A Sinner’s Psalm

The Psalms are a fascinating compilation of Hebrew poetry. The rhythmic and emphatic language soars in joy-filled air and plunges into sloughs of affliction and misery. While Hebrew poetry is not marked by sounds of rhyme, it does have many distinguishing features. Parallelism (using different phrases to say similar things or contrasting things), structure (moving from line to line in a pattern), and posture (distinctly celebrating, lamenting, or requesting something) are some of the features of Hebrew poetry.

Once you understand the movement and methods of Hebrew poetry, it can be a stimulating exercise to formulate your own heartfelt prayer with similar features. The Psalms are uniquely God’s authoritative Word (just as all of holy Scripture), but the Psalms are given as exemplary prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication. Therefore, it seems warranted that the Christian disciple should follow these examples.

Here is a psalm-like prayer I wrote some time ago:

Oh God, my Redeemer and Comforter,

My fear and insecurity confuse my awareness of Your presence.

Here I am, alone and anxious in the confines of my mind.

I feel around in the dark, but my hands do not touch You.

Where is Your kind countenance in the fog of my despair?

Am I not helpless when my thoughts possess me so?

Oh God, have You forgotten me? Have I become too much a burden to You?

I am tossed to and fro by waves of my own miserable invention.

These panic inducing torrents are the concoction of my own sinful suspicions.

I despondently seek safety among the wind and waves.

What an abandoned wretch am I!


I know the place of hope and light, yet I seek it not.

I hear the chant of Sirens, and long for their embrace.

I prize esteem from others, and cannot bare the loss of it.

When some prestigious adage is presented, I want it too.

Is there anyone else who cannot resist these?

Am I the only one who loves You and loves sin as much?

I scarcely meet a soul who admits such a rivalry within.

My own soul looks for refuge where it cannot be found.

What a tormented degenerate am I!


Who will deliver me from this ocean of bondage?

How can I be free from my stormy sea of self-inflicted anguish?

Will You wait forever and only listen to my helpless sobs?

May it never be! I know these thoughts to be foolish!

Oh, my soul, God is my Rock and my Redeemer!

The Lord is the saving God and the refuge of the weary!

In Him I will find all the security and affirmation I was created to know!

Oh God, my Redeemer and Comforter,

You are near indeed, and my soul rejoices at Your warm gaze.

Behold love and grace, joy and peace; in You only are they found.

What a beloved child am I!


I know I am loved and accepted for Another’s sake!

I am upheld and raised to heights unknown to worldly men.

God is my safety; He is my ever-present help in time of need.

The Lord has kept all His promises and none will ever fail.

Oh, my soul!  Bless the Lord of your salvation!

Do not think of the surges about you, but love the Rock of Ages!

So many swells are only His beckoning call to find your mooring in Him.

Behold, God is; He is good; and He loves me!

What a gracious and merciful Father have I!

3 Attributes of A Real Man

Since I can remember, I have looked up to men who I perceived to embody the kind of attributes I admire. Even before I was a Christian, seemingly without effort, I gravitated towards those men who served as a real-life example of true masculinity. In our contemporary American culture of androgynous humanity, it seems all the more important to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.

The term itself, “manhood,” is already controversial in American culture, but I will venture even further into controversy by adding the qualifying term “biblical” to it. I am not interested in social norms or ever-changing psychological categories of gender identity (at least not in the sense of allowing them to define what manhood ought to be). I am interested in manhood as it is defined by the One who made man (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, I am interested in “biblical manhood.”

As I consider the relatively few truly godly men I have met over the course of my lifetime, I pondered some similarities between them. There is much more that could be said in regards to their similar characteristics and patterns, but I will narrow my focus to three attributes. These are three attributes of real men (i.e. biblical manhood).

First, godly men exhibit hunger and humility concerning God’s Word. Each of the men I admire as truly godly men have a voracious appetite for God’s Word. They have a very high view of Scripture, embracing the doctrine of inerrancy and the Reformation battle cry “sola Scriptura.” Even those who may not know the terms or phrases affirm the truths which these represent. In addition, these godly men have a great personal dependence upon the Bible. They are humbly hanging on God’s every word because they truly believe that God has spoken.

Second, godly men have an honest discontent with sin and desire for personal holiness. These men have a real sense of their personal sinful corruption, yet they are not content to abide with things as they are. While they are quick to acknowledge their failures and their proclivity for them, they are also not satisfied with the status quo. They war against personal sin, and they are quick to bear with others in their fight to do the same. They trust God’s promise to forgive and His promise to renew.

Third, godly men have a captivating love for and gratitude towards Christ. These men might be best described as keenly Gospel-focused in all things. Their understanding of the Gospel is ever-growing and their ability to filter all of life through the lenses of the Gospel is also ever-expanding. Christ is truly Savior, Redeemer, Master, Friend, and Lord. The affections of godly men are stirred by the reality that Christ has actually done something, Christ is actually doing something now, and Christ will actually do something in the future.

It is important for me to note, these attributes are not necessarily particular to “manhood” in themselves. A godly woman may exhibit these same attributes. However, a real man will distinguish himself (both from other men and from women) by his exemplary leadership in these areas. In other words, a godly man will lead himself, his home, his church family, and his extended community by exhibiting these attributes. The real man will provide a living example and make an influential impact on others.

May God raise up a multitude of real, godly men. May God create in our hearts the desire and the commitment to live to His glory. And, may God help us to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.

Regret & False Repentance

Every honest person must admit to experiencing regret. Maybe you bought a car, a pet, or a meal that you regretted purchasing soon after. Maybe you said something you immediately wished could be taken back, or maybe you did something that caused you to fantasize about Superman’s ability to rewind time. Probably on more than one occasion, you have experienced regret.

Regret is common to the human experience after Genesis 3, but repentance is not. Regret is universal, but repentance is a special gift of God only to those who truly trust Him as Savior and Master (Acts 11:18). Jesus included “repentance” with “belief in the Gospel” when He urged His message of saving grace (Mk. 1:15). Jesus said that “repentance” should be proclaimed in His name to all people (Lk. 24:47). The first Gospel presentations we see in the book of Acts each include the call to “repent” (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, and 8:22). The Apostle Paul said that God commands “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Since Repentance is a key aspect of right relationship to God and genuine trust in Christ, it is exceptionally important that we assess ourselves to discover if what we are experiencing is actually true repentance. Repentance is different from Regret in several ways, but the following distinctions may be helpful for understanding the differences better.

Here are five marks or signs of regret that falls short of true repentance:

1) Denial of Responsibility

I didn’t do it!” or “She made me do it!” Both of these are examples of denial. Anyone who looks for others to blame or tries to make others join in the blame is still not fully admitting to their responsibility in the violation. Adam’s blame of Eve and Eve’s blame of the serpent is a great example of this feature of temporary regret without true repentance (Gen. 3:12-13).

2) Concern for Punishment, but not for Violation/Sin

When a person is caught in a violation, and their punishment becomes the focus of greatest interest to them, it might be evidence of false repentance. When Cain had just murdered his brother (Abel), the only worry he ever mentioned to God was care for his own life and peace (Gen. 4:13).

3) Self-centered Perspective

This is demonstrated by #2, but it may also manifest itself in numerous other ways. If a person emphasizes their own needs, wants, and desires to such a degree that it detracts from the heinousness of their violation or minimizes their punishment, then this is evidence of a self-centered perspective and false repentance. David’s initial actions concerning his sinful relationship with Bathsheba is an example of a treacherous self-centered perspective (2 Sam. 11).

4) Disinterest in Avoiding Future Violations/Sins

It is usually fairly easy to get someone to admit that what they are doing is wrong or displeasing to God, but it is quite another thing to see a person change course because of the fact. If a person admits he or she is in error, this is only part of it. True repentance will include a desire and a plan to avoid future or continued error. The “rich, young ruler” who “went away sorrowful” from Jesus had no intentions of avoiding the sins of greed, pride, and idolatry (Matt. 19:22).

5) Vow of Avoidance is Superficial

On some occasions, it is possible that a person may promise some retribution or future avoidance. However, this can be only superficial, and disingenuous. False repentance will be demonstrated when the person promises, “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll give it back, and everything will be fine...” Neither of these takes into account the underlying motivation for the violation or the real future struggle that lies ahead for anyone who hopes to avoid satisfying sinful desires.

True repentance, then, will simply be demonstrated by the opposite of these five above. The truly repentant person will be willing to take full responsibility for their thoughts, words, and deeds. Genuinely contrition will be evidenced by a deep sorrow for what was said and/or done, and the sting upon others will be of greater care than the sting of punishment. Real penitence will focus less upon self, except in the area of honest confession. There will be a heartfelt desire to avoid sin and a humble approach to actually changing course in order to avoid sin.


How do you measure up? Do you generally see a pattern of mere regret and false repentance in your life? If so, here are three things you should do right now.

1) Pray. Confess your sinful pattern to God, and ask Him to give you true repentance and a broken heart over your sin.

2) Plan. Think about how you may cultivate godliness in your own heart and mind, and make a plan to do it.

3) Partner. Join with other Christians in a Gospel-centered local church family, and go to war against personal sin together.

If you are in East Texas, I recommend FBC Diana 🙂  www.fbcdiana.org

Justification: Not Only for Theologians

How are rebellious, disobedient humans able to avoid the wrath of the God they have so consistently defied throughout their lives? Now that is a good question! Throughout history, Christians have phrased the question like this: How is a sinner justified before God? Justification is a theological and biblical word, but it is also very practical and universal in its applications.

Justification is the doctrine upon which every Christian relies. It is the only way that sinners may live in the presence of the holy God; they must be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and free from the stain of sin. Quoting the Westminster Confession, Hodge relays the doctrine of justification as follows:

“The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.”[1]

Justification is at the core of describing how God’s plan of redemption is effective for the salvation sinners. The word itself conjures up legal connotations, such as crime, law, judge, penalty and judicial declaration. There are numerous works, including the several used as resources in this article, which beautifully and profoundly extract the keenest observations from the biblical doctrine of Justification. The purpose of this work is to concisely communicate the wonderful work of Christ, both positive and negative, in justifying sinners by providing righteousness, expiation, and propitiation.

The Apostle Paul expressively speaks of the Gospel in Romans 3:21-26 when he says,

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This phrase is a commonly memorized verse for anyone who has attempted to learn the Romans Road in order to evangelize. The purpose of reciting this text is to point out the reality of universal guilt. Every human sins. The implication is that sin is not only a horizontal offense, but vertical too. Human sin is against self, others and the Creator who made and governs humanity. Those who sin are guilty before God and under the penalty of sin, namely death.

Elsewhere in the same portion of Scripture, the stark pronouncement is declared, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death here refers, not only in the physical sense of human mortality, but also to the idea that God will distribute His ultimate judgment of wrath on all who have rebelled in sin against His righteousness. God has established the law, all humans have disobeyed it and the perfectly just Judge is obligated to deliver justice. This bleak situation is the common bond of all people. Sin yields death and judgment, everyone has sinned, and God’s righteousness demands that all sinners endure the due penalty.

In an essay on justification, the purpose of preliminarily establishing the sinner’s guilt and God’s immanent wrath is two-fold. First, the gospel is good news because of the converse situation in which the unregenerate person presently finds him or herself. Hodge explains that justification rests “on the principle that God is immutably just, i. e;, that his moral excellence, in the case of sin, demands punishment.”[2]

Secondly, the redeeming work of Christ is a wonder without comparison because of the overwhelming holiness and justice of God.  Sinners may not realize and some may even choose not to acknowledge that they are hanging over a perilous pit of destruction.  God’s holy justice and consuming wrath is pointed at them every moment and God holds it back each second for reasons only known to Him. Dr. Sproul notes, “The Greek word Paul uses for ‘wrath’ is orgai. [Ro 3:18] The English word that derives from orgai is orgy… God’s anger is one of passion with paroxysms of rage and fury.”[3]

God’s wrath toward sinners is no jovial or moderate thing. The gratitude felt by any sinner’s escape of such fury is beyond expression.

What reason would any sinner have for embracing a hopeful attitude, believing some escape may be found? The message of good news concerning the person and work of Christ appears all the more stunning in front of this abominable backdrop. We who believe (i.e. trust in Christ) are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation” (Ro 6:24-25a).  Jesus has given Himself as the sacrifice for sinners and suffered on behalf of all those who would trust in Him.

The suffering life and excruciating death of Jesus Christ would be note worthy if only for the sake of uniqueness, especially in light of His deity. However, the biblical description of purpose behind such a work is that of representation.  Jesus is the representative of sinners before the bar of God’s judgment.  He is the one who absorbs the full wrath of God, which all sinners deserve.

Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is the work of expiation and propitiation. Expiation, according to Sproul, carries the idea that Christ “removes our sin from us and takes it away.” So then one aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that He removes the sin of sinners; He makes sinners clean. Sproul describes expiation is a horizontal work, washing human sinners, and propitiation is a vertical work, “satisfying the justice of God for us.”[4] God’s justice demands that sinners endure the due penalty for sin, namely His unbridled wrath. God is no just judge if He merely pardons the sinner and withholds punishment. Justice must be delivered, because God is the one and only perfect Judge.

Therefore, the work of Christ includes enduring the wrath of God as a representative for sinners. Grudem explains that Christ’s passive obedience can be observed in several ways.[5] Jesus’ obedience was not passive in that He was inactive or unengaged during such a time, but passive in the sense that He was obedient to endure suffering that was inflicted upon Him. Christ’s suffering included the human suffering of mortal life, the physical pain of death by crucifixion, the psychological pain of bearing the sin of all those who would be recipients of His atoning work, the emotional pain of being abandoned by His friends, the unknown pain of mysterious abandonment by His Father, and finally the unimaginable pain of bearing the full wrath of God. Jesus was obedient in a life and death of suffering like no other human has ever or will ever endure.

This is one-half of the work, which Christ has accomplished, that elicits the expression that Paul makes of God, “He [is] just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Ro 3:26). This aspect of Jesus’ redeeming work on behalf of sinners may be considered the negative aspect. Negative, not because it is bad, quite the contrary; His work is incredibly good as He subtracts sin (expiation) from the sinner and places it on His own shoulders in order to bear the punishment thereof (propitiation).

The negative aspect of Christ’s work on behalf of sinners (the subtraction of sin from the sinner and the atonement of such before God) is astonishing even if unaccompanied, yet it alone does not fulfill the necessary conditions of God’s requirements imposed on corrupt humanity. One must be righteous in order to receive approval from the holy King of the universe and to enjoy restful communion with Him. Expiation and propitiation are tantamount to the taking away of the sinner’s debasement, but without a life of perfect obedience the sinner is still not righteous or worthy of the approval of the King.

As established above, in the passage cited, all humanity has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of perfection. The completed work of Christ is both the subtraction of sinful debauchery and the filthy stain of its vestige, as well as the addition of the perfect righteousness achieved in the life of obedience that Jesus lived as the incarnate God-man. Dr. Sproul comments, “Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but also had to live for our righteousness. If Jesus had only died for our sins, His sacrifice would have removed all of our guilt, but that would have left us merely sinless in the sight of God, not righteous.”[6] Calvin explains, “from the moment when [Jesus] assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.”[7] Jesus was not only the representative of sinners in His sacrificial death; He was also their delegate in His impeccable life.

The Apostle Paul, elsewhere in the book of Romans, explains that Christ was the second “Adam” (Rom 5). The first Adam, Paul says, disobeyed as the representative of humanity and God’s declaration of guilt on the entire human race was the result. However, Christ is the second Adam who lives an obedient life before God and as a result the “many” are “made righteous” in the sight of God. It only takes a light consideration of the contrast here to begin to marvel at the incredible distinction between the two “Adams.” The first Adam was directly created by God and placed in a marvelous garden, which he was to enjoy along with his naked wife (Gen 1, 2). The ground and plant life thereon produced vegetation for food effortlessly. For some amount of time, there was absolutely no sin and Adam had immanent communion with God. On top of all this, there was only one rule to follow and even that was a negative rule rather than a positive one, Do not rather than You must Do. Avoiding this one error meant blessed, sinless communion with God in perfect contentment forever.

However, Jesus, the second Adam, had much different circumstances.  In fact, the pinnacle of Christ’s obedient life was His time of fasting in the desert (Matt 4). Jesus had been fasting for forty days and was now in solitude in the desert when He experienced His temptation from the devil. This was no lush garden and He had no full belly. Jesus was seemingly all alone. Incredibly, His response was obedience rather than rebellion, even in obviously desolate conditions. The second Adam was a human representative, like the first, but His representation was one of perfect righteousness. Sinners, then, may rely on Jesus’ righteous obedience, as they understand their own lack thereof.

Salvation is wholly a work of the Lord. God supplies all we need and satisfies all of His demands in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God declares sinners righteous and provides the means by which He may declare them so. During the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther’s day, the defining call was the phrase “Justification by faith alone,” sola fide.

Sproul says this phrase is “merely shorthand for ‘justification by the righteousness of Christ alone.’ His merit, and only his merit, is sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. It is precisely this merit that is given to us by faith. Christ is our righteousness. God clothes his filthy creatures with the coat of Christ’s righteousness.”[8]

This imagery of clothing is helpful for a more accurate understanding of the concept.  The sullied sinner who receives the blessed joy of eternal reward in the presence of God almighty does so, not based upon his or her renewed fervor to live well, but because he or she has been covered by the foreign righteousness of Another. Christ’s righteousness is alien to the sinner, but imputed (assigned or accredited) to him or her by God because of the work of Christ.

Every sinner who has been regenerated (born again, John 3:3) by the Holy Spirit rests all his or her confidence in escaping God’s judgment on the completed work of Christ. Unlike most other religions and philosophies, Christianity is a worldview based on the inability of humanity to fix anything and a total reliance on God to reconcile whom He will to Himself. God demonstrates His own graciousness in granting sinners the gift of redemption, which can only be found in Christ Jesus. It is not hard to notice the legal notions in J. I. Packer’s comments on the matter when he says,

“Whenever God fulfills his covenant commitment by acting to save his people, it is a gesture of ‘righteousness,’ that is, justice. When God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, he does so on the basis of justice done, that is, the punishment of our sins in the person of Christ our substitute; thus the form taken by his justifying mercy shows him to be utterly and totally just (Rom. 3:25-26), and our justification itself is shown to be judicially justified.”[9]

In summary, the whole of humanity is guilty before a righteous Judge. This Judge is like no other. He is omniscient and omnipotent. Added to these ominous capabilities is His attribute of aseity; that is, He is self-existent and will never cease to be. This dreadful combination to sinners means certain and unending punishment for their rebellion. There is no way of escape in them and no hope that the Judge will simply forget or become careless concerning their malfeasance. Holiness and righteousness is the requirement, but sinners are covered in the stinking filth of the opposite. In this miry and hopeless state, God does something most unexpected; He pronounces His declaration of righteousness upon sinners who are not. He does so without the slightest impugning of His own righteousness and this seems all the more conflicting. One may wonder, How can this be?

Indeed, it is a wonder. God declares the sinner righteous in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. This is possible only because Christ is the provision of God for expiation, propitiation, and righteousness. The Apostle Paul describes God as the “Just” and the “Justifier.” God commands humans, “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). Only because of the completed negative and positive work of Christ’s obedience can God and the sinner be thus.

[1] Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 2: Systematic theology : 481–482. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sproul, R. C. Romans. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009: 38.

[4] Ibid: 103.

[5] Grudem, Wayne A., and Jeff Purswell. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999: 251.

[6] Sproul, R. C. The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2012: 71.

[7] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997.

[8] Sproul, R. C. What Is Reformed Theology?. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005: 67.

[9] Packer, J. I. (1993). Concise theology: A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

Do you have True Love?

As a pastor, one of the most challenging and risky conversations I ever have is on the subject of true love. Now, you probably think I mean something I do not intend here with this phrase. I am referring to true or genuine or real love for Christ. Nearly every person I have met in East Texas has claimed to love God or love Christ, but we can all be sure that not everyone in East Texas actually possesses the love they might claim. “How can we be sure?” you might ask. Well, because true love for Christ has a real and meaningful affect on a person.

I bump into people all the time who are perfectly at ease with their lazy and non-transformative relationship with God. “I love Jesus,” they will claim, but it is rare that I meet someone who lives a life that matches the statement.

While each encounter is a little different, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Anonymous: You are a pastor? Well, God is a big part of my life.

Me: Oh? How so?

Anonymous: I’ve gone to church, and I pray… And I’ve read the Bible before. There was even a time in my life when God really helped me out of this tough situation.

Me: I see. So, are you connected with a church family now?

Anonymous: Well… I used to go to [insert obscure church or megachurch name], and we’re looking for a church. But, a person doesn’t have to go to church to get to heaven, and I try to be a pretty good person.

Me: Ok. How do you think you are doing with that?

Anonymous: With what?

Me: Being a good person.

Anonymous: Oh, I think I am doing pretty well.

Me: Would you mind if I tell you what the Bible says about being a good person, and would you mind if we see how God might measure how well you are doing?

Anonymous: (awkwardly smiling, and trying to think of a way to end this conversation) Ok.

Me: Are you familiar with God’s commandments or “the 10 commandments?”

Anonymous: Yes!

Me: Can you name some of them?

Anonymous: Don’t lie, uh… don’t steal, uh…

Me: Yes, you’ve got it! So, have you ever told a lie? Even a small one?

Anonymous: Yes, but I was younger then, and everybody has told at least one lie.

Me: What do you call someone who lies?

Anonymous: (blank stare) …a sinner?

Me: Don’t you call a person who lies a “liar?”

Anonymous: Oh, yes… a liar.

Me: Have you ever taken anything that does not belong to you? Stolen something? Even something small?

Anonymous: Yes, but that was when I was a kid.

Me: What do you call someone who steals?

Anonymous: A theif.

Me: That’s right. And another of God’s commands is that we should not commit adultery, but Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5 that even to look upon another person with lustful thoughts is to commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever done that?

Anonymous: Sure… Who hasn’t?

Me: So, you admit that you have broken God’s law on at least three points. God says He is a perfect judge who will let no sin go unpunished. If God were to judge you right now, would He say you are innocent or guilty?

Anonymous: Guilty… But I’ve been forgiven! Jesus forgives!

Me: Yes, you are right! But, does Jesus forgive everyone? I mean, does everyone go to heaven?

Anonymous: No.

Me: What is the difference between those who go to heaven and those who do not?

Anonymous: You go to heaven if you try to do good, and you don’t if you’re bad.

Me: But, doesn’t that get us back to where we started? I mean, you already admitted that you are not actually good. You are, in fact, guilty and liable to the judgment of God.

Anonymous: But God is forgiving… I am forgiven.

Me: I believe you are right to appeal to God’s forgiveness, but I also think you are leaving something very important out. How does a guilty person receive this forgiveness you mentioned?

Anonymous: You have to believe in Jesus?

Me: Yes, but what does that mean?

Anonymous: (questioning look and long silence)

Me: The Bible says that Jesus was born perfect, and that He lived a perfectly good life (unlike you and me). And, when Jesus died on the cross, the Bible says that He was counted guilty and bad, even though He was actually perfect and good, so that people (like you and me) who are actually guilty and bad could be counted as though we are perfect and good. You see, Jesus exchanges His perfect goodness for the guilt of all those who love and trust Him.

Anonymous: Yes, I do trust and love Him!

Me: What if I told you that I love my wife, but I also told you that I never listened to a word she said, never cared to know anything about what she values, and never spent any time with her?

Anonymous: I’d say you were a bad husband.

Me: And you’d be right! You would say I am a bad husband, because my statement “I love my wife” would be disproved by my actions, wouldn’t it?

Anonymous: Yes.

Me: So, when you say, “I love Jesus,” but you also tell me that you don’t read the Bible (God’s Word), you don’t know much of anything about what Jesus says is important, and you don’t make any effort to spend time with the local “body of Christ” (the Church), how can I say anything else but that you have just disproved your statement of love for Christ? Please consider the seriousness of the subject, and honestly assess where you really are today.

No one has ever been in right relationship with God by simply saying they are. In fact, Jesus warns that such presumptuous thinking is fatally dangerous (Matt. 7:23). Nevertheless, many seem to be quite comfortable with their belief that a mere “profession of faith” will save them from God’s wrath.

Make no mistake. Jesus said that the mark of a true disciple of His would be true love for Him, in the form of obedience to His teaching (John 14:15). If there is not evidence of true love in your life, then you should not try to fool yourself into believing that everything is just fine.

Just as a man would leave the comfort of his bed in order to escape his burning house, so we should consider the safety of our current situation. Only a fool would deny the obvious in order to keep his temporary comfort.

Are you Satisfied?

If satisfaction is a sense of pleasurable fulfillment derived from met expectations, then many people are dissatisfied today. If you happen to be less than satisfied with your current life experience, then I would like to ask you to consider something.

Do you feel frustrated or disappointed because you are assigning expectations to things that cannot measure up?

Think about it.

Might it be that the reason your expectations continue to go unmet is because they cannot be met by the things upon which you are placing them?

Maybe you expected to be more successful than you are right now, maybe you expected that your marriage wouldn’t be quite so difficult, or maybe you expected your child would have already been past that ridiculous phase. Maybe you expect that your house should not be so small, maybe you expect that your bank account should be bigger, or maybe you expect that your reputation should be more prestigious.

Whatever your expectations are, they may come from a desire to find satisfaction and contentment in something or someone who simply cannot measure up. If you are like most people, then the search for satisfaction often leads us away from the only place it can be found.

Allow me to illustrate:

I sometimes seek my own satisfaction and contentment from my wife. When she is not as affirming of me as I would like her to be, then I take this as a personal offense to my own worth. If I do not feel that she is meeting my needs as I would want, then my joy is stolen.  In fact, in my dissatisfaction, I am very likely to react badly towards her.  She then feels unloved and dissatisfied because of my attitude towards her.  I am using myself in a personal illustration because I am sure that nothing like this has ever happened in your house…

You will never be satisfied or content if you look for these things in your spouse, your children, your parents, your lifestyle, your house, your job, your success, your good health, or yourself.

Let that sink in for a moment. None of these will satisfy your longing for something worthy of high expectations.

Alright, so how do we make this right?

Well, you could keep doing what you are doing right now. How is that working out for you? Or maybe you could look for someone or something that actually has the ability to satisfy your deepest longings.

I propose that you pursue the God of the universe, by reading and trusting His Word, so that you will really know Him. God, in Christ Jesus, is capable of satisfying you like you cannot imagine. Just consider what the Bible says in the Psalms:

“The [word] of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:7–10).

I don’t know about you, but soul-reviving, trustworthy, wisdom-giving, heart-rejoicing, purifying, enlightening, cleansing, true, and right words are exactly the kinds of words I want in my head and in my heart. That sure sounds satisfying to me.

May God help us to seek our satisfaction in Him, so that we may actually be satisfied.

Southern Baptists, Arminians, and Calvinists

Within Southern Baptist churches there exists a variety of people who claim to be Arminians or Calvinists. In my experience, many of these individuals do not actually affirm many of the propositions that are included in the historic theological systems represented by those names. Instead, the shorthand references seem to have been drained of some substantial theological cargo. More often than not, “Calvinist” and “Arminian” now simply float as hollow battleships representing differing views on the doctrine of salvation. This is unfortunate and less than helpful.

The rise in number and influence of those who might call themselves Calvinist has also caused no small amount of concern for many Southern Baptists. The reasons for all of this heartburn may be many, but I think that one major contributing factor is unfamiliarity. Anytime something is unfamiliar, it tends to make us uneasy – at least a little.

Ask the average Southern Baptist what he or she knows about Arminianism or Calvinism, and you are likely to get a puzzled look followed by a confused reply. Moreover, if some Southern Baptists do seem to know something about either or both of these camps, they will often have only a truncated or twisted perspective. If the Southern Baptists of today were as disinterested in theological investigation as the Southern Baptists of the 1950s-1990s (activity was their greater focus), then this misunderstanding would not be as much of a problem. However, there has been a dramatic rearrangement of the American cultural landscape, and the congregations who live and work on this new terrain have changed as well.

Since the Southern Baptist Convention was first formed in 1845, there have been both Calvinists and Arminians in the family. Particular Baptists (Calvinistic) and General Baptists (Arminian) both joined in cooperated efforts to proclaim the Gospel far and wide. Because of this diversity in the SBC, there have also been various times in which each theological camp has enjoyed the more prominent role in the convention. Of course, there have been vigorous debates and even family fights, but Southern Baptists have never shied away from a healthy debate or fight. The point is that the disagreeing sides of this particular theological debate have cooperated significantly in the past. I believe that we would be childish and foolish to think that this kind of cooperation cannot continue.

In order to work towards clarity and civility in the current situation, it will be helpful for everyone to investigate, think, and then speak (with patience and humility). By God’s grace, Southern Baptists (Arminians and Calvinists alike) can continue to unite under the banner of the Gospel, and we may continue to defend those Biblical distinctives that have made us Baptists.


Is the NIV Bible good or bad?

My first Bible was the NIV

I began my Christian journey at 19 years old, and I was reading through “The Student Bible” New International Version (published in 1996 by Zondervan). It was given to me at some point during my teen years, but I never had any time for the Bible until I was miraculously converted in my college dorm room. One afternoon I noticed that I was just sitting on my bunk bed reading the Bible, and this had been a regular occurrence for several days. This was totally unusual for me, and so I began to notice other changes in my affections too. God saved me from my sin, from myself, and from His wrath.

I continued to read this “Student Bible” for some time, but someone gave me a burgundy, leather-bound New American Standard Bible (NASB) with my name engraved on the cover when I was in my early twenties, and my old paperback “Student Bible” was shelved. At the time, I did not know much about the various Bible translations, but I felt I had crossed a maturity threshold when my Bible was covered with leather and no longer had the word “Student” splashed across its face. Over the years, I have come to understand much more about translations and the intent behind each one. It has been more difficult to keep up with all of the more recent translations, but I try to keep my awareness at a reasonable level. As a pastor, church members will occasionally ask me a question about Bible translations, and I like to give them a quality answer as often as I can.

As I became more aware of the intentionality that drives each Bible translation, not to mention the various texts consulted by interpreters, I actually continued to like the New International Version (1984 NIV). Some translations seek to be more of a word-for-word translation, others seek to be a thought-for-thought translation of the original language, but the NIV aimed for a middle ground between the two. Some translation committees (the groups of scholars investing time and effort into translation) hold a higher view of Scripture than others, and this too has a dramatic effect upon their translation. The NIV (published in 1973 and revised in 1978 and 1984) sought to be “a contemporary English translation of the Bible.”[1] In this translation, the committee also remained conservative in their scholarship and maintained a high view of Scripture.

I believe that the 1984 NIV is a good translation of God’s Word. It is not my favorite for personal study, nor is it my first choice when reading Scripture publically, but I still like it. I have even recommended it to some readers at times. This is why the developments of the NIV over the last decade have been so disappointing.

New International Controversy

In 2005 there was a controversial translation published by Zondervan called “Today’s New International Version.” Among the scholars listed on the Committee on Bible Translation for this project were some noteworthy individuals (Gordon Fee and Douglas J. Moo). This particular translation was in line with the general philosophy of the NIV translation from the beginning, but it also made significant changes to gender-specific language, which earned this translation the moniker “the Gender-Neutral Bible.” While those who investigate the TNIV may view the debate from varying perspectives, it is clear that gender-inclusive language was intentionally an aim of the translators.

A Washington Post article depicts the controversy over translations with a reference to one of the less significant passages. Pointing to Mark 4:25, the article cites the 1984 version of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible where Jesus is quoted saying, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The article goes on to say, “Today’s New International Version [2005 TNIV], changed that to: ‘Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”[2] There seems to be little here for major concern. No violence appears to have been done to the meaning or intent of the text. But this is an example from a passage that blurs the translation’s design to pull away from the purposeful language of the biblical text.

The 1984 NIV translates Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The 2005 TNIV translates the same passage “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This too may seem less than offensive in the eyes of many, but there is great significance to the words God intended divinely-inspired authors to write. It is no small matter that both maleness and femaleness are distinctions under the original creation of “man.” There is much more to delve into here than a brief article will allow, but gender-neutral language leaves much theological import on the table.

In spite of the controversy (maybe precisely because of this gender-neutral language), the TNIV has sold well from the shelves of Christian bookstores. One might understand that widespread trust and acceptance is one of the major rubs of the controversy to begin with. Many people like and trust the NIV Bible, so it is not a surprise that many would also embrace the newer translation in the same vein. Those who advocate against the gender-inclusiveness of the TNIV seem to sound their alarms in the direction of deaf ears.

Even though the TNIV did sell fairly well, the Committee on Bible Translation sought to reattempt a better launch of an updated NIV. It may be difficult to show that the committee was motivated by the stinging reception that the TNIV got when it was published, but it would seem that the experience likely provided at least some provocation for the 2011 NIV translation. This latest translation has done away with 25% of the gender-inclusive language adjustments from the 2005 TNIV, but that means that 75% of those adjustments remain.

We are not free to do as we please

The serious question that one must consider is not, “Is there room to allow for more gender-inclusive language in the biblical text?” Instead, one should ask, “Should anyone feel at liberty to adjust the biblical text where it may better fit the cultural norms of the day?” No doubt, many will argue that the gender-neutrality of many passages is no significant adjustment. However, it may also be argued that it is precisely in the gender-specific language of the biblical text that we are able to see the only rationality that will undergird value and distinction for both males and females. There is much at stake here for the observant Christian, and there is good reason to avoid gender-neutrality. God has created “man” in His image, and He has created “man” male as well as female (Gen. 1:27). This truth is more profound than most understand, and it is exactly what our gender-confused culture needs to know.

Like the TNIV, the 2011 NIV has also sold very well in Christian bookstores. Most Christians do not seem to have much difficulty accepting this translation as one of quality, and many celebrate the gender-neutrality of the 2011 NIV. After releasing the 2011 NIV, the Zondervan Publishing House discontinued both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV. The New International Version of the Bible is now exclusively the 2011 NIV. Even my favorite online Bible study tool (biblehub.com) displays the 2011 NIV as simply “NIV.” For these reasons, I no longer use the NIV Bible.

I still like the 1984 NIV, and I would still encourage anyone who enjoys this translation to keep reading it. It saddens me to be forced into including the 1984 NIV with the 2011 NIV, but because of the confusion between the two (both are called NIV) this is what I must do.

Therefore, I cannot endorse the 2011 NIV, and thus I cannot endorse the NIV anymore.


The Southern Baptist Convention Statement on the NIV

It may also be helpful to note that the Southern Baptist Convention (that is the collective of Southern Baptist pastors and church representatives from all over the nation) has publically and adamantly denied an endorsement of both TNIV and 2011 NIV (See the SBC Resolutions below). I am not one to follow a crowd just for the sake of avoiding what usually accompanies a solitary stand, but I appreciate the significant effort regarding biblical fidelity of the SBC.

Over the years, the SBC has ebbed and flowed, as have the Southern Baptists who comprise the group. But, the SBC has earned Southern Baptists the identity of being a “people of the Book” for good reason. Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly going back to the Book (the Bible) to reaffirm adherence to it, and to submit to God’s Word rather than to cultural expectations. God’s holy Word is too important to capitulate to the socially acceptable language of the day. It is my strong conviction that the Bible should be readable and accessible to all people everywhere, but this does not mean that it should be made more palatable or inoffensive to all people everywhere.


SBC Resolutions

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender-neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.[3]

[1] http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/17/AR2011031703434.html

[3] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1218

Do you have right relationship with God?

How can any sinful human experience right relationship with God?

This question is of supreme importance, though it is not likely on the front of most people’s mind at the moment. There are numerous assumptions in such a question. Here are just some of them: (1) There is a God; (2) God is holy or morally pure; (3) humans are sinful or morally corrupt; (4) God is just; and (5) God is gracious. While many may not regularly consider this question, all people presume at least some of these assumptions. In fact, the Bible argues that all people everywhere are accountable to God precisely because all conscious people know the first four assumptions to be true (Romans 1:18-2:11).

Arguing for the statements here is not within to scope of this brief article, but if the first four assumptions are true, then the question above becomes exceedingly important. If God is pure and just, and humans are morally corrupt, then God must deliver proper justice for all immoral thoughts, words, and deeds. While this reality is unsettling, not everyone sees fit to answer the question the same.

Naturalistic & Humanistic Approach

Some argue for a Naturalistic perspective of the world, and these may deny one or more of the assumptions. “There is no God,” they might say. One Naturalist explained his perspective on the matter of ultimate reality by claiming that the purpose of life is to “stay alive.” If there is no transcendent reality, then I am inclined to agree with such sentiments. However, I find it not the least bit encouraging that all my best efforts to “stay alive” will be frustrated in the end. The life-to-death ratio remains 1-to-1; every living person dies at some point.

There are others who argue from a Humanistic view, and these may also deny at least one of the assumptions. They might claim, “Humans are inherently good, and self-actualization is the highest goal.” Each day is another opportunity to achieve a higher state of self-existence, and all humanity must do is choose the path of greater fulfillment and pleasure. This perspective, however, is simply in denial. Human history is a chronicle of corruption, scandal, and evil. There are bright lights in history to be sure, but by and large the map is covered with the blood and tears of men. One would be hard-pressed to argue for the inherent goodness of humanity in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

A Justified Approach

Since these two worldviews do not seem to be adequate responses to the original question (How can any sinful human experience right relationship with God?), let us now turn to a religious response. Most religious institutions would acknowledge at least a few of the assumptions listed above, but often we find either a denial of God’s justice or the addition of human goodness. It might be helpful to boil things down a bit and arrange religious jargon under a couple of simple headings.

In the end, there really are only two religious answers to the original question.

One, Justification by Works. Many religious people and/or institutions (church, synagogue, mosque, hall, philosophy, guru, etc.) may answer the question with a prescription. “You must do…” While the latter portion of this statement could go in multiple directions, from actions to thoughts and from places to postures, the beginning is always the same. If you want to enjoy right relationship with God (or others, or the universe, or simply with yourself), then you must do, say, and/or think according to a certain prescription. So, this type of thinking we might call “Justification by Works.”

The phrase “Justification by Works” helps us think in terms of what actually brings one into right relationship with God. How is a person “justified” or made worthy to enjoy the right relationship we are after? No matter how you phrase it, if your answer to the question includes something that must be accomplished in order to bring about the desired end, then it is “Justification by Works.” The biggest problem with Justification by Works is that it assumes a great deal more than is reasonable. It assumes that some kind of work (religious or otherwise) can somehow erase disobedience towards God. However, we do not think in such ways even in our own understanding of justice. Think about it: No criminal could think of getting away with murder simply because he promised to go to church; no thief would be relieved from penalty because she started acting with greater kindness; and no adulterer covers over his transgression by doing the dishes one night.

Even though we would not allow such thinking in our worldly experiences with justice, we often presume upon God’s justice in unthinkable ways. We might imagine that God will not punish our millions of sinful actions because we have attended church 10 times over the last 4 years. We might think that God will simply overlook our constant rebellion towards His commands because we got baptized during a church service. We may even think that God will not remember that we have utterly neglected to consider His standards for living just because we prayed several childish prayers at various times in our lives. This is foolish thinking, and we know it.

Justification by Works, then, seems to fall flat on its face when we really think about what we are believing. Therefore, it appears best to consider another option.

Two, Justification by Faith. Rather than a prescription (a list of things to do), the Bible reports a description of what has already been accomplished by another. Jesus (God the Son in human form) was born without moral corruption; He lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s commands; and He was counted by God as the guilty sinner in His death. In other words, Jesus Christ was counted as though He was the one who was actually guilty of the disobedience of all those for whom He died. Then Jesus conquered death itself and demonstrated His power to justify sinners and bring them life.

In mortal life, Jesus lived perfectly obedient towards God. In death, Jesus took upon Himself the due penalty and fully exhausted God’s justice towards sinners. In resurrection, Jesus testified to His own power to bring Justification to all who trust in Him. Rather than Justification by Works, the Bible presents a Justification by Faith or Trust. The biblical option is best summarized (in my opinion) by question and answer number 60 of theHeidelberg Catechism.[1] Fortunately, the question in the catechism is nearly identical to the question we have posed here at the outset.

The question is asked,

“How are you brought into right relationship with God?”
And it is answered,
“Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; Even though my conscience accuses me, even though I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and I kept none of them. Even though I and am still inclined to all evil, God, only of sheer grace and without any addition of my works, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ!
God looks upon me as if I never had sin in me at all, nor committed any sin whatsoever!
Furthermore, God looks upon me as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me! All that I contribute towards my new standing before God is that I embrace such a marvelous benefit with a believing heart.”
May we embrace the benefit of right relationship with God by believing in the work of another. May we come to enjoy marvelous communion with our heavenly Father as we learn to trust all the more in the justifying person and work of Christ.

[1] See the full Heidelberg Catechism here: https://www.ccel.org/creeds/heidelberg-cat.html

If Evil is, then God is not?

When the atheist raises a fist against the Creator of the universe, he does so with contempt against God because of the tremendous pain and suffering that humanity experiences while living under the sun.

The Christian Faith has had many antagonists over the centuries, but it seems that the boldest and noisiest adversaries of Christianity in recent decades have been those from an atheistic position. From this vantage point (though atheism is certainly no belvedere), some have postulated the finding of Christianity’s death knell. Feinberg describes the theistic conundrum by citing the philosopher David Hume.

“The problem of evil as traditionally understood in philosophical discussion and debate is stated succinctly in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he [God] able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he [God] both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”[1]

Long before Hume, Epicurus (a third and fourth century BC Greek philosopher) articulated much the same analytical dilemma against theism. While this form of argumentation has been around for a very long time, it seems to have gained some traction in contemporary minds. Whether or not this is truly a problem for theists is the subject of this essay, but it is important to note at the outset that such a problem is really shorthand for multiple problems concerning at least three basic assumptions in the syllogisms represented above. Feinberg lists these suppositions as “(a) God is omnipotent (in some sense of “omnipotent”), (b) God is good in that he wills that there be no evil, in some sense of “evil,” and (c) evil, in the sense alluded to in (b), exists.”[2]

The problems of evil, then, are the difficulties one might face in defending a theistic position that holds to one or more of these suppositions. Each supposition may be dealt with individually, but the theist must construct a consistent view of the character and nature of God while acknowledging that “evil” is experienced in this world.

The problem of evil is important to address for several reasons, but it may be most interesting to humanity because of the universality of suffering and pain. It is quite reasonable to perceive that when a person rails against the being of God because of the experience of evil, they likely mean to use evil as a synonym for human suffering and pain.

It is hardly conceivable that an atheist would intend to argue that God does not exist because of the ills humanity has inflicted upon the mountainous Alps as they utilize climbing equipment to bash and injure the spectacular terrestrial protrusions or because of the painful astrophysical results of human interference with the lunar landscape. Even less we might expect an atheist to speak of the human offense to God’s character or His holiness when they continually rebel against His kind and good directives. No, when the atheist raises a fist against the Creator of the universe, he does so with contempt against God because of the tremendous pain and suffering that humanity experiences while living under the sun.

The atheist perceives these experiences to be unjust, unacceptable, and incongruent with the existence of any good and powerful God.

Atheists notwithstanding, many people struggle to understand their own experiences with incredible pain and suffering. The problem of evil is important to address for the sake of all those searching for some kind of prism through which to view their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering so that they might make sense of it. Many have sought to excuse God from the pain and suffering of humanity, some have tried to justify pain and suffering as a means to some greater end, and still others have decided that the best answer to the problem is that God simply must needs create a world in which evil runs rampant to some degree or another.

The “Free Will” advocate claims that the best way to defend the existence of a good and powerful God in spite of evil is to lay the blame for such evil upon the shoulders of free volitional creatures who have brought about the disparaging pain and suffering we now endure. This sounds enticing to many theists, and at first glance may provide the uncritical mind some sense of refuge from the atheistic assault.

However, it is conceivable that God could have created free volitional creatures without the possibility of sin, disobedience or evil. Indeed, this is the hope of all biblical Christians – namely that sinners saved by God’s grace will live in perfect freedom for all eternity without ever experiencing another moment of pain, suffering, sin or evil. Thus, the Free Will advocate falls short of adequately answering the challenge.

The consequentialist asserts that the temporal evils of pain and suffering are regrettable, but they are also part of the building blocks of a future and greater good. This sort of reasoning may dance dangerously close to the line, which distinguishes good from evil, calling those things that are evil the very things that are necessary to bring about final or ultimate good. This defense too may have an initial appeal, but it falls apart when pressed further and when contrasted with the biblical position.

What kind of good God must use evil to bring about good? Can evil ever be called good without serious injury to the term good? It seems quite unappealing to think of a good God who is confined to merely manipulating evil ingredients to bring about His good purposes.

The rationalist position is that of reason and God’s acting out of rationalistic compulsion. This seems the most arrogant position of all, positing that God must act according to sufficient reason (that is according to some humanly accessible rationale). According to this view, “human reason, apart from divine revelation, should be able to discover that reason and ascertain what God would choose.”[3] Under this rubric of thinking, God has created a world with the presence of pain and suffering because such a world is the best possible world that God might have created.

However, this position fails to measure up to the biblical standard as well. First, God’s volition and intelligence are both infinitely greater than the human capacity; and this is so even before the gnoetic effects of the fall of sinful humanity. Second, and yet again, the biblical Christian awaits exactly such a world as this position claims impossible. The hope of eternal glory is that God will reconcile fallen humanity to Himself in such a way that sinners will ultimately be glorified and free from evil, sin, pain and suffering.

There seems to be many insufficient answers to the problem of evil, and so too there may also be several productive ways to address it.

First, before any theist feels the burden of defending theism against an atheistic accusation concerning evil and the existence of God, he may ask the atheist, “What is evil?” The atheist must assume evil, which assumes good, which assumes God who calls things good, in order to accuse this same God he has just charged with non-existence.

Under the atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as moral good or moral evil. In fact, there is no reason to suppose the universe to be reasonable or coherent at all – especially in terms of morality. Therefore, the theist is not obligated to answer the atheist’s accusation.

Second, the question or problem of evil may be raised by someone who is not antagonistic to the theistic worldview, and in such an instance it seems good that a Christian would be prepared to answer with truth, and in a tone of compassion.

In my view, God has created a good world (Gen. 1:31), and human existence is better than non-existence. Additionally, God has intended to create un-glorified humans (at least initially) rather than glorified ones, and this is the reason (though not necessarily the purpose) for the possibility of pain and suffering (Gen. 2:17).

Un-glorified humans possess volitional freedom to the extent that they are capable of choosing rebellion or submission towards God. Having chosen the former in no way releases humanity from God’s sovereignty, though it does place humanity under the curse of God’s wrath (Gen. 3:24); and God’s sovereign rule over all that comes to pass in no way releases humanity from culpability for such rebellion. Blameworthy for all manner of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, humanity has fallen under the curse of God’s wrath and lives in a world full of pain and suffering (Eph. 2:1-3).

This pain and suffering that is now endured is not good, and it is never to be called good (Isaiah 5:20).

However, God has not left un-glorified humans without hope in the face of such evil; rather, God Himself has invaded human history in the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to suffer the greatest pain – the unbridled wrath of God – on behalf of fallen, un-glorified humanity.

This same God-man (Jesus Christ) has also conquered death and brought about final and ultimate victory over evil, pain, and suffering. The God of Christianity is a God of justice, righteousness, mercy, and grace. He has scandalously suffered as a human, and this provides not only hope for suffering sinners, but also a gracious and empathetic Savior.

Ultimately, my position is one of trust in the God who has revealed Himself through special revelation, recorded on the pages of Holy Scripture. I do not intend this as a cop out, rather a humble submission to what God has revealed about Himself and about humanity. God is both absolutely sovereign and perfectly good, and un-glorified humanity is radically sinful.

Within this tension lies another stark truth: good is always good and evil is always evil.

God does not build out good ends through the use of evil means. Instead, He providentially orchestrates all of creation for His glory and for the greatest joy of all those whom He loves. God’s good and sovereign providence and man’s sinful activity, which results in prolific pain and suffering, is a tension in the Scriptures that must not be lost. Carson addresses the matter by saying,

“[W]e will avoid implicitly denying one truth when we affirm another; we will grow in stability; above all, we will better know the God who has in his grace disclosed himself to rebels like us, taken up our guilt, participated in human suffering, and sovereignly ensured that we will not be tempted above what we are able to bear. In knowing him better we will learn to trust him; and in trusting him we will find rest.”[4]

In summary, the atheistic accusation, “If evil, then no God!” simply cannot fly; it does not even leave the ground. If there is no God, then the possibility of any moral good or moral evil is nil. Yet, there are those who find themselves suffering tremendously who seek some comfort in their time of pain. For them, the Bible offers a God who rules sovereignly, graciously, and lovingly.

Only the Bible provides the opportunity for sinful, suffering humans to learn of a merciful, suffering King; and it is this King who promises the hope of glory – the final and eternal freedom from evil, pain, and suffering – through His finished work of redemption.



Carson, D. A. How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

[1] Feinberg, Kindle Locations 179-182

[2] Feinberg, Kindle Locations 222-224

[3] Feinberg, Kindle Locations 736-737

[4] Carson, 214

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