Monday, April 2, 2018

How to Pick a Church

Within your communities, you can choose to attend a church from one of many different denominations. West Virginia, like many parts of the nation, has most types of churches represented throughout the state.  To say the least, the church you attend should be thoroughly Christian, that is, it should preach and teach the only true Gospel of Jesus Christ--that he is God-made-flesh, that he died, was buried, and rose from the grave so that those who believe in him might be saved from their sins and resurrected unto eternal life. Not all churches preach this message, and therefore not all churches are Christian.

How can you know if your church is Christian?  Seek the answers to the following three questions as a starting place:  1) Does your church preach this gospel clearly and regularly?  2) Does it regularly and faithfully preach the rest of the Scriptures within which this Gospel is set?  3) Or, does it preach any other gospel besides this one (i.e., that salvation can be had by any other means than faith alone in this particular Gospel)?

The answers to these three questions should be 1) yes, 2) yes, and 3) no.  If your answers are different then you should find a different church.

But that is not all that you should consider.

More than this, according to Scripture, your church should also have elders (or pastors), should practice church discipline, and should administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.  If it does not, then what you are participating in is not a church, and you should find one that is.

Besides this, your church should provide a community for fellowship and service. Christians are gifted by Christ to serve one another. Your church is the main, divinely-ordained arena in which this is supposed to occur. It should be your primary place of service, and your brothers and sisters in Christ should be the primary recipients of your service. You should attend a church that recognizes and encourages this.

Your church should also be a place of worship.  One of the main reasons it exists is to bring Christians together into one body to worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This worship does not exist to entertain you or to fit your preferences (the kind of music that you like). What you like or don't like (or enjoy or don't enjoy) about a worship service is never the deciding factor in which church you attend.  Worship exists for God and it was ordained by God to be done in community with other people.  If entertaining the audience is more important than the Object of your church's worship, then you should consider finding a different church.

Lastly, your church should be evangelistic, both in your surrounding community and as far out as it can reach through missions.  The people within the church should be in the business of sharing the Gospel, accompanied by sincere prayers that the Spirit would change people's hearts and give them faith.  This is how the Kingdom grows, and it is the primary mission Christ gave his followers before he returned to heaven.  This is the main way that the Church changes the world. 

Don't just attend any church. Pick one that matches up with what God says the church should be.  If you would like to know more of what the Bible says about what a church should be and do, check out my book A Church You Can See.

Thanks for Reading!

Pastor Dennis Bills



Monday, March 5, 2018

Sometimes Paul's Transitions are More Segue than Sage

Paul uses a variety of segues to get where he is going. I want to point out a few specific ones in Romans 8 that I found very interesting.

The first thing I would affirm about Paul’s segues in general is that I believe that Paul always knows where he is going. Secondly, it is not always easy to see at the start how he is going to get where he ends up by means of what we see in the middle. Third, sometimes it is not always clear exactly how one thing relates to the next thing, but time spent thinking through the connections is not usually wasted time. Sometimes that time shows us a deep and profound organization to the whole and important relationships in the parts. Fourth and "however," the connection between the previous thing and the next thing may not always be organized as tightly as we presume it to be. Sometimes the word "for" is not as profound as we think it is.

I bet Paul sometimes just wants to change topics and uses rhetorically-conventional segues that might look more important to modern eyes than they really are. Sometimes they might be little more than a change in subjects. That would explain why occasionally it is really hard to see Paul's reasoning when he connects the last thing with the next thing he talks about. Sometimes, when the connections are not especially tight and obvious and when we have done all the thinking we can about it, Paul might be making a quasi-random jump--loosely connected to the foregoing by means of a word or concept, but ultimately just a convenient means to bring the subject back around to where he wants to go in the end or to something he wants to cover on the way. The language might make us think the dots are more connected than they really are, so we spend much time thinking through the connection, when maybe we should just recognize that Paul is using smooth rhetoric to change subjects. You know, kind of a “Speaking of spectacular dives, how ‘bout them 'Eers, huh?”

Anyway, having said that, I want to point out some transitions through four subjects in Romans 8 that remain well-connected to the overall topic of the chapter (the Spirit), but in which the chain of reasoning from one to the next is not simple to explain. When connected, the dots do not always produce a straight line, even though they definitely draw a picture. In some cases, Paul might more interested in getting to the next topic than about drawing rich connections between the topics.

First though, be aware that Chapters 6-8 are themselves a subtopic of a larger topic in Romans. In chapters 1-7, Paul has effectively argued that justification is always and only by grace through faith; we are most definitely NOT saved by keeping the law. Then in chapters 6-8, he anticipates a potential charge against what he has said--justification by faith might lead to or excuse unrighteousness. Paul argues that this is not true because 1) chapter six tells us that those who are justified have died to sin through Christ; 2) chapter 7 tells us that the law is an essential means by which people come to Christ; and 3) chapter 8 tells us that those who have been justified have the Holy Spirit, who is transforming them into actively righteous people. Paul wants this last chapter to be be all about the “Holy Spirit.” We know this because before this he has only mentioned the Spirit four or so times. In chapter 8 the Spirit suddenly shows up some 20 times.

So within the topic of the Holy Spirit, Paul moves quickly through four subtopics (justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification). He uses what to him must have been smooth, rhetorical transitions to tie them all together under the larger topic of the Spirit. But with each transition the modern interpreter is forced to ask, “How does the aft relate to the fore, and what are the implications of the relationship?” What I am arguing though is that while it is not likely that he is being utterly random in his topic changes, neither is he always being explanatory. Sometimes we just need to accept the subject change, without “over-arcing” the relationship between the subjects.

The technique of Paul's transitions in this chapter is to write a sentence or clause that references the previous topic (the 'fore") while at the same time introducing the next topic, (the "aft"). Something smoother than, but not unlike, “Speaking of this, let’s now talk about that.”

Justification 8:1-4

Verses 1-4 re-introduce the sub-topic of justification which is connected to the larger chapter topic of “Holy Spirit” through the phrase “Law of the Spirit of life.” We usually see Justification as something more related in its mechanics to the work of Christ, but Paul wants us to know that it is not at all unrelated to the work of the Spirit. The phrase also serves as a transition from the previous larger topic of Law to the new larger topic of the work of the Holy Spirit, under which the four topics of this chapter reside.

So, Paul talks about justification in verses 1-3, and then he uses verse 4 to transition to sanctification. He talks about the last thing, and then introduces the next thing:

Romans 8:4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us [justification], who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit [sanctification]. (ESV)

You can see how the exact phrasing of the transition--the “who” phrase--needs some real exegetical focus to understand exactly what Paul is implying about the connection between those who are justified and those who walk according to the Spirit. However, it is possible to overthink it. The interpreter needs to consider whether this transition clause is just as much or more about simply moving to a closely related subject than trying to demonstrate a tightly explainable relationship between the two subjects. The same is true with the next two transitions:

Sanctification 4-13

Paul has transitioned in verse 4 from justification to the Spirit’s role in sanctification--a discussion that, if we do not understand how it is situated among the larger topics of book of Romans, could subtly and scarily lead one back into a kind of works righteousness mentality. We could get lost deep in the trees, so to speak, and lose our place in the forest. He is explaining why justification by faith does not lead to or excuse unrighteousness. But getting lost in the trees here would cause some people to waste time trying to figure out how Paul is not actually saying that the righteous requirement of the law is met only for those who actually meet the righteous requirement of the law (not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit). If you are not getting what I am saying, then that might be a good thing, maybe you understand him easily. Or it might mean that you are spending too much time looking at the forest and not enough time looking at the trees in this chapter. I do not want you to waste time here unnecessarily, but neither do I want you to miss the value of exegetically struggling with the text. The text needs to touch your hip so to speak, and that only happens when you wrestle with it vigorously. In the end, you should still be able to walk, but you should be limping a little. If you don't limp when you read this transition, then I suspect you didn’t wrestle enough.

At the end of the sanctification portion, Paul transitions from sanctification to adoption, once again using his “fore and aft” topic technique:

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God [sanctification] are sons of God [adoption]. (ESV)

We have to understand that being led by the Spirit here is not some mystical, extrabiblical, revelatory connection to the Spirit’s guidance. It is equivalent to four other things in this sanctification section which are just as vaguely expressed: walking in the Spirit, living by the Spirit, setting the mind on the things of the Spirit, and putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. In other words, being “led by the Spirit” is not Keswick deeper life stuff or charismatic mysticism. It is simply sanctification. If you are being sanctified, then you are sons of God. Which is the next topic.

Adoption 14-17

Adoption is mentioned as a function of the larger “Spirit” topic in verses 14-17. Take note that these verses are chock full of covenantal references to the Abrahamic promises and the gentiles--a tie-in to themes in previous and later chapters. We are sons, children, and heirs. Then Paul once again almost abruptly transitions using the fore and aft technique from adoption to glorification:

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ [adoption], provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him [glorification]. (ESV)

Glorification 17ff

Of all four topics/three transitions under discussion, this one is the most abrupt. The inferrable connections between the fore and aft in this one are almost brutal to wade through. The language raises a lot of questions. If you do not see those questions, then you're not staring at it hard enough. Those who preach a really tight connection between the fore and the aft, based upon the grammar underlying the words, are going to have to spend a lot of time explaining how this does not undermine justification by faith alone. I am not saying that the interpreter should ignore the connection: one can preach the difference between the means of salvation and the effect of salvation fairly easily. But sometimes Paul is just simply wanting to move from one topic to another, and does not expect us to do exegetical flip flops in order to maintain our faith-based theology.

These examples of transitions in Romans 8 need to be milked for all their implications. But one of the options when "arcing" transitional relationships should be that Paul is just "smoothly" moving on, in his eyes at least, to the next related subject that he wants to cover. I am not arguing that we should not spend time studying and “arcing” transitions and topics. Obviously everything is related and there is a richness in the relationships. But sometimes exegesis can be too much tree and not enough forest, especially in the transitions. Sometimes we can overthink it in an effort to explain it. Sometimes Paul is just finding important ways to get where he is ultimately going.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Flesh in Romans: How It Relates to Works of the Law and Works of Evil

When interpreting Romans (and Galatians), Paul discusses the flesh in terms of both doing evil and obeying the law, sometimes in the very same paragraphs. This contextual proximity can be confusing and needs to be sorted out. It seems that either the flesh, which we automatically understand to be bad thing, either makes people do really bad things, or it keeps the law from being effective for salvation.  But we don't always intuit that those two things are exactly the same. How can someone who is trying to obey God's law be credited with the same problem as those engaging in the worst possible acts of sin?  Picture for instance two people--a hypocritical pharisee and a back alley murderer.  Obviously they are both bad people in Scriptural terms.  But in what way is the flesh at the root of both their disparate problems?

The Flesh

To clear this up, let's first define the flesh. For the most part, Paul's term refers to the unregenerate state and/or the ways of life that go along with it. As such, it includes 1) a person’s total corruption (meriting God’s wrath), 2) their inescapable slavery to sin, and 3) their merely external righteousness, which is in fact no righteousness at all. When the unregenerate do religion and righteousness, even when it is God’s law, it amounts to little more than a fruitless idolatry that falls far short of true virtue.

When the flesh is used with respect to Christians, Paul is not automatically implying they are unregenerate. He is warning against ways of life that normally go along with the unregenerate state. We can gather that professed Christians who persist in such ways of life should have their regeneration called into question.  Hence, "if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" ( Romans 8:13 ESV).

The Flesh and the Works of the Law vs. The Flesh and Works of Evil. 

The flesh is discussed in terms of its relationship to horrendous works of evil and also to efforts to obey the the law. It is responsible for both hostility to God that keeps people from obeying the law (Romans 8:7-8)--the back alley murderer--and for the disobedience of those who apparently "serve the law of God with my mind" (Romans 7:25)--the hypocritical pharisee. We know that the reason people like the pharisee cannot obey the law is because they are unregenerate, but why are these discussed in the same breath as those the flesh has led to commit acts of murder and hatred?  It's clear enough that works of the law cannot save because of the flesh, but how does it appear that the same flesh necessarily results in horrendous works of evil? I mean, it is one thing to be a murderer, but it is quite another to be miserable failure.  Yet both are credited to the flesh almost as if they were so of a kind that they should not be qualitatively separated. 

The Flesh and Works of Evil

With regard to works of evil, the flesh sets its mind on the things of the flesh (Romans 8:5-8). These things are spelled out early in Romans and in convenient detail in Galatians (see 5:16-25): “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  All this evil is due the unregenerate state of the corrupt and enslaved human soul.

The Flesh and Works of the Law

On the other hand, the flesh also impacts the unregenerate relationship to God’s law. With regard to righteousness (God’s law), the flesh can only serve in the old way of the written code and not in the new way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). What is this "old way of the written code?"

The old way of the written code is "unregenerate law keeping," or in other words, loveless lawfulness, or perhaps even lawful lovelessness. The law is a form of righteousness that is by its nature (and theirs) external to the unregenerate. It serves to demonstrate the corruption of the unregenerate heart. On the other hand,  the regenerate have been born again with a heart of love. This love is both the measure of and the motivation for true righteousness. Since the heart of the law is love, the law cannot be obeyed without love in the human heart. Only the Spirit can pour this love into the human heart (Romans 5:5).  Only the Spirit can change corruption into lawful love and love-filled law. Only the Spirit can produce obedience according to "the new way of the Spirit."

Therefore, the old way of the written code is any effort to obey God’s law from an unregenerate heart--a heart utterly incapable of true virtue. Such loveless lawfulness inevitably produces mutations of sanctimony and monsters of hypocrisy--miscreations that exemplify and disseminate both the pride and misery of the flesh

How the Two Tie Together

The flesh may try to accomplish righteousness--it may have a “zeal for God”--but it will never succeed. To whatever extent it is lawful, it will always and only be loveless. The unregenerate appearance of lawfulness will always be interrupted by instances of evil. Contrariwise, patterns of evil will be frequently punctuated by instances of apparent lawfulness. The flesh insures that all unregenerate righteousness is tainted by evil, and it covers over evil with the appearance of unregenerate righteousness.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

All Five Points of Calvinism in Romans 8


This past Sunday, I preached a sermon that I called “All Five Points of Calvinism in Romans 8." It was a meta or excursus sermon plopped down in the midst of our exegetical series on the book of Romans. Sermons like these help people see the forest because we spend so much time looking at the trees. I believe they are necessary to both give breaks in extended series and to focus minds on the big pictures of Scripture. Before I show you these five points from Romans 8, here are some introductory points I presented to the congregation:
  • The Five Points are not at all the totality of Calvinism. They originated through the Synod of Dordt as a response to the Arminians’ Five Articles of Remonstrance. 
  • The word “Calvinism” is a shorthand label for key theological affirmations. It does not refer to the cults of personality found in 1 Corinthians 1. It quickly distinguishes between good and poor Scripture interpretations and doctrinal affirmations. Calvinism includes all that is implied by the unflinching affirmation of God’s absolute sovereignty. 
  • Other words are tightly knitted to the word Calvinism:  Reformed Theology, Doctrines of Grace, Covenant Theology, Presbyterianism, Reformed Baptist, et al.
  • The five points necessarily go together; none can be dropped for two reasons:
    • Scripture teaches them.
    • They are logically interdependent (related by good and necessary consequence).
  • We use the acronym TULIP to aid memorization, but the words each letter stands for in that acronym are not always best or preferred. Each needs further explanation, and sometimes alternative terms are better for clarity’s sake. 
  • While all five points of Calvinism can be found in Romans 8, the chapter does not contain all the Scriptural evidence that could be presented in support of the doctrines. 
Total Depravity

Romans 8:7-9 teaches that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God. They do not submit to God’s Law. They cannot please God. They do not have the Spirit, and therefore, do not belong to Christ. This picks up themes on depravity that Paul has taught over and again beginning in the first chapter.

Unconditional election

Romans 8:28-30 speaks of those who are called according to his purpose. They were foreknown, which means that God knew beforehand exactly whom he wanted to predestine. His foreknowledge is the blueprint of his mind and it is coextensive with his purpose. Those he foreknew he predestined to be called-and-justified in this life and glorified in the next.

Romans 9:10-11 explains the reason for the unconditionality of election (i.e. God’s choices were not conditioned upon his observing anything meritorious about the people he chose--contra those who believe God's foreknowledge was his looking ahead and choosing those he saw would choose him). The purpose was to magnify the grace and mercy of God--not because of works but because of him who calls.  Any conditionality undermines this purpose.

Limited or Definite Atonement/Particular Redemption.

Romans 8:28-34 explains that Christ was given over for us all (32) and explicitly describes both the atonement and its scope of application. Us all cannot mean all people. All is always delimited in some way. Here it is delimited by the identity of us in the phrase us all. Who is us?

In verse 28-34, the us is identified as all who love God (as opposed to those mentioned earlier who are hostile to God); those for whose good God works all things (28); those he has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (29-30); those whom God is for (31); those whom God graciously gives all things that pertain to salvation (32); the ones who are protected from any charge because they have been justified by God (33); those for whom Christ died and was raised (34); those for whom Christ intercedes (34).

Christ was not given over for anyone other than the us all who are unambiguously identified in the passage.

Irresistible Grace/Effectual Grace

Romans 8:29-30 speaks of the inexorability of the glorification that began before creation with the eternal, divine blueprint. The calling that leads to glorification is necessarily effectual because it is grounded in the eternal decree of God. No one can prevent what God has determined to accomplish.

We are not merely enabled to love God by the Spirit--so that now we can freely choose to or not to love God. Instead, we are made to love God--a gift far past mere ability. This grace produces actuality, not mere potentiality. It pours out actual love for Christ into the heart by the power of the Spirit (Romans 5:5). Romans 8 says that anyone who does not have this work of the Spirit, does not belong to Christ. Because of this work of the Spirit, Christians now walk with, live by, and are led by the Spirit.

Perseverance of the Saints

Romans 8:31-39 makes clear that our perseverance in the faith is guaranteed by God’s preserving grace. We persevere because we are preserved. We are preserved because nothing about our salvation depends upon ourselves. He elected us before the foundation of the world. The end of that election is our glorification through the divine chain of calling and justification. God will finish what he alone started because he is both the author and the finisher of our faith.

Applications:

  1. Far from producing arrogance, this theology--these doctrines of grace--should produce profound humility. Those who believe and teach these doctrines with an air of arrogance are misapprehending their entire point: The purpose of election is so that salvation is not by works, but by him who calls. 
  2. In these doctrines of grace, more than through any other means, we locate our assurance of salvation. We can be assured of our salvation because we do not contribute to our salvation in any point along the way. He will be the finisher of our faith because he was the author of our faith. Because of what he has revealed in these doctrines of grace, we can have assurance that God will keep us through this life until glory, and that nothing can ever pull us out of his hand.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Big Unbaptized Bully (Bub) Strikes Again, and Misses

My son’s friendly nemesis at school--Bub--has continued to try to destroy my son’s faith in Christ. Lately he presented the following chart: 

Bub has presented a very real dilemma for Christians, a variation on the problem of evil. It deserves a response, and so does my son.

It Didn't Work


The first thing to note about Bub’s chart is this: it does not actually disprove the existence of God. It is not clear to me whether Bub realizes this. Nowhere in the chart does Bub zap God out of existence. He only asks a couple of “why” questions. Christians have asked these same questions (and many more) for centuries without presuming God does not exist. They have spilled much ink on the topic: hundreds of thousands of books, articles, and treatises, written by thousands upon thousands of faithful theologians, over the course of two millennia. However, Bub is apparently satisfied with what he has come up with--probably stolen from the Interwebs--which would be embarrassing if he only knew a little more, because . . .

It's Unimaginative


Secondly, Bub appears to be very limited in his imagination. He cannot imagine answers to his “why” questions that he would like, and his imaginings are very wan. He has thrown out a couple of glib answers, but seems unaware they have not disproved God and are not the least bit exhaustive. Even Christians have been more imaginative, and they are on God’s side! Christians have never shied away from working through the hard things about their religion. They have applied themselves to problems much harder than what Bub has come up with. So he is neither well-read nor imaginative. But that is not his chief problem.

He Simply Doesn't Like God


Thirdly, Bub’s chart reveals that he cannot imagine a God he would like, and what’s more, he has settled into his dogma so easily, after so little effort. No option he has imagined is one he likes. 

Now, it is unfair to expect a high school student to know very much about such massively complex philosophical and theological topics. So I would suggest that how much he knows is not really his chief problem. Were he to spend more time thinking about it, or to read the thoughts of others on the topic, he still would never encounter an answer that he would like. Thus he reveals his chief problem is his predisposition, the state of his mind and heart before he even poses the questions. He’s not really out for answers, as though he might encounter one to which he would take a liking. He is predisposed to not like any answer because he is incapable of imagining a God who could give an answer that he would like. Which means that Bub would not like The-God-Who-Is, even if he were willing to listen to an answer from him.  

None of this is surprising to thoughtful and well-read Christians by the way, because of what Scripture teaches about mankind’s disposition toward God apart from his disposition-changing grace. 

Who Does He Think He Is?


Lastly, we should note that even though he has demonstrated himself to be only meagerly qualified, Bub has effectively set himself up as the judge of the One-Who-Is.  An unwitting god-of-gods.

Bub has not at all disproved that God exists. He has not yet heard or even imagined what the Creator’s answer might be. And yet he has unknowingly stood before the Lord of the Universe and declared him to be out of line and thus not worthy of being God.

Bub has no clue what a desperate situation he is in.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

An Apologetic Case Study: Big Unbaptized Bullies in High School

My son has recently been experiencing some anti-religious pushback from an atheist friend in high school. I occasionally remind him how little high schoolers know, which applies to both his atheist friend and to himself, and which might not seem to be an encouraging thing to say to one's high school son. But what it means is that my son should not expect to be able to fully and quickly answer his atheist friend’s jabs. AND he should not trust that his atheist friend’s jabs have any merit. It is highly unlikely that a high school atheist has stumbled upon--in his great wit and wisdom--a religious dilemma that has not been exhaustively explored and answered by thousands upon thousands of Christian scholars, theologians, and philosophers over the course of centuries. High schoolers tend to have confidence levels disproportionate to their actual knowledge. So I mean that to be a real encouragement. By the way, this disproportionate confidence remains true for many people as they move out of high school as well. Few really know the best arguments against Christianity and many often settle for the weak ones. This seems to happen when people do not know any better and are a little too full of themselves.

So anyway, his friend came at him one day with the argument that various aspects of Noah’s flood were unbelievable. Somehow, his friend then concluded that God was a ridiculous idea. Now, admittedly, this argument does not stress the limits of atheistic intelligence, so answering it will not be a be-all-end-all against atheism. However, since it was put forth, I thought I would share a response with my son. And since high schoolers themselves can rarely stress the limits of anything that requires knowledge and experience, it might at least shut this particular atheist up, at least until he moves on to his next brilliant scheme. Which is what he will do (II Cor. 2:14).  Forgive my condescending tone. Sometimes it is really hard to know which way to answer a fool (Proverbs 26:4-5).

The Big Unbaptized Bully (or Bub for short) appears to have made the following argument:
If the Scriptures are unbelievable, there is no God (P⊃Q).
For Bub’s argument to be logically sound, it must meet the standards of both truth and validity:
P⊃Q
P
∴ Q
His modus ponens is valid by definition (P∴Q), but Bub must also demonstrate that his protasis (P) is true: “The Scriptures are unbelievable.” Immediately, he should recognize the difficulty of this. I say “he should,” but you never know--high school. Bub might believe that he can verify this statement scientifically, perhaps by pointing out all the lunacies in the Bible that are utterly out of accord with the way Bub believes things work in this world. But Bub is utterly ill-equipped to demonstrate this scientifically, theologically, and philosophically. He probably even thinks that science itself is capable of demonstrating this to “any reasonable person,” which illustrates how far from competent he really is. Additionally, his statement is scientifically falsifiable simply by presenting as evidence only one person who believes the Bible. Thankfully, throughout history, we have record of hundreds of millions of believers-in-the-Bible. Therefore it is patently false that the Scriptures are unbelievable. Therefore, Bub’s argument is unsound on the face of it. He cannot assert that there is no God simply because he himself finds Scriptures’ account of Noah and the flood unbelievable.

I suspect, though, that Bub has actually misunderstood his own thoughts. What he has understood by his own argument is that “There is no God; therefore the Scriptures are unbelievable.” This, of course, is precisely that which he intends to prove, so that by presenting the argument the other way, he engaged in a very narrow circle of reasoning (petitio principii). He has assumed and asserted precisely that which he intends to prove. In other words, he has proved nothing; he has simply made a bald assertion. I suspect he has no idea how often he does this in his arguments. What’s more, in turning his own argument on its head, he has simultaneously fallen prey to asserting the consequent (Q∴P), a fundamentally invalid form of argument.

It is now our turn in the argument: Using his formulation, we can admit upfront that we cannot come along and deny his antecedent, as though it were now automatically true that “If the Scriptures are believable, then there is a God (~P∴~Q).” This would be a fallacy on the part of the Christian. And we should be thankful that believing something does not make it true, because if it did, this world would be far more of a nightmare than many already believe it to be. I mean, some people actually believe there is no God, to say little of all the other crazy belief systems in the world today.

I am grateful that faith does not create reality. No. Always, our responsibility is to bring our faith in line with God’s reality. Otherwise, we are just left to make stuff up. Ever met someone who just makes stuff up and then totally believes it to be true? We tend to call that mental illness. So, to believe truth, we must always go to one who knows the truth and bring our faith in line with what he says is true. This is the only way to avoid making stuff up. This is the only way to avoid the craziness.

So we cannot deny Bub’s antecedent. However, using Bub‘s own formulation, we can turn back around upon him a simple, valid, logical assertion by means of modus tollens (~Q∴~P): If there is a God, then the Scriptures are believable. In fact, we can say that if Genesis 1:1 is true, then nothing else in Scripture is unbelievable. This means that, by Bub’s own unwitting admission, if God exists, then there is nothing about Noah’s story that cannot be believed. Bub might want to be a little more careful with his logic. It might not be working as much in his favor as he thinks it is.

Scripture’s nativity story records another way of saying all this, by the way. In the Gospel of Luke, an angel told the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God. This of course was unbelievable to Mary. In fact, it is one of the most unbelievable parts of Scripture. She replied: How can this be, given that I have never “known” a man?

The angel replied, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

P.S.  I know, I know. You saw a circular argument in this post, didn't you? Good-on-ya-mate! Thought you would bring that stick out and beat me with it, did you?  Always important to be able to recognize that stuff. I will hold you to that skill. Let's talk about it sometime.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Two Illustrations for our Changing Relationship to the Law

God is righteous, and the Law is that righteousness put into words. However, there is no way for words to fully capture God's righteousness.  This written code was good and righteous and holy as far as it goes, but it only went so far. The encodification of God's righteous character was necessary in order to communicate to humans what they were to be and do as the image of God.  But unlike God, humans were not righteous. Therefore, the Law and the righteousness it described remained external to them, an impossible standard handicapped by humanity's slavery to sin.

Imagine--if humans were made righteous as God is righteous, they would no longer need the Law, would they?  The Law would be an encodification of their character as it is an encodification of God's character (or at least some of his communicable attributes).  Humans who were transformed in this way would relate to the Law differently from those who were not transformed.

Two illustrations of this new relationship to the Law are the 1) Adolescence and 2) Glorification illustrations.

Adolescence Illustration


1 Corinthians 13:8–12
[8] Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. [9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ESV)
 Scripture aptly provides this illustration in plain terms.  When children grow up, they no longer need what they once did. Consider that you hovered over your child for the first decade of his or her life, dictating rules of all sorts for your child to follow.  Some of these rules were simply wisdom and training in the best ways of life. Others regarded matters of life and death. Still others were moral rules about what was right and wrong.  At some point, you will no longer be there to enforce those rules.  At some point, you will hope that the child will do what is best, what is safe, and what is right all on his or her own with no one telling them what to do.  You hope that the rules have made their way from you, an external authority, into who they are as human beings. If they have, then your children--all grown up now--no longer need the rules in the same way they did when they were children.  They set their own alarms and get up when it rings, dress themselves, work eight hour days, act ethically, treat others with dignity and respect.  Ideally they have matured into adulthood, and they no longer need you over  their shoulders constantly telling them what to do.

The Glorification Illustration


Jeremiah 31:31–34
[31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (ESV)

Someday the Law will be written on our hearts in a way that makes the Law-written-in-stone irrelevant to us. Just as God-in-the-Camp became God within our hearts, the Law will become completely who we are.  Imagine the day when we are completely glorified, restored to our resurrected bodies, living in the New Heavens and Earth.  In that day, everyone will be what the Law describes, and they will no longer need the description.  They will not be taught about God or his Law. They will already know God, and his Law will be built into who they are as human beings.

Do you think the saints in heaven need the Law hanging over their heads to be righteous? Doesn't Scripture present a picture of glorified saints who have been fully sanctified?  Not only declared righteous, but made righteous?  Their relationship to the Law has been changed.  The Law no longer describes a righteousness that exists outside of them.  They are that righteousness.  The Law on the outside has become, fully and completely, love in the inside.  The Law remains holy, and righteous, and good. But honestly, at that glorified point, who needs it?!

So when God regenerates people, he changes their relationship to his Law. No longer does his righteousness exist as an impossible standard external to them. No longer is their ability to meet that standard handicapped by slavery to sin. Now they have been set free, transformed, made new. Law has been moved from its position external to them to a position within them. On the inside, it takes the form of love, and love begins to be the both the measure of and motivation for their righteousness.  Eventually, the external letter of the Law will be moot, completely replaced by an inerrant and immutable law of love on the inside.

But this change is not now complete.  We are still in a transitional stage, still "in the body" in some sense, and will be until our glorification. Original sin has been dealt a death blow; but we still struggle with remaining sin.  We are completely justified--declared righteous--which holds our place in the love of God, kind of like a down payment of what is to come. But we are not yet fully sanctified.  We are not yet what we will one day be.

Nevertheless, our hearts are being changed, and the more they are changed, the more our relationship to the Law changes.   We are to serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6).  Legalism is what happens when we regress to the old way of the written code, even while we are supposed to be moving forward to to the new way of the Spirit.  Check out this previous post for some questions to help you determine which way you are going.