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

Carl

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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.)

Carl

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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)

Carl

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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

Carl

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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

Carl

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Vanished Boundaries of the PCUSA

17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. 19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

(Lev 19:17-19 ESV)

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion. (Lev 18:22-23 ESV)

A few years ago a book came out to explain a phenomenon in Protestant Mainline Liberal churches. The book Vanishing Boundaries scientifically correlates diminishing numbers of Liberal church membership and attendance with “vanishing boundaries.” These boundaries are issues of faith and morals. What the church believes (doctrine) and how the church lives in the world (morals) separate us from our pagan neighbors and culture. If what we believe is no different from the culture, and how we live no different from the culture then what do we offer that is different? If we are no different, then we are irrelevant, salt that has lost its taste. Being different (holy) is a major theme in Scripture. Let me give you a lengthy example. Many people have told me that they have tried on many occasions to read the bible from Genesis to Revelation. They move along very well through Genesis and Exodus, but things come to a screeching halt when they get to Leviticus. Why? I think part of the problem is that most people do not understand the placement of Leviticus. Leviticus is situated after Exodus and before Numbers. Of course this is self-evident, but what more does it mean? Exodus is about leaving the land of bondage and sin (literally and figuratively), while Numbers is about entering the promise land of freedom and holiness in God. Leviticus is simply about preparing the people of God to live lives that are set apart, consecrated to God—in a word holy. The children of Israel needed a spiritual detox. They needed to be detoxed from Egypt. God had taken the Jew out of Egypt, but now God must take Egypt out of the Jew. Too much of Egypt is still in them. In order for Israel to be God’s people they must be wholly unlike the gentiles of Egypt and Canaan. To do this God lays down certain specific “boundaries” in Leviticus. God has already given them the Ten Commandments from on high, a sort of birds-eye-view of morality. However, the people also needed examples or cases on how the Ten Commandments are to be worked out. How do we apply God’s law to everyday living? What does holiness look like on the ground from a worm’s perspective? This is the purpose of Leviticus. This is why Leviticus is so specific, clear and unambiguous about so many issues. Leviticus provides a moral order for Israel in the midst of the moral chaos around them. Another important point to make is to note not only the specificity of the law in Leviticus, but also the types of law that are specified. Broadly speaking, in the Scripture, there are three types of law: Ritual, Civil, and Moral. Ritual law deals with the religion of Israel. An example of this are the laws surrounding animal sacrifice. Secondly, Civil law deals with political, judicial, and social issues. These laws serve to govern the civic life of Israel as a nation. Examples of this sort of law(s) deal with certain expectations and penalties surrounding certain civil statutes. So if someone were put to death for committing adultery then the penalty is an example of the civil use of the law. Thirdly, there is the moral law. This is (I hope) self-evident. The moral law governs behavior, intent, and results stemming from certain behavior. The moral law defines what is right and wrong, good and evil. An example of this is adultery. Adultery is evil (and so are all sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman). So, in light of this, acts of adultery are wrong.

Now, a discerning mind will notice that though these are distinctions it does not mean that they are separate. Civil law goes with the moral law. The penalty of adultery is a civil issue, but the wrongness of adultery is a moral issue. In fact, morality is the foundation of civil law. This is true even in our modern, secular (increasingly) pagan culture. An immoral law is by definition an unjust law; and an unjust law is no law at all a la St. Augustine! The same is true for the ritual law of Israel. For the theocratic state of ancient Israel, ritual law (though distinct) was mandated by the State; if one violated a ritual law that person not only violated the ritual aspect of the law, but also the moral. Why?—because God said so (Ipse Dixit)! If God said “eat this, but don’t eat that!” and we did the opposite… we violated not only the ritual law, and not only the civil law, but the moral law as well. You may be asking right now—why are we getting a lecture on law? Well these distinctions are essential for us to understand what comes next. Chapter 19 lays down specific statutes that deal with seeds and cattle and garments, while Chapter 18 deals with illicit, sexual relations and acts. Chapter 18 is primarily dealing with moral issues. Chapter 19 is primarily dealing with civic, social issues. Many biblical scholars believe that the statutes concerning the mixing or not mixing of different cattle, seeds, and clothing material serve also as object lessons for Israel, lessons and statutes that teach and prohibit the Israelites not to mix with the pagans of Canaan, like they had done with the Egyptians. This is God’s way of saying he wants Israel to be nothing like the pagans, not only concerning issues of faith and morality, but even things like how one tends his livestock, how one tends the land, and even as in how one tends to dress. So, the least we can say is that chapter 19 is about civil, social, even ritual issues. The text is not making an argument of moral equivalence: that is to say, mixing or matching your wardrobe is morally equivalent to homosexuality or bestiality. Now, Chapter 18 is not primarily about civic, social, ritual issues; it is about moral issues. Sexual immorality was as common in the ancient pagan world as it is in today’s modern, neo-pagan world. As I noted earlier, God not only wanted Israel out of Egypt, but Egypt out of Israel. Unlike civil and religious laws (which are provisional), the moral law never changes. What is sin in the past is sin in the present and will be sin tomorrow! Now the purpose of the religious, civil, and moral laws of Israel was to distinguish Israel’s gentile pagan neighbors from the people of Israel. God was setting boundary lines of demarcation, separating the Old Testament church of Israel from the mass of pagan perdition.

The same was true for the first century church. The apostle John noted this distinction. He wrote:  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1Jo 2:17 ESV). John was telling his generation that though they are in the world they are not of the world.

As I write this the PCUSA has officially changed her constitution to reflect our pagan culture. The PCUSA has erased the boundary lines. By officially defining marriage to include same gender she is calling good evil and evil good.  The boundaries have vanished, and a flood gate of iniquity will follow on a scale never seen. My heart grieves. Pray that she will repent and turn back to her God!

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

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Faith and Belief!!

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

(2Co13:5 ESV)

What is faith? What is belief? Faith and belief in the English language are used quite differently! There is a classical distinction in theology regarding faith. In one sense there is faith, a faith whereby we have a strong connection toward someone or something! Faith in this sense is a grasping, a clutching, a hanging onto that which you trust with dependency, sincerity, and hope! This sense of faith is what we do. Faith is subjective.

However, there is another sense of faith, faith in the sense of what we believe, i.e., the object of our faith. This is normally what we mean in the English language when we speak of belief! Belief is objective!

There is a line from a famous Peanuts cartoon which combines these two notions of faith. It says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere!” In this statement, “sincerity” correlates with our first notion of faith; it’s someone’s faith sincerely grasping, clutching, and hanging onto something with dependency and trust! What is this something? It’s “what you believe!” But notice the rather odd, naïve clause: “It doesn’t matter what you believe….” Isn’t it rather naïve to trust if that which we trust is not trustworthy? This “peanutty” assertion assumes that the act of trusting makes something trustworthy! But isn’t it the other way around? Doesn’t a trustworthy person or thing make the act of trusting possible? You wouldn’t trust ISIS to teach your children tolerance? Would you? Nor would you think that by trusting ISIS to teach your children tolerance would make ISIS trust worthy! How absurd!!

But how many of us treat our Christian faith this way? We think that the content of our faith is irrelevant! All that matters is our faith, our trusting, and our sincerity! But this could not be further from the truth! Hell will be full of sincere people who have been sincerely wrong! Sincerity is not the touchstone of genuine, saving faith! The touchstone of saving faith is the object of faith. The object of the Christian faith is Christ. Paul warns us to examine our lives to see if we are “in the faith!” Christ is the only way to be saved or justified because Christ is the only trustworthy object of faith!

Our belief about Jesus is essential to salvation. However, belief about Jesus is not enough. Belief about Jesus requires belief in Jesus! Belief in Jesus is a sinner’s grasping, clutching, a hanging onto and trusting in Jesus with dependency and sincerity! Faith without belief is mindless, but belief without faith is heartless!

Last month I wrote on the subject of the gospel. I shared that the gospel is all about Jesus: his life, death, burial, and resurrection! But what connects a sinner to the gospel of salvation? What connects us to Jesus? One of the many gifts God gives in saving us is the gift of faith. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”(Eph 2:8 ESV). Paul, in II Corinthians, notes that the object of “the faith” (Christ), is a central touchstone for whether we are a genuine believer or not. But Paul also notes in Ephesians that the act of faith, i.e. the act of sincere trusting, is also a gift! This gift of faith is conversion!

Conversion is one of the marks of a true believer, and a healthy church! Faith is turning to, and trusting in Jesus! Faith is what we do! Faith is an ability we have, but an ability we do not have on our own! Faith is an ability God gives graciously! But, faith is only half of the equation. Next month I will discuss the second half of conversion: that is repentance! But for now, may God continue to build us up in our faith! May our ability to sincerely trust and depend upon God mature us, to grow us into mature believers, and to grow us into a mature church!

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

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