A Word to Sinners

As followers of Christ, we all go through moments where we mess up sin. We know Christ, and know full well that knowing and glorifying God is the greatest goal a person could ever attain to, and that there’s no pleasure outside of Christ worth having. Yet, when enticed, we sin against the God we love.

It’s not that the sin is very rewarding at all – for indeed, while trying to enjoy it and justify it, our conscience, the Spirit, and the Word are all bearing witness to the fact that what we are doing is sin. We know better, yet choose to sin anyways.

After we’ve sinned as believers, we often feel profound guilt. At least in my experience, this guilt has tempted me to run from God. I find myself thinking thoughts such as “He’s my loving heavenly Father, yet I’ve just sinned against Him! Surely He would’t want me to come before the throne of grace right now.

Judging by the amount of harm that thought does to believers, I can be fairly certain that our adversary loves it when we think thus. Running from God in shame will only lead to a cycle of further sin and shame that continually propagates itself.

Friend, if you find yourself being sucked into such a cycle, let these words from Hebrews 4:17 speak to you:
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Look: God certainly hates sin, and desires that you repent of it, but don’t forget that God loves you. Like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son, He delights in showing mercy.

Remember that even though you have sinned as a Christian, Christ’s righteousness has not ceased to be imputed to you. You’re still loved and accepted as a child of the King – not because you’ve perfectly met some standard of morality, but because God is gracious and forgiving. Though your fellowship with God may be broken for a moment, God desires that such fellowship be restored.

Turn from your sin and shame, and behold the One who has taken it all away. Run to Him, and find forgiveness.

Lacking No Good Thing

The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” -Psalm 34:10 (All quotations from the ESV)

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Reading this statement at a surface level, one might be inclined to disagree. After all, it often seems (particularly if one studies church history) that poverty and suffering characterize the life of the saints, rather than abundance and pleasure.

David, the author of this Psalm, arguably lacked many good things at the time when he wrote it. According to the subtitle of this psalm, David wrote it after feigning madness before Abimelech (also known as Achish in 2 Samuel 21). David at this time was fleeing from Saul, who was spending all his energy hunting him down. Saul was constantly pursuing David, hence David was constantly fleeing – enduring hunger, heat, cold, and loneliness.

Eventually he fled to Gath, in the land of the Philistines, to take refuge; he knew that Saul wouldn’t dare go there. However, there was one problem. Among other things, David was the guy who killed Goliath, and brought 200 Philistine foreskins to Saul as a way of earning Michal’s hand in marriage. Simply put, David was odious to the Philistines – they had no reason to like him.

In 1 Samuel 21:11 we see the servants of Achish expressing concern about David’s arrival in Gath: “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” In response to this, David becomes afraid, and pretends to be insane before the king to save his skin. In the next chapter we see him fleeing to the cave of Adullam, where his family joins him. Perhaps it was there, in gratitude, that he wrote this Psalm.

Like I said, David arguably lacked a lot of good things at this point. God Himself had promised that David would be king of Israel, yet at this point David was a fugitive, esteemed as a criminal. Yet, even amidst these trials, he could say that he lacked no good thing. Why is that? David lacked no good thing because of his God. God is the source of every good thing – as James says, every good and perfect gift comes from above.

With this in mind, look at what Paul has to say in Ephesians 1:15-21:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Friends, those of us who seek the Lord truly lack no good thing! We’ve been blessed immeasurably in Christ, with more blessings than we can even imagine! And if that isn’t enough, God promises to hear and answer our prayers – to supply our needs day to day! If you have Christ, you truly lack nothing – even if you seem, on an earthly level, to be lacking.

Dwell on this truth, and be encouraged.

How Can I be Certain I’m Praying to the Right God?

I’m part of a Facebook group called “Bible Study” – a group that’s heartbreakingly full of ignorance of the scriptures, immaturity, and heresy of every stripe and color. I’m there so that I can be practically reminded of why discipleship and a correct understanding of God’s word are important.

Every so often, I comment on a post when I feel that something needs addressing. The other day I left a comment on a post which said, in essence, that we shouldn’t pray to “God” because the term is too generic, and Satan might think we’re praying to him instead. The poster suggested we instead pray to “Jehovah”.

I left a comment pointing out that Jehovah is nothing more than a bad transliteration of YHWH, and that God, who understands our designations for Him, knows when we’re praying to Him. I didn’t feel the need to write a huge response at the time, mostly because I don’t have the time to respond to every heretical thing in that group. But a commenter pressed me on it, so I obliged him and left this comment. Hopefully someone finds it hepful.

The Jewish people considered the name YHWH so sacred that they wouldn’t utter it; hence, they used other names such as Adonai or Elohim to address God. Those weren’t the name of God, they were designations to refer to God. We see very clearly in Old Testament scripture that people could pray to God and be heard by God without them using His personal name.

When the time of Christ came, much of Israel had been thoroughly Hellenized – infiltrated with Greek influence. Further, Israel was under Rome’s control by the time of Christ. If you wanted to get anywhere in life in first century Israel, you’d need to speak Greek. Greek thus became the common language, even among Jews. And the New Testament, as a result, was written in Greek.
With the change in language came a change of designations for “God”. The New Testament often uses the names Kurios (Carrying the connotation of “master”, and often translated as “Lord”) and Theos (carrying the connotation of “deity”, often translated as “God”).


My point being, even in scripture do we find certain designated words for God – words that aren’t the NAME of God, but refer to God anyways. It’s like how I can refer to you as “sir” or “Mr.” – in both cases I wouldn’t be saying your name, yet I would still be talking to/about you. Likewise, if you’re praying, and you choose to refer to our Lord as “God”, there’s nothing inappropriate about that. If you’re praying to the God of the Bible, the God of the Bible will know you’re praying to Him.


I suppose I should also add that it’s not simply the name you say that indicates who you’re praying to. If I claim to be describing you to someone, and then I describe a whole bunch of things that aren’t true of you, it’d be pretty clear that though I’m using your name and saying a bunch of things about a guy with your name, I’m not actually talking about you. I may think that I am, but I’m actually not.


This principle applies to prayer as well. If I claim to be praying to the God of the universe, yet this “God” I’m praying to is different than the God revealed in Scripture, I’m not actually praying to God – I’m praying to a false God.
So if you want to be sure you’re praying to the right God, make sure your view of God is in line with what Scripture reveals about God. There’s nothing wrong with using the English designations of “God” or “Lord” to refer to YHWH; He understands all languages. What designation you use to refer to God is less important than whether your view of Him is scriptural or not.


So I’d encourage you to make sure your view of God is correct. Test everything you’ve been taught by scripture. Then, and only then, can you be certain that you’re praying to the right God

Confronting the Sinning Believer, Part 2: Checking your Heart

  In my last post I talked about a common pitfall many individuals fall into regarding the area of sinning fellow believers.  I warned against gossip, and pointed out that our foremost desire in the scenario of a sinning believer should be restoration, not judgment.

   That is a point I cannot stress enough. How many believers, particularly those who are new to the faith and are coming out of a sinful, worldly background feel condemned and judged by the expectations placed on them?  And how many such individuals, often after failing to meet an expectation (that may well not be a command of scripture), are ostracized and condemned by their own spiritual family?

 All of us are at different places, spiritually. As we mature in the faith and become more familiar with what God expects of us as believers, we can sometimes tend to forget that other believers have yet to learn these things.  While we should never use spiritual immaturity as an excuse to ignore sin, we must remember that all things we do should be done with love. We must always be seeking the edification of the body, instead of pursuing our own fleshly desires.

 If you’re thinking of confronting a fellow believer about some sin in his life, I’d encourage you to ‘check your heart’ (I understand that’s really a cliche phrase, but I think I’m justified in using it here).  

 In Galatians 6:1 the apostle Paul, in speaking of this very issue, lays out some important principles that we’d do well to remember:

 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

  1. You who are spiritual: In order to confront someone non-hypocritically, we must be obeying the Lord ourselves. If there’s known sin in your life that you’re not repenting of, I can tell you with certainty that you’re not walking after the Spirit, but after the flesh.  If you’re walking after the flesh, you’re not in fellowship with God, you’re walking in darkness, and you’re not being transformed by the renewing of the mind. If you fail to take care of your own sin before confronting someone else’s sin, it’s very likely that you’ll handle the situation improperly and do more harm than good.
  2. Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness: As I’ve already said, our aim in this situation is restoration.  Even if worst comes to worst, and the believer won’t repent when confronted by the church, our aim and hope amidst judgment is still restoration.  Hence, we must have a spirit of gentleness. We must speak the truth in love, with as much graciousness as the situation could warrant (even if the sin is something that angers us).
  3. Looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted: None of us stand too high to fall – anyone who thinks otherwise deceives himself, and the truth is not in him (1 John 1:8-10). Knowing that we can fall ourselves, we must be careful and on guard, so as to not entangle ourselves in the very sin we’re confronting our brother or sister for.

   To sum it all up: if a believer insists on walking a path of sin, may he not walk that path unwarned by many tears and pleadings. May our desire be to do everything in our power to restore the wayward brother or sister to fellowship.

If you feel that confronting a fellow believer about his or her sin is necessary, I would encourage you to make sure that your own intentions are flowing out of nothing but love for the sinning believer. Ask God continually to prevent any sinful intentions from getting in the way.

Confronting the Sinning Believer, Part 1: Avoiding Gossip

Picture this hypothetical (or not-so hypothetical) scenario: you’ve been going to a church consistently for many years.  You’ve for the most part felt loved and respected within this church body. You’ve even taken up some positions of ministry over the years, and done what you can to build up the believers around you.

  Now imagine that one day you’re visiting at a well-respected elder’s home, and you find out that his Christian walk has not been consistent with his profession.  In fact, he’s seriously compromised, to the point that his “church life” is not even a remote representation of his “home and work life”.

  What now?

  Scripture isn’t unclear on what to do in such a situation.  In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus says:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 We who know about the fellow believer’s sin are first commanded to confront him directly and privately. According to Galatians 6:1, we are to do so with a spirit of meekness, knowing that we are not above temptation ourselves. If the believer heeds our loving admonishment and repents of his sin (not halfheartedly, but with genuine contrition and surrender to the Lord), we’ve won our brother.  If he displays fruits in keeping with repentance, the matter can be considered done and dealt with – which isn’t to say that he might not have to deal with personal consequences of his sin, but it is to say that it would be sinful, cruel, and inappropriate for us to drag the matter out into the open and put him to shame.

 Sadly, this is often not how it happens.  In far too many cases an individual in a church, upon seeing another member of the body sinning, starts a rumor (gossip).

 There are many ‘pious’ and ‘humble’ ways to engage in gossip and spreading rumors. Gossip often comes in the form of ‘prayer requests’ or ‘sharing time’, and seem to stem from a spirit of love and concern (i.e. “I’m really concerned about so-and-so’s spiritual state … he seems really godly on the outside, but the other day I saw him do something which definitely was wrong”).  Some ways of spreading gossip are more overtly malicious, designed to tear down an individual (i.e. “I saw so-and-so do [insert sinful behavior here]. I always knew he was a sketchy fellow, and now I’m even more sure than ever”).

  Gossip, however well-intended, is a terrible evil that has destroyed many a church.  Paul speaks against those who are busybodies (2 Thess 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13). The word busybody (Greek: periergazoma) describes one who is meddler, fixating on the things others are doing rather than what he himself should be doing – and of all people, we who are of Christ’s household should abstain from such a thing. All of us were by nature children of wrath; all of us are saved apart from any merit of our own. (Eph. 2:8-9)  Why then, should we tear down a brother or sister who Christ died for with our words, as if we’re above the sin of which we accuse them?

 We all stumble in many ways.  We all struggle against various sinful tendencies.  While all of us have the flesh to fight against, sin affects us all in different ways, and while we shouldn’t tolerate sin our primary desire in the scenario of a sinning believer must be restoration, not judgment.

 That’s all to say that as believers, when we see a fellow believer sin, we should first confront them privately, rather than spreading rumors which will tear down the individual and ultimately a good deal of the local body of which both you and the sinning believer form a part.

The Heart of Humility

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:5-11)

Are you struggling to show others the grace you know you ought to show them? Are you having a hard time putting others and their interests before yourself and your own interests? Are others behaving in such a way as to make you angry with them?  Well, consider this: the Son of God, the King of the universe, came down from heaven and humbled himself; out of pure grace He was obedient unto death.  He was tortured, and died an excruciatingly painful death on the cross.  Why?  Because of you and me!

We were so sinful that it took the death of the perfect Son of God on the cross for us to be acceptable before God. When the skin on His back was torn off by a barbed whip, when He dragged the heavy cross up the hill while His body faltered, when He was hung on the cross with nails driven through His hands, sinners mocking Him all the while, He did it because your sin and my sin deserved a punishment so severe.  It took such a death for God to forgive treasonous rebels such as you and me.

Jesus humbled himself and died for sinful wretches such as you and me, out of pure grace.  He offers forgiveness freely, to those who put their trust in Him.  We have absolutely nothing within us that can commend us to God; none of our own works are good enough to save us.  We are saved apart from our own merit, because in a million years we’d never be able to produce in ourselves any righteousness capable of saving us.

Think about it: if all of the above isn’t enough reason for you to be humble, nothing on heaven or earth would suffice. The Gospel of Christ takes away any right we might have to boast of our own goodness, or exalt ourselves above any fellow human. And so I implore you today, if you’re struggling to be humble: immerse yourself in the gospel.  Think about what Jesus had to do to save you.  Then repent, seeing your pride for what it really is: a deed of the flesh.  Put it to death by the power of the Spirit, and walk in a gospel-centered humility.

 

 

 

 

Did Jesus Teach Self-Mutilation?

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, ESV)

Looking at this text apart from any context, there are a few things we could automatically (and erroneously) conclude.  We could conclude that Christ is telling us to mutilate our physical body, and that if we fail to literally cut off the part of us that made us sin, we will find ourselves being cast into hell fire on the day of judgment.  Further, we could conclude that every time we yield to temptation, we lose our salvation, and thus our salvation is entirely dependent on us being as holy as possible all the time.

Overlooking the fact that these conclusions sound an awful lot like what certain Catholic monks and ascetics believed, what’s the problem?

Well, there are numerous. First of all, both the Pentateuch and the Pauline epistles repeatedly condemn the act of physical self-mutilation. In Deuteronomy 14:1 Moses tells the children of Israel: “You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead.”  I’m ignorant of the specifics, but as far as I’m aware cutting oneself was a rite practiced by the pagan nations surrounding Israel – a practice that the children of Israel were by no means to emulate for any reason.

1500 years later, the Apostle Paul had this to say to his beloved congregation at Colosse:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.  If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:16-23)

It is generally agreed upon by commentators that Paul was refuting an early form of the heresy of Gnosticism with these words.  In essence, Gnosticism taught that matter is inherently evil, and that to truly obtain salvation one must receive some divinely acquired, spiritual ‘higher knowledge’. It’s not hard to envision how such beliefs lead to a rigid asceticism, and Paul rightly declares that severity to the body is worthless in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

The truth is, even if I were to cut off my hand or my foot or gouge out my eyes, I would still not be able to cut off my sinful nature – I would not be able to rid myself of the fountain of wickedness within me.  I would not, through depriving myself of the means to sin, rid myself of my predisposition and desire to sin.  Hence the Lord through his prophet Joel cries “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13)

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are desperately sick and in need of a Savior, and no effort of ours – no self-mutilation, no asceticism – will be of any value in curing our souls.  In fact, Isaiah, speaking on behalf of his people and ultimately about the condition of mankind as a whole, says “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

Get this: if you’re not in Christ, your very best deeds – the very best things you’ve ever done, the things you’re most proud of – are an abomination to God.  Those are your very best deeds, and He abhors them! What then must He think of your worst deeds? How then could you be so presumptuous as to think you could be accepted based on your own merit?

So, thus far we have established that:

1) God forbids self-mutilation.

2) Even if God hadn’t forbidden self-mutilation, scripture makes it clear that such a thing is of no value against the indulgence of our sinful desires.

Having established these things, we must now answer the question: Did Jesus contradict the Scriptures?

Short answer: No.

To understand what Christ is saying, we need to understand the context.  Christ made this statement on two separate occasions in the book of Matthew – once in the Sermon on the Mount (Comprising all of Matthew 5-7), and once in a discourse to His disciples in Matthew 18.

In the first of these contexts, this statement immediately follows Christ’s equation of hate with murder, and lust with adultery.  The purpose of the sermon as a whole is to show Israel that God’s standard of holiness is so much higher than theirs.  In Matthew 5:20 He says “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, was it possible for his hearers to produce the kind of righteousness He was describing?  Absolutely not! – or, as I’d say in Low German, Nicht mal mais!(Not even close!) And that was the point.  For them (or us) to be seen as righteous before God, they would need a righteousness that didn’t come from the law, since the law is incapable of producing righteousness.

In emphasizing His point, Christ uses hyperbole to grab the attention of his listeners.  Truly it is better to enter into life disfigured than to be cast into hell a whole person.  Christ emphasizes the holiness of God, and the earnestness with which we should be pursuing him; He emphasizes the seriousness of sin, and its results.  God demands nothing less than absolute perfection.

As mentioned previously, this verse is mentioned in two separate contexts, and in its second instance the meaning has more to do with discipleship and the church.

Let’s explore Matthew 18 a bit to get an idea of the big picture.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:1-3)

Christ opens the passage by emphasizing the fact that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must humble ourselves and become as little children – that is, we must realize our lack of ability to come to Christ on our own, and depend entirely on what God Himself has done for us.  But then the passage takes a very interesting plot twist:

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (v. 4-6)

It becomes evident pretty quickly that the Lord isn’t simply speaking of actual children; He’s speaking of spiritual children – those who have humbled themselves and believed on Christ, but are young in the faith.  Whoever deceives such a one and leads them into sin is worthy of being drowned in the sea with a millstone around his neck.  To be truthful, that’s the reason I haven’t blogged in a long time. I don’t want to lead God’s people into sin through erroneous doctrine or handling of the scriptures; rather, I want to help them grow.

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (v. 7-10)

Here we see the so-called “problem verses” in their proper context.  Christ is using these statements to communicate some very important truths.  Firstly, He’s warning us, very strongly, to avoid leading His little ones into sin.  They are His, their angels always see the Face of their Father, and the way we treat them is ultimately the way we treat Christ Himself (v. 5).

How are Christ’s little ones most often led into sin? Through bad examples set by those who know better.  If we go to 2 Peter and Jude, and observe the denunciations of false teachers found in those epistles, one thing that stands out very quickly is the fact that their sinful lifestyles are highlighted:

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing.” (2 Peter 2:14-15)

Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 7-8)

Ultimately, this statement of Christ’s serves as a strong warning to take sin seriously, with application both to the saved and the unsaved. Christ died to save us from sin; let us not live in it and teach others to do so.  And may we be willing to do whatever necessary to keep ourselves from sin.  The pursuit of Christ is worth it; the pursuit of sin isn’t.  One leads to life, the other leads to death.  If we’re in Christ, we’ve chosen the way that leads to life; may we walk as though that’s true of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Unpardonable Sin: III

In the last two posts, I’ve endeavored to provide a contextual basis on which to discuss the so-called unpardonable sin. If you haven’t read the last two posts, I encourage you to do so – this post might make slightly more sense if you do.

Having examined the Pharisees, their accusation, and the part of Christ’s response that forms the context for Matthew 12:31-32, we are now ready to look at the verses themselves.

But Why?

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

If you recall, it was the accusation that Christ cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Satan) that prompted this response. The Pharisees, in an effort to somehow discredit the power by which Christ was casting out demons, attributed it to Satan.

Among the many questions that arise from a reading of the verse, the most fundamental of them is this: why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit ‘unforgivable’?

To answer this, I’m going to once again give the impression that I’m insufferably pursuing bunny trails. I believe it’s necessary, however, so please bear with me.

God created man upright, in a creation He called ‘very good’. He made man in His own image, with a mind, a soul, and the capacity to make decisions. He gave him power over the beasts of the earth and the plants of the field, giving him the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. In such a state, the first man (Adam) was in perfect communion with God, untainted by sin.

However, Eve, then Adam sinned, in disobeying God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Consequentially, they were driven from the garden of Eden, and guarded from entering in again. Sin entered the world through Adam, and since that time all men have been sinners. Ever since Adam sinned, humanity has been cut off from God, who is the source of life. Being cut off from the Source of life, we work the works of death. Keep that in mind – it’s very pertinent to the present issue.

In John 6:44, our Lord states that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day”. Sinners who love the darkness won’t come to God of their own accord – why would they, if they love the darkness? It is only when the Father draws – that is, when sinners hear the gospel and are convicted by the Spirit of their need for Christ – that they will come.

The thing that makes the ‘unpardonable sin’ unforgivable is that apart from the Holy Spirit, we can’t repent. We can’t be born again. We can’t be regenerated. We can’t be given a new heart. We can’t have faith. And we know that without any of those things, you can’t be saved. If you resist the Spirit to the point that He leaves and never returns, you’re without hope. You won’t even desire hope. As Romans 1: puts it, you’ll be given over to a debased (or reprobate) mind. It’s not a matter of God for some odd reason refusing to forgive one sin as much as it is God giving you up to the desires of your heart – namely, the desire to rebel against Him.

Concluding Thoughts

I said in my last paragraph that those who are given over to a reprobate mind won’t even desire hope. In thinking about it, I decided that such a statement needs clarification. You see, there are a lot of ‘religious’ people who want to avoid hell, yet aren’t saved. They think they love God, yet they’re really just doing religion because they are living after the flesh, and the flesh doesn’t want to burn in hell. God isn’t the means to the end in their thinking – He’s just the golden key by which they can unlock the thing which their flesh desires. Hence, I marked that statement with an asterisk, for while it’s technically true, it’s quite possible that someone who has been given over to a reprobate mind will still want to avoid judgment, or have the capacity to regret their sin. Think of Judas Iscariot, for instance, who was remorseful after his betrayal of our Lord to the point that he hanged himself.

Anyways, I hope that’s a start in beginning to answer some of the questions raised. I’m going to wrap up this post here, because it’ll get overly lengthy if I include next post’s subject matter.

On the Unpardonable Sin: II

In my last post, in an effort to shed contextual light on the verses in question, I examined the beliefs and motives of the Pharisees, and saw what we could learn from them. It may have seemed a bit off-topic, so please bear with me – you’ll see where I’m going with this.

In this post, we’re going to examine the nature of the accusation (made by the Pharisees) that lead to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25-37. Following that, we will begin examining that passage (though we certainly won’t get through it in one post).

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’” (Matt. 12:22-24)

A few verses earlier, Matthew had quoted Isaiah 42, applying it to our Lord. The miracles that Christ was doing were serving to prove that He was the Messiah, for whom the people were waiting. The import of it wasn’t lost on the people either, for here we see them amazed, and wondering if He could really be the Son of David.

The Pharisees caught wind of this, and for obvious reasons, they weren’t pleased. They could hardly deny the power by which He was doing His miracles, for it was seemingly obvious to all that they were real miracles. Hence, they attributed His power to Satan in an attempt to discredit Him. In short, this was the thing which He called them out for – attributing to Satan the work of the Spirit.

Examining Christ’s Answer

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (v. 25)

The Lord immediately begins addressing the absurdity of the Pharisees’ accusation. In the aforementioned prophecy quoted by Matthew, the Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah said of Christ that a bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory. Such was the nature of Christ’s earthly ministry; He had compassion on the suffering, and mercy on the repentant. He did not turn away those who truly needed Him.

Satan could pretend to cast out Satan if it were beneficial for him to do so, yet Christ did far more than merely subdue Satan in one way, only to strengthen him in another – He engaged Satan in open combat, threw him down, stripped him of his armor, and triumphed over him. If, then, Jesus loosed people from the bonds of demonic oppression by the power of Satan, it would be awfully counter-intuitive. As Jesus said in verse 26, if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. ” (v. 27)

It would seem that the “sons” mentioned here refer to the Exorcists, certain individuals among the Jews which specialized in casting out demons (As per Acts 19:19). If Christ, whose power over Satan was so clear, cast out Satan by Satan, by whom did their own exorcists cast him out? In essence, the Pharisees were employing a double standard – accusing Jesus of casting out demons by Satan because they didn’t like Him, while at the same time overlooking their own exorcists in failing to question by whom they cast demons out. Hence Jesus says “Therefore they shall be your judges” – they condemned the same thing in Jesus that they praised in their sons.

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (v. 28)

If what the Pharisees are saying is wrong, and Christ is casting out demons by the Spirit, then the Kingdom of God has surely come upon the Jews. For as I said earlier, these miracles served to validate Christ’s Messianic identity.

Back in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses speaks of a prophet to come. While he was speaking of the succession of prophets that would deliver God’s Word to Israel, he was ultimately looking ahead to Jesus. In verses 18 and 19 of the aforementioned passage, he says this: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

The Pharisees, in their hardened unbelief, had rejected and slandered the very One of whom Moses spoke. Not only did they fail to hear His words, they maligned them. In this state of hardened unbelief and hatred of Christ, they were moving beyond repentance. Keep that in mind – it’ll be an important consideration as we begin to consider the nature of unpardonable sin.

Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” (v. 29)

When Christ speaks here of the ‘strong man’, He’s speaking of Satan. In His ministry, Christ was entering the strong man’s house, binding him, and plundering his goods. He was vanquishing Satan, freeing people from his oppression. As I noted before, such would be totally counter-intuitive if He were doing it by Satan’s power.

He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (v. 30)

The scribes and Pharisees, as teachers of the Law, were certain that they’d have their place in the kingdom of God – they were certain they were doing God’s work. Yet by their rejection of Christ, they were scattering abroad; that is, they were seeking to destroy what Christ was doing. Hence, they were enemies of Christ, and estranged from His kingdom.

Concluding Thoughts

Two posts ago, I talked about parables, and Christ’s reason for them. I pointed out that the more light you have, the more you will be held responsible – and the more light you reject, the more your heart is hardened, and the more severely you’ll be judged.

The Pharisees are a prime example of this, but let’s not simply look at them. Are you living in sin, while knowing better? Are you knowing to do good, yet not doing it? Are you willfully (or defiantly) living after the flesh, even while claiming the name of Christ? You know that if you live after the flesh you will die. You know that your sin isn’t a mere oopsie, but rebellion against a thrice-holy God. If you’re being convicted, don’t resist it. Don’t comfort yourself with some shallow platitude. Repent, while God still gives you the opportunity.

I think I’ve established a sufficient contextual basis to move on to the actual verses detailing what we call the unpardonable sin, so we’ll start getting into that in my next post.

On the Unpardonable Sin: I

Christ’s words in Matthew 12:31-32 (and Mark 3:29, in the parallel account), have undoubtedly been the source of much head-scratching and nail-biting for many Christians. Hence, I thought it good to thoroughly examine what He says, both for my edification (that I may sharpen my understanding, and perhaps stumble upon some insight I’d never seen before) and yours as the reader.

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (NKJV)

There are a lot of questions one could ask here. What about this sin makes it unforgivable? What prompted Christ to say this? Can the genuine believer commit this sin, and so be irrevocably damned? Scripture says that all who come to Christ in repentant faith will be forgiven – is this not true of those guilty of this sin? To a large extent, how one views this verse will depend on his or her theological biases. I, however, am going to try to put off such biases for now, that I may look at the text with greater clarity.

For us to properly understand this verse, we’re going to need to examine the context closely – and such is what we will now do.

At the beginning of Matthew 12, we find our Lord and His disciples wandering about the fields. Being hungry, the disciples begin plucking grain off the stalks and snacking on it. The Pharisees, who have apparently been watching, see this and accuse the disciples of violating the Sabbath.

On that same day, Jesus goes into the synagogue. The pharisees are again present, seemingly desperate for some way accuse Jesus of breaking the law. A man with a withered hand is present, seemingly as bait to fulfill the Pharisees’ purposes (namely, to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath when He heals the man). When Christ decimates their logic in His answer, then heals the man, they are enraged and plot to destroy him. Jesus, knowing their plans, withdraws Himself, yet continues healing people.

It is in one such instance of healing that the accusation leading to the verses in question occurs. Someone was brought to Jesus who was blind, mute, and demon-possessed; Jesus healed him so that he both spoke and saw. When the Pharisees heard of it, they accused Jesus of casting out demons through the power of Beelzebub, ruler of the demons.

Keep their accusation in mind; we’ll be discussing it yet (in this series, that is). But first, let’s look at the Pharisees for a bit.

The Pharisees

It would seem clear that the Pharisees hated Jesus, stood in staunch opposition to everything He did, and did all they could to lead the people away from Him. Yet who were they, and what were they hoping to gain?

The Pharisees were a religious group that held the entirety of the Old Testament Canon as being inspired; however, they also believed that certain oral traditions held authoritative weight as equally as the scriptures. Unlike the Sadducees, they were middle-class businessmen and fairly popular with the people. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, the afterlife, and angels and demons. In contrast, the Sadducees (another religious group, comprised largely of wealthy aristocrats) held only the Torah as authoritative, rejected the oral traditions, denied the existence of angels and demons, and denied any sort of afterlife.

The Pharisees put an inordinate emphasis on their traditions, something which Christ repeatedly calls them out for. For instance, consider Matthew 15:4-6 – His reply to them after they yet again accuse His disciples, this time of transgressing their tradition:

Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” — then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

As is all too often the case with religious tradition, we see here that the Pharisees’ tradition clearly overrode the explicitly revealed will of God. And this was really the root of their problem. They had created such a stringent framework through which to interpret and obey the law that when He of whom the Law and Prophets spoke stood upon their midst, they didn’t know Him. They had come at the law, trying through it to establish a righteousness of their own, to the point that they totally missed the boat. As Jesus said: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39)

Concluding Thoughts

It’s all too easy to brush this all off, but for the sake of this post series being edifying, I can’t leave this thought off without making some application to our lives. See, we all have traditions of some sort. We do church or do Christianity a certain way, largely because we’ve been taught thus, and it’s all we’ve ever known. Likewise, there are many things (and the more I read the Bible for myself, the more I find this to be the case) that we assume to be truth, that are in reality just bunk. There’s lots of folks out there who say “I don’t follow any tradition; I follow the Bible”, or something along those lines – but even such folks, if you were to prod a bit deeper, most certainly would be found to have some tradition of some sort.

This isn’t to say that all tradition is bad, as if we should ignore the wisdom of so many saints who have gone before us, or immediately change up the way we do church so as not to be legalistic. It is to say, however, that we should trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding – lest we be like the Pharisees, creating such a stringent theological framework for ourselves that it becomes all about perfecting the smallest details, yet missing the point altogether.

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I … well … decide, as I write it, which angle of the matter I will tackle next. (*yawns*) Please feel free to comment, if you have any thoughts to add to this, or if I didn’t make sense somewhere.

Resisting the Light

Christ’s parables are often spoken of as if they were helpful illustrations, given to help the hearers thereof understand the point He was making. Such an idea has even been used to argue for greater use of anecdote in preaching.

Yet Christ Himself, when asked by His disciples as to why He used parables, gave a very different explanation (and one that tends to sound harsh on modern ears):

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:12-17)

From a close reading of the text, one thing is evident: Jesus’ parables were hardly some innocent anecdote, designed to help his hearers understand what they were hearing. According to Jesus, they were intended to bring about a completely opposite effect – obscuring the meaning of what He was saying.

It would seem as if Jesus didn’t even want the people to understand. Why might this be? For insight, let’s turn to the prophet Isaiah, who Jesus quoted here.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

For some context: Isaiah was having a vision of God’s glory. This vision sort of served as his commission, if you will. It was all so intense, so pure, and so holy that surely Isaiah couldn’t help but see who he was in light of God’s holiness – a man of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips. He was no better than any of his countrymen – they were all lost sinners in light of God’s awesome holiness. Yet God chose to set Isaiah apart for His service, in delivering a message of repentance to God’s people.

God’s people, at that time, were (metaphorically) on a train headed for the edge of the cliff. They persistently chose to continue in their idolatry. God had sent prophets to them to warn them of the consequences of disobedience, yet they hardened their hearts to His will. Isaiah’s mission was to deliver the word of God to a people who were unwilling to hear it – a people who would sooner kill him than take a moment’s reflection to consider what he said.

Essentially, the more light you resist, the harder your heart becomes. These people weren’t sinning because they didn’t know God’s will; these people were sinning because they knew God’s will and rejected it. Hence, in preaching repentance to the people of Judah, Isaiah was actually in a sense hardening their hearts.

The same thing was true of the Jews in Jesus’ day:

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

The Jews of Isaiah’s day were under judgment for their rejection of the light God had given them – namely, His law, and His prophets. How much more, then, were the Jews of Christ’s day under judgment for rejecting not merely the light of the Law and the Prophets, but Him who is the Light of the world? Through Isaiah’s mission, many hearts were hardened, and eyes made dull, and ears made deaf. How much more through Christ’s mission?

So then, Christ speaking in parables was in essence, a form of judgment, that the hearts of those who had rejected Christ would remain hardened, and so be judged. It’s a terrifying reality, but there comes a point where one’s rejection of God (whether individually or communally) is so final that God ceases to convict that person. (Which is an entire discussion of its own, but very worth having)

But lest you brush this thought aside as if it only applied to the Jews of Isaiah and Jesus’ day, saying “oh, those disobedient jerks”, consider this: the same is true for us today. The more we live in opposition to God’s will, the more our hearts are hardened.

Hence, the parables have a very important and sobering lesson for us to learn, one which Isaiah puts better than I would:

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Call on the Lord while He is near. He’s promised that if at this moment you truly come to Him, he will have compassion and abundantly pardon. If you haven’t done so, choose this day whom you will serve; make your calling and election sure.

My Way

I am occasionally struck by how theologically accurate secular music can be. For instance, consider Frank Sinatra’s My Way – a song that, in my opinion, perfectly describes the state of unregenerate man. Every soul in hell will be there not because God took perfectly righteous souls and forced them into sin, but because they did it their way. They loved the darkness, rather than the light.

“But wait”, says some imaginary skeptic. “If everyone loves the darkness rather than the light, why do people bother driving lawfully? Howcome are some unbelievers such nice people? Why isn’t the world one big smoldering ruin already?”

Time out.

To properly answer this question, we first need to define what evil is. Many people, including Christians (sadly), tend to gravitate towards a very humanistic definition of evil – a definition whereby evil is viewed as anything that’s destructive to human life. The problem with this is that it’s unscriptural. What makes evil evil is the fact that it’s an affront to God – all that is evil is evil because God says so.

What all the unregenerate have in common is this: they are following the desires of Satan and the flesh, rather than obeying the will of God. If unbelievers see it as most advantageous to them to behave respectably, and have a good work ethic, and be morally upstanding, they can most certainly accomplish that. But it won’t for a moment change the fact that they are living in opposition to God’s will, and hence, by God’s definition, they are evildoers.

Paul, in writing to the Romans, has this to say:

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:6-8)

If your mind is set on the flesh, it doesn’t matter how spiritual you are, or how many good works you do – you cannot please God. In such a state, it’s not in your nature to do so – it’s only in your nature to pursue your own fleshly desires. Sure, you can do a lot of good things; you can through sheer willpower show the world what a moral person you are; you can suppress the more ‘sinful’ habits in your life until you’ve made an art of ‘holy living’ – but God sees through such a veil of hypocrisy, straight into your heart, and he knows every ounce of wickedness that lies therein.

If what I’m saying here describes you as you read this, I urge you to bow the knee to our Lord in repentant faith – and don’t delay; he’s only given you so many heartbeats.