Friday, December 30, 2016

Yes We Are Depraved

Perhaps one of the most unpopular spiritual teachings in the world is the depravity of human nature. Not only do secular people reject it but even many devoutly religious persons categorically deny it. I would suggest that this both naïve and unwise.

For example, those who affirm that everyone makes it to the eternal heavenly state, regardless of whether or what was believed and done in this life (“universalism”). These people have to affirm that human beings are not depraved by nature—otherwise they must embrace some version for how God saves people from themselves. There are many today who affirm this and categorically reject the notion that anyone would be eternally lost because of his or her sin.

I respect such persons for their consistency. But to maintain “universalism” one must simultaneously reject human depravity. The evidence for depravity of human nature is overwhelming. The only way around it, as far as I can see, is to redefine evil in psychological terms and classify every problem of human behavior as pathology or mental illness.

Part of the reason why people shy from affirming human depravity has to do with the exclusively negative meaning of the term. People do not want to think of themselves as inherently evil and certainly want to think the best of others. This makes sense and is in a way sensible. For who wants to assume that the person who just served me a cup of coffee is perverse and intends to use others for evil purposes? And as the saying goes, “Aren’t most people basically decent and wish the best for themselves and others?”

I grant that this objection does have some force and my assertion that human beings are depraved does not require anyone to deny the obvious: People generally do not want to intentionally inflict harm on their neighbors. Some do to be sure—Jihadi terrorists, murderers, those who have embraced sexual perversions that involve others persons, government leaders who terrorize their people as a matter of policy. There is a process of moral degeneration and demonic deception that is inherent in the human embrace of such evils.

The simple dodge for admitting to depravity is this: I am not like “those people who do (you fill in blank).” The flaw of this objection is that human depravity is not limited to instances of one person intentionally harming another person for the thrill of inflicting harm or behaviors that top most people’s for reprehensible actions. We can all think of and name many instances of specific persons or whole groups who have systematically ridiculed (dehumanized), physically harmed and even tried to kill others simply because of who those persons where or the group was. In the case of groups we call this discrimination, persecution and genocide. In the case of individuals we call this insults, violence and murder.

The modern attempts to explain why one person would hate another person usually focuses on psychological problems, mental disorders and sociological conditions. These certainly are legitimate factors in many cases. However, rather than disproving that humans are depraved they tend to confirm the profoundly broken condition of human nature (which depravity is one expression of). For even the “best” of us when we are honest must admit that we could do harm to others—even if our only motive was to be self-serving and to get something we want. 

The Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5, when taken seriously, erodes away all the excuses and self-justifications we can invent to help us think our behavior, thoughts and motives are right. So long as we are ignorant of the God’s highest standards of righteousness or we have found creative ways to dumb down the application of those standards then the illusion of our basic goodness can remain. Thanks be to God that that Holy Spirit does not allow us to live in illusion forever. 

This is the truth: We human beings are depraved. Relationships with others are severed, resentment and bitterness grow in us to feed bigotry and anger which builds to rage; dishonesty characterizes our responses to others and we refuse to squarely take responsibility for our own choices and behavior. When faced with the existential truth about our true motives and the consequences of our actions we instinctively avoid responsibility and try to blame others; more than that we invent and insist upon absurd reasons for why others are to blame for all our problems. We may even lash out at others with words or violence or turn on ourselves to invest our energy in self-destructive behaviors. And all this is the expression of the human heart (see Matthew 15:1-20) The real question is what can be done for us to change us? 

The general answer given by the major philosophic and religious groups comes down to this: Get educated in God’s way (or the “spiritual path to enlightenment”) and learn to be self-disciplined and commit to a group of devoted followers under the teaching of a teacher, guru, or organization. For those who are honest with themselves this search ends in the awareness of one thing—I cannot keep my own high ideals of being a spiritual person and to do good. The answer most give to this dose of reality is usually to try harder to improve oneself (utilizing whatever practices are deemed necessary or useful) and to redefine downwards the stated goal for spiritual enlightenment. 

What I would assert is that believing in human depravity is good news. For one need not pretend any longer that the high standards of practicing integrity of goodness and upright behavior is within reach. I cannot attain to my highest and best aspirations to be a good human being with the resources and power of my human nature and intellect.

The truth that I (or we) need another to enlighten, empower and transform us will either bring offense or bring gratefulness from within. These are the two basic responses to what the Gospel promises. This is why the Lord Jesus will be ultimately repudiated by some or eagerly loved by others. There can be no middle ground on this matter. If anyone thinks so it is either because that person has already decided to ignore what the Lord said (and mold some other more convenient image of him) or is ignorant of the Lord’s teaching.  

Yes, we are depraved. We express that basic depravity differently, based on multiple factors. But depravity is a fact of life for us human beings. The question is how will that be explained and how will it be remedied. Any other line of reasoning misses or dismisses the first point of enlightenment under the Holy Spirit’s influence in the human heart. And all sociologically informed remedies for societal reform will falter if human depravity is not considered; for the very people who are reforming are themselves in need of inner change. Theology has consequences that impact far more than an individuals’ doctrinal affirmations and behavior. For human behavior has profound effects on the multiple networks of relationships and social development that we call “civilization.” 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Great Apostasy

I am grateful to God Almighty that he created me and that he chose for me to be a citizen of the United States. This is not only because of the extraordinary political freedoms and opportunities I have as a citizen but because of the great heritage of this country. So many of my fellow believers and fellow citizens are quick to pass judgment upon the United States, for lots of different reasons. But none of those critiques and criticisms, even those that are valid, have diminished that sense of gratefulness I have for this country. 

What am writing this for? Not to make a commentary on the most recent election. (Dear God, no! There has been quite enough foolishness said about that from people of all political views.) Rather, I am articulating (to myself primarily) my deep sadness about the country of my own birth. The thorough and undeniable influence of the Christian churches and general Christian world-view on this nation has been intentionally ignored and/or actively suppressed for many years (now several generations if not longer). And the people of this nation, with the exceptions of the minority of professing Christians, have been willing to adopt lifestyles that run counter to the core teaching of Scripture on faith and righteousness.

What is worse about the situation is that so many people in America appear to be content with their spiritual deadness; though dying spiritually they think they are healthy. This is surely one of the signs of the advanced stages of apostasy from the Gospel. This grieves me because where the people choose the apostate road together they invite God’s judgment upon them.

What can be done? “The only way to prevent this falling away from the gospel is to love the truth and to experience its power in the heart.” (John Owen, Apostasy from the Gospel, abridged by R.J.K Law [The Banner of Truth Trust:1992], p.57) This is precisely what so many are unwilling to do. 
I could list the social vices that people usually talk about as they predict the reasons for the country’s decline and demise. This is not helpful nor necessary. Most intelligent and thoughtful people know that the United States social situation is full of examples of vice and serious chronic problems. These are only the symptoms of a society being shaped by people (especially the elites who govern) who live as though God was not actually present and involved in human life. And even for those who do know and honor God in ways they think best they cannot help but be influenced by the godlessness of the elites. 

The 16th pastor and writer, William Gurnall, made this observation (below) which I marvel at because it so accurately describes the attitudes and actions of my neighbors, co-workers and yes, many professing Christian people. And I would say that I have in the past embraced the thinking and corresponding actions described here too.

“We live in a generation which treats sin and holiness as the melancholy imaginings of timid men and women. Some even brag about being free from the tranny of holiness and that they can curse, lie and steal without being accountable to an unbending conscience. They rationalize that sin does not exist except in the mind. Thus these are even worse fools than the one David described: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14:1). These people go further and shamelessly announce to the whole world that they are fools. … What a deep sleep we have slept, that the enemy could have come in to sow these tares among us! Maybe we took it for granted that such poisonous seed would not grow in our soil, where Christ’s servants have worked so hard—at great cost—to clear it. Yet experience has proved that when disease invades a city it rages more freely in pure air than in polluted climates. And when a spirit of delusion falls upon a people who have enjoyed the gospel most, it grows to epidemic proportions.” (William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol. 2 [Banner of Truth], pp.228-229.)

Here is the point I want to make. When an individual turns from the light of truth and into the darkness the satanic forces are eager to kill, destroy and steal. For they have been given an open door to do so by human beings. There is no neutral ground in this world. To turn away from God and his Gospel is apostasy and the only alternative is to go to the enemies’ deception and error.

Perhaps the greatest ally of the devils, next to human pride, is the greatness of the United States—the rich history of political stability, the persistence of a shared commitment to the rule of law, the unparalleled economic prosperity and successes (mostly) in military conflicts. The kings of Israel (in the Old Testament) also were noted for military successes, economic prosperity and sometimes long-term political stability. But this did not help in the end as God brought his judgment down on the 10 tribes precisely because of their apostasy.

I do not believe that the United States is a “chosen people” in the sense that Israel is—both the ancient Israelites and their descendants today. Let me make that clear. But God has guided and directed the course of the United States in unmistakable ways. We are a truly blessed nation by God. However, the characteristics of arrogance and self-sufficiency and self-indulgence tend to be true of our people.

I recall hearing over and over certain believers speaking about the need for revival in order to prevent the judgment of God to be executed upon the United States. I used to dismiss this. Now I am sure those voices are speaking the truth. But God is merciful and thus I have hope that the Almighty may revive and spare the people of the nation of my birth from his just wrath.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Fathering of God, Part 5

My wife and I lived in Oregon for several years and developed a friendship with an older couple from our church. We enjoyed the time spent with them at their home. What we did not expect is just how much our dog “Max” was to enjoy these visits. They had chickens, dogs and Nubian goats. For some reason our dog immediately loved these goats and they loved him. He would recognize the property and get very excited when we arrived and the first thing he did was bolt from the car to go greet them. This was a very unlikely but wonderful bond between these animals. And it was instructive for us too.  

As God “fathers” us he draws people of very diverse backgrounds and worldly interests into unlikely abiding fellowship and deepening commitment to love and care for one another. This is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. This is evidence of the Kingdom of God being present on earth.

As God “fathers” us he leads us to care for one another and to be fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and friends to one another. This means exhorting one another to do what is right and avoid sin (see Hebrews 12:14-17). It also means that we willingly share our sorrows, grief and pain so that other believers can become agents of healing in Jesus’ Name. And it means encouraging each other to do those things (practices) that will lead to being holy and spiritually healthy with God.

As God “fathers” us he gives us true identity as royal sons and daughters together in the family of God. Together we learn to live out the teachings of Jesus. Together we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides into all truth. Together we learn to exercise spiritual authority and to wield the delegated authority of the Kingdom to bring spiritual freedom to people.

For to us it is of the greatest importance to be happy (whatever form that takes for us). God, however, has little interest in our being happy if that means we do not desire to be holy above all else. For making us progressively holy from the inside out (character to outward behavior) is the end for which we were created and recreated in Christ. All of God’s fathering is aimed at his so we can live in God’s radical freedom—just as our Lord did when we walked as one of us on earth.

In order for us to appreciate and understand what kind of character God desires to form in us it is essential to have an accurate understanding of who God is. One’s perception of God will either inhibit or foster an openness of heart to the Father. With this in mind, I end this blog series with listing (not exhaustive) of key images of God’s self-presentation through Scripture. May the truth move us to worship, adore, love and receive all the good gifts of the Father, in accordance with the Lord’s promise, through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God is Self-existent and not to be thought of as a creature (Exodus 3:13-15; Deuteronomy 4:15-20)

God employed multiple metaphors to describe himself and actions in relationship to human beings:
o   Creator and Redeemer (Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Psalm 34:15-22; Isaiah 45:18-19; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; Revelation 4:11)
o   Father to People of Israel and individuals (Deuteronomy 32:1-6; Psalm 68:5-6; 103:8-14; Isaiah 63:15-16; Malachi 2:10)
o   Mighty Rock and Strength (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 18:2; Proverbs 18:10)
o   God who takes “mothering” role towards own people (Deuteronomy 32:10-14, 18; Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 132; Luke 13:34)

God’s actions flow from his eternal Being and character as he has covenanted to relate to his creatures (Exodus 2:23-25; Psalm 25:8-10; Isaiah 43; Jeremiah 31:31-37; 33:14-26; Matthew 26:26-29; Hebrews 13:20-21)

The Lord Jesus primarily understood his own relation to God as uniquely to his Father and that his disciples relate spiritually to God as Father through him (Luke 2:48-49; Matthew 11:25-30; John 14:8-14; Galatians 4:1-7; 1 Peter 1:17-21)