At What Cost?

AT WHAT COST_

I’ve been doing my best today to stay quiet and just can’t. We have a saying in our writer’s group: Bleed On the Blog. What we mean is that the best writing sometimes comes when we expose our soul for all to see. We pull back the curtain and just say what we’ve been thinking, throwing the consequences to the wind.

I rise today to take up the article D.C. McAllister wrote, Eric Metaxsas defended, and Roy Moore and President Trump inspired. The premise is simple: We’re all fallen and sinners. But just because someone is a sinner doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use us for His means and therefore, we are justified to vote for a man accused of sexual assault of then young girls. In fact McAllister seems to uses a perverted system of Two Kingdoms to justify such a view. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the theonomic nerds come out of their IPA induced hibernation to hold her up as an example of why Two Kingdoms is a dangerous teaching.

But I digress.

Let’s start with this “sacred” and “secular” confusion. McAllister writes “Unfortunately, many social conservatives, and Christians in particular, treat secular leaders as if they’re spiritual leaders, as if any stain on their character, fault from their distant past, or even theological apostasy disqualifies them from political leadership. They seem to fear that the personal sinfulness of a man will bring about the ruin of an entire party or nation…By erecting this standard, these critics come dangerously close to confusing the secular and the sacred, the city of man and the city of God.”

Let’s start by pointing out the obvious: No. As a Christian, I’m by no means asking for perfection. I know I’ll never get it. There will always be something about a candidate that I don’t like, be that moral, ideological, or theological. The only candidate I know I will 100% agree with is me. However, and I can’t stress this enough, sexual assault (especially with a minor) is the deal breaker. I’m not asking for perfect, I’m asking for the candidate to not be a sexual deviant. I’m not asking for theological purity. I’ll vote with those who hold to different interpretations. I’m asking for them to not think it’s acceptable to assault someone. That a pretty low bar.

But on the nature of Two Kingdoms, let’s address this as well. Yes I hold that there is both the City of God and City of Man, both in which Christ is King, and rules and overrules in those Cities differently. But they are not so divorced that we give a pass to one of the most heinous of sins. They are not so separated that the City of God cannot speak to the City of Man and say, “No this is the standard”. This is not utopia seeking. This is maintaining our witness.

“Political leaders, however, are not spiritual leaders with the same responsibilities, burdens, and covenantal obligations of leaders within Scripture. This doesn’t mean we can willy-nilly vote for immoral men” I agree. The Church is not the State, and the standards are different. However, what McAllister is justifying in this article isn’t to just vote willy-nilly. It’s to excuse sexual assault. She is asking us to vote for immoral men. This does not mean that we only have Christian doctors, and only do business with Christians. What it does mean, is that when choosing our leaders, morality matters.

Ultimately, what McAllister is asking for us to do, and Metaxas is defending is we sellout our witness for power. It’s the exchange of Gospel for the red stew of politics. It is the Temptation all over again, “If we surrender our vote, we will have all the kingdoms of the world.” But this City of Man is passing away. We are not Esau. If we give up our victorious message for “one more Senate seat” we will lose what is most dear.

I refuse to sit quietly by as the Moral (can we still call them this?) Majority Evangelical baptizes wicked individuals for more power. At what cost? Where do we then draw the line? Growing up, I was told to never give up the Gospel. I was taught to stand firm. That we are more faithful to God than we are to man. That’s counter to what McAllister is saying. She may say, “Am I concerned when I hear people saying morality doesn’t matter at all, as if we could put a complete miscreant in office and not care?.. Character matters!” but that is exactly what she is saying. “Character matters” when “they” on the other side of the aisle refuse to show it. But when a Senate seat or Oval Office is up for grabs, it’s time to not let moral failure be our guide.

So yes D.C. a sinner can still serve faithfully. However, the Church is called to reject these people, call them to repentance. Not baptize them and excuse their sins. It’s not worth it.

It Really is Finished

It ReallyIs Finished.jpg

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:2, NIV

We make life difficult for ourselves with every sinful choice we make, but sometimes what we need to hear is that our sins have been paid for, and that the hard service that we had to serve has been completed. This was the case with God’s people in Isaiah 40.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are the prophet confront the people with their sin. One of the chapters where this is most obvious is chapter 5. In verses 20-21, we read about how the people are exchanging sweet water for bitter water, trading light for darkness, and calling evil good. The people of God have clearly made their bed, and it would seem based on what we read in Isaiah 5:25-30, they’re going to have to lay in it.

“Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. 26He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! 27Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. 28 Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. 29 Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. 30In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds.” – Isaiah 5:25-30, NIV

Here we have an imagery of God sending a call for pagan nations to come and swoop down like a pack of wild animals on his people as punishment for their sin. We see this fulfilled when Assyria comes in and attacks the people. God eventually brings judgement on Assyria for this attack, even Israel brought it on themselves (Isaiah 10).

For those first 39 chapters in Isaiah, we see God heaping on Israel woe, wrath, and judgement, but then in chapter 40 something happens. It’s all over. God declares that their hard time is over, and their sins are forgiven.

We can be stubborn and rebellious like the children of Israel. 1st Corinthians 10 shows us that we can be partakers of the covenant, and yet God can still not be pleased with us. However, unlike the children of Israel, someone has already taken our wrath and judgement for us – Jesus Christ.

What we should see in Isaiah 40 are comforting words that should encourage us to leave behind our sin and run to Jesus. When He says it is finished, He means it.

 

Fighting the Same Battles (Yes, We’re Still Talking about Sanctification…)

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[Just as a disclaimer, not everyone here at LNT will agree with every jot and tittle of what I’m about to say, but that’s the beauty of LNT, we are proud to be a theologically eclectic bunch.]

I know I said I was taking some time off from LNT, but I felt the need to crawl out of my hidey hole for one more article.

I left the world of Pentecostalism because I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that no matter how much “do more, try harder” religion I crammed down my throat it wasn’t helping me do more and try harder. (Go figure!) I started reading the Bible for myself and sure enough, I realized that my grandparents’ worst nightmares were coming true – I started to understand eternal security or as they called it “Once saved, always saved.”

Now, I feel like I need to stop here and explain something. A lot of the Reformed community (particularly Piper’s side) will say, “We don’t believe ‘once saved, always saved,’ we believe in ‘Perseverance of the Saints.'” They say that they want to make that distinction because they don’t want to be accused of “easy believism,” and after the recent Desiring God/R. Scott Clark Sanctification debate, I can see why. I mean, if I didn’t believe what the Bible is actually saying about salvation and sanctification, I wouldn’t want someone saying that I did.

So, as I said, I left Pentecostalism and found a home within the Reformed ranks because I thought I was safe. I thought I was free to explore the Gospel and see that it really was everything that I was reading about in Paul’s writings, and that I really was interpreting Jesus’ words in John 10 correctly when He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For once in my life, I could actually take what Jesus said to the bank, I didn’t have to rely on the weird ‘if’s or ‘but’s that Wesleyan Pentecostals tend to add in there just so they don’t feel uncomfortable. (Fun Fact: In this camp, I was told, “Yes, no one can snatch you out of His hand, but you can jump out of His hand if you want to.” So, basically, I was taught that God was powerful enough to make someone speak in tongues, but not powerful enough to keep someone’s soul.)

As I settled into the Reformed community, I knew nothing about Federal Vision or Norman Shepherd. I would occasionally read Douglas Wilson’s books and articles (and still do), but I never really saw anything troubling, other than his hyper-conservative ideas of complementarianism, but finding someone whose Reformed and not complementarian  is finding a needle in a haystack so I just did what I was do when I eat fried chicken, I took the meat and threw away the bones.

In spite of all of this, I never thought in my wildest dreams there would be such controversy over something that is so clear, and so freeing. I’ve read the arguments, I’ve read the quotes, and I’ll provide an abridged list of articles on both sides, but the fact of that matter is that there are those who claim the Reformed banner who want their works to count for something so badly that they need to hold to a Romanist view of the book of James in order to feel like they’re ‘doing enough.’ They are more deceived than our Roman Catholic friends because they’ll at least admit that works contribute to their salvation, and they’ll say that Sola Fide is false. Our Reformed friends who side with Piper on the other hand, will say ‘faith alone’ out of one side of their mouth and ‘works are necessary for salvation’ on the side. They are the true double-tongued serpents.

I don’t believe the False Prophet of Revelation is one specific person or group, but if I did, then it wouldn’t surprise me to see that person rise from ranks of Christendom claiming the Reformed banner and paying lip service to Sola Fide while saying that our salvation hinges on what we do for Christ rather than what He has done for us.

So, in conclusion, I didn’t jump ship to fight the same battle. I’m here because this is where my reading of Scripture and my study of theology has taken me. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t see my works as something that allows me to be one of His, and I’m not turning back. Call me a heretic. Call me a backslider. Call me an antinomian. Go ahead and tell me that I’m not really Reformed. I’ll gladly wear those labels as long it means that I’m sticking with what the Bible has said. I’m in the same company as Paul whenever he felt that he had to qualify the Gospel when he wrote the beginning of Romans 6, and if you don’t like it you can straight to… my Father in Heaven, and take it up with Him.

Piper’s Side:
Does Faith Alone Really Save? – John Piper
John Piper Compromising Sola Fide? – Mark Jones
The “Means and Way” to Salvation – Mark Jones
How to Train Your Dragons – Greg Morse

R. Scott Clark’s Side:
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through – R. Scott Clark
Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works” – R. Scott Clark
The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns – Jay Sawrie
Keep Looking: A Response to Greg Morse and Desiring God – Jay Sawrie
Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3 – Jay Sawrie

I Still Need the Sacraments

Sacraments

Growing up, I dreaded the first Sunday of each quarter. Every time during the evening service we would have Lord’s Supper after the sermon. It was clockwork, without fail. I dreaded these services because they seemed to always have the same emphasis: if there is any sin in your life, you need to repent or not take the cracker and juice this time. Like a self barring of the table. Every instance I took communion, but if I’m honest; every time I just seemed to be reminded that I’m a sinner. It was a parade of guilt and pleading.

Flash forward to today. I am not looking forward to work this week  I like my job, but the weekend has rushed by far too fast. It’s been like that for years. Everything moves faster as I’m starting to get older. There are demands for me to always have my best foot forward. Everything must be regulated and perfect. You must always think that I’m strong and never know I’m a sinner. But every Sunday, for just a brief few minutes I can stop and openly, publicly confess that I’m not strong. That at the end of the day I am weak. When it comes down to it I am sloppy and sinful. Through the Sacraments, you and I are invited to publicly proclaim that we do not have it all together. These visible signs and seals of the Gospel aren’t dead rituals that we perform. They are not there for those who think they are worthy. Christ does not call His people to clean themselves up before they come to the font or the table. But rather, He invites us, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink”. We still need the sacraments.

Because We Are Sinners…and Saints

Week after week I find myself still sinning. I still speak too harshly to my wife. I still hate that guy who cut me off in traffic. I still lie about if I’m angry. I still get angry about things that don’t matter. I still fight my wandering eye, and I still do the right thing with a bad attitude. Sanctification is progressive and slow. Laying at bed from time to time, I am faced again with the fact that I just can’t get right. I am reminded of past failures of arrogance and pride. But it is vitally important to remember the sacraments. We have every grace to look back to our baptism in faith and see once more that God has promised us: I will be your God. I will wash you. I will make you clean. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” (1 Cor 6:11). God promises us through baptism that we are, by faith, truly forgiven.

That promise is extended again to us in the Lord’s Supper. In this sacrament he nourishes with His body and His blood. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life…Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6) If we are Christ’s, He calls us to come to the table and feast. Not because we are perfect or have it all together, but because we don’t. Not because we are worthy, but because He is gracious. Not because we are in some way righteous, but because He has given us His righteousness.

By coming to Communion we are reminded that by faith in Christ we are already clean, already promised to make it all the way. When Christ says that through his flesh and blood we “abide” he seems to indicate that this sacrament is beneficial for our sanctification. By that, I mean that Communion is a God ordained means whereby He shows us repeatedly His Gospel promises. Through Baptism and Communion, we are pointed to Christ through them, and thus, looking to Him by faith, are brought into a more perfect relationship with Him. We still need the sacraments because God has given them for us to abide in Him.

 

So fear not, dear Christian, that you do not belong at the font or table. Run to them. Bring your children to them, let them see what’s going on. Do not let your failures in the Christian walk cause you to hesitate or doubt your ability to come. This water is for you and your children. This table is for you to sustain you by faith. Come to the Sacraments, not as a dead ritual that just signals that the service is coming to a close. But come to it as a God given necessity for the Christian life.

The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 1)

It is no secret that Christians feel lost in this sinful world. Often times we go through our day and we feel out of place. Sin is rampant, holiness is scarce. We are seen as “odd” because we wont partake in the folly of the world.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”- 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

But in 1 Peter, Peter is writing to Jews who are dispersed throughout the Roman Empire; and are likely under the rule of Nero. They live in a world that is very similar to ours. They are outcasts, misfits, they know that they don’t belong to this world anymore. They live in a time of severe persecution. And though our persecution likely isn’t anywhere near the level of theirs, the principles we draw from Peter’s two letters are nonetheless as valuable to us as they were to them.

Peter opens his letter by giving his readers an identity of hope: those who are elect exiles. That may not sound like an identity you would like to have, because who really wants to be an exile? But its really a term of endearment rather than a negative one. Yes they are exiles, but they are far more than that! They are elect exiles! Without a doubt this wording brought about the memories of the stories that they had heard many times from family members of how their ancestors lived in exile in Egypt and the freedom they finally experienced.

In verse 2 Peter gives his readers four reasons why they must endure the persecution and continue to live as exiles. First, their exile is “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. Second it is “for the sanctification of the Spirit”. Third, it is “for obedience to Jesus”. Lastly, it is “for sprinkling with blood”. Your exilic state has a purpose, namely to sanctify you.

If you take anything from 1 Peter 1:1-2  my desire is that you find your identity. You are an elect exile. Purposefully chosen and placed in your specific context to spread the Gospel. Take hope in Christ, who was pierced and died so that you could glorify Him in the world that hates Him.