Blog Archive


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.

Powered by Blogger.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three Tips for Surviving the Job Cascade

How do you survive when you feel like you're drowning? Right now, my family as well as a family dear to us has been going through what I term "the Job Cascade." For those unfamiliar with the story, the first two chapters of the book of Job relates how righteous Job is attacked by Satan, first by an incredible series of events that target Job's livelihood, his property, and his family. However, Job proves his righteousness by pouring himself out before God, praying with the words "naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

In my human mind I would think that is enough. Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrongdoing. But life doesn't always go the way one expects and Job gets hit a second time, this time by being afflicted with sores over his entire body. That's the Job cascade. It's when you have been drowning in one bad situation after another, and just when you think you might be able to catch a breath, another wave slams down on you.

Why would God allow so much tragedy in the life of a Christian who only seeks to rest in Him? I truly don't know. In Job's case, we get a peek behind the curtain and see two different factors happening simultaneously: God is demonstrating to Satan that holiness is not self-seeking and we learn that Job had some misunderstandings about God's nature that needed to be corrected. But, that really doesn't help you, if you are the one going through the Job Cascade, so I wanted to provide three specific tips to help you if you are in a free-fall now or when you may find yourself there in the future:

1. God Exists and Jesus Rose from the Dead

The first point may seem a bit quizzical, but it is the most important one. Many faithful Christians when facing a crisis will turn to prayer. When another crisis comes on top of the first, they pray harder. But when that next wave comes and knocks them back under water, that's when people begin to doubt. They may ask themselves "Is God real or are my prayers only reaching as high as the ceiling?" "Do I really believe that Jesus saved me just so I can go through this?"

These kinds of questions happen frequently in difficult times, but those are the exact wrong times to be asking such important questions. You never ask the most difficult questions in an emotionally charged state, because you simply cannot think as clearly as when you are calm. That's why I have held that a discipline like apologetics is so important. If you've wrestled with questions like does God exist or did Jesus really rise from the dead—taking the most strenuous objections and working through them—then you can at least clear those doubts from your mind.

I almost lost my wife when our third son was born to us, and that was my exact experience. As soon as I began doubting in my prayer time, I was able to say, "Look, I've worked through those questions strenuously, and I'm convinced that the evidence shows there is a God and Jesus did rise from the grave." That confidence enabled me to quickly vanquish my doubts and change my question to, "I don't know what you're doing Lord, but I know that my hope is in you. Can you help me get through this?"

2. Other Good Christians Have Tread Your Path

A frequent question in times of turmoil is "how can I survive any more of this?" Your particular group of circumstances may be unique, but rest assured that other Christians have gone through each of them and survived. Of course it's hard. I understand it's REALLY HARD! But know that people have come through some of the most difficult trials and they still take joy in their relationship with Christ.

Find someone who you can talk with and cry with. Find a Christian brother or sister whose walked with the Lord a long time and ask them to tell you about their heartaches and how the Lord sustained them. We can receive comfort knowing that God has worked in the past and He will continue to work.

3. No Purpose of God's Can Be Thwarted

In Job's case, it was when Job confessed his hubris in assuming to know the Lord's mind that brought an end to his trials. Job 42:2-63 records his prayer: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." That's an important idea for anyone hurting today as well. God's purposes cannot be thwarted, and God's purposes are clearly spelled out in the Bible. He is the unchanging Father of Lights, who give s us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). He is the God who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for our benefit (John 3:16).

The verse that I cling to most in difficult times is Romans 8:31-32, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Meditate on that for a moment. God knows what sacrifice and pain mean. He had to give up His Son for sinners who were in rebellion against Him. If God would love you enough to sacrifice His only Son, then His purposes towards you are nothing but good. Do you hurt? Absolutely, sometimes with a pain that keeps you from breathing. But, God will ultimately bring glory to the events, either here or in heaven.

The Christian life is based on hope. It isn't the hope that comes from abolishing pain in this world, it is the hope that once we see His face in Heaven, that we would then realize our present sufferings are unworthy to be compared to the glories to be revealed there.

I know you feel like you're drowning and you may never surface. I pray deeply for you in your pain. But please hang on. There really is a God, and that means we have a hope that transcends this world. Hold on to that one thing, just that one thing, and know that all is not lost.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Don't Blame Christian Martyrs for Violence

There is a lot of sloppy thinking in our modern world, especially when it comes to the area of faith and beliefs. While this shows up frequently in mainstream outlets (the blog over at GetReligion has covered the myopia of the press for years), social media is one of the main enablers of quick quips that sound good but really make no sense at all. The internet meme is a prime example of this.

I've been deconstructing memes every once in a while on the blog; you can find some of my previous posts here.  Yesterday, though, I had the first opportunity to interact with the creator of one of these slick picture-slogans. Atheist Michael Sherlock claims "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." After I had pointed out the fact that early Christianity didn't spread by doing violence, but were the victims of various martyrdoms, Sherlock sought to argue that the early church leaders would solicit Christians to become martyrs for the PR value and attract more adherents. Yesterday I showed why his claims and sources fail.

However, there's another problem with the argument. It simply isn't true that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. If one looks carefully at what Sherlock's meme states, the reasons become apparent.

Martyrdom Wasn't Attractive to Romans

First off, it would be a mistake to assume that ancient Roman culture would look upon those who are conscientiously objecting to state requirements in the same way that we may in the 21st century. One source Sherlock cites is a footnote of Anthony Briley that supposedly shows Christians are trained to be martyrs. Briley comments that "Marcus thinks of Christians as 'lined up unarmed' for death, as soldiers in battle array: but not as persons who had really made an individual reasoned choice — they were drilled, and trained to die…" I think Sherlock misunderstands this passage. Briley wasn't saying that Christian were training to die. Rather, he was using this as one of many examples of how Aurelius would see Christians in a negative light.

It strikes me this is actually evidence against Sherlock's charge. The Romans were a militaristic people and valued not dying for one's own cause, but killing on behalf of the state. Alvin J. Schmidt quotes Richard Frothingham stating "The individual was regarded as of value only if he was part of the political fabric and able to contribute to its uses, as though it were the end of his being to aggrandize the State."1. Roman virtues of frugalitas, severitas, and fidelis that Roman soldiers were expected to exhibit were considered virtuous, not the giving of oneself to death. A man who is martyred for crimes against Rome would be about as attractive to Romans as suicide bombers are to Americans today. You may get a few fringe followers, but it would in no way explain drastic growth in the same way that Christian charity and missionary efforts do.

The Problem with Blaming Christians for Being Martyrs

What Sherlock has attempted to do is to justify his meme after the fact by claiming that performing violence on Christians is the same thing as Christian violence. Note what the meme states: "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Anyone who reads that will understand it to say that Christianity grew to a world religion through violent conquest as its primary proselytizing method. The phrase "quantity of its violence" can be parsed clearly. Sherlock uses a possessive pronoun to state that it is Christian-generated violence that expanded the faith. Then, when called out on the mistake, he makes says the violence of martyrdom justifies his meme. He writes, "Thus, in the ante-Nicene period, prior to its transformation into a dangerous and murderous religion, Christianity was but a violent suicide cult, the aim of which was to spread by way of violent theatrics aimed at inspiring onlookers with the needless spilling of the blood of innocent fools."2

To claim that Christian martyrs died as a PR stunt is despicable . Briley, in the same footnote that's mentioned above, talks about the charges of incest and cannibalism that would also arise against Christians, false charges that Roman apologists such as Minucius Felix or Lollianus would use to stir the populous against them. 3 The fact that the Romans felt they needed to fabricate false charges puts Sherlock's claim in doubt. Historian Robert L. Wliken tells us that charges of incest and cannibalism "had become widespread" against Christians by the late second century and comments that in the Roman world "charges of immorality and licentiousness were often brought against devious individuals or groups."4 Wilken then notes how the charges became standardized, following a very specific pattern which underscores their dubious nature.5

So how does Sherlock come to the conclusion that Christian leaders would encourage "many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities?" If so many Christians were seeking to provoke the powers that be, why would a society that values law and order need to invent anything at all? The fact is that no reputable scholar of the anti-Nicean period would ever take Sherlock's interpretation seriously. He's gasping at trying to make Christianity into something it isn't. Sherlock is using the same tact that Felix and Lollianus did, only the evidence falls against him.

The early martyrdom suffered by the saints cannot be considered Christian violence, but only violence done to Christians. Even today, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world because of their faith. Reports out of Nairobi and other nations about gunmen hunting down Christians in shopping malls are horrifying. Does Sherlock label this "Christian violence?" Does he think that the dozens who died simply because they were attending  All Saints' Church staged it for the PR value? Such claims would rightfully be considered disgusting and offensive. Just because the early martyrs preceded these by some 1700 years doesn't make Sherlock's claims any less so.

Internet memes can be very attractive if one doesn't think to carefully. It's easy to try and reduce centuries of history to a few words. But history isn't so reducible. Neither is dismissing the deaths of others because you don't like their faith.


1. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004). 48.

2. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity — Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.

3. Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 18.

4. Ibid. 17-18.

5. Ibid. 18.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Were Early Christians Encouraged to Become Martyrs?

A few weeks ago, I had responded to a meme (here and here) posted by atheist Michael Sherlock that claimed, "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Sherlock has attempted to reply to one of my arguments, but I think he falls short in numerous ways. Two primary areas where he gets both history and the argument wrong are 1) the concept that Christians somehow solicited people for martyrdom in order to attract followers and 2) the argument that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. I will deal with the first today and tackle the second tomorrow.

Sherlock makes the claim,  "We have records that testify to early Christian Church officials and fathers, encouraging many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities and submit themselves to the violence of voluntary martyrdom, in the oft times realized hope that they might be martyred in public spectacles and thereby increase the popularity of the early Church."1That's a huge claim. Sherlock ascribes very specific and sinister motivations to the early church fathers; however he fails to produce a single document from antiquity that spells out such a plan or goal. His first stab at evidence is to quote Chapter II from The Martyrdom of Polycarp where the church fathers of Smyrna (Sherlock incorrectly attributes the passage to Polycarp himself) recount the pattern of prior martyrs for the faith and concludes:
And so like lambs, a number of the more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions, with the hope that the fires would be cool to them and that they, as willing martyrs for their unfounded and credulous faith, acting 'imitatio Christi,' would be afforded an opportunity to commune with Christ himself and attain a free-ticket into a non-existent heaven.2

Christians Did Not Solicit Martyrs

Sherlock's dogged misunderstanding of the text shows in many ways (you may read the passage here in context). First, this wasn't written as an appeal to action. The letter is entitled "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and was written to explain just that. It seeks to place martyrdom in its proper Christian context and labels martyrs of that past as heroes of the faith. This is as natural as any nation reporting stories of those who laid down their lives for an ideal. But if Sherlock would have read just a bit further, he would have seen that the letter explicitly argues against promoting martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom. Just 115 words later in chapter four it recounts that a Phrygian man named Quintus who sought voluntarily martyrdom, but when he saw the fate awaiting him he apostatized instead. The letter then admonishes the Christians, "Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do."3 This statement is of course in direct contradiction to Sherlock's thesis.

Secondly, it wasn't "more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions." Polycarp was the one martyred! He was the leader of the church of Smyrna and therefore it would be hard pressed for his martyrdom tom result in his own ambitions somehow being met. The charge is wholly without merit and Sherlock offers not a scrap of evidence to corroborate his conjecture. It is fabricated out of whole cloth, and I do think using the epithets "gullible," "leader's ambitions," and "credulous" is simply Sherlock exercising the fallacy of poisoning the well.

Lastly, Sherlock seems to conflate his religions. Christianity in no way teaches that martyrdom provides any such favored status as a "free-ticket to a non-existent heaven." In fact, by Polycarp's own writings we see that he endorsed Paul's view of salvation as having already been received by the believer when he endorses Paul's epistle to the Philippians. In Chapter three, Paul spells out how no work of the flesh can gain one access to heaven, but only "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Sherlock seems to think that Christian theology teaches something akin to Muslim beliefs, a position that is demonstrably false.

Sherlock's Own Sources Prove Christians Eschewed Voluntary Martyrdom

In hoping to justify his broader claim that Christians were trying to coax people to become martyrs in order to attract new followers, Sherlock quotes a few other sources, including the following passage from Henry Chadwick:
Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction.4
I believe that Sherlock is hoping one would read the first sentence and ignore the rest. Sherlock himself ignored the sentences just before his quote which places that paragraph in context:
Ignatius was writing in haste under difficult circumstances, and his language did not always convey precisely what he wanted to say. The language used would be surprising at any decade of the second century. The confrontation with imminent martyrdom profoundly affected him, and the impression can be given that a proper willingness to die in union with Christ has passed into a neurotic will to die.

Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction (emphasis added.)5
So here we have Chadwick explaining how Ignatius' letter may be misunderstood because of his duress and that he would disapprove of voluntary martyrs because other Christian leaders such as Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage had also explicitly disapproved of such, too! Add that to the admonition in The Martyrdom of Polycarp cited above and we have a consensus in the sources that Christian teachers disdained unprovoked voluntary martyrdom. These are Sherlock's own sources, and they argue specifically against his point.

I'm certain that Christians being covered in pitch and lit on fire for to provide light to Nero's garden were not congratulating themselves. I'm certain that when Diocletian ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests, along with the confiscation or destruction of all church assets that these leaders did not benefit. Sherlock has taken small slivers of historical text and filled them with a 21st century new atheist viewpoint. There is real violence demonstrated in Sherlock's post; unfortunately, it is to history and to the texts themselves. Tomorrow, I will show how even if we grant Sherlock's first premise, it doesn't save his meme.


1. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity – Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.
2.Sherlock, Ibid.
3."The Martyrdom of Polycarp."  Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Web. Accessed 7-8-2014.
4. Sherlock, Ibid.
5. Chadwick, Henry. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).67.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Why is a Common Thread of Perfectionism Inherent in the LDS Community?

Note: All textual references within this article strictly correspond to the LDS standard works and LDS-authorized literature.
The Greek word for 'sin' in the New Testament means "to miss the mark"

A recent article written by Gerrit W. Gong, an elder of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the LDS church, addresses "unrealistic expectations of what perfection is." His article1 published this July, is entitled, "Becoming Perfect in Christ." My first question is why exactly this would need to be addressed at all. LDS elder Gong writes:
The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek.
Although I agree with his view, the notion of perfection he describes is different from the traditional LDS teachings on perfection. And as I continue to review the LDS gospel, it stuck out to me that perfection is critical because of its role in salvation. Salvation first requires perfection. This is the teaching found directly within the scriptures and from LDS leadership on the matter; it is not unrealistic, incorrect or self-imposed. It is traditionally-taught LDS doctrine. That is why perfectionism is such an inherent force within the LDS community. That being said, I feel this raises a few questions. For answers, I look to Christ's words and the words of the Apostles. To begin:

How then, is perfection a prerequisite for salvation in the LDS gospel?
This depends on what it means to be saved, so take the next natural question in line:

How am I saved?
You are saved by grace after all you can do (2 Nephi 25:23).

What do we do?
We do not sin, because if we sin, there is no grace (Moroni 10:32). We cannot be saved in our sins (Alma 11:37). God cannot allow any sin (D&C 1:31).

But, humans are imperfect. Don't we still sin in that imperfection?
God wouldn't command us if it were impossible (1 Nephi 3:7), so it must be possible to not sin. And if we have sinned, we must repent.

What does repentance do?
Repentance is not a gift since it merits something: forgiveness.2 We cannot commit the same sin again, we must forsake it (D&C 58:42-43) or it is not at all true repentance.3

But what happens if the sin is performed again? Can't we just do our best?
If sin is not forsaken, the sins will return to us again (D&C 82:7). Again, the forsaking must be permanent.4 Moreover, it is not sufficient simply that repented sins are forsaken, but the urge to sin in general must be out of our life.5 If we haven't truly repented, then the devil has power over us after death (Alma 34:35). So it specifically is in this life, not the next, that we are to prepare for God (Alma 34:32). Having a desire not to sin or sincerely trying our best is not good enough in this continual progression, either.6We must live a sinless life, absent of all ungodliness – in both action and urge – unto the rest of our lives in order for grace to save us. In essence, we must be perfect. Only then, will we be saved.7

But isn't the LDS gospel what Jesus and the apostles taught?
Paul gives a detailed explanation of this in Romans, but also makes similarly clear and decisive statements as in Galatians 2:16, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." The LDS gospel does not exactly give the same message that is given in the gospel of the New Testament: "One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation." (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 206-207). Unfortunately, the overwhelming manuscript evidence to the contrary refutes that notion - not just in 1 gospel account or epistle, but all over the correctly translated New Testament.

What about righteous works?
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28). That means that there is nothing a person can do, even in the Law, to be justified. It is by faith alone that people are justified. Continuing into chapter 4, Paul talks about faith (and not works) counting as righteousness: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." This directly contrasts the verse prior, where Paul says that, "if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." So although Abraham may have done righteous works, these account for naught. And this makes sense, because even in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks for God that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags…"

Paul continues to explain what he means by a work. He says "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." A paycheck is not grace. A person earns a paycheck. Grace is not something that is earned, but given. Even Abraham received righteousness in his faith prior to circumcision. The covenant of circumcision came after Abraham was already justified in the righteousness of his faith. That was the blessing of promise God gave Abraham in Genesis 12:2: that righteousness comes by faith (Romans 4:13). If those are heirs of the world because of the law, then "faith is made void," and the promise is made of "none effect," that is, the promise is nullified. Even further, Paul repeats the distinction of grace and works in chapter 11:6 "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." So salvation cannot by both grace and works – Paul explains that they are mutually exclusive. That is, they cannot be mixed. Salvation is either by works or by grace, but not a combination of both. To be "saved by grace after all we can do" is in direct conflict with the gospel message Paul preaches us. If there were plain and precious truths that Paul left out regarding salvation, then Joseph Smith must have restored this when he restored the gospel.

What does it mean that Christ was a propitiation? (Romans 3:23-26)
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice. But Christ's sacrifice imparts righteousness to those that have faith in his atoning blood. It is not about what we can do. He did it all for us on the cross. Christ speaks his last: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:30). "It is finished" is not a difficult translation of Greek/Aramaic phrase. It means exactly that: it is finished. There is nothing else for us to do or earn, but to accept his free gift.

What about James' talk about showing faith by his works?
Because Christ has saved us, we love to do good works not to earn any righteousness (Paul already taught us that trying to earn righteousness before God is a worthless endeavor) but to bring glory to God because we love Him. James cites the same example that Paul does of Abraham (James 2:23), that faith brings righteousness, then goes on to say that a person is justified by works and faith. So is this a contradiction? No. James is correcting a distortion of Paul's teaching. James, in his very first verse, is specifically directing his letter to the Jews, and even more specifically, the Diaspora "The 12 tribes scattered abroad…" He is commanding them to be doers of the word, not simply hearers, because "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans10:17). They need to do, to put their faith into action. Just as much as the love of a spouse to the other makes them want to do things for the other, so too is the faith of a person in Christ. Their love for Him cultivates a spirit of action. That is what the apostle John is talking about in the beginning of his gospel account in chapter 15; abiding in Christ to bear fruit, which brings glory to God as well as makes one a disciple. And so, James continues to correct the behavior of the recipients of his letter. He gives them examples to continue to properly live out their faith, which has already saved them, and to continue to abide in the love of Christ. This love and the commandment, given by Christ to love one another, continues in John 15.

What about "be perfect, as our father is perfect?"
The Gospel is the euangelion (literally, "good news", where we get the root for terms like evangelical). Being perfect is not exactly good news. Here, knowledge of the language of the New Testament, Koine Greek (or "Common Greek") can shed light on such a passage. Thankfully, because we have an over-abundant plethora of manuscripts for the Bible, this task is possible. Take Matthew 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The word for perfect is 'telayois' (τέλειος: complete – as in being fully grown; i.e. maturity, perfect, whole). This is the same type of perfection that occurs in James 2:22, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" This perfection and idea of works is not talking about leading to salvation. This is talking about coming to a mature faith. And not just a maturity, but an ideal, a wholeness of faith. Again, notice what James does not say, that faith does not bring salvation. James is continuing the same idea of perfection as Matthew writes about, which is a maturity of faith that is ripened by loving works, which have themselves been borne out of saving faith in Christ.

Conclusion: Faith, Salvation, and Seeing God

Although striving to do God's will and earnestly seeking to glorify Him through good works is a worthy cause, it does nothing to change our state of salvation and where we wind up after death. Our trust in Christ accepts the gift of salvation. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." And as John writes in his gospel account aDismisst 11:40, "Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" Truly, this is the good news of the gospel - it's not at all about anything we can do - but that his loving atoning sacrifice completed it all for us. "Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."(John 6:28-29)


1. Gerrit W. Gong, "Becoming Perfect in Christ," Liahona, (July 2014). 14-19. Elder Gong is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
2. Spencer Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1969. p. 354. "…the former transgressor must have reached a 'point of no return' to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin – where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life"
3. Ibid., p. 37.
4. Spencer Kimball, "President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality," Ensign, (November 1980). Exact page number unavailable at time of viewing; article only available as a webpage, not a re-print or PDF. Former LDS President Kimball explains that repentance "seems to fall into five steps." In step 2, "Abandonment of sin," (Italics in text) Kimball states of sin, "The discontinuance must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit repetition. The Lord revealed this to the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning repentance: 'By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them' (D&C 58:43)." And also: "Elder Kimball warns: 'Even though forgiveness is so abundantly promised, there is no promise nor indication of forgiveness to any soul who does not totally repent. . . . We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect forgiveness' (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 353, 360). Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins (see D&C 82:7; Ether 2:15)" (Gospel Principles, pp. 252- 253). Kimball held this view as an LDS elder and as LDS president.
5. Spencer Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness. p. 355. This reference is merely the continuation of the quote starting on page 354. 6. Ibid., p. 163, pp. 164-165. 'There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Desire is not sufficient. In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his ways and started on a new path… the saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. Trying is not sufficient, nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin;' 'It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults who have gone through these learning periods must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To try is weak. To 'do the best I can' is not strong. We must always do better than we can'
7. Ibid., p. 163. In reality, this particular chapter is probably the most critical on the concept of simply trying one's best. It makes statement after statement affirming perfection in this life first.

Rights Don't Come From Nature

Last week I began to examine how the rights of all people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, must be rooted in God. I looked at the concept of rights being bestowed by governments or by the common consent of the people within a society and found both wanting. Today, I'd like to look at the possibility that rights come from our natural existence rather than a divine creator.

In such discussions, it becomes important to clarify our terms. We must understand both the concept of rights and the concept of nature to which I'm referring. For rights, I've covered that somewhat in my last post. However, to reiterate I quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which has a fairly good summation on the universality of human rights:
Human rights are universal All living humans—or perhaps all living persons—have human rights. One does not have to be a particular kind of person or a member of some specific nation or religion to have human rights. Included in the idea of universality is some conception of independent existence. People have human rights independently of whether they are found in the practices, morality, or law of their country or culture. This idea of universality needs several qualifications, however. First, some rights, such as the right to vote, are held only by adult citizens or residents and apply only to voting in one's own country. Second, the human right to freedom of movement may be taken away temporarily from a person who is convicted of committing a serious crime. And third, some human rights treaties focus on the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities, women, indigenous peoples, and children.1
When I am discussing nature as the supplier of rights, I'm pointing to the idea that the natural world is all there is; we exist only because of the physical laws of the universe and perhaps some fortuitous chemical combinations and mutations that ultimately resulted in human beings. This concept is well known as metaphysical naturalism or materialism and has many adherents within the scientific community. Those who ascribe to this worldview and still seek to maintain that human rights are real would seek to ground those rights in the natural world instead of God.

But this is where the problem lies. Nature cannot bestow rights at all. The natural world is what we observe. It has materials and laws, such as the laws of gravity or the laws of physics, which describe how certain materials interact. If one drops a cannonball off a ledge, it will fall at a certain acceleration. If one combines an acid and a base, the result will be salt and water (and possibly a big explosion!)

But laws such as these are merely descriptors. They tell what will happen if certain conditions are met. Human rights are something different. For while all living persons have rights, it is not the case that all living persons will be able to exercise those rights. People are denied their rights by dictators or repressive regimes all the time.

That means that nature only provides an "is" description of the way things are while someone being allowed to exercise his or her rights fall into an "ought" description. Rights are things based in the intrinsic value of being human. Nature doesn't care about value, it is indifferent to whether creatures live or die. Species have gone extinct since the dawn of time, even without man's help. Sickness can wipe out entire nations. That is simply how things are. This means that rights are fundamentally different from nature and the description of what is. An "ought" can only be derived from a moral law, which must come from a transcendent mind.

Scottish skeptic David Hume is famous for explaining the is-versus-ought distinction. Hume explains that simply because something is the case, it does not mean that such ought to be. In Book III, Part 1, Section 1 of A Treatise of Human Nature he expounds on this, writing that "moral good and evil belong only to the actions of the mind"2 and therefore cannot be reasonably derived from only external circumstances. He continues, "All beings in the universe, considered in themselves, appear entirely loose and independent of each other. It is only by experience we learn their influence and connection; and this influence we ought never to extend beyond experience… But to choose an instance, still more resembling; I would fain ask any one, why incest in the human species is criminal, and why the very same action, and the same relations in animals have not the smallest moral turpitude and deformity?"3

As Hume has shown, there is no way to connect the "is" of the natural world to the "ought" of human rights. Even if you argue that such rights help human beings survive, who is to say that humans shouldn't go extinct? Nature doesn't care. Therefore, as rights are part of those "actions of the mind" it requires a mind to ground them, and since human rights are universal, that mind must not only transcend all of humanity, but be able to establish value for all of humanity. The Creator of humanity would fill both necessary conditions for universal human rights to exist. Therefore, the Founding Fathers had it right: it is only in our Creator that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights.  No other explanation makes sense.


1. Nickel, James. "Human Rights." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ©2014 The Metaphysics Research Lab. Web. 13-12-2013. Accessed 7-7-2014.

2. Hume, David. "Moral Distinctions Not Derived From Reason." A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part 1,Sect. 1. Project Gutenberg. Web. 10-11-2012. Accessed 7-7-2014.

3. Ibid.
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X