LOVE and Good Works: COVID-19 Is a Launch Pad for the Church

I get Facebook friend requests from Christians in Africa and India on a regular basis. I have no idea how many of those actually read my posts. If any of them do, then I want to announce to them that this is a great time for the church. We have turned the church, which is supposed to be a family (1 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 6:10) into an institution with a teacher and a bunch of students. Hebrews say we all should be becoming teachers (end of ch. 5).

REMEMBER: This does not mean go off and teach your own doctrines. It means learning about one another so you can provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). The PURPOSE of the Scriptures, according to 2 Tim. 3:16-17, is to equip men of God (and women of God) for love and good works. It only works though if we are teaching, correcting, admonishing, and instructing in righteousness using the Scriptures.

Serve and teach, friends, not with crazy, new doctrines, but with encouragement to obey Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. “A good understanding,” says the Scripture, “have all those who DO his commandments” (Ps. 111:10). That is Old Testament, but the New Testament says that God blesses only the doers, not just the hearers (James 1). It also says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32) and eternal salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-9).

All my friends (that I respect so much) want me to remind you that obedience is the product of faith in Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). It is by the Spirit that we fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:3-4) and put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13). So there’s your reminder about the source of all our good works. Now, go work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God (not your church membership) that works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure. Seek God, get empowered, then overflow to those around you so that they are so filled with Jesus, or maybe convicted by the Holy Spirit, that they obey our loving Lord, who makes our yoke easy, but nonetheless puts a yoke on us (Matt. 11:30).

Remember, provoke to love and good works (Heb. 11:24), don’t spend time on doctrines you think you understand, but really don’t. It is LOVE and good works. Unity matters. Quit trying to create a separated, elite level of Christianity that the weak cannot be part of. Encourage the weak, and comfort the fainthearted (1 Thes. 5:14). Yes, we also need to “warn the unruly” (same verse), but that is the unruly, those that cause miserable problems in the church. Those that are simple doing what they are told, showing up Sunday after Sunday, but still confused as how to serve and grow, are not the unruly. They are fainthearted because they have never been TRAINED to be bold for Jesus. Help and comfort those people, if they will let you.

Amen.

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Are You Really Saved? What To Do If You Doubt It?

I much prefer practical discussions about following Jesus to theoretical, theological discussions about Christianity, though sometimes the theoretical must be addressed because it affects the practical.

Never Saved or Falling Away?

I have a conflict with most evangelical pastors over the assurance of salvation. In the twentieth-century, at least in my experience, evangelical pastors often told their congregation that they could get to heaven no matter how they lived as long as they believed Jesus died for their sins. Fortunately, more than 30 years have passed since my early experiences in evangelicalism, and evangelical pastors have mostly come to their senses and rejected that falsehood, at least in my experience.

There remains, however, a disagreement. If someone is not living for Jesus, are they in danger of falling away, or were they never saved?

Whichever answer you choose to that question, there is just one thing to do about it. Whether you wonder if you are really saved, or whether you wonder if you are falling away, the Bible has just one course of action for you.

How You Can Restore OR Begin Your Relationship with God

There are three things to think about here:

1.) If you were never really saved, but you did believe and were baptized, then the next step is not to believe and be baptized all over again. If that did not work the first time, why would it work the second time? As the saying goes, it is a mark of insanity to do the same things over again but expect different results.

2.) Mark 16:16 says that the one who believes and is baptized will be saved. If you have believed and been baptized, then you have a promise that God will save you. All denominations believe that the Christian life should be lived by faith. They all quote Galatians 2:20 to establish this. It is a great verse. So, you can simply step out in faith on the promise that he that believes and is baptized will be saved.

3.) Think about what happens when a person believes and is baptized and is really saved. What should happen is that all their sins are forgiven, they receive the Holy Spirit and, as a result, they live a holy life; i.e., they “bear fruit” (Jn. 15:1-10). If that did not happen for you, the Bible gives specific steps you can take to get all those things.

The forgiveness of sins: 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess and repent of your sins (Cf. Acts 26:20).

Receive the Holy Spirit: Jesus said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him” (Luke 11:13). Similarly, the apostle Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18, NIV). Since Paul was writing to a whole church in a large city, it is safe to conclude that he thought Christians should be filled with the Spirit over and over again. Ask your Father in heaven to fill you with the Holy Spirit.

Live a Holy Life: If you asked your heavenly Father for the Holy Spirit, trust Jesus and begin obeying God. Peter said God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). He will help you every step of the way. Here are the ways you can begin obeying God:

How You Can Obey God</h3

  1. 2 Peter 1:3-11 is a great general passage to begin with. You have faith, and you have been baptized, and Peter explains how to add to your faith. In verses 3 and 4, he lets you know what God has given you as a Christian and what great promises he has for you, such as partaking of his divine nature (Wow!). He then tells you what you should add to your faith. First, there is virtue. Do what you know is right. Second, increase your knowledge by reading the Bible and finding other Christians you can help you. Third, practice self-control. Do those virtuous things, and increase your knowledge. Be diligent about it. Fourth, don’t give up (“add … perseverance”). There are days you will feel weary, but don’t give in. Persevere. Fifth, if you persevere in those first four things, you will find yourself becoming godly. Sixth and seventh, you will find your godliness growing into kindness and love. You feed the engine by doing those first four things diligently, and you will find that God ensures that you never stumble and that a grand entrance is provided for you into the kingdom of his dear Son.
  2. Perhaps the greatest passage for knowing the teachings and will of our Lord Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Encourage yourself with these chapters on a regular basis. As you do, you will grow to understand Jesus’s nature and attitude, and the promises in those chapters will encourage you that you can continue.
  3. No one can make it on their own. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24-25 will explain to you what the church can do for you. Make sure to read those verses because not all churches will provide those things for you. A once a week sermon will do great things for you for a short time. After a while, though, you will be bored because you are supposed to have much more than songs and a sermon. If you do not find people in a church or Bible study that are doing what these passages say, press on and keep looking. You need accountability.
  4. That is the prescription I see in the Bible whether you are not sure you are saved or whether you are saved but are not living for Jesus. James seems to tie the two conditions together by writing, “Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).

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Romans 2:5-8: The Judgment by Works

I struggled for six years with Romans 2:5-8.

But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God; who “will pay back to everyone according to their works:”to those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation<

(Don’t dismiss this passage; Gal. 6:7-9 says the same thing with the Holy Spirit included.) The following quote from an anonymous letter to someone named Diognetus, written in the first half of the second century, brought the revelation I needed to understand it.

As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. (ch. 9)

This made me realize that Jesus did not die to eliminate the judgment by works. He died to empower us to face the judgment by works. (“Having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.”)

This simple interpretation explains the many verses that say Christians will be judged by our works (e.g., Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 3:1-5). Nonetheless, it is generally rejected because of the false teaching that God will demand sinless perfection at the judgment. Yes, James 2:10 says that we should not judge others who have broken the law because we are lawbreakers as well, but the verse does not say God judges that way.

Ezekiel 18:20-30 explains how God judges (in complete conformity with the New Testament verses I already mentioned.) The Ezekiel passage is a dissertation by God against Israel explaining how he judges and why his judgment is just. Romans 2:5-8 agrees with it.

Here is the real standard of God’s judgment: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)

You will find other passages that clarify that giving to and taking care of widows, orphans, and the poor as well as not loving this world are also required (James 1:27). All that God requires, though, is attainable to those who have received the power of God through Jesus Christ. Christians have received grace, and because of this sin does not have power over them (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:24). God has given us “everything that pertains to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

Why would it be wrong then, that God require of those so empowered and delivered from the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4) that they not be entangled in it again and overcome? (2 Pet. 2:20-21). This is especially true if they are also offered ongoing forgiveness for sin when they stumble (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2).

The rest of ch. 9 of the anonymous letter to Diognetus praises God for the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Do not confuse this with our version of the atonement, though. You must go on to chapter 10 and read that which must be the result of his love and grace.”

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Hebrews 6:1-2: What Are The Basics of the Christian Faith?

I spent a lot of my Christian life confused about the elementary principles of the faith as taught in Hebrews 6:1-2. Obviously, these “principles of the doctrine of Christ” are supposed to be simple. The writer of Hebrews wants us to leave them behind and go on to maturity.

They were not so simple for me as a young Christian, though. They are:

  • Repentance from dead works. Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges wrote books in the 1990’s saying that turning from sin was not necessary to salvation. John MacArthur wrote one disagreeing with them. And what are “dead works”?
  • Faith toward God. This wasn’t so bad. Almost everyone in my circles believed in salvation by faith alone. We believe; Jesus saves. Simple.
  • The doctrine of baptisms. The Baptists said we were baptized in the Holy Spirit when we were baptized in water. The Pentecostals and charismatics said the baptism in the Holy Spirit was a separate experience. The United Pentecostals, who were (and are) divided from other Pentecostals, said we were not saved unless we had a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. I met a guy who said there are three baptisms. Dake’s Study Bible said there are seven!
  • Laying on of hands. This was as bad as baptisms. Was this about the Pentecostals laying hands on a person so they are baptized in the Holy Spirit? Was it about ordaining people to ministry? Was it both?
  • The resurrection of the dead. This was more simple. Everyone I knew believed Jesus would raise us from the dead some day, the Christians at the rapture, and everyone else at the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20.
  • Eternal Judgement. Here the confusion was at a peak. Most people I knew said we would only be judged for our good works, despite the fact that this directly contradicts 2 Corinthians 5:10. Others agreed with the apostle Paul that our bad works would be judged, but our salvation would not be at stake, based on 1 Corinthians 3:15. There seemed to be general agreement that the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) was a judgment of nations that individuals did not have to worry about, which I considered (and consider) bizarre. Almost everyone taught that the judgment seat of Christ, mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10, is different than the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15.

Researching Hebrews 6:1-2

It took me about a year after becoming a Christian to conclude that I would never find one explanation of these supposedly “basic” doctrines from the divided denominations. I knew, too, that if the Bible was complicated enough to produce all these competing interpretations, it would be no easy task to read it openly and honestly enough to find those answers from the Bible.

What ensued was a 7-year long puzzling over the Bible. I am certain I read it cover to cover 10 times, and the New Testament at least 15 times. The result of this careful search was that if I wanted to have any fellowship, I needed to be very slow about revealing what I was finding.

I did have to introduce my theories to one person as quickly as possible: the girl I wanted to marry. Lorie Maynard was a real trooper who, despite her denominational upbringing, judged teachers by their fruit (Matt. 7: 15-20), not by her traditions. She listened, she could see and understand my arguments, and she married me. Nonetheless, only a few weeks into our marriage, she asked me, “How can you be the only one who is right?”

I assured her that it was almost impossible that I was right. People don’t come to the fullness of truth on their own, not anyone, and not me. I also assured her that the pastor and leaders of the church we were attending were definitely wrong, whether I was right or not. They had little regard for the words of Scripture and ferocious, defensive regard for their traditions. I did not have to convince here of that; it was obvious.

Two years later, someone gave me a book called Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up. The author, David Bercot, evaluated the teachings of 9 notable church fathers from the second and third centuries. He then wrote on several doctrines with these guidelines:

  • He would only write about doctrines that at least five of them wrote about.
  • He would only write about doctrines that they were 100% agree on.

I was stunned by the book. My breath was taken away. Except for their teaching on non-violence, a doctrine I had been unable to draw a conclusion on, the book agreed with me on every  doctrine it covered.

Lorie and I were running a Christian bookstore at the time, and I finished the book one day at work. When I got home, my wife was reading in bed. I threw the book on the bed by her feet, and I said, “I’m not wrong. I was just born in the wrong century.”

Solving the Riddle of Hebrews 6:1-2

I am not gong to argue for the following interpretations of the basics of the faith as found in Hebrews 6:1-2. I am just going to list what the second and third century churches, and I, say those elementary principles mean. I have plenty of posts defending these interpretations.

  • Repentance from dead works. Repentance is a necessary pre-requisite to baptism (e.g., Acts 2:38). Repentance is indeed just changing our minds, but it is changing our minds about Christ. “Christ” means “anointed one.” The Christ is a King, and a person is saved by confessing Jesus as Christ and Lord (Jn. 20:31; Rom. 10:9-10). Thus, repentance is a complete change from doing our will to doing the King’s will. (As for “dead works,” since the letter to the Hebrews is written to Jews, the “dead works” are the works of the law by which the Jews were trying to be saved.)
  • Faith towards God. Belief in God leads to obeying God. No obedience, no belief. This is as obvious in our modern American experience as it was in second-century Christianity. If I were to tell you I believed in Dave Ramsey, then went to the bank for a loan on anything other than a house (with at least 20% down), you could and would conclude I did not really believe in Dave Ramsey. The same is true of faith towards God. If you don’t make strong effort to do his will, you don’t believe in him (cf. Acts 26:20; 1 Jn. 2:3-4).
  • The Doctrine of Baptisms. The second- and third-century Christians baptized those who believed in water for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins and regeneration. In fact, in early Christianity, “baptism” and “born again” were synonymous terms. This did not mean baptism magically regenerated people. It was the way faith was expressed, and it was the entrance into the church and the kingdom of God. Today we have replaced baptism with the sinner’s prayer. The early churches baptized by immersion three times. Before the first immersion, the convert was asked if he believed in the Father, before the second if he believed in Jesus Christ the Son, and before the third if he believed in the Holy Spirit. After baptism, he or she was anointed with oil by the elders, and they prayed for the newly baptized person to receive the Holy Spirit. They did not expect the gift of tongues or any other gift, though Irenaeus says, around A.D. 185, that there were still some who spoke in tongues.
  • Resurrection of the dead. I admit to still being confused on this because the early Christians seemed to believe in only one resurrection in which the righteous and the unrighteous are judged (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Jn. 5:28-30). Personally, though, the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4, especially combined with the “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” in 1 Corithians 15, indicates to me that there is a first resurrection of the righteous, and then a resurrection of all with a judgment in Revelation 20.
  • Eternal Judgment. There will be judgment according to works at which those who do evil, whether they think they are Christians or not, are condemned to fire, and the righteous are given eternal life (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Jn. 5:28-30; cf. Rev. 3:4). The common modern appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:15 is a reference to the good or poor teaching of apostles and teachers, not to the good works of the righteous.

I generally allow all comments except from those who keep commenting long after real discussion has ended and except for trolls. Today, though, I am going to limit comments to discussion and questions and delete tradition-based protests.

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Jesus Died for Aphesis: A Reminder

The worst mistranslation in our English Bibles is the translation from the Greek aphesis to the English “forgiveness.” “Remission” is better, but very few have any useful working definition of the word “remission.”

I want to remind everyone, all the time, that the Greek word aphesis was used to translated the Hebrew word for “Jubilee” (Lev. 25) and the Hebrew word for “scapegoat” (Lev. 16).  It is also used to translate the release of debts that happened every seven years in Israel (Deut. 15).

Aphesis is far more than forgiveness. It is a return to our true home in the kingdom of God (Jubilee); it is the release of all our debts (the 7-year release); and it is the sending of our sins far from us (the scapegoat).

In the New Testament, Jesus says that he came to bring aphesis to the captive and the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18).

Thus, when you read that Jesus died for the aphesis of sins in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14, do not limit those verses to the forgiveness of our sins. Aphesis is complete deliverance from sin. Jesus died to heal your broken heart, to release you from captivity to your sins, to return you to your rightful place in fellowship with God and, yes, to forgive your old sins.

When we repent and begin to follow Jesus (not just believe he died for us, but repent and submit to him as Lord; Rom. 10:9-10), he provides us complete and utter deliverance from sin. We get a brand new start, standing in our ancestral home in the presence of Almighty God, washed, purchased by his blood, and empowered by his Spirit. We are no longer captives, but sons of God.

“Sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14, NIV

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Numbers 33: Drive the Inhabitants Out of the Land

At the end of Numbers 33, I read, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those you let remain of them will be as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will harass you in the land in which you dwell. It shall happen that as I thought to do to them, so will I do to you.”

God does not give commands that cannot be kept. He does not warn without empowering.

The inhabitants of the land represent flesh/sin. In another place, God tells the Israelites that he will drive out the Canaanites slowly (but steadily) so that the land is not emptied and does not become filled with wild beasts (Ex. 23:29-30).

The thorns and wild beasts, in my opinion, represent a haughty spirit and condemning eye. It is a journey to overthrow sin completely. You can read that journey in 2 Peter 1:5-7. Yes, we should stop sinning immediately (1 Cor. 15:34), though “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). If, however, you think you have already addressed all sin in your life, you have more revelation to come. God has you start by driving out the giants–lust, theft, drunkenness, jealousy, bitterness, your insulting tongue, etc.–but he will spend your life weeding out the smallest inhabitants: self-confidence, inconsideration, lack of hope. Your most minor grudges and offenses must be replaced with thanksgiving. This is the work of a lifetime.

Non-Christians (and some Christians, I suppose) have this concept of an “old soul.” An “old soul” has weariness in his (or her) eyes, but an old soul is no threat. He is safe, except to evil, which he chases away with wisdom and goodness, not wrath. The true old soul is not one that has lived many lives, as practitioners of eastern religions suppose, but one who has lived one life well. He is weary, but he stirs himself to love and serve. The weariness is from the toil and work of driving out the inhabitants of the land, of the flesh, and what is left is the handiwork of God.

“If these things are in you and increasing, they make you so you are neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, but he that lacks these things is short-sighted, and cannot see far off, and has forgotten that he was purged of his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:8-9).

Cooperate with God in the process of clearing the land, little by little. At the end, you want to be fruitful, with many children, not blind, having forgotten the deliverance wrought in you from the beginning.

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The Differences Between Early Christianity and Modern Christianity

When I first read the early church fathers, I had one major question. I wanted to know what the churches believed about the Bible back when they all agreed with one another.

This was critically important to me. I had just spent a year on a remote assignment in Alaska with just 300 other military personnel. Very few, only five or six, were the kind of Christians who talked about Jesus every day and loved to get together to pray and study the Bible. I gathered them up for a Friday night Bible study and witnessing to the Indians in the local Indian village on Saturdays.

Six week later, our small Bible study had broken up over doctrinal matters.

I’m not your typical convert. I was raised Catholic, and I had no experience with Protestant churches. After my boss (and even more so, the Holy Spirit) led me to Jesus, I was gloriously saved and filled with zeal. I was excited about joining a church that only did what the Bible said.

I was shocked to find out the lack of regard for the Bible. From the pulpit I was told to examine the Bible to see if the sermons I was hearing were true. Yet when I asked questions I was shut down. If I argued for something in the Bible, I was told to find another church. At Bible studies throughout the week, I ran into the same thing. Everyone was defensive of their tradition, and any outrageous explanation was sufficient to defend those traditions against the plain statements of Scripture.

Therefore, when I heard about the early church fathers, I longed to know how they interpreted the Bible. One of them wrote:

“As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. I, ch. 10, par. 2, written c. A.D. 185)

I became very hungry to know what that one preaching and one faith was.

Of course, I had the completely unreasonable belief that if everyone heard about this one faith, they would all, or at least mostly, switch from their more recent traditions and return to the ancient faith, once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

The truth is, though, very few were interested. I am hoping you signed up for this newsletter because you are interested.

Here is a quick peek at things they believed:

Justin Martyr and Obedience to God

Let’s begin with Justin Martyr, a Christian from Rome who converted from the philosophy of Plato to Christianity. If you use this first link, you can get to the other chapters I quote with the arrows in the top right-hand corner.

First Apology 10 | Justin Martyr | CCEL

How to Serve God

Justin spends the first 9 chapters of his “First Apology” (“apology” meaning defense of the faith) arguing that Christians should not be persecuted. In chapter 10, he begins his description of second-century Christianity.

He does not begin with theology, but with “how God is to be served.” These are the ways God is to be served:

  1. “He accepts those only who imitate the excellencies which reside in Him.”
  2. “We have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy … of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering.”

Justin then gives an interesting description of how we accomplish these works:

“For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man …”

“The Word” here is not the Bible, but Jesus (cf. Jn. 1:1). Justin is describing a war between the power and teachings of the Word, Jesus, against the wicked demons and the wickedness of man.

The Central Content of Justin’s First Apology

In chapter 11 of the same work, Justin says that Christians look for a heavenly kingdom, which is why they don’t mind being killed by the Romans.

Chapter 12 is longer, but the first sentence covers the chapter well, “We hold this view, that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. For if all men knew this, no one would choose wickedness even for a little, knowing that he goes to the everlasting punishment of fire; but would by all means restrain himself, and adorn himself with virtue, that he might obtain the good gifts of God, and escape the punishments.”

In chapter 13, Justin defends Christians against the charge that they are atheists. They were accused of atheism for rejecting the Roman gods. He writes, “We reasonably worship [Jesus], having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third.”

Finally, in chapter 14, Justin gets to the most important chapter of his First Apology. There he begins a thorough description of Christianity, and he makes it clear that the behavior and the beliefs of Christianity are the same thing. He says we have to “make a strong opposing effort” against the demons “for our own salvation.” We “follow the unbegotten God through his Son,” whom Justin likes to call “the begotten God” (cf. Jn. 1:18 in the KJV or NKJV).

Then, he describes the community of Christians. They no longer serve their own lusts, but they embrace chastity. They used to value wealth, but now they “bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone in need.” They used to hate each other because of their different manners and different tribe, but now they “share the same hearth.”

He ends the chapter by saying he is going to talk about the simple commands Jesus gave the Christians.

Damage Control

If you read this far, you might find some of Justin’s words shocking. He is focused on obedience to God and doing what Jesus said without any real emphasis on grace or the power of God. It is not because he does not know about the grace and power of God in Christ. This next paragraph is long, but it is well worth reading.

For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul. O trumpet of peace to the soul that is at war! O weapon that puts to flight terrible passions! O instruction that quenches the innate fire of the soul! The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets: it does not equip philosophers nor skilled orators, but by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals gods; and from the earth transports them to the realms above Olympus. Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are. These have conquered me: the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word; for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul. It first drives out lust, through which every ill is begotten: hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free from the ills in which it was sunk up to the neck, it returns to Him who made it. (The Discourse to the Greeks, ch. 5)

Of course, that paragraph brings us to one other bit of damage control. Justin Martyr was not a Mormon. He did not believe we would become gods ruling our own worlds. In reading through the church fathers, it is clear they equate immortality with divinity. Any one who becomes immortal because of Jesus’s gift of eternal life is by definition a god. They justified this with Jesus’ words in John 10:34-35. That is why, in a “discourse to the Greeks,” Justin would use terminology that shocks us today.

Conclusion

The biggest takeaway from reading the early church fathers is their focus on living the Christian life. It was not about brilliant speaking or great theology, but living out the things Jesus and the apostles taught. As Athenagoras, an apologist who wrote about 20 years after Justin, said:

“Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth. They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.’ (A Plea for the Christians, ch. 11, c. A.D. 177)


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Evolution Does Not Equal Atheism

The article, “5 Ground Rules When Discussing Creation vs Evolution” brings up an important point on the subject of evolution vs anti-evolution. (Most people call this evolution vs. creationism, but that nomenclature is the subject of this article.)

Before the author ever gets to the ground rules, he states, “… the two sides (creation vs evolution) are irreconcilable: we either came from God or we didn’t” (parentheses his).

This is simply not true. Most people who accept the [incontrovertible] evidence that life evolved also believe that there is a God who created everything. Those two beliefs are in no way “irreconcilable” or mutually exclusive. The two beliefs on this subect that are “irreconcilable” and mutually exclusive are that Genesis chapters 1-3 are accurate history and that life evolved. The fact is, though, that while most people who accept the evidence that life evolved believe Genesis 1 to be allegorical, they do believe that God created everything.

Scientists and Atheism

A large percentage of those who believe in evolution also believe that there is a God who created everything. Scientists are indeed among the most atheistic of all professions, but as of 2 months ago, only 41% absolutely do not believe in a creator God.

Americans and Atheism

That percentage is much lower among Americans in general. Even in a site arguing for a higher amount of atheist/agnostics in the USA than generally supposed, it is only 26%.  (https://fivethirtyeight.com/…/way-more-americans-may-be-at…/).

Thus, in the United States, we can safely conclude that more than half of the people who believe in evolution also believe God had a role in the process. One page suggests that up to 31% of Americans deny the evolution of men, but mostly because they are scared of being considered atheists if they do. Only 18% reject the evolution of man when they can say God was involved in the process (reference).

The Real Evolution vs. Creationism Debate

In regard to the original article I mentioned, you can’t write 5 ground rules on the creation/evolution discussion if you don’t know what the discussion is. On the other hand, I suspect that many of those who are offended by my argument that the evidence for evolution is incontrovertible have that author’s mindset: evolution is atheism or is at least a denial that God created everything.

As seen above, it is not.

Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is the argument that yes, evolution may have happened, but it could not have happened without the intervention of God. Stephen Meyer, a leading advocate of Intelligent Design, wrote, “The theory of Intelligent Design does not reject ‘evolution’ defined as ‘change over time’ or even universal common ancestry, but it does dispute Darwin’s idea that the cause of major biological change and the appearance of design are wholly blind and undirected” (2013, Darwin’s Doubt, p. 339, emphasis in original).

Is that all it takes to avoid the ire of creationists? If I take the word “evolution” out, like Stephen Meyer does, then creationists are happy even if I allow that “universal common ancestry” is true? Meyer’s book denies that the diversity that we see in the fossil record in the earliest layers of the earth could have arisen by the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection, but it agrees that those earliest layers of the earth represent life as it was on earth more than 500 million years ago. His theory does not allow for Genesis 1 to be history; it just posits a Designer, without specifying that the Designer is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If that is all it takes, then I am happy to posit a Designer, too. I am even willing to posit that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the transforming power of the Gospel in history is proof that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is that Designer. I rather thought that because approximately 885 of the 900 posts on this blog have been about obeying Jesus as Lord, King, and final Judge of the living and the dead, that my readers would assume that I believe that his Father was the Creator (and thus Designer) of the universe and that Jesus himself is co-Creater. It appears, though, that I need to specify this: The one God and Father created all things through his Son, begotten before all ages, Jeus the Messiah.

But the Designer, the Father through Jesus his only-begotten Son, designed life so that more than 500 million years ago the only representative of our phyla, chordata, (the next classification under our kingdom, animalia) was something similar to a sea squirt. Over time, our phyla gained representatives that were fish, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals, and only in the last three million years, noticeably human-like creatures such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus. However that happened, the layers of our earth, no matter where you go on earth, say that happened.

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The Voice of God in the Hearts of our Youth

This story is borrowed from Richard Jacobson, author of the book Unchurching, which you can listen to for free at unchurching.com. You can listen to his Ted Talk there as well.

Circumstances Richard did not initiate made him a youth pastor at one point. As he sought God about how one leads youth, God told Richard he could give only what he has. What he has is a profound experience of relationship with God.

As a result he planned an event, a day of experiencing God. He began hyping that day. “God will speak to you,” he told the youth. He would then emphasize: “No, you don’t understand! GOD, God himself, is going to speak to you!”

That was basically his message for several months, building them up for this great experience of God.

People began hearing about it, and more youth were coming to the youth meeting. The other pastors heard about it, and they asked him what he was expecting the kids to experience. The one question, Richard told me, that they could not get themselves to ask outright, though he was sure they were thinking it, was “What if God does not show up?”

Richard told them he had no backup plan. He was putting all his eggs in one basket. He did not want those to kids to know about God, but to know God.

Finally, the day came. Richard admitted his fears. He pictured a newspaper headline: “Youth Pastor Wrecks the Faith of Entire Youth Group.” Nonetheless, he stuck it out. He took the kids to a park in the morning, and he sent them into the woods. “Don’t come out,” he said, “until God has spoken to you.” He also told them to be alone. If they ran across another youth, there were to nod a silent greeting, then go opposite directions.

They were out there a long time, and Richard was crying out to God. “You have to come through, Father. I know you want them to know you. You have to meet them.”

In the afternoon, the kids began filtering out of the woods, one by one. Most said they heard God call them to the mission field or to become a pastor. He assured them that was a good thing, and that if the call was real, God would confirm it down the road. Then he would tell them, “That is not what I was talking about. Go back.”

The terror increased until, finally, one boy came running out of the woods, a look of complete shock on his face. He sprinted to Richard, shouting, “God spoke to me.”

Richard answered with a smile, “I told you he would.”

The young man grabbed Richard’s shirt. “No, you don’t understand! It was really God! He really spoke to me!” It was so real that they were trying to convince Richard!

Richard eyes filled with tears as he told me, “As more came, I asked them, ‘What did he say?’ Every one of them answered the same thing.” Then he paused for effect. I had a good idea what he was going to tell me.

He said, “He told them, ‘I love you.'” Then his voice choked up as he said, “What else would he tell a kid that has no experience of him? Of course, he told them that. It is the first and primary thing they need to know.”

We love him because he first loved us.–1 John 4:19

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Consensus: Why We Read the Early Church Fathers

Today I answered the charge that the early church fathers are unreliable because Irenaeus, one of the most trustworthy early fathers, said Jesus lived to be over 40 and ministered for at least a decade. I was writing to someone whose friend had brought this up. I wrote the following.

The answer to your friend’s question is to explain why we read the early church fathers. Obviously, he doesn’t know. Here’s the short answer:

“We are not looking for individual opinions among the fathers, as though they were a Bible. We are looking for what all the churches agreed was true and was taught to them by the apostles. Along with the occasional odd opinion on unimportant subjects, like how long Jesus’ life and ministry was, we do find a consensus on all the most important facets of the faith.”

And here’s the longer one, complete with an explanation from Irenaeus. All of the following quotes are from Against Heresies, Book I, chapter 10.

When we read the early church fathers, we are trying to find out what the apostles taught their churches. In the process, we have found that there is a core set of teachings to which all the churches held. We also find that outside those core set of teachings, Christians (and especially gifted teachers) were not only allowed to speculate, but encouraged to do so. Irenaeus wrote:

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. … Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

He adds:

It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself. … But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation; and show that God manifested longsuffering in regard to the apostasy of the angels who transgressed, as also with respect to the disobedience of men . . .  and discourse how it is that this mortal body shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption; and proclaim in what sense [God] says, “That is a people who was not a people; and she is beloved who was not beloved”; . . . For in reference to these points, and others of a like nature, the apostle exclaims: “Oh! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”

Okay, that is really long, but the point is that there are things that are part of the “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” that everyone must believe and not change, and there are other things that teachers are encouraged to “bring out the meaning of.” (There are many more things Irenaeus says we can “bring out the meaning of” at the link above.)

Though everyone is certain nowadays that Jesus ministered for three years (or three and a half), that is nowhere said in the Gospels or the New Testament. I admit that Irenaeus probably had not read our modern scholars who figured out that timing. On the other hand, I argue that Irenaeus knew as well as any person in history “the subject matter of the faith itself” and the one truth that shines like the sun above on all churches. He was raised in Smyrna, just over 50 years after they were one of two churches that Jesus commended without rebuke in the Revelation, chapters 2 and 3. He left there as a missionary to Gaul (modern France), and was something of a counselor to the bishops in Rome.

You can skip this paragraph if you want; it is an interesting aside. The churches in Gaul of which he was a part helped prevent one bishop (Eleutherius’) from allowing the Montanist heresy into Rome. Later, Irenaeus himself intervened to prevent Victor from excommunicating Ephesus and its surrounding churches over the timing of Passover (which has been called Easter for just a couple of centuries).

We are not turning Irenaeus, nor the other early church fathers, into a second Bible. There are many witnesses to this one faith that was delivered to the saints by the apostles. We know what ALL churches of the second century believed on communion, the Trinity, faith and works, and baptism. We know what they did when someone wanted to be saved. We do not have to guess or speculate on what they believed about these things because there is plenty of testimony to it.

The fact that Irenaeus had the crazy idea that Jesus lived to be over 40 does not affect that truth at all.

There are evil, cunning men who “quote mine” the early fathers in order to make them seem to say what they do not say. This is true in every field. Sadly, young-earth creationists, supposedly Christians, do this to scientists all the time. Worse, it is the unfortunate habit of modern Christians to quote mine the Bible the same way. It is like they think that if they pull out 25 verses that seem to say we cannot lose our salvation, then 2 Peter 2:20-21 and Galatians 5:19-21 will just disappear. They say senseless things, like that the judgement of the sheep and the goats is a judgment of the nations, not of individuals. Has anyone ever thought that through? Is it Russia that is sent into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels? Or maybe Iran? How does Russia or Iran get sent anywhere without actual people involved? The judgment of the sheep and the goats is a judgment of people and those people either inherit the kingdom or are sent into the fire, and the difference is solely based on what they did and didn’t do.

The early church fathers did not quote mine the Bible. Their beliefs do not involve ignoring 2 Peter 2:20-21 by saying it only applies to false prophets and teachers. Their beliefs do not involve changing James words from “justified by works and not faith only” to “justified by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.”

Irenaeus gives a description of what is the basic truth held by all churches:

The church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, earth, and the sea and everything in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations, the advents, the birth from a virgin, the suffering, the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his appearance from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things into one and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that every knee should bow—of things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth—and that every tongue should confess to him, and that he should execute just judgment towards everyone; that he may send spiritual wickednesses and the angels who transgressed and became apostates together with the ungodly, unrighteous, wicked, and profane among men into everlasting fire, but may, in the exercise of his grace, confer immortality on the righteous, holy, and those who have kept his commandments and persevered in his love—some from the beginning of their course and others from their repentance—and may surround them with everlasting glory.

 

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