this alternate universe, changing the name for God and the name for Jesus, but what you cannot change is the message of the gospel and therefore the sinfulness and total depravity of man.

So in some way, even in high fantasy, the story, if it is to be Christian, must involve characters either rejecting God and the gospel, receiving God and the gospel and getting saved, or it must involve learning about and discovering the true gospel. Now if it is a book written for Christians I would argue that in order for the book to truly be Christian the story would have to at least be concerned with living in light of the gospel, which would still lead to gospel-centered writing.

I think Christian authors want to cater to both believers and unbelievers, so they attempt to do this by removing Christ and the gospel from the center of the story to appease unbelievers and the secular readers yet re-cast God into a sort of supporting role or supporting cast to the story in some subtle way to try and appease the Christian readership. Unfortunately, to an extent this has worked and produced sells, but I would say much to the shame of us Christians. We have naively believed that writing in which the gospel is removed and replaced with whatever else is still somehow Christian just because the characters believe in a higher power, pray to this higher power, attempt to serve this higher power, and believe in some good morals and virtues like love, forgiveness, justice, etc.

Christian authors say they want their writing to glorify God and advance His cause. The problem is either they think they can do this by removing the gospel, or they are getting the gospel wrong and consequently are not glorifying God in their writing. Either way, the only way we can glorify God in our writing is by gospel-centered writing, either directly about how the gospel itself affects people by either accepting or rejecting it, or how those who have accepted or rejected the gospel live in light of their acceptance or rejection of it. Until we get back to gospel-centered writing, we cannot claim to be writing Christian fantasy.

Biblical Guidelines For Ministering To/Serving The Poor

NOTE: I have left out a very important passage that favors my position. In Matthew 13:53-58 we read that Jesus refuses to do "many mighty works" in his own country, his own land, Nazareth. Why? Verse 58 tells us why, "Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Another example of Jesus refusing to heal and minister to those who were in need because of their unbelief and because Jesus was sent by God to only minister to the lost sheep in the house of Israel, the elect.

From Scripture, it is clear that we are commanded to serve the poor. Undoubtedly, one thing that the church does a lot of is “mercy ministry” type work. Yet I have concerns about the intentions and purposes of many in the church who are so passionate and doing so much when it comes to ministering to the poor. I think Scripture is clear that first priority goes to the Christian that is in need, not the unbeliever. Much emphasis is placed on feeding the poor, serving the poor, but it seems to almost exclusively have in mind unbelievers that are poor and needy. This is not consistent with Scripture, but what’s worse is that much ministry that goes to feeding the poor unbelievers is devoid of the gospel, which is the true reason why we are to minister to the poor that are unbelievers.
The attitude, whether it is actually stated or not, seems to be that Jesus had compassion on the poor because they were poor, Jesus healed and gave sight to the blind and fed the 5,000 simply because people being needy is an evil and meeting people’s needs is a righteous cause in and of itself. This I dispute, and in the following paragraphs I hope to offer verses that show why.

Since most people appeal to the healings and miracles of Jesus as their basis for feeding poor people that are unbelievers, I want to first look at what exactly Jesus was doing, why He was doing it, and whom He chose to do it for, and whom He refused to heal.

In Matthew 15:32 we have the feeding of the four thousand, not to be confused with the feeding of the 5,000 found in Matthew 14. Here Jesus explicitly states why He has compassion on the multitude and feeds them. “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” So we see several things here. First, that it took Jesus three days before He even decided to feed them. Secondly, we see that Jesus fed them precisely because they were with Him for three days. In other words, Jesus pitied and had compassion on these people because they believed in Him, they were following Him, they were listening to Him preach and teach for three days without food! So this passage cannot be used to support the idea that we are to feed the poor simply because feeding the unbelieving poor in and of itself is a command, or righteous, or what Jesus did. Jesus did not feed the poor or heal the poor because they were poor and He thought that was bad, He had different motives altogether.

Some may appeal to Matthew 25:35-46. Indeed whole movements seem to be built based on this passage, some going so far as to say that the gospel is meeting people’s physical needs, and righteousness is feeding the poor, making sure people have clean water to drink, and combating diseases like cancer and AIDS. But exactly who is Jesus saying to clothe and visit and feed and give water too? Does Jesus not make it clear in verse 40? “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Here we see that Jesus is referring to His brethren, the elect. What is ironic is many churches neglect the brethren in favor of feeding unbelievers as a command in and of itself, without even
preaching the true gospel, or at the very least pushing the gospel to the backburner.

Let’s go back to Matthew 15. This is an incredibly important passage for the case I am making. Matthew 15:21-28 lays out this episode where a Gentile woman desires Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. If I did today what Jesus did then, many would seriously doubt my salvation. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore Jesus’ response. In verse 23, we read that Jesus “answered her not a word.” Jesus was ignoring her, pretending she wasn’t even there. He was giving her the cold shoulder. Yet the Gentile woman persisted, crying out to Jesus “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon possessed.” Her persistence even caused the disciples to urge Jesus to “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” This is when we read that Jesus finally answered and said,
“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus, at this point, refused to heal this Gentile’s daughter. Why? Because God’s will wasn’t for Jesus to heal anyone except His sheep, the elect. But This Gentile would not give up. In verse 25 she worships Him and says, “Lord, help me!” Yet again Jesus refuses and answers, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

Now Jesus has just called this woman a dog. And in biblical times, dogs were not pets; they were outcasts, considered shady and unclean. Surely if I, or anyone who professed to be a Christian took this attitude today we would be considered mean-spirited and, without a doubt, un-Christlike. Yet it is Christ Himself who is saying this and doing this.

This Gentile, even after being called a dog, still persisted. She responds saying, “Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Now Jesus saw that this woman had faith. Just as Jesus had compassion on the 4,000 because of their faith, it is now at this point that Jesus is moved with compassion toward this woman, because of her faith. And this is precisely the reaction we get from Jesus, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed right then.

Two things that need to be pointed out from this episode. First, we see that Jesus was sent only to minister to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 24), which means that God’s will was for Jesus to minister only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Secondly, Jesus did His healings and miracles to those who showed faith in Him first, not to any random needy person on the street. Passages such as Matthew 14:34-36 make this clear. It is here that we see that men brought the sick to Him and the sick begged to touch only the hem of His garment. “And as many as touched it were made well.” Why? Because they had faith. And they had faith because they were of the elect of God. Again we see that Jesus came to heal His sheep, the elect of God, not those who were outside of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Further, in passages such as Matthew 12:15 and others we find that Jesus again is healing those who are following Him, yet He warns them not to tell others that He is healing them. And in Matthew 10:40-42 we again see that Jesus is speaking of giving water to prophets, or men of God, not unbelievers. The point of this passage is that one who receives a prophet, a man of God, also receives Christ and the Father, and one who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. Here Jesus is encouraging us to minister and to meet the needs of God’s people, for that is what He has called us to do.

Now I want to focus in on Matthew 9. Here we see in verses 2-6 that Jesus forgives the sin of a paralytic only after he sees his faith and the faith of the men who brought him. Notice also that Jesus forgave the paralytic of his sins, and at this point, there is no indication that He is going to cause him to be able to walk again. Yet the scribes said that Jesus was blaspheming because He was claiming to be able to forgive sins. But it is at this point, after Jesus knows the thoughts of the scribes, that He says “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”- then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” And he arose and departed to his house.”

So in that episode we see Jesus first forgives a man of his sins because of his faith, and then enables him to walk to show to the scribes and all around him that He indeed is the Son of God and has the authority to forgive sins; for who but God can cause the blind to see and the lame to walk? So we see that one of the main purposes of Jesus’ healing and ministering was to prove that He indeed was God and therefore had the authority and capability of forgiving sins.

Again in Matthew 9 we see that Jesus heals two blind men, but only after asking them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And their responding yes. He says in verse 29 “According to your faith let it be to you” and then in verse 30 we see something new. There He says, “See that no one knows it.” Jesus says this repeatedly in other passages of Scripture. After He has privately healed a handful of people He tells them not to tell others about what He has done. Why is this? This is because Jesus’ purpose isn’t to heal people, His purpose is to preach the gospel and minister to the needs of the elect, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When Jesus did heal, His purpose was to prove that He indeed was the Son of God and thus had the authority to forgive sins, and He also healed and fed and ministered to the elect, those who were believers, those who tarried with Him for days or showed their faith by struggling to reach Him and begging Him to heal them.

In Matthew 8:4 we see what some call the “messianic secret.” In verse 4 Jesus tells a leper that He has just cleansed to not tell anyone that He cleansed him. Jesus does this repeatedly in other passages (9:30, 12:16, 16:20, 17:9) as well. Jesus was going out of His way to make it clear that His purpose wasn’t to heal sick people but to show that He came to save His sheep, the elect, from their sins.

Now let us examine another passage from Matthew 11. In verse 5 Jesus says “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” This passage is most important because in context of the first four verses we see that John the Baptist (who was currently in prison) sent some of his followers to Christ to find out if indeed Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, or someone else. And Jesus’ reply was verse 5. In other words, Jesus was saying that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear as proof that He was the Christ. Then He says that the poor have the gospel preached to them. NOTICE, Jesus did NOT say the poor are fed. Jesus’ purpose was to preach the gospel, feeding the poor wasn’t even mentioned because Jesus had no interest in feeding the poor, except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the elect.

Some may still refuse to believe that Scripture teaches that Jesus only healed and fed the elect, but the passage from Luke 10:8-12 should remove all doubt. Here Jesus is sending out the seventy to preach the gospel and heal the sick in all the cities that Jesus Himself was about to go. Jesus needed more laborers for the harvesting of the elect. But notice what verses 8-12 say:

“Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us[b] we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 But[c] I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.”

Notice the order here. Jesus says to heal the sick in cities that FIRST receive them. Then, Jesus says that whatever city the seventy enter where they are not received, they are to leave. It would appear that no healings were to be done in a city that rejected the seventy. Even if we say that, upon entering the city the seventy did a few miracles and healed a few people, the people that they did heal would have to be people that did express faith, for again we see that Jesus only healed those who first had faith in Him.

To summarize, we now see that Jesus was healing the sick and casting out demons for the purpose of demonstrating His power and authority, proving He was the Son of God who had come to take away the sins of His people. We see that Jesus refused to heal those who did not show faith and came only to minister to the needs of the house of Israel, the elect. We even see that Jesus told those whom He healed not to tell others that He had healed them. What else can we conclude but that Jesus Christ purpose was not to heal and feed poor unbelievers but to bring to faith the elect and to heal, clothe, and feed them as a foreshadowing of how He would cleanse them with His blood, heal them by His wounds suffered for their sins on the cross, and clothe them in His perfect, sinless righteousness so they can be counted as righteous by God and be received up in glory?

Now that I have shown Christ’s true purposes for healing and feeding, the Church needs to examine herself and be sure that their “mercy ministries” are working towards the same goal, the same end that Christ was. It is my belief that some, if not many, mercy ministries and those that work in them misunderstand the purpose of ministering to the poor and needy to the point that they are actually doing what Christ went out of His way to avoid- they are feeding the poor just for the sake of feeding the poor. This was never the purpose of Christ, and it was never the purpose that we were called to. Jesus said, “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus sent the seventy out to preach the gospel and to only heal and minister to the needs of those who were elect. The cities that rejected the seventy were to be told of the coming judgment and not to be ministered to.

My concern is that many are working to feed the poor because they think Jesus was concerned that the poor be fed just so that they would not be hungry or sick or needy. My concern is that many think starving and sick people don’t deserve to be starving and hungry but actually deserve to be fed and have their physical ailments treated and cured. My concern is that those who believe starving and sick people deserve to have their physical needs met will likewise think that they deserve to have their spiritual needs met, and because of this they will never preach the true gospel, the gospel of grace, because grace by definition is undeserved. If sinners deserve grace, they cannot receive it.

Now none of this is to say that we shouldn’t minister to poor people who are unbelievers. I am not saying that we are to ignore poor people that are unbelievers. I do however believe that our priority to unbelievers that happen to be poor or sick is the same as to any other unbeliever, and that is to preach the gospel. That is what Jesus said and commanded, and that is what we are to follow. Mercy ministries need to be focused on the gospel when it comes to ministering to the poor and needy and sick, its focus and focus of purpose should NOT be on feeding them or curing them of their physical ailments. This is not a contradiction, this is what Scripture teaches! A mercy ministry that spends 90 percent of its time on meeting physical needs and only 10 percent of its time on spiritual needs is hardly worthy of being called a mercy ministry, much less a Christian organization. The percentage should be flipped, a mercy ministry that is truly Christian and is truly striving to obey Christ will focus the vast majority of its energies and effots and monies and planning in preaching the gospel to the sick and needy, because the gospel, salvation, is their true need. No, I am not saying a mercy ministry altogether ignores the physical needs of those to whom it is ministering, but that is not its priority, and that ultimately is not its purpose. Meeting the physical needs is a means to carry out the true purpose of a mercy ministry, which is the preaching of the gospel, but meeting physical needs is not an end of itself or the purpose of itself, yet many mercy ministries act and operate as if it is so.

Was God Humiliating Jesus By Sending Him to The Cross?

I have heard some who do not trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior from sin say that God dishonored His Son Jesus Christ by sending Him to live and die on the cross for sinners, bearing the penalty of sin of God's people in His own body on the cross. Some, I believe atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, go so far as to say that what God did is equivalent to 'cosmic child abuse." Their argument is that God punished Jesus with sin that He did not commit, and God made Jesus do this, therefore, God is a terrible, abusive, evil parent.

I want to briefly give Christians ammo to counter and disprove such an idiotic argument. Firstly, Jesus WANTED to do the will of His Father. In other words, God's plan to offer up Jesus as the sin bearer and substitute for His people is something that Jesus wanted to do. Nor did Jesus have to be talked into coming down to live and die for the salvation of sinners. There was no disagreement in the Godhead. Jesus, of His own free will, desired and chose to give Himself for His people, and He did this for two reasons- because He loves His people and He loves His Father.

John 10:11-18 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Here we clearly see that Jesus loves His people ("I lay down My life for the sheep") and that He loves His Father clearly from other passages such as John 8:29 "And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him" or John 6:38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me."

So Jesus is doing what He wants because He wants to honor and obey His Father and because He wants to save His people from their sins. The Father is well pleased with His Son because the Son is obedient and doing the will of His Father with gladness and delight. Now the simple question is this: Does that sound ANYTHING like child abuse? No not at all, because it isn't.

Furthermore, there IS a reason why God has willed to offer up His Son as the sin-bearing substitute for His sheep. The answer to this one is quite easy and quite obvious if you are a Christian- to glorify Himself, through the praise of the glory of His grace in saving us from our sins when we did not deserve it by sending His Son Jesus to pay for our sins in our place (Ephesians 1:3-14 clearly shows this) and also to sanctify, set apart, a people for Himself, zealous for good works and to honor, glorify, and praise Him (Ephesians 2:10 as well as many others).

Also, there is at least one other reason, and I think we often lose sight of this one, but it is also very important and true. God also sent Jesus to die for sinners not just to glorify God the Father, but also God the Son, Jesus Christ Himself. Remember, greatness is serving. What is the single greatest act of love, the most selfless, sacrificing, act ever committed by man? It is Jesus Christ, as a man, living a sinless, perfect, righteous life FOR HIS SHEEP, and also dying the death of sin, bearing the infinite wrath of God in His own body, on the cross, for all the sins of every one of God's chosen people.

Of course, this makes no sense to the lost, unbelieving world and especially to people like Richard Dawkins because they are still spiritually dead in their sins and therefore love themselves and live for themselves rather than living for God and for others as we were all created to do. So their problem is a spiritual one, a righteous one, a moral one, not an intellectual problem. Their problem with God and Jesus and what He did on the cross is a problem with their own heart, their own wickedness. Let us not forget the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18 "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." We should be thankful that God has chosen to give us eyes to see and ears to hear the gospel and to savingly trust in it.

The cross of Christ, His life, death, burial, and resurrection, are not merely a testament to his love and grace and mercy, but also His power. Remember, Christ rose from the grave! It is His resurrection that gives us salvation from sin just as much as his life and death. If Christ was still in the grave, He would not have satisfied God's wrath against our sin, He would not have defeated sin, for remember, the sting of sin, the wages of sin, is death. But Christ has overcome the grave, He has risen, and this demonstrates the power of Christ, and this as well gives Him all the glory, honor, and praise.

So indeed, far from being cosmic child abuse, what Christ did on earth, which was what He wanted to do and what God willed that he would do, brought Christ honor. God was honoring His Son by ordaining Him to be the One who would take away the sins of His people. This is undeniable as Jesus Himself states in John 8:54 "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God."

So was God humiliating and/or abusing Jesus by sending Him to live and Ddie for His people? No, on the contrary, He was honoring Him, demonstrated by His people giving Him all the honor, glory and praise for what He did on the cross to save them from their slavery to sin and give them eternal life in Christ.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Calvinism: Why Is It So Great?

As Calvinism (also known as reformed theology and/or the doctrines of grace) continues to make headway into the Church again, some may wonder why this "new" teaching is becoming so popular. The truth is, it isn't new, it's old. It is the faith of the Puritans, it is in step with the theology of Martin Luther who came before Calvin, it is the faith and theology of Charles Spurgeon, of the leaders of the first great awakening such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, and the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton, was likewise a Calvinist.

So, why have so many godly men who have lead the great revivals of the past been proponents of Calvinism? Why did Charles Spurgeon even say that "Calvinism is simply a nickname for historical Christianity?" The truth is, I would argue, because these men all saw the truth of Calvinism as revealed in the Bible, and it is the realization of the truths of Calvinism that set their hearts ablaze to live as they were called and to share the gospel with everyone.

So there I have stated what makes Calvinism so great in one aspect; it is great because it sets your heart ablaze to live like a Christian. That's what Calvinism does to you, and that is certainly what makes it great, but the reason it does this to you is where the real, lasting value is at. Many emotional messages and sermons can momentarily magnify our passion and devotion and love for God and our desire to serve Him. The great difference between those momentary peaks and Calvinism is that, because Calvinism is grounded in the Truth of Scripture, the devotion to God doesn't die out because the devotion is grounded on God's Truth rather than emotionalism or pressure by a pastor who motivates mainly through guilt and fear of hell or even merely out of obligation (meaning some sort of "Christian duty").

Now I know when it comes to our "views" of God, for anyone who calls themselves a Christian this is their life. So when I say that your understanding of God is wrong and your understanding of the gospel is wrong whenever and wherever you disagree with Calvinism, I know that I am touching on something that is very sensitive, indeed at the core of every true Christian. At the same time, I know that as true Christians we are to get our understanding of God from the Bible alone, not from our opinions or other men's opinions, but from the Word of God alone. That is WHY I am a Calvinist. Does that confuse you? It should not. All I am saying is that the Word of God is where John Calvin went to get his theology, and the Word of God is where the doctrines of Calvinism originated.

Now it is true that a Calvinist interpretation of Scripture could be wrong, just as much as any other interpretation. In response to that, let me ask you this. Do you believe that the gospel is knowable? Do you believe that from the Bible we can clearly ascertain the meaning of the gospel, what the message of the gospel is, and why God has chosen to bring the gospel to us? If you answer yes, then why couldn't Calvinism be the correct interpretation? If you answer no, and you are a Christian, well how can you be certain of your Christianity given the basis of your faith, the gospel, is not knowable? If God has not spoken to us clearly in His Word concerning the gospel, the Bible has no value to us. Christianity and the Bible rises or falls on the ability to comprehend and grasp the gospel, and that is all that Calvinism itself elaborates on, the gospel, and God's overarching plan to save man through the gospel.

So, to state it concisely, the truth that Calvinism teaches that makes Calvinism so great and, when it penetrates our hardened sinful hearts by the grace of God, transforms us and literally gives us a far greater desire and passion to serve God and learn more and more about Him in His Word so that we CAN rightly serve Him is the reality and realization of the depths of our own sinfulness and depravity AND despite this and in light of this, the amazing grace, compassion, and mercy of God and His Son Jesus Christ in dying not merely to make salvation possible, but to actually bring us to faith and repentance by His Holy Spirit and grace so that God is the one who sovereignly chooses to save us and makes us willing to believe by His grace. That's it right there in a nutshell. The single deepest and greatest and most wonderful thing I learned through studying Calvinism is that the Bible really does teach that I never would have repented and put faith in Christ unless God had chosen to save me by overcoming my unrepentant, hardened heart by the power of His grace. In other words, I realized the only difference between me and the greatest sinner ever, someone like Hitler or whoever the worst possible sinner is that you can imagine, is the grace of God. That's the only difference. If it wasn't for the grace of God, I'd be a murderer, a thief, a rapist, you name it. And except for the grace of God, I would be an unbeliever, blaspheming God, living for myself, living in sin.

In short, I finally realized in the fullest sense what it means to be saved by grace. I learned that being saved by grace means not simply that Jesus Christ died to save those who are "good enough" to make that really smart decision to "repent" (stop sinning and start living for Christ by the power of their own will/decision), but that being saved by grace really means that Jesus Christ died to save all those WHOM GOD BY HIS GRACE HAD ALREADY CHOSEN TO BRING TO FAITH AND REPENTANCE. Just as Christ's death on the cross for my sins was an unspeakable grace, so my faith and repentance are also graces and gifts of God, not of works so that I may not boast as Ephesians 2:8-10 says.

Now to close, I understand that me simply stating this will not change you. You must do the hard work of studying Scripture yourself and see that the Bible really does teach that repentance and faith are gifts and graces of God and you would not have faith unless God had chosen to give it to you. You may not believe that, but it is what the Bible teaches. And until you see that for yourself, you will not be able to enjoy the truths of the gospel to its fullest, and therefore you will not be able to live for Christ to the fullest. Once you see these great truths of Calvinism clearly taught by God Himself in His Holy Bible, then and only then will you be a true Calvinist. It is one thing to numbly talk about the doctrines of Calvinism, but it isn't until you come to the position to see that Calvinism is indeed the very truth of God that it will actually move you and fill you with a desire to follow Him and serve Him SOOOO much more and from a far more proper, gracious and humble attitude.

Therefore, I encourage you, study the Bible for yourself. Find out what precisely Calvinism teaches, look at the Scripture used to support it, and come to your own conclusions. I can assure you that you will find the Bible teaches the five points of Calvinism unless you simply hope that they do not. If you hope the Bible does not teach Calvinism, it is likely because you think Calvinism somehow compromises the goodness and fairness of God. It does not do that either, and if you have questions about that, or anything that I have said, please do not hesitate to ask me. Calvinism truly changed my life, and if you see that the Bible truly does teach it, it will change your life in the most profound and wonderful way as well, I promise you that.