The Christ Who Threatens

Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Everyone loves an encouraging word, but not every situation calls for one. A person suffering from a fatal illness will not benefit from a reassuring lie. Our children are not corrected if all we give them is kindhearted counsel. A defiant army is not subdued by the mere wooing of a negotiator.

Jesus Christ offers words of great encouragement, but these are not the only words He offers. Jesus spoke (and still speaks) words of dreadful threatening, and we are wise to take these words to heart. The true and sober warnings from a faithful friend should be the most welcomed words of all.

What greater despair and anguish could there be than for one to die in sin? The thought is horrible, and yet many carelessly dismiss it today. Christ is the gracious Savior of all who believe (trust, love, serve) Him, but He is the indignant judge of all who remain in their sin of disbelief.

May God gracious grant that we take this warning to heart, and may He grant us grace to believe and thereby be free from our sin and guilt.

Listen to Your Heart?

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

“Listen to Your Heart” was a pop music single, released in 1988, but the concept has been around a very long time. With incredible staying power, the idea of “going with your gut” or “following your heart” seems pervasive – even across cultural lines. But is this sound advice or wise counsel?

Jesus spoke much about the heart of man, but He never said that anyone should rely on feelings as a guide. In fact, Jesus called His hearers to do the exact opposite. Jesus said that the human heart (the seat of desire) is naturally full of sin and wickedness. Following one’s heart will inevitably lead to shame, pain, and destruction.

The biblical truth is that our hearts are naturally sinful. This means that even those feelings which are genuine and deep are not to be trusted. The wise counsel is to hear and apply God’s word on the matter. Don’t listen to your heart; that’s often the worst thing you can do.

T4G Reflections: John Piper

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles).

John Piper spoke about the bondage of the human will in sin and the perfect freedom the Gospel provides. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.

I have a sort of love/hate connection to John Piper. Much of what I hear or read from him is inspiring, challenging, and solid. Piper is truly a man who has been gripped and gifted by God. On the other hand, some of what I hear and read from Piper is frustrating, confusing, and seemingly incongruent with the afore mentioned good stuff.

One cannot overestimate John Piper’s influence upon the “Reformed Resurgence” we are experiencing in American Christianity today, but I have actually had a limited exposure to John Piper over the years. Still, there is much to be thankful for and much to celebrate about John Piper, his ministry, and his contribution to Christ’s Church in our day. Piper’s address at T4G 2016 was on a subject that played to his strengths, and for that I am supremely grateful. When Piper is strong, he is uniquely gifted and powerful.

Piper’s talk on the bondage of the will of fallen man was powerful indeed. He began by pointing out five pictures of bondage in Scripture, and he explained each one from at least one passage.

First, Piper mentioned the bondage of “Legal guilt and Divine condemnation” (Rom. 3:9-10; Jn. 3:36). This is the condemnation that comes from Adam to all his posterity; God places legal guilt upon all in Adam.

Second, Piper pointed out the bondage of “Love of Darkness and Self-Glorification” (Jn. 3:19-20, 5:43-44). Humanity, he explained, is in bondage to his own affections for that which binds him/her. The chains remain because the sinner loves them and takes pride in them.

Third, Piper spoke of the bondage of “the Hatred for the Supremacy of God” (Rom. 8:6-8). Not only does the sinner fancy himself as god, he hates the notion of any other beside him. The venom of a sinner only increases when God almighty asserts His throne over that of the fallen man.

Fourth, Piper pointed out the bondage of “Spiritual Death” (Eph. 2:1-3). This bondage might be said to be the summation of the first three, but the distinction is worthy of note. This state of death, in which sinners now live, is the direct result of Adam’s sin. God promised that this would be the consequence of disobedience in the Garden, and Adam disobeyed anyway. This spiritual death is the classification under which we find such damnable things as divine condemnation, love for darkness, consuming pride, and hatred for the supremacy of God.

Fifth and finally, Piper spoke of the bondage of “Blindness to the Glory of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 4:4). Each of these taken by themselves are tragic beyond words, but this one is truly heart-rending. Not only is the sinner in bondage to so many things that will utterly destroy him by self-inflicted torments; here we see that he is utterly blind to the one and only hope that he might have for reprieve, joy, peace, freedom, and life. Even the beauty of Christ is veiled to the sinner who remains in bondage under sin.

And yet, as Piper went on to explain, the Gospel of Christ looses each of these binding chords with supernatural power and effectiveness.

Christ bore our sins and guilt upon the cross (1 Pet. 2:24; Is. 53:6)! God gives sinners the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 5:22-26), and His Spirit empowers the sinner to declare “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3)! God makes dead sinners alive (Eph. 2:4-8); and He shines the light of the glory of Christ into the sinner’s heart (2 Cor. 4:6)!

With the Apostle Paul, we may proclaim with utter joy and heart-felt wonder:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33–36).”

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

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.

 

Bibliography

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

What does it mean to be ‘Lost’?

What does it mean to be Lost?   Usually, in the context of Christianity, one is not speaking of location confusion when using the term lost. To say, “he is lost,” is to say something other than, “he does not know how to make his way from his home to the church building.” The term lost is commonly used in the salvific sense, or regarding a person’s present spiritual condition and eternal destination. Much like a traveler needs to know his or her locale, destination and route in order to make a successful journey, every spiritual pilgrim needs to know his or her spiritual whereabouts, objective and way in order to enjoy the benefits of spiritual triumph.

This question concerning ‘lostness’ may be one of the most important in order to have a better understanding of what it means to be ‘found’ or ‘saved’ in the spiritual sense (i.e. what it means to be a Christian). Essentially, this question is seeking to understand a major difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. There are real distinctions between those who are lost and those who are found, but it is vitally important to know what the actual distinctions are in order to have an appropriate posture towards those in each group.

In an answer to this main question, the following structure will be provided. First, we will attempt to understand the basic nature of humanity, and subsequently try to grasp the chief end or ultimate purpose of humanity. Next, we will delve into some of the effects of sin upon human nature and how they relate to human purpose. Then we will look at the significance of using the term lost to describe every human sinner apart from or without Christ. Last, we will continue our search of the Scriptures to discover how one who is lost may become found. After all, one’s ‘lostness’ or ‘foundness’ is not merely of temporal interest. These categories, and one’s placement underneath each heading, are of supreme significance both in this life and in the eons to come.

What is the nature of humanity?   There seems no better place to begin a study of human nature than at the beginning – the act of God’s creating work. At the creation of humanity, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[1] This phrase, though, has been at the center of much confusing talk concerning the nature of humanity. From misconceptions about God to misappropriating the ‘likeness’ of God in man, many have taken this phrase and run in strange and unhelpful directions. There is much that one may learn from this phrase, and a closer and wider look at the Scriptures is always beneficial, but we may at least gather that ‘man’ or humanity is a special or unique creation among all else that God has made.

On an aside, I quite agree with Wayne Grudem (a systematic theologian) concerning usage of the term ‘man’ as a reference to the entire human race.[2] One must refrain from postulating the unsuitable use of the masculine term to entitle all humanity unless he or she is willing to oppose God’s own use of the term. It is plain from the context of the previous verse cited that God described His own creation of humanity with the use of the masculine term in reference to the totality of male and female human beings. The Scripture also says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (emphasis added).[3] There is no mistaking the interchangeable use of ‘them’ – both male and female – and ‘him’ or ‘man.’

Grudem adds that some may find objection still and claim that the use of word ‘man’ as a suitable expression of the concept ‘all humankind’ is merely a Hebrew language feature and not to be continued in our own day. However, such an argument is unconvincing when one reads the opening sentences of Genesis chapter 5 (just a few chapters after the previous citations). “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” (emphasis added).[4] It appears therefore that God not only uses the term ‘man’ in reference to the entire human race, but God has chosen to label or ‘name’ humankind with the same masculine term. This is not to say that ‘man’ is the only satisfactory term, but it must at the very least be considered appropriate.

At any rate, the nature of man is directly tied to the creation of man. For God is not merely the organizer of molecules; He is the special and intentional designer of all that He has created, including humankind. In other words, if one wants to know what humankind really is, one would do well to ask the God who drew man into existence and brought humans into being.

Referring to the original passage cited above, man is the unique creation of God. Man was created in the ‘likeness’ of God, and this is no easily articulated semblance. Grudem says, “as we read the rest of Scripture, we realize that a full understanding of man’s likeness to God would require a full understanding of who God is in his being and in his actions and a full understanding of who man is and what he does.”[5] Alas, a full comprehensive knowledge of God and man is something that no sensible person can claim; therefore, an attempt to communicate completely what likeness man has or is of God will result in an inadequate sketch. Yet, there is great value in the sketch.

In every way that man is like God, man carries the divine likeness or bears the image of God. The image of God is the basis for essential human value and dignity. God’s image upon humankind is the reason that man is of pronounced value and the reason that man’s degradation is not only vexing but also immoral and wicked.

It may be said, then, the nature of man or the intended essence of every human is to be like Godto bear God’s image and reflect that image to all others.

What is the chief end of man?   This question is found at the opening of both the shorter and the longer Westminster Catechisms.[6] It is the starting place of any real and meaningful approach to understanding not only the nature of man, but also the supreme and universal purpose thereof. For what purpose has man – every man, woman and child – been created? Essentially, this is a ‘meaning of life’ question. Arguably, this is one of the weightiest questions of all time. Far from being unanswerable or even complicated, the Catechism answers the question with the clear and concise statement. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s it! This is no small or easy thing, but its simplicity is amazingly refreshing. Indeed, the purpose for which all things have been created is to bring glory to God and enjoy the benefits of His glory upon creation (Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11).

Because of the common misunderstanding it is important to note – submission, loving obedience, and a generally selfless posture towards God are not tyrannical and malevolent requirements upon humanity from an uncaring deity. Quite the opposite is actually true. In fact, the greater obedience and loving submission that one experiences towards their Creator, the greater joy and fulfillment he or she experiences as well (Psalm 51:12).

It is a myth that a man must put away all of his good desires and any hope for genuine self-gratification and contentment in order to love God (Galatians 5:1).

If this chief end or highest purpose seems foreign to us, it is not for some lack of truth in the claim. Instead, there is great likelihood that the truth of it sounds bizarre because of our own sinful corruption. Our failure to arrive at our chief end, our inability to achieve our highest purpose, is a universal characteristic of the sinful human race. What may be even more sobering is the cause for such devilish disorientation.

What are the effects of sin upon human nature?   Because humankind was created in the likeness and image of God, and because man’s highest purpose and greatest joy is found in the glory of God and enjoyment of Him, then every human should be marked by a fervent and passionate pursuit of godliness and participation in genuine worship of the one true God. However, the least observant among us will note that this is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite characteristics are what we find to be most ubiquitous.

Sin is any lack of conformity to or transgression of God’s law – the clear revelation of God’s own character and nature. Therefore, sin is man being less than or other than he ought; and this is to his own detriment.

Many have suggested solutions to the problem of sin, this failure to live up to or fulfill humanity’s intended design. Secularly, most would recognize a general selfishness exhibited in barbarism that is measured by degree rather than occurrence in humankind. Lying, stealing, murder, adultery, covetousness, and an unwillingness to submit to virtually any authority are all sinful expressions with which humans have become acquainted – and even comfortable in most cases.

If one thinks this assessment too harsh, he or she ought to consider the spirit and not merely the letter of God’s law. For example, if one is thinks himself successful at avoiding any transgression of the law concerning adultery because he has not had intercourse with another man’s wife, he has done well as far as he believes the law to extend. However, when he is exposed to the spirit of the law or what underlies the concise imperative – namely that everyone is to make strong efforts to preserve both their own chastity as well as others, together in thought, word and deed – then he may realize that he is utterly blameworthy.

A wise person would know that only an individual unaware of the range and depth of God’s law, or one unwilling to acknowledge it, would even hesitate to admit he and all others are completely guilty before God and exceedingly sinful.

The general posture of sinfulness rather than godly pursuit, and the pervasiveness of such offensive insolence, begs the question – WHY? From whence has this total distortion of purpose and joy come? The corruption of human nature is an inheritance from our forefather – Adam, the first man. Charles Hodge describes the grave situation by saying, “the sin of Adam injured not himself only but also all descending from him by ordinary generation.”[7] Hodge goes on to say that there are three things that may be considered subsequent results of the first sin, which was committed by humanity’s first parents. These effects include the personal and universal guilt of all humankind, the corruption of every aspect of human nature derived from our ancient ancestor, and the inability of natural man to do anything of genuine spiritual good.[8] While these consequences are biblically sound and overwhelmingly applicable, it is not expedient to address these stated results in their entirety here. Therefore, the remainder of this section will focus upon the specific effects of sin upon human nature, especially those contributing to lostness, rather than defending the validity of these stated consequences.

If the citations above seem too far above the average person’s ability to grasp, then it might be helpful to simply describe how Adam’s sinful fall has impacted all humankind. The three consequences above may be explained in the following way. First, every human is counted by God as though they sinned just as Adam did from the time Adam sinned (Romans 5:12). This may seem unfair or unwarranted, but rest assured that all humans were represented well in Adam, and any guilt that he procured for other humans has been multiplied a thousand times over by the daily sin of those who may claim the lack of accurate representation. Second, every aspect of human nature – mind, body, will, etc. – has been negatively affected by the curse of God upon sin (Ephesians 2:3). This result begins to place our fingers on the pulse of lostness. Because of Adam’s sin, God cursed all creation and human nature has been marred and distorted so much so that man perceives the Object of his highest purpose and greatest joy as the most antagonistic rival to such things.

Third, man in his natural state is opposed to genuine spiritual good and godliness (Galatians 5:17-21). This truth is one of the bitterest pills to swallow, but it is also one of the simplest and most easily proven doctrines or principles of Scripture. We use the word good to describe all kinds of things. I have a good dog. I wear a good pair of shoes. I like a good cheesecake. However, we do not understand the term ‘good’ in these sentences to be expressing any moral worthiness or righteous disposition. There is no such thing as a morally worthy or righteous cheesecake (as awesome as some cheesecake might be). Good in the spiritual sense, in the sense about which God is concerned, is an attribute that no descendant of Adam can claim (Romans 3:10-18).  In fact, the Bible says it explicitly, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[9]

The effects of sin upon the nature of humanity are farther-reaching and more deeply entrenched than any earthly human can know. The Scriptures speak of the wicked heart of man as being not only corrupt but also deceptively so (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, no earthly man knows the depth of his own depravity because his best attempts to know his own wickedness are efforts from a mind and will that naturally and frequently deceive him.

This kind of man, a naturally sinful man – incapable of seeking his highest joy and unwilling to fulfill his greatest purpose – is lost indeed.

He knows not himself, he knows no authentic way to restore his own joy, and he is both unwilling and unable to lay down his upraised weapons against the only God who might bring him true peace, joy, stability, security, purpose, community, and freedom. God’s first words recorded after the initial sin of man were “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Truly, lost is a just description of one in such a hopeless condition.

What does the term lost indicate?   One may think it a bit odd to begin a discussion about lostness at creation, but setting the proper stage will hopefully prove worthwhile by this point in the investigation. A good and working knowledge of the intended purpose of humankind will be of benefit in understanding the overwhelming lostness that has come upon sinful humanity. The sinful natural man (every man, woman, and child descending from Adam) is lost in relation to himself, in relation to other humans, and most significantly he is lost in relation to his God.

The natural man, that man so catastrophically affected by his own sin and that of others, has lost himself.

He may try to know himself – who he truly is, or what fetches him real joy – but he cannot. When one person wants to know another, it is common to ask questions, which one perceives will reveal something about the true nature of the other. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “What do you like?” “What is your fondest memory?” How cruel it would be to merrily ask these questions of a man who was born into slavery. How much would one hope to learn from a man still trapped in the chains of captivity, if he poses the question “What do you do?” Will the slave disclose his true self in some answer that he might muster? What would his fondest memory be? Would this reveal any genuinely enjoyable experience or merely some temporary illusion of relief from his miserable reality?

Additionally, the natural man may ask himself a thousand questions and each one would be answered with some measure of deception. He often is unwilling to acknowledge his own bondage to sin or the incarceration of its consequences. His own desires deceive him, as he passionately chases all those things that inevitably harm him and steal his joy. Each time he thinks he has found himself, he learns ever so quickly that he was never truly found. He may be here or there, but he is always lost to himself.

The natural man is lost to everyone by whom he longs to be known.

People seek all kinds of relationships and so frequently fancy themselves to have found genuine community with another. Yet, where have they ever truly been known? When has the sinner ever been utterly exposed and without shame?[10] Even in the most intimate relationship of humanity – the committed marriage of one man and one woman – both males and females are disappointed in the lack of intimacy. Where one marriage relationship performs well in the area of physical experience, that same marriage may severely lack intellectual or emotional understanding. It is extremely common for males and females to perceive the greatest marital disunity in areas seemingly unrelated to each other, but every marriage suffers from the same root cause – neither sinner is fully known by the other and therefore neither can experience full rest and genuine community in the relationship.

What of the sinner’s friends? Which one knows him best, and knows everything about him? Does any friend know that his silence regarding serious matters is to the sinner’s detriment? Even a friend who knows the pain that sinful pursuit causes is unwilling or unable to engage the sinner on such ground. The friend does not know his sinful companion well enough to address him admirably and productively. What friend knows of the deepest struggles in the sinner’s heart and selflessly speaks wisdom to his sinful friend? Does he do this while receiving no benefit of his own and conveying no pretense in regards to his own struggles?

The natural man has no true friend. Not one of his dearest allies knows him fully and loves him unconditionally. He does not share complete and unreserved love with any of his peers. He has no hope of ever experiencing such loving relationship with full disclosure and cherished communion. He may be in this relationship or that group of friends, but he is always lost to others.

Most painfully of all, the natural man is lost in relationship to his God.

God is not merely the title or name that we have ascribed to some divine impersonal force that itself is guided by higher laws of so-called nature. No, God is that being which is the origin of all life, exceedingly great joy, sinless passion, righteous vigor, true goodness, pure beauty, genuine truth, unconditional love, caring benevolence, wise providence, and awesome sovereignty. For a man to lose his God is tantamount to the loss of himself and everything else. God is the one to whom he looks for guidance and affirmation; God is his foundation and stability; God is his hope and the object of his faith. Natural man has not only willingly lost his God, but he refuses to be known by the God of his longing.

The natural man will not have the only God capable of being his great joy. No, the natural man seeks to name his own god and create such an abomination in the image of his sinful desires. Sinful humanity will concoct a god whose aim is their sexual, material, or experiential pleasure. What indulgence is your craving today? There is a god made by human invention that will find its fulfillment in feeding that appetite. There is no rule except that of desire; the desire of the moment rules the natural man’s day.

It is not, however, that every natural man is easily observed as having such a curious and decadent idol as his god. On the contrary, the natural man is keenly able to deceive himself and others as to the true measure of his scandalous god. Many natural men bring their idolatrous god with them to a church building and think that this false god is the same as the Object of all other’s worship. Sinful men may even allow their imaginary god to acquire some distorted attribute of the one true God, but they will not humble themselves before the King of Glory and admit their lostness before Him. No, the natural man is convinced of his own sufficiency and does not think himself in need of an all-sufficient God. He may seek a god, an idol of his own creation, but he is always lost and away from his God who created him.

The natural man’s lostness is totally consuming.  He is lost to himself, he is lost in relationship to others, and he is lost in relation to his God. 

Augustine wrote of this lostness in the heart of a natural man when he said as to God, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[11] Augustine articulates the matter of this discussion well. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but the natural man is eternally and completely lost, and he is hopelessly restless in his natural state.  Augustine gives room for hope, however, when he says, “until it repose in Thee.”  Where can this restful tranquility be found, and how may the lost natural man gain such peace?

How may one who is lost become found?   As already discussed, the natural man is not merely lost for lack of knowledge or natural experience; he is lost because he does not want to be found. When the first man sinned he did not seek refuge in the bosom of his Creator, nor did he find relief in any admission of guilt or honest community with his Lord. No, he hid from the One with whom he had previously experienced real love and intimacy (Genesis 3:8, 10). This fallen sinner denied his own guilt and deceived himself as to his true culpability (Genesis 3:12-13).

The Bible is clear; the natural man is hostile to the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 5:17). How then can any willfully lost sinner be found? In John 3:1-8 Jesus speaks in what may seem to be obscure terms, but He clarifies what must take place in order to produce such a conversion.

“Now there was a man … named Nicodemus… This man came to Jesus and said, ‘… We know that you are a teacher come from God …’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? …’ Jesus answered, ‘… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (abbreviated).[12]

Jesus essentially answers the question asked earlier (How can the lost become found?) with the statement, “You must be born again.” The Bible uses other terms to speak of the experience of being “born again.” God uses the term regenerate through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:6), the Apostle Paul uses the analogies of life from death (Ephesians 2:5) and divine re-creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the Apostle Peter uses the same verbiage as Jesus from John 3 (1 Peter 1:3, 23). The Greek word Peter uses in these two instances is ἀναγεννήσας (anagennēsas), which means to thoroughly change the mind of one, so that he lives a new life and one conformed to the will of God.[13] This is the change necessary in one who is lost – namely his passionate hostility towards all things godly and genuinely good is exchanged for a new love of God and desire to glorify and enjoy Him.

The hope for the lost and natural man is not that he is able to find himself, but that the God of the universe invades his unholy ground with life from above.

Luke chapter 15 is rich with the concept of lostness and foundness. Jesus tells three stories that all illustrate something lost being found. A shepherd lost and found a sheep (verses 3-7), a woman lost and found a coin (verses 8-10), and a father lost and found a son (verses 11-32). The wonder of these three analogies is that the object found in all three is not of great value. The shepherd who lost a single sheep had ninety-nine others and would not likely have experienced tremendous pain at the loss of only one. The woman who lost a single coin had nine others, which would have been of greater monetary value than many of her peers possessed. Her remaining possessions were significant enough to keep her from panic. The son lost was a burdensome and defiant son. The father who lost this kind of son would have been reasonably understood to experience some relief from the loss.

In all three stories, however, Jesus explains that the shepherd, the woman, and the father rejoice at the rewards of their seeking efforts. These stories are not about a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost son; they are about the effective pursuit of the finders. The point Jesus conveyed is related to the objection He confronted with these stories. He was being accused of ‘receiving’ sinners (Luke 15:2). The sinners were rightly perceived as less than worthy of the reception, but that is exactly the point! He receives, He seeks, He loves, He knows, and He finds the sinners who are lost.

Jesus is the embodiment of God’s promise to find lost sinners.   The Gospel according to John (the 4th book of the New Testament) opens with a profound statement of Jesus’ nature and purpose. The author speaks of Jesus Christ as the union of God and man. God the Son was before all things and is Himself God (John 1:1-3); and this same God became a man, making Himself known in the person and work of Jesus Christ to sinful humanity (John 1:14, 18).

God’s truly unconditional love is demonstrated towards sinful humankind in His steadfast commitment to know and to find those who were once lost.  The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s loving before the foundation of the world those whom God would ordain to be the adopted and loved children of God through the person and work of Christ (Romans 8:29). The natural man becomes known by the God he would not have known, loved by the Father he did not love, and found by the Friend he refused to acknowledge he lost when he is born from above and made spiritually anew.

The natural man is truly lost and restless, but the effective God of salvation finds lost sinners and gives them the repose they refused to enjoy until they were truly found.

 

Bibliography

Augustine, A. The Confessions of Saint Augustine,. New York: Modern Library, 1949. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. Making Sense of Series: One of Seven Parts from Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Print.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 2: Anthropology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. Print.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Sproul, R. C. What Does It Mean to Be Born Again? Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. Print.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: As Adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church : With Proof Texts. Lawrenceville, GA: Christian Education & Publications Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, 2007. Print.


[1] Genesis 1:26;  All biblical citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] Grudem.  439-440.

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Genesis 5:1-2

[5] Grudem.  443-444.

[6] Westminster Catechisms are based on the Confession of Faith authored and labeled at the same Westminster assembly (1643-1652).

[7] Hodge.  192.

[8] Hodge.  192

[9] Romans 3:12

[10] Genesis 2:25 speaks of human nakedness without shame. This is not merely intended to tell the reader of the physical appearance of the first humans in the Garden of Eden before sin entered into creation. They were physically naked, but they were naked in every way. They were utterly exposed to one another and yet unashamed to be so. Each was fully known and completely loved by the other.

[11] Augustine.  2.

[12] John 3:1-8

[13] Thayer.  Strong’s number 313

Should a person ‘receive Christ’?

Is “receive Christ” terminology proper to use in presenting the gospel?

It is of paramount importance that anyone who seeks to articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ does so in terms that are understandable to the one or ones with whom the evangelist is attempting to communicate.  This means that the evangelist will need to take several things into his or her consideration, and defining or explaining terms that may be unclear is a great way to ensure that the desired message is being heard.  Therefore, concerning the two-word phrase in focus here, “receive Christ,” an explanation of both may make the phrase not only proper but desirable in evangelistic encounters.

The phrases “I received” or “You received” as they are attached to “mercy,” “grace,” “gift,” “salvation,” or even “Christ” are found in more New Testament passages than I could count in a short time.  For the sake of our discussion, let us examine a few.  The Apostle Paul says, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain [or receive (NIV)] salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9)[1].  So, those of whom Paul speaks – those who are not destined for wrath, but instead for salvation – are recipients of their destiny through the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is certainly much more that could be said here, but it is no tangential matter that salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the mediator of such salvation; He is the provider of the saving work; He is the bringer of the gift. It is clear that salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ, and anyone who receives this great salvation has no less received the embodiment of it.

Elsewhere Paul says, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).  Again Paul speaks of recipients of salvation, but this time in terms of grace and the gift of righteousness.  Though the details of this saving work are described distinctly here, Paul remains sure that these gifts come through Jesus Christ.  Here, however, we are given a bit more information as to the specifics of what exactly Christ brings to those who are beneficiaries of His salvation, namely abundant grace and foreign righteousness.  We may find a better explanation of just how abundant this grace is in the context of the passage, but the righteousness of which Paul speaks we know is foreign precisely because it is a gift.  If the righteousness were inherent in the recipient, it may have been said to be enabled, reinforced, or motivated by Christ.  Yet this righteousness is a gift brought to the hopelessly unrighteous inheritor to be received from another who does inherently possess such virtue.

On a separate occasion Paul chastised the Galatian Christians for their ridiculous posture of false human holiness before the judgment of God.  Paul points out the definition of grace as unmerited favor in his question posed to them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2).  The thing being received in this passage is ‘the Spirit.’  Paul is reminding the Galatian believers that God is the giver of His Spirit and all Christians are receivers of the Holy Spirit, not because of their meritorious effort, but ‘by faith.’  There is not the space necessary here to expound on a theological statement concerning the biblical doctrine of the Godhead as Trinity, but it is pertinent to note that the Spirit of God is one in the same as the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).  Therefore, it is not wrong to say that Paul’s explicit statement here is that all those who hear the Gospel with faith in the person and work of that good message are also recipients of the Spirit of Christ – they have received Christ by His Spirit, the Spirit of God.

It is not new to turn to Romans chapter 3 for the purpose of evangelizing.  The oft-memorized “Romans Road”[2] begins right on this terrain.  While verses 23 through 25 of Romans chapter 3 may or may not be familiar, they lend a great deal of help to our discussion here.  Again we read the words of the Apostle Paul, “[F]or 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” (Rom. 3:23-25).  If one unpacks the meaning of this text, the substance of it carries tremendous power.

First, it is clearly stated that ‘all’ are sinners who have failed to live up to the holy demands of God.  This is especially disheartening when one considers the absolute power, perfect justice, and unique eternality of God.  He has enough power to do whatever He desires to do, always justly punishes sin, and He will never ever cease to be exactly what He is now.  This is not good news to the sinner, who finds him or herself under the righteous judgment of that same God.

Second, those sinners to whom Paul referred are also said to be ‘justified’ by a gift of grace.  To be justified means to be made or proven right, righteous, or commendable.  This is almost too incredible to be true!  The same person who is clearly guilty and sinful may be proven to be righteous and commendable?!  Wait… If we pause for a moment and consider the logic of such a statement, it doesn’t make sense.  Either a person is sinful and guilty or one is righteous and commendable, but he or she cannot be both at the same time and in the same way.  How can Paul say that God proves sinners commendable?  Has God forgotten about their sin?  Is He no longer concerned with His righteous demands?  Is God no longer just?  Has He lost His power to condemn?  No!  God remains just, sin remains abhorrent to Him, and He is always utterly resolute in His judgment against it.

Third, the reason that sinners may be proven righteous is explained in the statement that this justification comes ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.’  Two demonstrative terms are used in the Romans passage that point to the work performed by Christ on behalf of sinners.  (1) Redemption is a monetary term, carrying the idea of buying back, or exchanging something for an award or something else of monetary value.  (2) Propitiation is a term of satisfaction, carrying the idea of a gift given to a conquering king in order to appease his anger towards the offending or rebellious king who has been overcome.  When we see these terms in the light of what Christ has done for sinners, then the justification spoken of earlier becomes clearer.

Jesus Christ offers His own life as a substitute for the sinner before God’s bar of justice.  This accomplishes two things.  One, Christ propitiates or appeases God wrath against sin by absorbing the wrath due sin on the sinner’s behalf.  Jesus redirects God judgment from the sinner and towards Himself.  This is why it is rightly said that God made Christ to be sin even though Jesus had not sinned Himself (2 Cor. 5:21).  Two, Jesus redeems sinners by offering His own righteousness, obedience and goodness to all those who trust Him for it.  God requires a life of holiness from all humans.  Jesus Christ lived the life of obedient righteousness before God that is required of all humanity, and He offers His earned righteousness to sinners as a gift to be received (Rom. 5:19).

Fourth and finally, this gift of justification (proven right and commendable) is to be received by faith.  That is, one must put down all his or her own effort to achieve a goodness of their own, and he or she must simply trust in the effort of another – namely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  When we visualize this transaction as a dirty-clothed sinner exchanging his guilt-stained garb for the beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness, it would not be hard at all to see why one might describe it as “putting on” a “new self” (Eph. 4:24).

Therefore, we are to understand that sinful humans are ‘proven righteous’ because of the righteousness of Christ.  Furthermore, we may also consider that Christ is not merely the ticket to an eternal reward greater than Himself.  Certainly this is not the case at all!  In spite of contemporary jargon that might suggest, or explicitly claim, otherwise (which is often just a recapitulation of past error), Christ is Himself the prize.  He is the destination!  His presence, His glory, His eminent majesty is what we long to behold!  If we are looking for Christ to take us to a reward that is something other than Himself, then we have set our aim far too low.  He is both our transport and our station, and there is no greater reward than the triune God of our salvation.

Praise be to God!  If we have received Christ’s righteousness, then we have most certainly received Him.  If we are heirs to Christ’s sonship, then we share in His loving relationship with God our Father.  If we are beneficiaries of Christ’s redeeming and propitiating work, then we have exchanged ourselves for Him, our sorrow for His joy, our sin for His obedience, our idolatry for His genuine worship, and our deserved penalty for His earned reward!  With the Apostle Paul, we may indeed say to one another “on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20) by receiving Christ – all that He is and all that He has done for you – and “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col. 2:6).

All terms may be used erroneously or mischievously.  The terms used in articulating the Gospel are most important because of the message they communicate; therefore to twist and mangle them is supremely egregious regardless of intent.  This should drive us to a reverent and diligent commitment to communicate this message and its implications as accurately as we are capable.  So, is it proper to use the phrase “receive Christ” in an evangelistic exchange?  Yes.  If it is explained well then it is not merely proper, it can be wholly advantageous.


[1] All Biblical citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless noted otherwise.

[2] The Romans Road refers to several passages in the book of Romans that may be sited for evangelistic purposes.  Seeking to present the Gospel in biblical terms, the evangelist would begin with chapter 3 and verse 23, then move to chapter 6 and verse 23, then cite chapter 5 and verse 8, and finally land in chapter 10 and verse 13.