For an upcoming sermon, I am preaching out of the books of 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. That sounds like a lot, but all three of those books put together are only 52 verses. I am preaching about the truth of the Christian faith, or as Jude calls it, "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). I didn't realize how troubling of a book Jude is. Most of the book describes the attributes and demise of false teachers who had slipped in among the Christians to whom Jude is writing. These "godless men" were changing "the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (v. 4). They pollute their own bodies, reject authority, slander celestial beings, speak abusively about that which they don't understand, have no qualms about eating with other believers (in the "love feast," an early Christian practice), grumble and find fault, follow their own evil desires, and speak about themselves and others only in such a way as to advance themselves (see v. 8-16). Bad guys, for sure. It should be easy to spot them, right?
Not so fast. Look around, closely, at any church, and you will find these types of sin still happening. People twist Scripture all the time to justify their immorality (the word in Jude 4 for "immorality" usually refers to some kind of sexual sins or immoral sensuality). People pollute their own bodies, and we Americans are experts at it, as we are at rejecting authority and promoting self at the expense of others. Who doesn't occasionally grumble and find fault ('cause "it's not my fault"). So, are we the bad guys, too? Is our condemnation also written about long ago (v. 4)?
A few brief facts will help. First, the verbs used to describe these people are overwhelmingly present tense verbs, denoting an ongoing, continuous action. To twist Scripture once is bad, but to make a habit of it is worse. Second, while these men are "godless" (asebeis in Greek), "at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (asebon, a different form of asebeis; see Romans 5:6). No one is outside the reach of Christ's love and offer of salvation. Third, we can have assurance of our salvation because "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Many, many times in the NT letters, the writers tell Christians to stop doing sinful things. They don't condemn them to hell for sinning; they primarily rebuke sinful behavior because it hurts one's relationship with the body of Christ and because it hurts our relationship with God.
That said, I can't ignore the kind of people Jude (and 2 Peter 2, for that matter, which sounds a lot like Jude 5-16) writes about. The examples he gives in v. 5-7 are examples of willful apostasy, people who knew the truth but abandoned it anyway. Verse 5 refers to the ten spies who gave a pessimistic report about the promised land, convinced others to join in their fear and lack of faith, and ultimately were killed (see Numbers 13:1-14:38). Verse 6 refers to angels who rebelled against God and now are doomed to destruction. These are beings who were sinless and in the very presence of God, about as safe as you can be, one would think. Yet, somehow, they rebelled ("abandoned their own home"). Verse 7 is about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who "gave themselves up" to sexual immorality and perversion, another way of saying that they knew the truth but kept on refusing to obey. In at least two out of the three examples (spies and angels), they were saved and then fell away and were destroyed. Verse 13 says these Scripture-twisting, egocentric Christians are "wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever."
The promise of no condemnation in Romans 8:1 is for those "who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit," because "if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom. 8:4, 13-14). We can't deny that there is a connection between obedience and final salvation, a difference between a faith that produces works and a faith that is dead (see James 2). If there was absolutely no possibility of forfeiting one's salvation, then why would these (and many other) dire warnings be in Scripture?
So this is a tough sermon to write. I can't resolve the tension in 30 minutes, as if the sermon were some sort of sitcom where everybody's relationships are restored and all problems solved by the end of the episode. I don't know what I am going to say, how it will be received, or what results will come. But I have to preach the Word as I understand it, unless and until someone more fully explains this.
07 December 2012
30 November 2012
This is Chris Tomlin's Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground), one of my favorite Christmas songs from the first time I heard it. The epic-sounding chorus, the contemplative verses, and worshipful feel combine to make this one of his best songs. The video was done by a YouTube user, so it's not official, but I love the artwork selections and the fact that he spells the lyrics correctly.
23 October 2012
I notice bumper stickers. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they try to be powerful and inspiring but end up being hokey ("God is my co-pilot" anyone?), but usually, they are lame. Christians have cornered the market on this:
These are indeed classics, but we Christians aren't the only ones:
"What's wrong with the "coexist" bumper sticker? It's simply a statement of what is happening every day that "we all" continue to exist on the same planet at the same time: we coexist. What it's trying to say is "all religions ought to coexist peacefully, respectfully, and ought not to criticize the adherents of other religions or their beliefs and practices."
Then there's this, which is a little harsh and oversimplified (not to mention fast and loose with stereotypes)...
This one proves the point I'm getting at. Does anyone who knows anything about these religions really believe that peaceful, argument-free coexistence is possible? Different religions are not different roads to the same place. They drastically contradict each other on foundational beliefs. I offer this quote from Steve Turner, speaking about modern culture: "We believe that all religions are basically the same; at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation."
There is nothing wrong with discussing and arguing (not in a hot-tempered or hateful way) about differences in beliefs, evidences for the truthfulness or superiority of one's beliefs, and why someone else's beliefs are wrong or impractical. The WAY we discuss and argue matters, though. Christians are to speak the truth in love; we are to let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so we will know how to answer everyone, and we are supposed to be ready to defend our faith with gentleness and respect (see Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 4:6; and 1 Peter 3:15).
So, can't we all just get along? No, we can't, if "getting along" means blindly accepting everyone's beliefs as true and equally valid, even if they're patently contradictory, having to like and embrace other "truths" like "all religions are roads to God," and being forced to accept the redefined notion of tolerance, which has come to be synonymous with uncritical acceptance. We can't get along, and we shouldn't. Would you say that all politicians should coexist and tolerate each other's ideas for leading the country? All politics are just different roads to saving America, aren't they? They're all equally valid and you shouldn't criticize their teachings or practices, right?
We don't think politicians can pull this off. Why, then, do we think that religious beliefs, which most sincere followers will say is more important than politics, can?