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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label sin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sin. Show all posts

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Most Insidious Sin

Today I'm in North Carolina preparing to speak at a national apologetics conference. I'm staying at a hotel that was built in the 1980s as part of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's empire. Of course, Jim Bakker is most famously remembered as one of the prominent televangelists who fell when his sexual sin was made public. The media ran with the story knowing the pubic loves a scandal, especially one where a minister—someone who is supposed to be a moral leader—has been caught in adultery.

Sexual failings are pretty much guaranteed to grab attention. Even in local churches, people who have fallen to sexual sin, be it adultery, homosexuality, or pregnancy outside of wedlock will cause people to talk. We tend to think sins like these are "major;" ones that carry a stigma unlike lying or addiction. Even as the culture becomes more and more sexually charged, sexual sins are held to almost a different standard. But there is a sin that is more problematic in the church than abusing sexual desire, one that no one points and whispers about: the sin of pride.

The Leaven of Puffing Up

How much do you think about the sin of pride? How do you guard against it? While there are ministries that offer filtering of pornography for your internet connection, what filters are there for one's pride? As an apologist, I know first-hand just how easy it is to fall into pride. Anyone in a position where he or she is teaching or leading others can almost effortlessly fall into this sin. As the Bakkers built their Heritage USA center, it should have been obvious that they were no longer doing ministry toward others but constructing a monument to themselves.

Pastors and apologists can fall into the same trap. They are trying to do God's work. They preach, they witness, and they defend the faith which is good and important work. TI truly is ministry. However, when one begins to believe the ministry is so important that they don‘t have time to sit and listen to people or their calling has a higher value than another's, they've begun to elevate not God's blessing upon them but their won self-worth.  That's why I believe pride is the most insidious of sins; it is the leaven that corrupts by puffing up an individual from the inside. It replaces one's reliance on God with a reliance on one's own ability.

The Bible warns against the sin of pride quite a bit. God tells Jeremiah, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth" (Jer. 9:23-24). James reminds us "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6), and Proverbs declares "Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished." (Prov. 16:5).

Guarding Against Pride

Because it's so easy to fall into pride but so difficult to detect, each of us must be extra vigilant to guard against it. One way to do so is to have an accountability partner or partners with whom you meet on a regular basis. Perhaps this partner may be a spiritual leader, but it should be someone who can be completely honest with you. You may even benefit by choosing a partner that has different spiritual gifts, so they can provide a balanced perspective. Regardless, being able to ask someone to watch and keep you humble is a big step in protecting yourself and your ministry.

Prayer and daily devotions are another way to guard against pride. As we seek God in his word and in prayer, we should be confronted by how reliant we are on him for all that we are. One thing I always include in my daily devotions is a time of reflection on Jesus's decision to go to the cross. I am continually amazed at his determination and self-sacrifice, how "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:9). I remind myself of how the Father was willing to sacrifice his only son for me and my gifts are only a result of that sacrifice. How could I be proud in my strengths in the face of these amazing acts of selflessness? Thus any boasting I would do should be boasting on the cross and how his acts saved me.

In his book I Was Wrong, Jim Bakker said that it took prison for him to realize his excesses were anti-biblical:
Tragically, too late, I recognized that at PTL I had been doing just the opposite of Jesus' words by teaching people to fall in love with money. Jesus never equated His blessings with material things, but I had done just that. I had laid so much emphasis upon material things, I was subtly encouraging people to put their hearts into things, rather than into Jesus.1
Don't let the sin of pride go unguarded in your life. It shouldn't take prison to make you realize that Jesus is the center of not just your ministry but all ministries and each serve an important function in the body of Christ. Remember, God can accomplish his plans with or without your involvement. Guard against the leaven of pride.


1. Bakker, Jim. "I Was Wrong: Excerpt From Jim Bakker's Autobiographical Book." Spiritwatch. Spiritwatch Ministries, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Image courtesy jim gifford Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Trade Your Thanks for Desire - Doors Open at 6PM

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it's one of the busiest holidays of the year. Traffic swells on roads and at airports as people travel to celebrate a day of thanks, prayer, and togetherness with friends and family.

At least that's the Norman Rockwell version of it. It seems every year that merchants are pushing more and more to be invited to dinner as well. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Staples trumpeting the fact that they will be open Thanksgiving Day from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Staples. An office supply store! So I'm supposed to leave my family and my home on a day set aside to give thanks just to go out and grab that new fax machine I've been eyeing? Is it really so important to grab a printer or tablet that you cut short some of the few precious moments you have to be with loved ones all in the same place?

While Staples is an easy target, Target is just as guilty. But I don't place the blame primarily on the retailers. The secular world wants to make money, and they know that holiday shoppers can be attracted with "early-bird sales" and "doorbusters". In an article for Colloquy, Lisa Biank Fasig reports:
"When the Macy's Herald Square store opened last year, more than 15,000 people were waiting, said Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of corporate communications at Macy's.

"What we learned is we didn't open early enough," Sluzewski said. "We had very large crowds just about everyplace, and what many of them told us is that (they) wished we had opened earlier."1
The article goes on to say that many of the Thanksgiving Day shoppers are young, falling into the 13 to 30 year old demographic. Do the young people of today value their stuff more than their relationships?

How is "Give it to me at a discount" Thankful?

The problem isn't simply the devaluing of Thanksgiving as a family holiday, but the fact that running out to the store to grab that "much needed" television or laptop at deep discounts is directly contradictory to the concept of the holiday itself. The day was to be reserved for giving thanks to God for his provision and blessing in our lives, not to say "what I have is OK, but I won't really be happy until I pick up that thing in the ad."

Lest I come on too strong, I do want to say that I understand money is tight and people will want to be able to save where they can. I get that. However, I also think that we need a rest—a Sabbath if you will—from those concerns every once in a while. My oldest son is married and has a daughter. To be able to gather with them for an evening is worth far more than the $100 I could save buying a TV on Thanksgiving night. Those times are too precious to waste on stuff.

There is also a concept of trust I think gets lost in all this. God commanded Israel that they should not only have a day set apart from work once each week, but he also commanded one year where they should not actively farm their fields. That took an enormous amount of faith on their part in trusting God to provide. There are so few days offered to us in modern society where we even have the opportunity to rest and reflect on the blessings in our lives; I'd hate to lose Thanksgiving to the merchants.

A Cautious Analogy

In our rush to push Black Friday into Black Thursday, I see an analogy. I want to be careful in saying I'm not calling everyone who shops on Thanksgiving Day a sinner; I'm merely using the phenomenon as a parallel to a more important point. Thanksgiving Day sales are driven because stores want to exploit any opportunity they can to make money. They know that if they offer enticements, people will come and not only buy the drastically marked-down items, but they will pick up accessories and other things where profits can be made. Therefore, as the competition gets more fierce, they continue to push their opening earlier and earlier, tempting shoppers to visit their store first.

On the other side, consumers justify their actions by saying they needed that item or they needed to save those extra dollars to make their budgets work. As they are faced with earlier openings, they feel like they might miss out, becoming more immune to the problem while reinforcing the store's actions. This is exactly how sin works in a person's life. Self-justification and small concessions lead to more dependence on the sin itself (whatever that may be), until the sin stands in direct contradiction to those values one says he has. No addict has ever purposely sought out his addiction, yet the consequences of his concessions lead to serious problems.

I don't know if the Thanksgiving Day opening trend will continue. Many fewer shoppers are expected this year as compared to last.  But, I don't doubt that we send the wrong message to our families and to the retailers when we don't take a Sabbath from commercialism and appreciate the most valuable of all resources: time giving thanks with our families.


1. Fesig, Lisa Biank. "New Research Carves Up Thanksgiving Numbers." Colloquy, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Are We Not to Judge Unbelievers?

The most often quoted verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, but Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged." I'm sure most Christians have heard this verse thrown out as soon as they point out the failing of a friend or family member. It's a common response, given even by those who know nothing else about the Bible. However, I recently had a conversation with a self-identified Christian who believes the Bible teaches Christians should not judge the actions of unbelievers, since they are lost and therefore unable to live a Godly life. In fact, he claimed:
The directive to REFRAIN from judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: "You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers", period! Paul FRIMLY reiterates this in 1 Corinthians 5
  • 1Cor. 5:12 "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?"
  • 1Cor. 5:13: "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
There is only one judgment allowed to Christians: to ascertain the legitimacy of those who call themselves Christian, and yet indulge in those practices Paul outlines in great detail as forbidden to believers.
This is a claim that I think needs some attention. It seems superficially that the verses above warn against judging others in any way, but the concept of judgment that both Jesus and Paul are talking about does not exclude any kind of condemnation or criticism of sin. Basically the command against judging others simply means that no Christian should ever write off an unbeliever as irredeemable nor should they somehow look down upon unbelievers as somehow less valuable than a believer. In order to demonstrate this, I offer three ways the Bible shows that pointing out moral failings is appropriate when done appropriately.

1. First Century Understanding of Judgment

First off, our 21st century concept of judgment has been warped by those who would say any kind of criticism of another is wrong. In understanding Jesus and Paul, it is crucial to remember they were first century Jews. Ancient Jewish culture divided the world into two simple categories: the Chosen Ones (themselves) and the Gentiles (everyone else). As Merrill Unger notes, Jews of this time were taught the laws of cleanliness and eating kosher were things that separated the clean from the unclean.1 Therefore, nonbelieving heathen were unclean and were fit only for eternal hellfire. Jewish rabbis of this time even taught the faithful Jew to daily pray thanking God that he is "not a Gentile, not a slave, and not a woman."2 This is one of the reasons that the Judaizers were starting to make so much headway in the Galatian church. Jews felt not merely superior to the rest of the world, but confident that God was on their side. Unger states, "the Jews seemed to regard the heathen only as existing for the purpose of punishing the apostasy of Israel… or of undergoing vengeance for their enmity toward her.3

When looking at the culture and language of first century Judaism, one can see that the type of judgment Jesus and the New Testament warns against in the passages above is a wholesale condemnation of other people. Christians cannot simply "write off" another person as unworthy or incapable of salvation. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament expounds on the Greek word for judge and explains "In light of God's judgment, we should not judge others. This does not mean flabby indifference to moral wrong but recognition of solidarity in guilt."4

2. Jesus and His Disciples Call Out Sinners for Their Sins

If we look to the apostles, we see that Paul did some judging of his own. In 2 Timothy 4:14, he calls out one man by name and writes it in the scriptures for all to see: "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds." A little earlier he condemns the actions of another: "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim 4:10). These sound like pretty big judgments to me. Of course, Paul directly instructs Timothy to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" as his part of preaching the word. One cannot reprove without judging.

The apostle John not only judges Diotrephes, but says, "So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us" (3 John 1:10). He wants to make it public! Jesus even gave us a set procedure for those who would sin against a person of the church in Matthew 17. Surely this requires judgment. We also have the admonition in James 5:20 where he writes, "let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Is judgment required there?

I think the Bible is very clear that we are not to retreat into some holy huddle and let the unbelievers go to hell, taking the world with them. Part of that requires us to point out their sin, just as John the Baptist did toward Herod. Even when looking at Corinthians 5, which is the example given above, we can see judgment taking place. Paul clearly judged the person sinning in Corinth. "For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing."

The biggest example of a judgment against unbelievers is Stephen's sermon in Acts 7. Facing the Sanhedrin, he uses some of the harshest language he can in condemning their actions:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).
Either Stephen was wrong to call out the priests or we are also called to be the witnesses of Christ, which must include telling others how they violate His law. Otherwise, why would they ever wish to repent?

Jesus Commanded His Followers to Stem the Moral Decay of the World

You write, "The directive to REFRAIN from Judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: ‘You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers', period!" But Jesus just a few verse later called us to inspect the fruit of others and to make judgments about them based on their actions. He also taught in that same Sermon on the Mount that "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" and "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven"(Matt 5:13, 19). Jesus clearly teaches his church to instruct sinners and to act rightly. Instruction requires correction; you cannot get around it. Being the salt of the earth means the church must seek to preserve a certain moral value in society.

Judging people as beyond salvation is clearly forbidden in the New Testament just as allowing sin to progress unchecked is also. To think that the unbeliever is somehow immune from criticism for his actions would mean that we never share that another person is in need of salvation! For one must be saved from something, and that something is the sin that plagues all of humanity. If we are not able to declare immoral acts sinful, then evangelism is worthless and Christianity becomes a feel-good group, not the truth of the ages.


1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Gentile." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 466. Print.
2. Kahn, Yoel H. The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 10-12.
3. Unger, 466.
4. "Krino." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 472. Print.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Is God just in punishing one person for the sins of another?

"How can it be fair to punish one person for the sins of another?" When I speak about the atonement, it's a question I've received more than once. "It doesn't seem for God to punish one person for the acts of another. Imagine a rapist whose brother volunteers to go to jail for him. A righteous judge would never accept such a thing! It wouldn't bring justice to the rapist, and it wouldn't bring justice to the victim, no matter how morally upright his brother is. How then can God punish Jesus for our sins and still be considered righteous?"

I think this is a good question and one that isn't addressed frequently enough in our understanding of salvation. There does seem to be something amiss here, but I think much of that is a misunderstanding based on the analogy used to explain the concept of atonement to begin with. In the past, I've even used courtroom analogies to try and show how God's love and His justice can be met simultaneously. But I've probably not done the best job in explaining this particular facet of the atonement. Let's take a look at what sin actually is and why Jesus' death can be accepted as full payment for our violation before God.

Over the next few posts, I will answer this objection. Today we'll see that people are only judged by God on how they violated of his laws. In the next couple of posts, I will talk about how God is justified in setting the appropriate punishment for violations against His laws and why the atonement is a more just and more fair solution to sin than even punishing the most heinous of sinners.

1. One can sin only against God

The problem here is one of equivocation. I agree that people can wrong, hurt, and abuse other people. But as I've explained before, sin is an absence of doing good, doing what is required of you. When we sin, we violate God's law because we don't do that which He as our Creator has set as our proper standard of conduct. Our sin may be due to an act against an individual, but it is not the laws of the individual I have violated. Another person does not inherently have a moral claim upon me. It is God to whom we are answerable because it is God who created us. God is also the source of moral law. Therefore, the condemnation resulting from sin is not primarily because one violated another's interests, but because he violated God's laws on how he should act.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph was tempted by Potiphar's wife to sleep with her. In resisting, he did not say he didn't want to violate Potiphar's trust. He said that he could not sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Similarly, after David, was confronted for taking Bathsheba in adultery and having her husband killed in battle, he said "Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge" (Psalm 51:4). It is the fact that the sinner trespassed God's will that makes him accountable before God.

Our modern judicial system does make this distinction as well. We can agree that one person sleeping with the wife of another is immoral; however a person cannot be put in prison for doing so. You cannot bring criminal charges against an individual for adultery in a court of law in the United States since the person has not violated any laws. However, if a person takes a married woman and forces sex upon her, he or she can be put in jail for rape, which is against the law.

Because God is loving, His law includes prohibitions against hurting others, but we has His creation are answerable first and foremost to Him. It is His law to which we are obligated, and when we transgress we break that obligation. This is why Jesus created such a stir with the Jewish leaders when he told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. If sin is a violation of God's laws, then only God has the authority to forgive such transgressions, just as the authority the state holds to press charges even when a victim declines.

This sets the stage for the atonement, but it doesn't answer the question fully.  Even if God is the one offended, how is crediting the offender with the punishment of another just? We'll look at that aspect tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Can We Understand Unspeakable Evil?

Horrific. Senseless. Insane.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings is a tragedy beyond words. We think of the innocent lives lost because a young man sought revenge for either real or perceived wrongs from his mother.

"But they were kindergartners  really just babies… how could someone look into innocent faces and take their lives? It's insane."

We try to process such brutality. We seek to have it make sense to ourselves and so we start to put labels on the actions of Adam Lanza. It's evil. It's monstrous. It's insane.

That's the word that people keep falling back upon. Insanity. Certainly, no one in their right mind would do such a thing to such precious children. Some discover that Lanza had Asperger's syndrome, which is a mental condition, and conclude that this must be the cause. I have a different word for Lanza's evil, a word that has lost much of its power in our modern discourse. Lanza's actions were sinful.

We don't like to label this tragedy as simply "sinful". It doesn't seem, well, extreme enough. But why is that? It is most likely because we recognize that we are sinful ourselves. There are enough remnants of the Christian worldview left in our society that we can remember phrases such as "He who is without sin cast the first stone" and we know that we have failed. We know that we have sinned.

Because Lanza had some type of mental condition, we try to separate his actions from our own. He's not like us, we say. Except that he is. Lanza's actions were driven by a selfish need. All sin is ultimately selfish, it seeks one's own feelings, one's own desires above God or another person. The base motivation is the same; it simply becomes a matter of degree afterwards.

"But I'm not like that! What he did was something totally different than any little wrongs that I may commit."

Before Christianity was prevalent in the world, slaughtering innocents was a much more commonplace occurrence. Canaanites and Israelites would sacrifice their children to the fires of Molech. There is evidence of the Incas performing child sacrifice in ancient America. Romans would abandon unwanted infants so they would die of exposure. Modern Americans abort their children so it won't interfere with their personal plans and desires.

Because we live in a post-Christian society, sin is a word we wink at. Las Vegas is known as Sin City and whatever you do there better stay there. The City developed the idea as a marketing catchphrase.  But why? Because the idea is that while in Vegas one should live for him or herself. To find out the things we did, the selfish pursuit of pleasure, we could damage our reputation. We could hurt someone with whom we have a relationship. We could hurt other people. Think about that. Selfishness damaging another. It happens every day.

Lanza's actions are horrific. But this is why God takes sin so seriously. He knows how sin damages lives and he cares about those lives. We see the immediate devastation of families in Connecticut and immediately recognize that the pain they experience will be with them for life. We look at a pornographic image and don't think about the life-inflicting pain on the girl who has to live with her objectification or how it encourages acts such as sexting by our young.

Sin is real. Sin is dangerous. We need to recognize that. We need to start thinking about the Christian concept that we are all sinners, capable of things that are horrific to a God who sees the end result.

Pray for the families in Newtown. Pray for their comfort and their loss. Then, pray for the rest of our society. For by seeking to dismiss Lanza's actions as insane instead of sinful; by trying to escape the fact that Lanza is not so different from the rest of us, we lull ourselves into a position where such incidents could happen again. May God have mercy on our souls.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Don't Let Your Eyes Deceive You!

In my devotion this morning I found myself in Ezekiel 12 - a prophecy about Israel and Judah going into captivity. In this prophecy, the Lord tells Ezekiel:
"The prince who is among them will load his baggage on his shoulder in the dark and go out. They will dig a hole through the wall to bring it out. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land with his eyes. I will also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare And I will bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there." (vv. 12-13)
This prophecy was fulfilled during King Zedekiah’s reign. After trying to form a revolt against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had previously put him in power, the Babylonians came into Judah, besieged Jerusalem and leveled the city. Capturing Zedekiah, they slaughtered his sons before his eyes and then put his eyes out – making that the last thing he would ever see. Once blinded, they carried him in chains to Babylon.

This story got me thinking about how the Bible treats the eye symbolically.
  • In Genesis 3, Eve saw the fruit of the tree was good for food, so she took it and gave some to her husband to eat.
  • Sampson had eye trouble - he saw a daughter of the Philistines and wanted to marry her (Judges 14:1) and he saw a harlot in Gaza (Judges 16:1) which led to his fate with Delilah. The Philistines put out Samson’s eyes. Only after this did God use him again.
  • Jesus once taught "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matt 5:39).
One of Israel and Judah's problems prior to the exile is they trusted too much in what they saw – their temple, their walls, their chariots and their alliances – instead of their relationship with the Lord. Symbolically, God is showing the entire rebellious nation that their eyes are deceiving them and leading them away from Him. So he allows them to be "put out" the king's eyes are put out, the temple is destroyed and the nation is put out of the land so they can no longer trust in their surroundings.

The interesting thing in all this is how we can be reconciled through Jesus. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind by making clay or mud from the ground and putting it on his eyes. I've always read that with a nod to Genesis 2 - since God created us out of the dust of the ground, could it be that this man's condition was he was born without his entire eye? Perhaps Jesus is creating that part of him that the man lacked in the same way that God made Adam.

Whatever the case, Jesus has the ability to heal us of our deepest sin issues. The eye is the source for all kinds of sin. If we voluntarily admit our sins and give them to Him, He can restore us to a proper state. If we continue in rebellion, God just may have to deal with us more strongly in order to keep us from sinning so we can again make the main thing the main thing.
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