Posts Tagged ‘Christian Living’

IN PRAISE OF DISBELIEF

In our constant struggle to believe we are likely to overlook the simple fad that a bit of healthy disbelief is sometimes as needful as faith to the welfare of our souls.

I would go further and say that we would do well to cultivate a reverent skepticism. It will keep us out of a thousand bogs and quagmires where others who lack it sometimes find themselves. It is no sin to doubt some things, but it may be fatal to believe everything.

Faith is at the root of all true worship, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Through unbelief Israel failed to inherit the promises. “By grace are ye saved through faith” … “The just shall live by faith.” Such verses as these come trooping to our memories, and we wince lust a little at the suggestion that unbelief may also be a good and useful thing. It sounds like a bold cancellation of the doctrine of faith as taught in the Scriptures and disposes us to write off the brazen advocate of disbelief as a Modernist.

Let’s look at the matter a bit more closely. Faith never means gullibility. The man who believes everything is as far from God as the man who refuses to believe anything. Faith engages the Person and promises of God and rests upon them with perfect assurance. Whatever has behind it the character and word of the living God is accepted by faith as the last and final truth from which there must never be any appeal. Faith never asks questions when it has been established that God has spoken. “Yea, let God he true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Thus faith honors God by counting Him righteous and accepts His testimony against the very evidence of its own senses. That is faith, and of such we can never have too much.

Credulity, on the other hand, never honors God, for it shows as great a readiness to believe anybody as to believe God Himself. The credulous person will accept anything as long as it is unusual, and the more unusual it is the more ardently he will believe. Any testimony will be swa1lowed with a straight face if it only has about it some element of the eerie, the preternatural, the unearthly. The gullible mentality is like the ostrich that will gulp down anything that looks interesting… an orange, a tennis ball, a pocketknife opened or closed, a paper weight or a ripe apple. That he survives at all is a testimony not to his intelligence but to his tough constitution.

I have met Christians with no more discrimination than the ostrich. Because they must believe certain things, they feel that they must believe everything. Because they are called upon to accept the invisible they go right on to accept the incredible. God can and does work miracles; ergo, everything that passes for a miracle must be of God. God has spoken to men; therefore every ‘man’ who claims to have had a revelation from God must be accepted as a prophet. Whatever is unearthly must be heavenly; whatever cannot be explained must be received as divine; the prophets were rejected, therefore everyone who is rejected is a prophet; the saints were misunderstood, so everyone who is misunderstood is a saint. This is the dangerous logic of the gullible Christian. And it can be as injurious as unbelief itself.

 The healthy soul, like the healthy blood stream, has its proper proportion of white and red cells. The red corpuscles are like faith: they carry the life-giving oxygen to every part of the body. The white cells are like disbelief: they pounce upon dead and toxic matter and carry it out to the drain. Thus the two kinds of cells working together keep the tissues in good condition. In the healthy heart there must be provision for keeping dead and poisonous matter out of the life stream. This the credulous person never suspects. He is all for faith. He accents the affirmative and cultivates religious optimism to a point where he can no longer tell when he is being imposed upon.

 Along with our faith in God must go a healthy disbelief of everything occult and esoteric. Numerology, astrology, spiritism, and everything weird and strange that passes for religion must be rejected. All this is toxic matter and has no place in the life of a true Christian. He will reject the whole business without compunction or fear. He has Christ, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. What more does the Christian need?

 from The Root of the Righteous by A. W. Tozer

Antidotes to Contemporary Stupefaction

Doug Groothius has done it again – compiled an indispensable list. Oh, how I love his lists… JB 

1. Read old, challenging books.
2. Talk to people in situations with no background noise.
3. Pray through the Psalms.
4. Read the Book of Ecclesiastes multiple times until it sinks in.
5. Talk to older people and really listen to them.
6. Sit in silence, doing nothing for short or long periods of time (but not in a yoga posture).
7. Thank God for what cannot be taken away.
8. Write a letter (not an email) to a friend or family member.
9. See a worthwhile film and then talk about it with a group of people. Don’t use the word “awesome.”
10. Drive in silence–no radio, music, cell phones, etc.
11. Listen to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” until you get it. But don’t accept the theology of the liner notes.
12. Fast and pray for a few days (without telling anyone who doesn’t need to know).
13. Pray written prayers from The Book of Common Prayer.
14. Read historical confessional statements such as The Thirty Nine Articles or The Westminster Confession of Faith or The Athansian Creed.
15. Do not interrupt people when you talk with them. Do not finish their sentences. Maybe they are looking for just the right word.
16. Weep with those who weep.
17. Stop watching television for one week. Note what happens to your soul.
18. Listen to a classic book on tape when you are driving.
19 Buy someone a book they wouldn’t buy for themselves and ask them to read it.
20. Pray for strangers as they pass you by.
21. Take communion on a regular basis.
22. Look for opportunities to share the Gospel with strangers in creative ways. (I’ve done it in a public steam bath several times.)
23. Listen to Mars Hill Audio interviews.

Now, dear readers, please add a few of your own to his incomplete list.

The Deeper Life

“To speak of the ‘deeper life’ is not to speak of anything deeper than simple New Testament religion. The ‘deeper life’ is deeper only because the average Christian life is tragically shallow.”
-A.W. Tozer

 

HT to Reformed Voices

Afflictions Refine the Believer

Being a fellow fan of John Owen, I am happy to post this blog which quotes Owen. –JB

from Christians in Context

Anyone who’s read my posts in the past knows that I read John Owen devotionally. His book THE HOLY SPIRIT, his gifts and his power is so chock full of spiritual insights that rather than taking the 384 page book on all at once, I read it in snippets. Some of you may be able to relate to this type of reading. Nevertheless, Owen had the gift of elucidation (and I feel, illumination). And on the above topic in the title, I felt his explanation (with my comments) was worthy of a post.

In any event, this is a subsection of a chapter on how the blood of Christ purges all filth from the believer. Observe:

Purification from sin is likewise ascribed to affliction. Hence they are called God’s furnace, and his fining-pot, whereby he takes away our dross (Isa. 31:9, 63:10). They are also called fire, that tries the ways and works of men, consuming their hay and stubble, and purifying their gold and silver (1st Cor. 3:13). And this they do by an efficacy communicated to them by the Spirit of God; for by the cross of Christ, they were cut off from the curse of the first covenant, to which all their evils belonged, and implanted into the covenant of grace. The tree of the cross being cast into the waters of affliction, has rendered them wholesome and medicinal. Christ being the head of the covenant, all the afflictions of his members are originally his (Isa 63:9), and they all tend to increase our conformity to him in holiness. And they work together for his blessed end in several ways.”

Before I go on to list the elements in which he states I want to comment briefly. How often do we Christians assume that when we are being afflicted in this way or that way that it is actually for our good. Granted, our affliction may not compare with those in other countries who are persecuted for their faith, but affliction still befalls each one of us. I can tell you right now that I’m going through a difficult times financially by trying to unload a rental property in NY and its really difficult for me to look at the situation and say that God must have a reason for it. But I know he does, its just difficult acting on this. And I think many Christians feel the same way. We feel God is ignoring us, or that there is a sin in our lives and as a result we are paying for it with this difficult situation. Truth is, God does have a reason for it. Often its just not what we think. That is why I like what Owen’s has to say next.

He then states the ways in which the above quote works together. I’ll take a few lines from the 4 ways, cut them down, and comment briefly. Affliction, he states, purifies us:

1) By Revealing God’s Hatred of Sin: “They bear some tokens of God’s displeasure against sin, by which believers are le to a fresh view of its vileness: for through afflictions are an effect of love, yet it is of love mixed with care to obviate and prevent distempers…Now a view of sin, under suffering, makes men to loathe and abhor themselves, and be ashamed of it. This is the first step toward purification, for it puts us upon seeking after a remedy”

2) By Breaking Attachments to Created Things: Afflictions take off the beauty and allurement of all created good things, by which the affections are solicited to embrace and cleave to them inordinately. God designs by afflictions to wither all the flowers of this world, by discovering their inefficiencies to give relief.”

I like what Owen has to say here. Clearly he is speaking in generalities with respect to what object, mainly because it can apply to many different aspects of human relations. For example, though I enjoy my Audi with all of its features and supreme driving ability, during times of distress it offers me very little consolation for anything. Things are to be enjoyed, but not relied on.

3) By Taking the Edge off Lusts: “Afflictions take the edge off lusts…they curb those vigorous affections which are always ready for the service of lust, and which sometimes carry the soul into the pursuit of sin, like the horse into battle, with madness and fury.”

Owen hits the nail on the head again with this one. Affliction will very much alter the way we look at our “normal sins” in which we generally take for granted. It allows us a different motivation and modifies our very outlook on what might normally be taken for granted.

4) By Stiring Up the Graces of the Spirit: “A time of affliction is the special season for the peculiar exercise of all grace; for the soul can no otherwise support or relieve itself. It is taken off from other comforts, every sweet thing being make bitter to it; it must therefore live by, and in some sense upon, faith, love, and delight in God.

As Peter notes, In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is when we face affliction and/or various trials that our faith is tested and made sure. Through tough times we come to know and rely solely on God and His graces which he has bestowed.

Hopefully you were encouraged as much as I was after reading this. Again, some of this may seem elementary and lack the theological meat some of our readers thirst for. But for me, to read the insight of one of the most influential Puritans enriches my soul every time I do.

Political Activism

There is a world of difference between Christians in political service and Christians seeking to usher in the Kingdom of Christ by political activism, as Phil Johnson so ably points out in this post:

Slaves, not rulers

ere’s number three in our list of four biblical principles politically-obsessed evangelical churches and parachurch organizations need to remember. To review:

1. Preaching, not lobbying, is how we make truth known.
2. Gospel, not Law is what changes sinful hearts.

And now—

3. Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture

In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus addresses the very question that lies at the heart of this series of blogposts: If we want to maximize our influence for the kingdom of Christ in our culture and our community, what’s the best way to do it? If we want to be a great leaders and influencers of men and women, what approach should we take?

Here’s Jesus’ answer: “Jesus called [the disciples] together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise dominion over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”

The command includes both negative and positive elements. Jesus is emphatic about the negative aspect: we’re not to seek greatness, or influence, or power in the kingdom of Christ by the raw exercise of authority over other people. He’s talking specifically about governmental and legislative authority.

And the “positive” part certainly won’t sound very appealing to the average person jockeying for political clout or partisan power. Instead, Jesus says, serve. Not in the sense of serving a term in office—but in the sense of making yourself a slave to others.

Now, let’s be clear here: Jesus is not spurning the idea of legal authority or human government. We’ve already seen that Scripture recognizes and affirms the proper role of rulers. Romans 13 defines that role, and verse 4 expressly says that when a ruler properly wields the sword against evildoers, “he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

But here in this context Jesus was speaking to His apostles as representatives and leaders of His church and ambassadors for His kingdom. And He makes this clear differentiation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Caesar: The two kingdoms are run with completely different principles—because they operate in totally separate arenas; they function with exactly opposite strategies; they are pursuing entirely different goals; and the way they leverage their power and influence is therefore likewise thoroughly and radically different.

To illustrate, it’s clear from Romans 13 that the government is authorized by God to use force—up to and including deadly force and even capital punishment. Paul says it is both good and legitimate for earthly governments to wield their power—and even use the sword—to enforce submission to their rightful authority and to punish evildoers who deserve punishment. Romans 13:4 again: “He is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

But nowhere in all the New Testament is the church ever authorized to use the sword for any purpose—including the punishment of damnable heresy in her own midst. The most extreme remedy available to the church for punishing evildoers is excommunication. It would be a terrible sin for the church to overstep her bounds and employ any kind of force against heretics or evildoers, because she has no authority from God to do that.

Again: Christ and Caesar rule different kingdoms, by different principles.

Moreover, the church has no commission from God to harness the power of Caesar—even under a democratic regime—in order to attempt to advance the kingdom of Christ by legislative force, doctrinal dominionism, or any other kind of constraint. What Jesus was saying in this text (Matthew 20:25-28) forbids exactly that, in the most emphatic terms: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise [dominion] over them. It shall not be so among you.”

When Christian Reconstructionism was having its heyday back in the mid-1990s, I often encountered post-millennial theonomists who were convinced that the key to ushering in the kingdom of Christ on earth was for the church to gain dominion over our culture and our government’s public policy—chiefly through legal maneuvering and political means. They weren’t merely saying, as I already have, that government service (or even a career in politics) is a legitimate and honorable vocation for individual Christians whom God places in those positions. They were teaching that political activism is the duty of the church as a corporate entity. They were in effect teaching that gaining and exercising political power is one of the most vital ingredients to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.

That flatly contradicts what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 20:25-26 (“the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion . . . But it shall not be so among you.”) It also conflicts with the pattern of ministry in the New Testament church. Even Paul, who appealed his own case to Caesar, did so not with the hope he might influence Caesar’s public policy (which, to be candid, was a thousand times more evil than anything the American Democratic Party has yet proposed)—but Paul asked for a hearing in Rome because he longed for an opportunity to preach the gospel there. He was happy to go there in chains—not to protest the treatment he had received at the hands of Roman officials, but to preach to Caesar and his household the gospel of redemption.

That should be our spirit as well. I’d be thrilled if America ever elected a president who really believed Scripture and followed its principles without compromise. But to be totally honest, I doubt that’s possible in any democratic system. Furthermore, on those rare occasions when truly devoted, Bible-believing Christians have found themselves in possession of the reins of significant political power, they have almost always managed to make a mess of it.

Remember what Will Durant wrote about Cromwell: “His private morals were impeccable, [but] his public morals were no better than those of other rulers; he used deception or force when he thought them necessary to his major purposes. No one has yet reconciled Christianity with government.”

The problem, I believe, is the very thing Jesus highlighted in Matthew 20:25-28 the kingdom of God is ultimately not advanced by the flexing of political clout.

Phil's signature


 

The Glory of Christ and Our Sorrows

from Against Heresies

Helpful words from John Owen:

Our beholding by faith things which are not seen, things spiritual and eternal, will alleviate all our afflictions,–make their burden light, and preserve our souls from fainting under them. Of these things the glory of Christ..is the principal, and in a due sense comprehensive of them all. For we behold the glory of God himself “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

He that can at all times retreat unto the contemplation of this glory, will be carried above the perplexing prevailing sense of any of these evils, of a confluence of them all.

It is a woeful kind of life, when men scramble for poor perishing reliefs in their distresses. This is the universal remedy and cure,–the only balsam for all our diseases. Whatever presseth, urgeth, perplexeth, if we can but retreat in our minds unto a view of this glory, and a due consideration of our own interest therein, comfort and supportment will be administered to us.

From the preface to the reader, “Meditations and Discourses on The Glory of Christ,” in The Works of John Owen Volume 1, p. 278

Foundation of Faith

 

“Since true faith rests upon what God is, it is of utmost importance that, to the limit of our comprehension, we know what He is…. The character of God is the Christian’s final ground of assurance…. By cultivating the knowledge of God we at the same time cultivate our faith.”

A. W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1964), pp. 27-28.