Real Christians

5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  (Joh 15:-10 ESV)

In an article in the Washington Post[1] entitled “ When Christianity Becomes Lethal,”  Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, contends that the Christian faith has elements within it which are conducive to abuse and misuse, hence lending itself to potential violence or at least suggestive of violence. This is in light of a bombing that took place in Norway, perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik. She goes on and writes:

“It is absolutely critical that Christians not turn away from the Christian theological elements in such religiously inspired terrorism. We must acknowledge these elements in Christianity and forthrightly reject these extremist interpretations of our religion. How can we ask Muslims to do the same with Islam, if we won’t confront extremists distorting Christianity?”

She also quotes Stephen Prothero who says:

“When I was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I required my students to read Nazi theology. I wanted them to understand how some Christians bent the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jews and how these weapons found their mark at Auschwitz and Dachau. My Christian students responded to these disturbing readings with one disturbing voice: the Nazis were not real Christians, they informed me, since real Christians would never kill Jews in crematories.”

Prof. Thistlethwaite agrees with Prothero when he confesses that he found their response “terrifying.” Question!!—why would these Professors find such a response “terrifying” from their students? What is so terrifying to assert that the Nazis were not “real Christians,” because real Christians would not employ the beastly and wicked act of genocide? The only thing that makes sense out of their odd sentiment is that either both Thistlethwaite and Prothero do not believe that the Nazis were (and other ideologues who justify violence in the name of the Christian faith are) bending the words of Scripture—meaning that there are elements true to the Christian faith that can, at the same time, also truly justify violence without much bending, on the one hand— or, on the other hand, they either do not understand what “bend[ing] the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jew” really means. In regards to the latter, by definition bending or abusing or misusing anyone, or something is not an indictment upon the object that has been bent or abused or misused (in this case the Bible), but a condemnation of the abuser (in our case the Norway Bomber). St. Augustine once opined, “Do not judge a world-view based upon its abuse or misuse.” Ravi Zacharias then added that, “…instead one must judge a world-view upon the teaching and example of its founder.” The author of this article does not seem to notice that this “right-wing” Christian ideologue (not theologian) is not following the words or actions of Jesus. So by definition he cannot be “Christian,” if one means by Christian a true disciple of Jesus who “abides” and follows the “way of Christ.” I am sure the day before he murdered those 76 victims by virtue of his madness, he did not ask, “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?” The same goes for the Nazis!

It is a ridiculous assertion and question to ask (as Prof. Thistlethwaite does) that:

“We must acknowledge these elements in Christianity and forthrightly reject these extremist interpretations of our religion. How can we ask Muslims to do the same with Islam, if we won’t confront extremists distorting Christianity?”

I say it’s ridiculous because (again) a misuse of Christianity to justify violence is not and cannot besmirch the Christian faith, because our founder (Jesus) never justified violence. In fact Jesus prepared “real Christians” to expect that violence will be done to us if we hold to the faith…because violence was done to Him, Jesus. Jesus asks rhetorically “is a slave greater than his or her master?” If Jesus being our master endured violence then why should we expect any less?

My hope is that Islam will move beyond its founder. The recent carnage in Paris was done by radicals who find justification for their actions in the life and times of Muhammad. Unlike the 16th century Reformation (where Christians went back to our founding and founder via Scripture) Islam needs to not look back as the modern Jihadist have, but progress forward. Moving beyond via cultural routinization and institutionalization will soften the contours and ideological rough edges of Islam.

However, Christianity is the only religion that cannot (and ought not) move beyond its founder. Simply put Jesus was perfect in all ways, including His humanity. The saying, “To err is human” though applying to everyone (including every religious founder of every religion from the past to present and future) never applied to Jesus. When we move beyond Jesus (the cornerstone of our faith) we are the ones who err. When we err we stray into violence and justify it in untold ways, including religious ways, e.g., the Crusades, the 17th century Wars of Religion,…etc. Even Jesus Himself said that if we are to be “real Christians” we must not move beyond Him, but toward him. Jesus says it this way in John 15: “ 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

In conclusion, may we keep our eyes and hearts and minds fixed upon Jesus alone.  May we not move beyond, but toward Jesus by abiding in him. We abide in Jesus by obeying God’s Word. The greatest commandment is to love God and only then can we love our neighbor. Jesus tells us that the only way we can know that we are saved (making him both Lord and Savior) is by our fruit. Fruit (good works) does not save, but it’s evidence of our salvation. “Real Christians” do in fact bear good fruit! It’s the opposite that is so “terrifying”.

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A Thanksgiving Sermon

“Be Thankful”

Luke 7:36-50

Robert Emmons, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and psychology professor Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, have long been interested in the role gratitude plays in physical and emotional well being. They took two groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of two things each week: focus on things that irritate them or things for which they were grateful.

The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or that irritated them. The second group recalled recent events or people for whom they were grateful.

The results: The people who focused on gratitude were happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, and they were active in many ways that were good for them. Those who were grateful quite simply enjoyed a higher quality of life.

Emmons was surprised. “This is not just something that makes people happy, like a positive-thinking/optimism kind of thing. A feeling of gratitude really gets people to do something, to become more pro-social, more compassionate.” Such was not the case in  the other group: they were miserable.

Which group are you in this evening? Maybe you are one of those who look for things that irritate you. Well if you are, then you probably don’t have to wait long. How long do you have to wait before you are flustered? It wasn’t long for Simon the Pharisee to find something that irritated him. Why do I say this? He was looking for it. Simon invites Jesus over to get to know him; he was looking to see if Jesus was who he claimed to be: a prophet of God. But Simon was skeptical; he was not sure if Jesus was  true prophet. Surprisingly Simon found what he was looking for: Jesus was not a prophet (so he thought). Why? Because if Jesus was a prophet he would have known that “This Woman” who is touching Jesus (attending to Jesus’ needs) is a sort of loose woman that no “true prophet” would have anything to do with. But Jesus knew this. Jesus knew that this Pharisee was the sort of man who looked for things that irritated him. Jesus knew that this man saw life as a glass that’s half empty. If given lemons, he would make every one and every situation around him sour.

But as a prophet Jesus was also able to discern truly what sort of woman “That Woman” was who had been attending to his needs. This woman did not belong to the group of people who look for things to irritate them (like Simon), but she belonged to a second group of people, people who focuse on things which they were grateful for. Only a grateful person could serve Jesus the way she did. Unlike her critic “cynical Simon” who looks under every rock, leaving no stone unturned to find some offense (so that he may express his ingratitude) this woman serves Jesus with tears of gratitude. Have you ever been so grateful for something… that you have tears of joy? Well this is what happens to this woman—she expresses her gratitude with tears. In fact it was a floodgate of tears: she cried enough tears to wet the feet, to drench the feet of Jesus; so many tears drenched Jesus’ feet that it was enough to saturate all of the caked-on-dirt and grime and dung that Jesus had collected in his day’s journey. Mind you, Jesus and his contemporaries wore sandals with toes exposed. Jesus and his contemporaries would walk (not on nice clean paved roads) but on dirty, muddy, grimy roads. They would have to walk though dung left by horses and mules and donkeys. All of this would be caked on one’s feet. We moderns don’t know a thing about stinky feet like the ancient Palestinians. We have nothing compared to ancient “Palestinian toe-jam.” This woman wipes off the dirt, grime, and dung from Jesus’ feet with her hair and then pours perfume (her expensive perfume) on them. As opposed to being critical, she was thankful for Jesus and his presence. Why? Why was she so thankful?

This woman was a known sinner in town; she was known for her sinful, disgraceful life. Most likely she was a prostitute. There is nothing glamorous about the sex trade industry. Prostitution is one of those sins that racks the body, destroys one’s sense of dignity; it leaves one jilted, and critical and cynical of life, of relationships. If anything it makes more sense for this woman to be in the first group; she has more reason to be critical and cynical than Simon the Pharisee. But she wasn’t! She was the very opposite. She was grateful. Why?

Jesus tells us why. He does this by-way-of a Parable. Jesus asks the Pharisee (Simon) I got something to tell you, a Parable. It’s a story about two men who owe a money lender: one owed five-hundred denarii, the other fifty. The money lender decided to cancel out both of their debts. Jesus asked rhetorically “Now Simon…tell me which one will love him (the money lender) all the more? Which one will be more grateful” Simon said “I guess the one with the bigger debt.” Jesus responds with a resounding eureka, A+ “cynical Simon.” Jesus then turns to Simon and tells him (and us) why this woman who had more reasons to be critical and cynical of life, and relations and even to Jesus more than anyone in this sanctuary tonight. This woman was able to love, was able to be grateful, was able to focus on things she was grateful for because she has been forgiven of much: no more guilt, no more punishment. She, unlike Simon, was aware of the fact that she was a dreadful sinner, estranged from God. She was aware of what sin had done to herself, others, and (most importantly God). She felt the weight of sin bearing down on her to the point of suffocation. It was in these circumstances that Jesus comes and liberates her, redeems her, tending to her emotional, and psychological and spiritual scars of sin. This woman was morally, emotionally, spiritually dead and Jesus brought her back to life with these words: “your sins are forgiven.”  This woman had an awful lot to be thankful for and she knew it.

The only difference between Simon and this woman is that she knew she had a lot to be thankful for. Simon did not. The woman was aware of her immense moral debt she owed God; that’s what made her appreciate what Jesus did for her. This is why she could say even on a bad day when asked “how are you doing?” by responding “better than I deserve!!” This is why she couldn’t help but to focus on things she was grateful for. What else is there? But this also explains Simon. Simon was not aware of the moral debt he owed God. Such people think that things are owed to them. If we think everything is owed to us—and we do not have everything—then it’s natural to be critical, cynical, and ungrateful even in the midst of grace. This is why the other guests were critical of Jesus when he said to the woman “your sins are forgiven.” They murmured, “Who is this who even forgives sins.”  God’s grace was in their midst and they missed it because they were too smug, self-satisfied, and ungrateful…too busy focusing on what irritated them.

In conclusion, I will not ask of you this Thanksgiving Eve “what do you have to be thankful for?” That should be obvious. But I will ask, “which group do you affiliate with the most?” Do you look for things that irritate you? Are you critical, cynical, and ungrateful? Are you in that group that focuses on what is owed to you? Or are you in the other group that focuses on what is owed to God (giving thanks to God), focusing on all that you have to be thankful for?  If so… be thankful!

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The Worth of Human Life? It’s priceless!

In one of his books, the great preacher and teacher Leslie Weatherhead tells about visiting some friends who had an old dog named Pete. Pete was in sad shape. He tottered about, had a raw spot on his back, and arthritis in his joints. Weatherhead asked his friends, “Why don’t you have Pete put to sleep?” “Oh no,” they said, “Pete is Mike’s dog.” Mike was their son who was away at the university. “If we put old Pete to sleep, what would we say when Mike came home and looked for his beloved dog? We couldn’t bear to say to him, ‘oh, we put him to sleep because he was such a bother and he wasn’t worth saving.”‘

“Not worth saving?” That was the label that Weatherhead could hang on old Pete, but not the parents because of their love for Mike and Mike’s love for old Pete. Love is a heavily value laden term, especially objects of sentimental value. The old dog Pete may not be loved by us but he’s definitely loved and valued by Mike. Can you imagine some cynical angel, like Weatherhead, looking down on the world and saying, “I don’t see why God keeps those mangy humans around? Look how they disobey. Look how wretched most of them are. Why don’t you just wipe them out? They aren’t worth saving!”  Morally speaking, we deserve the moral description of being mangy, but the reason why God doesn’t put us down, so to speak, is because our value is based on God’s benevolent love for us. We are God’s creation, made in His image and by virtue of this– human life is sacred because God is sacred; human life is priceless because God is of infinite value and all human life reflects the image of God.

So why does God give us a commandment that all cultures from one degree to another agree that murder (the unlawful taking of a human life) is wrong? Is God being superfluous? By no means!! God (in what some consider stating the obvious) is reinforcing the idea that human life is sacred. If there is no God, all things are permissible… even murder! Apart from God, there is nothing left but (as the late John Paul stated), a culture of death.

A culture of death surrounded ancient Israel. Not only was animal sacrifices acceptable, but also human sacrifice. One of these pagan gods was Moloch. This demon (which Moloch represented) demanded child sacrifice, a practice that ancient Israel picked up. These pagan gods in general reflected the blood thirsty culture of death. It was in the midst of this culture of death that God commands Israel to value life. The term used in the Hebrew is RATZACH; this Hebrew word is never used in connection to the lawful execution of a death penalty or the kind of killing that takes place when a soldier is in a life and death situation that demands killing, nor is this word ever used in connection with hunting or killing animals for cultic reasons. What the bible forbids is not killing, but the unlawful killing of a human being: “You shall not murder.” This ranges from premeditated, cold blooded murder, from voluntary manslaughter (crimes of passion) to involuntary manslaughter (unintentional deaths).

More and more we are living in a culture of death. In our secular and pragmatic society, innocent life is no longer sacred; the value of human life is grounded in its usefulness. If one’s life is no longer useful, but in fact becomes a burden on society, or if one’s life is defective (of no use), then it’s time to abort and sell the parts that are useful. Dr.Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, has said, “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person.” Singer, who is considered the father of the international animal rights movement, has said that children less than one month old have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others. (Religion Today, 4/19/99). Even recently in the news we have seen the obscene and callous nature of Planned Parenthood, relegating the value of little aborted babies to the usefulness of their body parts. What is evil about both Planned Parenthood and Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house, while body parts are auctioned to the highest bidder!

How should we understand this from God’s perspective? Let me share a very important distinction between God’s love and human love.

G K Chesterton notes the difference between human beings loving what we create versus God loving what he creates! He noted that we can only truly love what we create after it comes into being. We can tear down a house halfway and no big deal. But it’s not until a house becomes a home that we have a strong emotional connection. Not so with God. God loves what he creates before it comes into being.

Question—is a baby a human product, something humans construct, not worthy of love until it comes into full being, like a house that can be torn down half way through construction? Or is a baby a divine creation deserving love before he or she is born? Which is it? The answer is obvious.

In conclusion, during the 1840’s in the Fiji Islands of the Pacific, a man was worth $7. You could buy a man for a musket. After you bought him you could starve him, work him, whip him or eat him. Cannibalism was very popular in those regions. But if you went to the Fiji Islands forty years later you could not buy a man for $7 million. What had made the difference? Heroic missionaries like John G. Paton had brought the Gospel. Twelve hundred Christian chapels were scattered over the islands. The people had learned to read a book which says, “You shall not murder.” They had learned to see persons through the eyes of Christ. As we put on Christian lenses and focus on them as persons, killing will stop and God’s Kingdom will draw nearer. What is a human life worth? It’s priceless!!

Soli Deo Gloria


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Becoming Christ Centered

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

(Phi 2:1-5 ESV)

The Rev. Emyrs Tyler, moderator of Susquehanna Valley Presbytery for 2015, has written a very good article for the Presbytery this month.

Emyrs astutely notes:

Every program for church renewal says it in some form or another, whether it’s Acts 16:5 or New Beginnings or Natural Church Growth. Every method for recentering Christ’s Church addresses the problem of asking the wrong question….What do I do now? is a radically different question than What is God doing in me right now? The first invites us to plan, schedule, and evaluate based results. The second considers every interruption a divine opportunity.

Emyrs is right: every “program” for church renewal deals with the problem of asking wrong questions. Wrong questions look to programs, that is, things we do: planning, scheduling, and evaluating what we do, while utilizing scarce resources of time, money, and people. Programs are not bad in and of themselves; in fact programs are essential in channeling renewal and growth. However, programs are never a means (or especially the source), of renewal.

Renewal requires recentering, putting first things first. Renewal requires asking the right question, not of doing but being: not “what shall I do?” but “what should I be?”

What do I mean? Dr. Sinclair Ferguson helps to illustrate the difference between doing and being:

Years ago, I had a somewhat painful encounter with this “tell us and we’ll do it” mentality. Halfway through a Christian students’ conference where I was speaking on the assigned theme “Knowing Christ,” I was summoned to meet with a deputation of staff members who seemed to feel duty-bound to confront me with the inadequacies of my first two expositions of Scripture.

“You have addressed us for two hours,” they complained, “and yet, you have not told us one single thing to do.”

Impatience to be doing hid impatience with the apostolic principle that it is only in knowing Christ that we can do anything (cf. Phil. 3: 10; 4: 13)—or so it seemed to me at the time.

Renewal requires asking “what should I be?” Renewal requires answering with a number of robust questions and answers: “I should be like Christ!” “But how do I become like Christ?” “I become like Christ by knowing Him!” This is the key: by knowing Christ, we become like Christ; by becoming like Christ we are then able to do. Knowing Christ is not knowledge about Christ. It includes this, but it is much more. Knowledge means intimate relationship and conformity to Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. There is a deep transformative interpenetration. Like Paul, we long to know Christ by the transformative power of His resurrection (building up) in our lives, and by sharing in the transformative power of his suffering (tearing down). In short God transforms us by breaking us and then building us up, by afflicting us in our comfort of self-satisfaction, pride, and impatience, and then by comforting us in our affliction with words of forgiveness, bringing hope, patience, and satisfaction in Him.

The cycle of breaking us down and building us up is the only method or source of renewal. This continual cycle of breaking and building is the only way Christ remains center, and is the only method of recentering Christ in us and in His Church. The cycle of breaking and building is not something we do, but what is done to us by Christ conforming us to His image. As John Piper says, “As we are conformed to the image of Christ, he is made more and more the center of all things.”

This is our method of renewal: conforming to the image of Christ. As you ponder this, ask yourself these questions. Am I being conformed to the image of Christ? Is your church being conformed in Christ’s image? The way to know this is by answering more penetrating questions: in humility are we counting others MORE significant than ourselves, or are conceit and rivalry among us? Are we looking out for the interests of others in collaboration with our own interests (that is, loving others as we love ourselves), or are we pitting our interests against others in the body of Christ (that is, loving ourselves at the expense of others)?  Do we have the same mind? Do we have the same love? All of the best music programs in the world won’t renew a church where division, rivalry, conceit abound! Division, rivalry, and conceit are all evidence of a self-centered, not Christ-centered church. May we strive to become more Christ-centered in our lives and in our churches!

Selah (Reflect on this.)


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Direction Not Perfection

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

(Isa 6:1 ESV)

Last month you will recall we dealt with the theme of assurance, assurance of salvation. Assurance of salvation is an important theme in Scripture. However, too often we look in the wrong direction for our assurance. Too often we look to our past experiences: our coming down the aisle to make an emotional profession of faith, or signing a card, or saying the “sinner prayer.” These are all examples of past experiences we can remember. But there are also past experiences we don’t remember: being baptized as an infant before the church or being dedicated to God before the church as a baby. These are all past experiences. But, as I have noted on occasion in the pulpit, our “experience” does not save us. God saves us.

But if we have had a saving experience (conversion) with God then there will be present evidence to the fact of such an experience. Case in point, if I was derelict in my duty to lead worship service next Sunday at my church by not showing up to preach or anything that Sunday, and then apologized to my parishioners and the leadership for not showing up that Sunday, would they not want a reason? What if I told them that the reason why I did not show up was because, while driving the night before on I-81, I was involved in a car accident? I explain that a Mack truck hit me head on traveling 80 miles an hour. Would they believe me, especially in light of the fact that neither I, nor my car, had a scratch on us?

Let’s be honest. You and they would think either I was delusional, or I was the biggest liar. If I had a head on encounter with a Mack truck then there would be some evidence. If this is true of a truck, then how much more for God who is infinitely more impactful than a tractor and trailer? Above all, God is holy. In fact God is not only holy; and God is not only holy, holy. But God is holy, holy, holy. The prophet Isaiah came in contact with an infinitely holy God. The impact of that event changed Isaiah. Before his tongue was impure; now he can speak with prophetic purity. Before he was racked with justifiable guilt and shame and blame; now he is guiltless and faultless and blameless. Prior to this, Isaiah was prideful and hopeless; now Isaiah is humble and hopeful. This does not mean Isaiah was perfect; perfection in this life is impossible. As John Macarthur says, “It’s not perfection, but direction.” God impacted Isaiah. This impact radically changed Isaiah’s bearings or orientation. We hear a lot these days of “orientation.” Some orientations are more radical than others, some so radical we think they are inseparable from who we are. Of all these orientations, the deepest and most radical is our sinful nature. When God has had an impact on us, like Isaiah, we will not come out unscratched. God seizes us, turns us, and changes us from the inside out. We are marked by repentance!

In conclusion, assurance of salvation is the primary theme of the Epistle of 1st John. In light of this theme, John gives us evidences or marks of assurance that we can point to in the present to show that in fact we have been and are saved. John’s method to gain assurance is by looking at our present pursuit of holiness. Ask yourself, “how is my present pursuit of holiness? Does my pursuit of happiness trump my pursuit of holiness?” This does not mean true Christians can’t seriously fall into sin, but it’s never total or final. Read 1st John. Prayerfully ask yourself these questions. As you do, don’t look to your perfection, but your direction.

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)


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From Ugly Duckling To Lovely Swan!

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

(Psa 51:12 ESV)

Someone has said that there are two kinds of people: those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not. D. James Kennedy once quipped that “there are three kinds of people: those who can count and those who can’t.” We can all agree it’s unfair to put people in tight, tidy little categories. Putting people in categories do not do justice to the complexity of what it means to be human.

However, I think some typologies are useful, especially when it deals with the spiritual/moral state or condition of a person. Jesus taught that there were only two kinds of people: saved and unsaved. He used metaphors from the world of agriculture: goats (unsaved people) versus sheep (saved people); weeds versus wheat. So, Jesus taught that there are only two spiritual/moral conditions. But, even though there are only two spiritual states—i.e. spiritual death and spiritual life—there are differences in how we perceive these spiritual states or conditions. The story of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson captures this well. Just as the little swan thought he was a mallard, likewise could there be sheep who think they are goats? The clear teaching of Scripture is yes!

In light of this Dr. R.C. Sproul believes that there are four types of people. First, there are those who believe they are saved by grace, and are in fact saved by grace. Second, there are those who do not believe they are saved by grace, and are in fact not saved by grace. These first two groups are aware of their spiritual condition. However, there are two other types of people (type three and type four) who are not aware of their spiritual condition. The third type of person, though truly saved by grace, is not sure whether he or she is saved by grace. Then there is our fourth type. There are people who truly believe they are saved by grace, but in fact are not.

St John penned his first letter (1 John) when he was as an aged apostle, an apostle who had a pastor’s heart. John explains why he wrote his first letter. He says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1Jo 5:13 ESV). Pretty simple. John is saying that he is writing to that third type of person who, though saved, is not aware that he or she is saved, or at least not totally sure or not as deeply rooted in confidence. Such people live their lives as ugly ducklings, though in reality they are beautiful swans in the eyes of God.

In conclusion, in the near future I will be preaching (in my own church) an expository sermon series through the first letter of John. My purpose is the same as John’s original purpose: that is to confirm my parishioners in their faith with these four typologies in mind. My hope is that through this study they may (like King David) have the joy of their salvation restored from ugly ducklings to lovely swans! If you are an ugly duckling may God confirm you as His swan!

Soli Deo Gloria


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Believing is Seeing

No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.

(Luke 11: 33-36)

We have all heard the axiom: “seeing is believing.” It is a pithy way of saying that only hard, concrete evidence is convincing. However, this saying assumes a lot. One thing it assumes is that our eyes do not lie to us. But is this true? Recently on the news I came across a report about baseball. This report said that the baseball mechanics of throwing a fast ball have all been mistaken. New computer models are contradicting traditional wisdom. How?—the reporter asked. The answer: “our eyes lie to us.”

Not only do our eyes lie to us, but so do our minds and hearts. On a spiritual/moral level, the reason why our eyes, minds, hearts lie to us is because of sin. Apart from the “lamp” of Christ, sin darkens the eye; sin dims the mind; sin blackens the heart! Disbelief is a function of the soul wracked with sin and guilt. Sin and guilt distort reality from inside and out! This is, in one sense, what our Lord means when he says, “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” Without the light of Christ, seeing is believing a lie!

However, the light of Christ is the wisdom of God. Faith (the topic of last month’s article) is a function of a soul liberated from sin and guilt. Faith brightens the eye; faith illumines the mind; faith whitens the heart! This is, in one sense, what our Lord means when he says, “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” With the light of Christ’s wisdom believing is seeing the truth! This is what C. S. Lewis meant when he said in a famous quotes: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

In the book, Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection, author Jonathan Dodson writes, “The resurrection is a dividing line—a parting claim.” Here’s how he illustrates that “dividing line”:

The resurrection is like a river that parts a road. People are on the road approaching the river. Arriving at the river of the resurrection, you look across it to where the road continues and see quite a few cars are there. In your doubt, you can’t imagine how people got to the other side of the river. How did they get across? How can rational people come to the belief that Jesus died and rose from the dead?

Faith is the unnoticed ferry, lying hidden near the bank of the river that can take us from the riverbank of doubt … to the other side of belief in the resurrection. [But] it’s not blind faith … You don’t cross by closing your eyes and wishing Jesus’ resurrection was true. No. You cross with your eyes wide open. This is an informed faith, faith in a historical plausible resurrection, attested by hundreds of witnesses, one proven to be worth believing.

In conclusion, you’ll notice there is a dividing line. On one side, there are those who see in order to believe; on the other side, there are those who believe in order to see. The resurrection of Christ is God’s proclamation that believing is seeing the truth, the truth that we are sinners in need of a savior! What side of the line are you on? If you are wracked with sin and guilt receive him now! Repent and believe! Let Christ spiritually resurrect you from death to life today in hopes also of a bodily resurrection when He returns for His church!

Let us close with this prayer from John Piper:

“Lord, open the eyes of our hearts to see the supreme greatness of your wisdom and power. Make our eyes good. Heal our blindness. Fill us with the all-pervading, all-exposing, all-purifying, all-pleasing light of your presence.”

Soli Deo Gloria


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