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.

cain-and-abel-1544

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.

 

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?

theology thursday_edited-1

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.

Gustave_Dore_-_Death_on_the_Pale_Horse_resized

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.

And all her slain are a mighty throng

Proverbs 7 describes how the adulteress lures a young man into her room while her husband is away. She pulls out all the stops. She mentions the sacrifices she made earlier and the vows; she describes her excitement for the young man, and she assures him that no one will find out: “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.” The young man consents not knowing that the decision will cost him his life.

Then Solomon says “And all her slain are a mighty throng.”

Those taken down into the pits of adulterous death aren’t the weak, the stupid, the ignorant. And they aren’t few. Kings and lords, elders and laymen, pastors and businessmen, writers and plumbers, CEOs and Ph. Ds. The adulteress doesn’t discriminate; she’s on every corner, in every building, on every screen. She’ll barter with presidents and peasants. “All her slain are a mighty throng.”

As soon as you think you don’t have to go out to battle anymore you’ll see her bathing on the roof. Keep vigilant, gripped by truth and committed to integrity. Know a war wages and brandish your weapons to fight. And keep fighting.

Remember that “all her slain are a mighty throng”

Don’t run from the past

 

I can relate to Paul’s amazement at being shown mercy. I’ve lived in the same part of Maryland since I was a boy. Hardly a month goes by that I’m not reminded of who I once was.

 

Before God saved me in 1972, I, too, was a blasphemer. I lived for myself and my own pleasure. I lived in rebellion against God and mocked those who followed him. I spent my high school and college years deeply immersed in the local drug culture.

 

Sometimes, late at night, my friends and I would seek out quiet, isolated places where we could come down safely from drug highs. On more than a few occasions it was a D.C. monument. Other times a peaceful street under thick, deep trees. Or even the terminal at what was then a little-used airport called Dulles, where the doors stayed open long after the day’s flights had ceased and we could move through the nearly deserted canyon of a building.

 

Someday soon I’ll be near one of those places again, and the memories will flood back in. I’ll remember what I once was, and be reminded of what I now am.

 

Often my eyes fill with tears at the memories of my foolishness and sin. And in the same instant, my heart will be filled with an unspeakable, holy joy. I am no longer the same! By the finished work of Christ on the cross, I’ve been forgiven of the countless sins I’ve committed.

Many people today try to run from the past. I suppose I could try to as well, by leaving the hometown that holds so many reminders of my sinfulness. But I consider living here a gift from God. The regular reminders of my past are precious to me.

 

Why? Because, like Paul, I never want to forget the great mercy shown me.

C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life, 16-17

I hope you struggle with sin

Those who are born-again make Christ their Lord, Savior, and Treasure. They understand that sin gets between them and Christ. So they hate sin. They war against sin. They fight.

The interesting thing about the fight against sin is that it never stops. The more you grow in Christ, the more aware of your sin you become, the more you hate it, the more you fight it. You never grow out of it, you never totally defeat it, you never stop struggling against it.

If you are not struggling with in, you are in a precarious, dangerous position. Here’s what I mean: the Bible says that anyone who denies that they are a sinner makes Christ a liar and “the word is not in them” (1 Jn. 1:10). If you’re not struggling with it, if you’re not fighting it, that means you’ve either been deceived into thinking you have no sin to be struggling against or that you’re letting sin win the fight.

If you’re a Christian, you will be struggling with sin.

I hope you’re struggling with sin.

God, send me a Nathan

The process by which anything good grows is painful. Including churches.

Pain is a vital process to the development of the church. The result of truly loving someone often is pain. It hurts to suddenly be made aware of your sin by another person. But it’s good.

Nathan confronted David’s sin, and it broke David. But imagine if the sin David committed never came to the surface? It would have eaten him alive.

Every one of us has sin. It is the deepest problem in our marriages, our families, and our churches. When we hide it, we hurt everyone. We need people who love us enough to call it out. We need someone to get in our face. We need to feel the pain of our sin a little more poignantly.

The most loving thing you can do to a child who loves to run in the street is give him a loving whack on the rear to remind him that street cars are dangerous. The most loving thing you can do for a man who loves exalt himself is to give him a loving whack in the ego. Get the log out of your own eye, and go love your neighbor. And if you’re the neighbor, thank God that someone loved you enough to call sin sin.

O how we should pray to God for a Nathan to come into our lives and say “You’re the man! You are guilty of this sin!”

When this culture is created and maintained, when it is graceful and humble, unassuming and wise, we will grow. This is how true edification works. And it hurts a little.


Why do bad things happen to good people? PART ONE

Yesterday I introduced the series that I’ll be blogging through this week. It aims to biblically answer the question, why do bad things happen to good people?

Today is part one:

1. There’s no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

The question why do bad things happen to good people is flawed from the start– there is no one good. Romans 3:10-12:

No one is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.

There are nice people, no doubt. But nice doesn’t not equal righteous. Nice does not permit you to stand justified before a holy God. Even nice people are sinners. Every person starts life with a sinful nature and a natural bent toward rebellion against God. All have turned aside and deserve to be tossed aside by God. The better question to ask would by why do good things happen to bad people? Each person deserves condemnation. God would be completely just to let me starve in a frozen cell for the rest of my life– that’s all I’ve ever deserved. Thank God there is another side of his character that triumphs over judgment: mercy.

There’s no such thing as a righteous person. When Christians are saved, it is not by their own qualifications. It’s completely by God’s work on our behalf. It’s God redeeming, God forgiving, God cleansing, God clothing me in Christ’s righteousness. I simply accept the grace by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If we understand the gospel, we will enjoy grace because we know that it is a free gift we have not earned. We will hold that both God’s kindness (Romans 2:4) and God’s severity (1 Peter 5:10-11) is meant to draw his people into a closer relationship with him. All God’s acts toward his children are loving. Even the ones that temporarily cause pain.

Every ounce of enjoyment we have ever received is pure, unmerited grace.

James 3:16-18

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Enjoy a sunrise lately? Grace. A laugh with a friend? Grace. A deep breath of mountain air? Grace upon grace. It is something good to enjoy we have not deserved. These are gifts from God.

God is the creator of life. The creatures he made have turned against Him. God has the divine right to take life whenever he pleases. He chooses when to pull the plug– he can do it one whenever and however he wants. He will do it to everyone, eventually– we all die. He is not unjust to take some sooner than others.

God has all our days numbered. When the time comes, we die. In the meantime, we enjoy things that we have not deserved.  He does not owe us another breath. If you are a believer, he is giving to time to accomplish the “good works he has prepared for you beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). If you have not yet been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, he is giving you time to repent of your sins– for “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Praise God that there is a way to make death not so final. Praise God that there is access to free grace for whoever calls upon Jesus Christ for salvation.  There is a way to stand guiltless before the Almighty. This is the gospel. It is the ultimate act of free, unmerited grace. It is the message of life.

* * *

Tomorrow’s point is that “The highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

To understand the sovereignty of God in suffering we must grasp why God does what he does. Certainly God has the power to stop all suffering. Why doesn’t he?

The Bible shows pretty clearly why God acts. We are going to look at how God does everything for his own glory.

Pitiful Pride: Woe is Me, I’m a Failure

Have you ever been at an elementary school when the end-of-school bell rings? It looks something like the running of the bulls in Spain. It looks like children have literally exploded out of the building, released from prison. Of course, such behavior wanes as children get older.

When the bell rang ending my class– waking a few of my pupils– the students looked as if they were back in elementary school. I had never seen a classroom empty so quickly. It probably created a backdraft– the kind you feel when a truck goes by. No one asked a question. No one said good-bye.

I drove home, sat at the dining room table, and immediately started looking in the want ads, hoping to find a job where I didn’t have to see or talk to a person.

“Woe is me,” I though. “What a horrible failure. I am humiliated. I don’t ever want to see those students again.”

As I browsed through the paper, looking like a little boy who lost his dog (and hoping my wife would ask me what was wrong), my wife finally did why I looked so blue. After hearing the pitiful tale, she gave some great counsel.

“Stop that,” she said. “You have responsibilities to your students.”

It wasn’t exactly the counsel that I wanted to hear. I wanted to be filled with sympathy and unconditional love. “Oh honey, I’m sure class was great, and even if it wasn’t, I still think you’re great…” If she would have asked I could have scripted her response. But she chose something that went more directly to the heart.

“Stop that” was exactly what I needed. It was shorthand for, “Why are you so consumed with yourself? I want you to be liberated from self-concern by fearing God and knowing your duty.”

Sheri’s wake-up call sent me on a new course. I began to look more seriously at the selfishness and pride that lurked right below my woe-is-me exterior. It wasn’t pretty. As John Calvin suggested, I wasn’t a love cup; I was an idol factory. I wanted to worship something or someone that would give me glory. Not too much glory, of course. Just enough to make me feel good about myself. If my student-idols could have just asked a few good questions after class and not left in such a rush, that would have been enough– for then.

My cup was filled with me. It was not empty.

This is an excerpt from a books I read last year, When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Ed Welch. As a person who teaches, this story hit me right where it hurts. This unruly kind of pride is not as easily distinguished as the kind that openly boasts, but it’s just as (if not more) damaging. This short story provided me with great wisdom in dealing with the sinful pride can wrongly be mistaken as humility.