Aren’t we like Cain?

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”

Why would John say that? He’s talking to a church. He’s talking to a group of believers who were in danger of false teachers. He wasn’t talking to a bunch ex-gangbangers and thugs, who had a history committing the high crime of murder. He’s not speaking to inmates. He’s talking to church folk. Why does he warn them about murder?

The answer is because there’s something else going on here. Something deeper. John knows that while we may not ever murder something, the murderous motivations that compelled Cain to kill his brother are inside us all.

John knows that we have a problem. We are more devious than we often think.

Look at what motivated Cain: “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

This passage is for you and me. It lends great insight into the tendencies of the human heart. It’s written because we are prone to act like Cain.

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Aren’t we like Cain when we compare ourselves with others? Remember, it wasn’t Abel who disapproved of Cain’s offering. It was God. But Cain’s hatred broke against Abel. Why? He lost the comparison game, and it made him angry. How often do you compare yourselves with others, only to grow in silent anger because you envy them?

Aren’t we like Cain when we secretly despise the successes of others? How do you feel toward the Golden Child whose life seems to prove that God loves him more than you? And people ooze with praise and compliments for the other guy? How does it make you feel toward others when they get the recognition and you don’t? Abel did nothing to Cain, yet Cain hated him–for nothing other than God approved of Abel’s worship and not his own.

Aren’t we like Cain when we try to steal credit for every good thing in our lives? Deep in his heart, Cain wanted credit for his act of worship, even though it was corrupt. But don’t we all? Don’t we all want take credit for all the good things we do? Don’t we want to get the glory for any success that we have? Don’t we try to trace every blessing’s origin back to our own goodness, our own efforts, our own power? We are credit thieves.

Aren’t we like Cain when we make excuses for our shortcomings but are hyper-critical of others? Cain hated Abel’s offering; didn’t think it should be approved. But he apparently saw nothing wrong with his own sacrifice. We critique others with incisive tenacity, but expect everyone else to extend grace. Double-standard much?

Aren’t we like Cain when we want recognition and approval so badly that we will trample on whoever gets in our way, or we will be infuriated by those who hinder us? Cain wanted to be approved, get recognition, get noticed—in all the wrong ways. When Abel got in his way, he killed him. We do the same thing. Think about the times you got angry this last week. Was it not because someone or something got in the way of what you wanted?

We have a sin-problem. We have a Cain-like heart. We love ourselves way too much, and self-love dams up our love from flowing to others. Our hearts become a stagnant pool of self-absorption, rather than a flowing river of life-giving love.

We need a Savior. The Savior breaks the dam of self-love and releases the flood of God’s love. Springs of life start flowing. Our Savior’s love transforms our self-love into genuine love. But first, we must recognize our weakness, and cling close to Jesus, and depend entirely upon him to work in us.

 

Twitter me this

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Notable tweets:

What’s the main reason why our young people leave the church? It’s because they were never converted. Their youth pastors were far more concerned with entertain than discipleship. The ones who stay are the ones who were drawn to the Word by the Spirit.

That’s when you know you’ve gone too far. Yes, there’s more under the hood. But that you don’t need to know it to drive it.

I liked that. A matter of perspective, I suppose.

I always enjoy good one-liners that I can tuck away and save for later. I’ll come back to this one again, I’m sure.

Why God’s immutability matters for you

Absolute_ImmutabilityImmutability is hard for us to understand. If you look around, you look at things that are changing. Whether it’s the change of location, or change of expression, or change of emotion, or change of mind, there are always changes going on. And not to mention the changes that are happening that we can’t control. You’re getting older. Voices are dropping. Some bodies are developing, others are declining. We are constantly changing. It’s like we’re on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. Wind blowing. Swells come and go. Up and down. That is our world. The only thing that is constant is change.

But God does not change. He does not mutate. He is immutable. Everything that God was, God is. “As Thou has been, Thou forever will be.”

Here are some reasons why God’s immutability is good news for believers.

1. We can trust all his promises. Numbers 28:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”

God distinguishes himself from mankind in two ways here. First, he doesn’t lie. Men lie. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. But nothing God has ever said is false. He only, always speaks truth. And second, he doesn’t change his mind. Men do this all the time, but God never changes his mind. People change. But God never changes. People mispeak, God doesn’t. People change, God never has.

The only hope for a changing world is a changeless God. The only certainty in a storm-tossed world is an immovable anchor. The only security for an insecure world is a rock-solid, unchanging, unalterable God. Because God does not change, every promise he’s ever made is trustworthy and true. Take it to the bank.

2. We can actually know him. If God changed, then we couldn’t ever truly know him. The Bible would only be a single snap-shot of an ever changing being. We would know things he had done, things he had said, things he had purposed, but we could never know whether or not they had changed. We wouldn’t know him.

You’ve probably had the experience of reconnecting with an old friend only to find that they’re not the same person you knew all those years ago. “I hardly know him anymore,” we often say. Such things cannot be said of God. What was true about God a thousand years ago is true about God right now. Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Was God powerful when he spoke the universe into being? Yes, and his voice this day is no less powerful, his Spirit these days is just as omnipotent. Was God wise when he crafted this globe, when he shaped the mountains and dug out the deeps for the sea? Yes. Was he wise in how he devised salvation, how he planned to redeem for himself a people? Yes, and this hour this wisdom has not atrophied one bit.

Was God attentive to the prayers of his people? Did he hear their prayers and answer their groanings? He did. And he does. And all the cries of all the prayers in all the world from all the ages has not wearied him for one second.

Was he patient? Then he is now. Infinitely patient. Long suffering. Steadfast. Immovable.

Was he ever gracious? Yes, and so he is now. Spurgeon said, “God’s strong love stands like a granite rock, unmoved by the hurricanes of our iniquity.”Rock_of_Gibraltar_1810

Anything God has ever said about himself has never been modified, edited, abridged, or altered. And so what A.W. Pink says is true: “He cannot change for the better for he is perfect; and being perfect, he cannot change for the worse.” And as such, we can know him.

3. We can understand how he relates to us right now. Sometimes we tend to think of God as sometimes gracious and sometimes angry and sometimes merciful and sometimes wrathful. It’s like we think he is emotional like us. Certainly, God does display features that we might identify as emotions in the Bible, but they do not exactly correlate to how we experience emotions.

Unlike me, unlike you, God is not susceptible to mood swings. He’s not groggy in the morning, apathetic at noon, and wired at night. He doesn’t get emotional like we do. He’s a constant, perfect embodiment of all his attributes all the time. He does not change.

And the reality is that God is, at all times, his unchangeable self. In his nature, he never changes. He always responds to sin with wrath; he always responds to repentance with grace.

A.W. Tozer says, “God never changes moods or cools off in his affections or loses enthusiasm. His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when he drove out the sinful man from the eastward garden, and his attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth his hands and cried, ‘Come unto me, and ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'”

mood-swingSometimes when we are offended, we take a little time to settle down. Sometimes it takes time before we’re in a frame of mind where we can forgive our enemies. Not God. He is always extending his hands out to the sinner, and always opposing the pride in their folly. And the nano-second a person comes to him on his terms he accepts. It doesn’t take him time to “get over it.”

Believers ought to be very encouraged by this. Right now, God’s wrath is against your sin. But your sin has been detached from you and placed on Jesus. God’s grace is toward you, because you have Christ’s righteousness. This is the unchanging reality of the Christian: forever blessed, irrevocably accepted, unchangeably beloved.

4. Because of God’s unchanging-ness, man’s ability to change is a gift. For fallen man, the prospect of real change taking place is a immeasurable blessing. The unbelievers don’t see it that way. For the unbeliever, change is a frightening idea. It signifies decay and loss. Change is the harbinger of death. Change is a monster, terrorizing every poor soul that has nothing immutable to hold on to.

But for the redeemed, change is a gift.

  • Our spiritual lives began with a change, when God changed our hearts and gave us faith to believe the gospel.
  • Our spiritual lives continue in change, as God’s Holy Spirit continually works in us to make us more like Jesus.
  • Our spiritual lives will end in change, when Jesus Christ gives us new, glorified bodies in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Because of God’s immutability, we need not fear change. The hurricanes of this world need not frighten us; our live is hidden in the unchanging Creator. He is working in all things to change us each day. And he does. The unchanging God uses all change to change his children into the likeness of their changeless Savior.

5. We can feel the weight of eternity. The promises of God to save the repentance and the punish the sinner are immutable, written-in-stone, promises that will bear throughout eternity.

Those who do not believe will suffer immutable wrath. Unchanging anger. Immovable judgment. Unending torment. Be as good as you want, be as upright as you please, be as honest as you will, the weight of this threat stands toward all who do not give up trying to save themselves and trust Jesus Christ. Those who do not know Jesus savingly will have no second chances, there will be no do-overs, there will be no opportunity to set things right, there will be no fixing what went wrong. The gavel will sound and the judge will issue the immutable sentence: damned.

Believers ought to feel this weight and live with a marked urgency to help people see and believe in Jesus Christ, the only Savior.

But those who come to Jesus in repentance and faith will receive unchanging, immovable, granite-like salvation that will last them throughout all the ages of eternity. The oceans of his love will be dumped on them, he will delight in showing them kindness forever, he will not grow weary of them, he will not get bored of them, he will never get tired of them. Out of the infinite, unchanging riches of his grace he will lavish his generosity toward them.

God’s immutability guarantees this hope for the believer. God will not grow tired of heaven, wipe us out and start over. God will not change his mind. He never has.

Immutability is a very practical doctrine. And when we import man-like attributes into God, immutability is one of the first things to go.  God becomes less like a rock of refuge and more like a sea of uncertainty. We are as secure as what we trust in, and there’s nothing more secure than an immutable God.

 

 

A few thoughts on World Vision

If you have no idea what this is about, click here: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages

A few thoughts:

First, it’s absurd to think that a ministry can defer theology to the church. As soon as you begin talking about ministry or mission, take off your sandals you’re on theological holy ground. Those are weighty theological concepts that cannot be defined otherwise. As soon as one asks the point of the mission, only a theological answer will do.

Second, it’s also absurd to say that the adjustment in policy makes no affirmation of the same-sex lifestyle. Of course it does. It’s a public declaration that unrepentant homosexuality is not a disqualification for Christian service. Paul would have said it’s a disqualification for the kingdom of God. Stearns doesn’t even make it a disqualification for his ministry, and make no mistake, his statement is a theological one.

Third, it’s a gospel issue. Minimizing sin minimizes the cross. World Vision has just made the world a darker place, where more unrepentant “Christians” will be affirmed though they remain enemies of God. Wherever the call for repentance is ignored under a guise of love and acceptance, the gospel is weakened. When World Vision okays the homosexual lifestyle, they sling mud on the cross, denying it’s ability to save, transform, redeem, and reconcile.

 

Self-seeking rebellion dressed up like lavish generosity

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Acts 5:1-2 “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only part of if and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

How easy it is to cloak our sin in religious veneer!

Here are two people aggressively self-promoting, vying for prominence, seeking to exalt themselves, unwittingly attempting to deceive God and steal his glory. And what does it look like? Two married congregants selling their property and giving money to the church.

O how careful we must be not to pursue religious achievement for human applause! It’s frightening to remember that our self-seeking rebellion can be dressed up like lavish generosity.

It’s no wonder that “great fear came upon the whole church” (vs. 11).

What kind of “belief” saves you?

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Great thinkers in the past have divided biblical faith into three categories which are helpful for us to determine what it means to really believe: noticia, assensus, and fiducia. This is helpful– especially in light of James 2, which indicates that there is a kind of faith that cannot save.

Noticia refers to the idea of “knowing”. This is knowledge of the right doctrine. This is understanding the right truths. If an unbeliever visits a church long enough, and begins reading his Bible, he may get the facts right but not believe it.  I’ve known atheists and agnostics who understand Christian doctrine better than some Christians I’ve known. Obviously, this kind of knowledge doesn’t save you.

Assensus refers to the idea of “agreeing”. This is agreeing with the right doctrine. It means assenting to the truth of Scripture. This would be the kind of belief that agrees with the gospel but isn’t actually changed by it. James would call this kind of faith “dead” (James 2:14). A person could have all the right content (noticia) and agree with all the right facts (assensus) and yet still be unsaved– for true faith always results in real life change.

Fidutia refers to personal confidence and trust. This is the idea of “trusting”. This is not only knowing the right doctrine and agreeing that it’s true, but personally responding to the gospel by turning from known sin, taking a posture of surrender and submission to Christ, and believing with confidence that all God’s promises are yours in Christ. This kind of faith results in life-change, where the believer constantly strives to put Christ on the throne of his life.

Where do you stand?

Is your “faith” simply knowing all the right doctrine?

Is your “faith” agreeing to the truths of the gospel?

If your faith is merely knowing and agreeing, it’s time for you to take another step, because only a fidutia kind of faith saves. Personally trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord, surrender to him as your master, turn from your sin, pursue righteousness, and believe that his work on the cross has delivered you from the power and penalty of sin.

What is our relationship to Adam’s sin?

Romans 5:12 is one of the harder passages of Scripture to understand. It comes in a context where Paul is describing justification by faith and reconciliation to God. Then, drawing parallels between Adam and Christ, he makes this statement:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”

The main question revolves around the final clause of the sentence: “because all sinned.” The question is this: how is Paul describing our relationship with Adam? What does Adam’s first sin have to do with our current sinfulness? Here are a few possible views:

  1. Arminian view. This is the view that we didn’t sin in Adam, but rather simply inherited Adam’s corrupted nature. This view would say that because of Adam’s sin we’re all born with a defect that makes us prone to sin, though we are not actually guilty because of Adam’s sin. In this view, the “because all sinned” in verse 5:12 means that all sinned because we were made corrupt, not because we actually sinned in Adam.
  2. Federal headship view. This is the view that when Adam was the representative head of the human race, and when he sinned, we were all represented in his sin. Like a commander in chief who declares that his country is going to war and the citizens have no choice but to be represented by him, so when Adam chose to go into sin, he made all humanity sinners by representing them.
  3. Augustinian view. This view states that all humanity was actually in Adam when he sinned, and thus sinned with him. In the same way that Levi while in the loins of Abraham was said to have paid tithes to Melchizidek, so we, in the loins of Adam, actually participated in his sin.

From my perspective, the Federal headship view makes the most sense. Adam, the federal head representing humanity, sinned and thus made all humanity guilty. I would also include the aspect of the Arminian view that emphasizes the transference of the corrupt nature. Thus, all sinned in Adam because they were represented by him, and all sinned because Adam passed on the pollution of his sin to his children.

Are all sins the same before God?

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There is a legal guilt that puts every sinner in the same standing with God as one condemned. As sinners by nature and by choice, we are all under the same condemnation. Thus, there is a sense in which every sin has the same ultimate judgment: condemnation.

But there are enough passages to prove that not all sins are equal before God. Our first hint is the Mosaic law, where some sins are punishable by death and other sins only require cleansing. Some sins are described as being unintentional and others are high-handed, and the high-handed ones merit a more serious punishment. This is compelling, but the clearer evidence comes straight from the mouth of Christ.

In Luke 12:47-48 there are differing degrees of punishment. For the “servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will” there will be a “severe beating.” On the other hand, “the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.” In other words, though the deed be the same, the punishment is more serious for the one who had more knowledge. Those who know more will be judged more strictly, which is exactly the point James makes about teachers: “Those who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

Matthew 11:20-24 describes the fate of Chorazin and Bethsaida, cities that rejected the message of Christ. In verse 24, Jesus says, “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” In other words, the sin of Chorazin and Bethsaida was worse than the sin of Sodom because the former were privileged to witness “mighty works” (v. 21), whereas Sodom had no such opportunity.

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Matt. 23:15 describes Pharisees who travel across land and sea to make a single proselyte. His evaluation is that when they do that “they make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” The only clear understanding of this statement is that the Pharisee’s proselytes are more an offense to God than themselves. Their sin is worse.

 

But, after saying this, we must understand that there are not degrees of separation from God. All sin makes us equally damnable, equally condemned, equally separated, and equally in need of salvation. There are none who are “closer to God” in their natural, unregenerate state. All have sinned; all need salvation.

So we must say in short, the answer is no. Not all sins are equal before God.  All sin, big and small, separates us from God and earns our eternal condemnation. And yet all sin, big and small, is forgivable faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. There is no sin so small that it doesn’t earn us hell; there is no sin so big that it can’t be forgiven.

Understanding the Image of God

Historically, theologians have had a lot of confusion regarding the image of God. Since Scripture doesn’t ever define it in certain terms, those interested in the study have tried to understanding it by piecing together the passages in Scripture that discuss it. Throughout the years, there have been three main ways to look at the image of God.

The image of God is defined Substantially. This is the idea that every human is a person like God; with similar traits and qualities. In the same way a son bears the image of his father, so we bear the image of our Creator. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26). We are persons that bear resemblance to God.

The image of God is defined Relationally. Tied into the passages that speak of the image of God is the idea of male and female. In other words, integral to understanding the imago dei is understanding that humans were made to be in relationship. “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27). The image of God is displayed in plurality–male and female. Though it is true that individual males and a females bear the image of God, this passage shows us that the image of God is more fully displayed in two genders rather than one. To be in the image of God means being in relationship.

The image of God is defined Functionally. The first command given to Adam and Eve after God’s declaration of their image-bearing duty is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Gen. 1:28). God, the great King of all things mediates his rule through his image bearers. Image bearers play out their roles of authority and thus reflect the glory of the Creator. As Adam and Eve were to play out their roles as vice-regents over creation, they would effectively image God. In this way, there is a functional aspect of the image of God.

How should we understand the doctrine of the imago dei?

It is best to say the image of God exists in man substantially, and manifests itself in relational and functional ways. In this understanding we don’t deny the relational and functional aspects of our likeness to God, but we say that they flow from the spring of our substantial likeness to God. We are relational because God is relational. We function like God because we are like God.

It’s been said this way: “The image of God involves both structural and functional aspects. In our structure [or substance] as human beings we possess the image of God. This structural capacity should lead to proper functioning in the realms of relationships and ruling and subduing the creation.”

There are other implications. If we understand the image of God to be primarily relational or primary functional, then we are defining the image of God in terms of what people do rather than what people are. This would mean that those who aren’t able to act relationally or functionally (unborn babies, mentally handicapped, elderly), they either lack the image of God or they bear the image of God in a lesser degree. But it seems that God created all humans in his image–that the mere fact of being a human person means one bears the image of God. Thus, we hold all human life in high esteem not because of certain functions they can do but because of the fact that they bear God’s image.

So when we’re speaking of the image of God in man, we’re speaking of the ways in which man is made like God (substantial aspect), and the ways in which humans act out this likeness: relationships of male and female (relational aspect), and their ruling and reigning over creation (functional aspect).

 

Making the Proverbs sticky

When trying to understand Proverbs, the journey is just as valuable as the destination. Proverbs are meant to be wrestled with and mulled over. They’re meant to be traversed again and again. They don’t yield their treasures to the surface scanners; the deep-down-in-the-earth miners are the ones who uncover the precious jewels. And it’s the process– the vigorous, difficult, patience-requiring, long-term process– that makes a person wise. The journey is as valuable as the destination. It’s great when we reach the peak– but it’s the rivers we crossed, the rocks we climbed, and the obstacles we faced that make us seasoned climbers.

I try to always be reading through the Proverbs. A few years ago I categorized every single proverb, and made a resource for myself that enabled me to look up references related to specific circumstances. I still use the finished product, but it was the creation of that thing that gave it value. The simple process of reading the proverbs slowly and asking what they’re about was hugely beneficial.

Now I’m trying a different approach. I’m on my second time through the Proverbs using this approach, and it’s turning out to be a great way to know and apply the wisdom there. Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Read slowly, mark the verses that stick out to you. Underline, bracket, or whatever. Make note of the passages that seem to be specially applicable to your life situation.

2. Take one verse paraphrase it. Try to understand the proverb and say it in your own words. This will force you to get the point of the saying and put it in the vernacular. I don’t think we really understand something until we can articulate it in our own words.

3. Make it sticky. Try to make it punchy and memorable. Maybe make it rhyme. Or try to make it something you’d say to your kids when they need to hear it. Sticky. This is what proverbs are meant to be: short, wise, pithy and practical sayings that find their usage in everyday life.

4. After that, write it down on a 3×5 and keep it as bookmark in Proverbs. This little card will eventually become a list of sticky sayings. The more you look at them, the more you’ll remember them, so it makes sense to put it in the place you’ll constantly be coming back to. After you’ve filled front and back, get a new 3×5.

For example, I marked Proverbs 14:23: “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

My paraphrase would go something like this: “Hard work is profitable and valuable, but all talk and no action is empty and destructive.”

And then, to make it sticky, I did this: “Faithful toil will never spoil.” I could see myself using this to instruct my kids– plus it’s faithful to the principle of the proverb. As a side benefit,  it’s a fun challenge for people who like words!

Here are some others I’ve come up with (some are better than others)

Proverbs 13:11 “Haste makes waste” (this has been around for a while, so it’s not original to me, but I’m gonna use it!)

Proverbs 14:21 “It’s a blessing to bless.”

Proverbs 23:4 “Don’t work for money.”

Proverbs 12:27 “Diligence pays.”

Proverbs 13:27 “Disaster pursues sinners”

Proverbs 17:2 “Wisdom trumps rank.”

Proverbs 17:12 “A fool is more dangerous than a grizzly.”

Proverbs 18:9 “Laziness is destructive.”

Proverbs 20:13 “Love not sleep!”

Proverbs 22:3 “It’s sometimes wise to run and hide.”

Proverbs 23:17 “Sinners aren’t winners– don’t envy them.”

As I continue doing this, I hope the wisdom of the Proverbs will be kneaded into my heart and mind. That my speech would be seasoned with the wisdom of God, and my marriage, my family, and my relationships would benefit.