Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Grace. Show all posts

The “gospel of grace”… with a little karma in it.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 February
Galatians 1.6-9 KWL
6 I wonder how you all switched so quickly
from Christ’s gracious call to you,
to “another gospel”
7 —which isn’t another gospel
unless it’s because someone is troubling you all,
and wants to corrupt Christ’s gospel.
8 But even if we,
or an angel from heaven, might evangelize you
away from what we evangelized you,
consider them cursed.
9 As we had foretold, and tell you again:
If any one of you evangelizes
away from what you received,
consider them cursed.
  • “Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.” Ga 1.1-5
  • Which alternative “gospel” were Galatian Christians dabbling in? Well we sorta deduced it by the rest of Galatians: Certain people were trying to give them the idea they’re saved through works righteousness. Basically if you’re good people, and obey God’s Law, you’ll rack up so much good karma, God has to let you into his kingdom, ’cause you deserve it. Good people go to heaven. Bad people go to hell.

    People presume works-righteousness is a Pharisee idea. It’s actually not. It’s a pagan idea. Pharisees actually believed (as did all the Jewish denominations of the day) in corporate election. It’s the totally biblical idea (held by us Christians too) that God chose and already saved Israel.

    From Egypt, remember? He adopted them as his children, and made a kingdom of them. Exactly like God chose and already saved humanity, through Christ. Same as Israel, God’s already cleared the path to a relationship with him, if we want it. There's nothing we need do more than repent and follow him.

    Pharisees figured Jews like them—and Paul, Barnabas, Simon Peter, James, and all the earliest apostles—had birthright citizenship in God’s kingdom. Even if you weren’t Pharisee: Sadducees could be saved too. True, Jews should do good works; everyone should. But Pharisees recognized they weren’t saved by good works; they were saved because they were Jewish.

    Yeah, I know: Christians regularly claim Jews believed in works righteousness. (And still do!) But that’s not consistent with the scriptures. You might recall John the baptist critiqued them for presuming they were saved just by being Jewish—and for taking it for granted, and therefore not doing good works.

    Luke 3.7-9 KJV
    7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    But. In every religion we’re gonna find a faction who can’t wrap their heads around grace, and keep insisting upon karma. Because karma is fair and grace is not. Karma means we either merit saving, or work our way into deserving it. Grace means we don’t deserve jack squat, but God saves us anyway, ’cause love.

    And karma had wormed its way into Pharisee teaching. Including the way Pharisee Christians were teaching the gospel. It turned the gospel into a false gospel, a heretic gospel, a damned gospel. That’s in part what Galatians is all about: The gospel of grace… but with just a little bit of works righteousness at its core.


    by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

    A number of Christians do not know how to do grace.

    Yeah, for the most part they’d be legalists. These’d be the folks who don’t realize we’re saved by grace, or it hasn’t sunk in enough. So they still kinda think we stay in God’s good graces by behaving ourselves. We gotta do good works. Have good karma, as non-Christians tend to put it: Don’t break God’s rules and piss him off, or he’ll smite America just like he smote ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, the Babylonian and Persian and Roman Empires, and so forth. There’s a lot of fear in their thinking. Hence very little grace.

    But there are non-legalists who don’t do grace either. These’d be the people who don’t realize we’re saved by grace, and think we’re instead saved by faith. And rather than define faith as trust in God, they define it as “the Christian faith,” meaning our orthodox beliefs. So they don’t police people’s works, but our beliefs. If we don’t believe all the right things, we’re going to hell.

    And lastly, there’d be the Christians who do realize we’re saved by grace. And they take advantage of it all the time. God forgives all… so they sin, figuring it’s okay because God forgives all. Or they imagine Jesus did away with the Law, and therefore there’s nothing to forgive! Thus they do as they please.

    But while they’re happy to apply grace to themselves, do they apply it to others? Nah; not so much. They’re like the dude in Jesus’s Unforgiving Debtor Story—God’s amazing grace applies to them, and maybe to you. But they feel no obligation to pay it forward. If you offend them, you’re dead to them. Or they give you two or three chances. Simon Peter probably considered himself generous for suggesting seven. Mt 18.21 Jesus told him—and us—to think bigger. Way bigger.

    Matthew 18.22 KJV
    Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

    Unless you’re a really bitter, vengeful person, with very little love in you, 1Co 13.5 NASB you’re gonna lose count. And that’s the point.

    Too few Christians recognize grace is a fruit of the Spirit, because God’s grace should affect us so greatly it overflows into the rest of our lives, and we share it with everyone. (This was the point of the Unforgiving Debtor Story, y’know.) We forgive because we were forgiven. We show compassion because God has been compassionate towards us. We love those whom God loves, and he loves everyone. We don’t make exceptions, because neither does he.

    But people love to make exceptions, and find loopholes which allow us to limit the grace we show towards people who annoy us. And allow us to loudly denounce Christians who show what we imagine is too much grace. Stop forgiving sinners!—they should suffer the consequences of their actions, like the laws of karma demand. Stop letting people get away with stuff! Why, God doesn’t let people get away with stuff; he’s gonna judge the world and crush the wicked like winegrapes. And they really wanna contribute to all that crushing. They’ve already started.

    They’re projecting all their own personal vengefulness upon God, of course. Hey, if following Jesus is too hard, rejigger him till he’s super easy, and stop listening to the Spirit lest he correct you!

    Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

    by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

    As I wrote in my article on God’s sovereignty, humans have some messed-up ideas about how it, and God, works. Largely because we confuse human sovereignty with divine sovereignty, and think God acts like we would act, were we sovereign.

    Jean Calvin (1509–64), who came up with various beliefs about how salvation works which we nowadays call Calvinism, was a medieval theologian from France. If you know European history, you know France for the longest time was an absolute monarchy, in which the French king ran his nation like a dictatorship. His rule was absolute. He wasn’t bound by law, because he made the laws and could unmake them at will. He wasn’t held in check by any parliament or court. He answered to no emperor. He didn’t answer to the pope either; if he didn’t like the pope he’d just get rid of the current one and appoint a new one. I’m not kidding; French kings actually did this more than once.

    L’état, c’est moi”/“The state; it’s me” was how Louis 14 (1643–1715) put it: If you defied the king you defied the state, which meant you were a traitor and he had every right to kill you. Heck, if he merely found you inconvenient, like Naboth was with Ahab, 1Ki 21 he’d kill you; unlike Ahab he’d suffer no consequence, because the medieval view of “divine right of kings” meant even God’s law didn’t apply to him.

    To Calvin, that’s sovereignty. That’s what it looks like. But human kings have limits, and the LORD does not. Human kings can only tap the gold and resources in their kingdom, but God can create new and infinite resources with a word. Human kings can only enforce their will with soldiers, which die; God can likewise enforce his will with a word—but if he chooses to use angels instead, his angels don’t die. Human kings also die, but Jesus is raised and won’t die again.

    To Calvin, God’s sovereignty was everything the French king’s sovereignty was… times infinity.

    Thing is, the French king was human, and humans have gone wrong. We go particularly wrong when we’re handed absolute power, and nobody bothers to put any checks or balances on it. Our natural selfishness turns into something absolutely monstrous, and even the best kings, like David ben Jesse, fall prey to it… and people die.

    Now if you believe medieval French propaganda about how this system was all God’s idea (it’s called the divine right of kings after all), you might develop the idea God’s cool with power-mad kings because he himself exhibits some of these power-mad traits. And you’d probably use that belief to justify the idea of divinely-appointed absolute rulers. You certainly wouldn’t have a problem with it—which is why Calvin felt he could safely preface his 1536 book Institutio Christianae Religionis/“Institutes of the Christian Religion” with an introduction to King Francis 1 (1494–1547). Surely Francis would appreciate the ideas about divine sovereignty; it looked just like his sovereignty. Might even have inspired him to flex it a little more, had he read the book.

    But like determinism, this idea of meticulous sovereignty is a human idea, overlaid upon the bible, overlaid upon theology—and it doesn’t belong there. Because it’s inconsistent with love, with grace, and with the essence of God’s being. Love is who he is. Yet Calvin’s Institutes says nothing about it. Never reminds us God is love; never quotes the proof texts. Because to Calvin, God isn’t defined by his love, but by his might. God’s sovereignty is central and vital to Calvin’s understanding about God. Take it away, and he’s not God anymore.

    It’s why Calvinists struggle to understand exactly how God became human, because if Jesus really did surrender all his power, it means to them he’s not God anymore. So he can’t have. He must’ve only been pretending to be a limited, powerless human… kinda like the Docestists claim, but not as heretic. More like God in a human suit, kinda like Edgar in Men in Black but less gross.

    The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 November
    DOCTRINES OF GRACE 'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs noun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

    A number of Calvinists are uncomfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

    For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer: They claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

    Others concede not everything Jean Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas Calvin had which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell, and thus be a contrast to God’s love and grace by showing off God’s hate and rage. Calvin acknowledged it’s a necessary logical conclusion of his system… but understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and try their darnedest to reason their way out of it. With varying degrees of failure.

    Regardless the reason, many Calvinists prefer to call themselves “Reform Christians”—with a capital R, because they’re speaking of the Protestant Reformation, and not just any reformed Christian group. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, they’re the only truly reformed part of the Reformation. The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism much too much for their taste.

    The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every Reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists certainly aren’t. If you’re Protestant, Reform means your movement and theology go back to the reformers of the 1500s, and you embrace the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though people in their church leadership might insist otherwise.

    “The doctrines of grace” is the other label both “Reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

    But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty and power undermines God’s character. And in so doing, it undermines much of the grace in his system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

    God can’t abide sin?

    by K.W. Leslie, 27 October

    “God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”

    It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.

    It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure. Well… okay, self-righteous.

    You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.

    Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Or liberalism. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have these prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? Then grant me some so I can explain.

    Obviously God is anti-sin. He told us what he wants and expects of his people. Both through his Law, and through the teachings and example of Christ Jesus. (I was about to write “and he didn’t mince words,” but Jesus kinda did in some of his parables, for various reasons. Regardless, any honest, commonsense Christian—and plenty of pagans—can figure Jesus out.)

    Yes, God’s offended by our willful disobedience. And he’s just as offended by the sins of people who don’t know any better: They do have consciences, after all. Ro 2.15 At one point they were taught the difference between right and wrong, and even so, they chose what’s wrong.

    But the issue isn’t whether sin bugs God. It’s whether sin bugs God so much, he can no longer practice grace. Whether he can’t abide sin—and therefore he can’t abide sinners.

    When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

    by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

    Matthew 7.21-23, Luke 6.46, 13.23-27.

    Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

    See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

    It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

    So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

    Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

    Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

    So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

    Luke 13.23-27 KWL
    23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
    Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
    I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
    25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
    You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
    and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
    26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
    27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
    Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

    What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

    Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

    Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

    by K.W. Leslie, 19 November
    CONFESS kən'fɛs verb. Admit or state one’s failings or sins to another [trustworthy] person.
    2. Admit or state what one believes.
    [Confession kən'fɛs.ʃən noun, confessor kən'fɛs.sər noun.]

    The way to defeat hypocrisy, plain and simple, is authenticity. We’re not perfect—none but Jesus is—and we need to say so. And in many cases need to say more than just the generic “I’m a sinner,” with no further details: We need to give some of those details. We need to tell on ourselves. We need to confess.

    The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna! And I’m not even talking about people with deep dark secrets. Plenty of folks have little bitty secrets—stuff everybody kinda knows already, or can figure out easily—but the very idea of publicly admitting to such things, they find far too humiliating.

    Fr’instance. Back in college, in one of our men’s bible studies, our group leader was talking about things every man does, and used masturbation as an example. And one guy in our group immediately objected: He never did such a thing. Never once. Not ever. Wouldn’t even countenance the notion he did such a thing.

    “Oh come on,” was every other guy’s response.

    He persisted. His face was turning mighty red, and his arguments were getting less and less plausible, but he persisted. He would never, he claimed. Never ever ever.

    But he wasn’t fooling anyone, and lots of hypocrites are the very same way when it comes to our “secret” sins: They’re not as secret as we imagine. We’re fooling no one but ourselves.

    These are the folks who insist confession isn’t in the bible. That the only person we’re to confess sin to, is God. Certainly not to a priest-confessor; certainly not to fellow Christians; never to air our dirty laundry, whether it be in public or private.

    And of course it’s in the bible. What, do I have to quote it for you? Ugh, fine.

    James 5.16 NKJV
    Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

    I quoted the New King James ’cause it uses the word from the Textus Receptus, παραπτώματα/paraptómata, “missteps” or “trespasses.” Kinda like the Lord’s Prayer, it deals with everything we might’ve done wrong, and not just sins. Though the original Greek of James is more likely just ἁμαρτίας/amartías, “sins,” an authentic, transparent life means we oughta confess far more than just sins. We oughta be open books.

    Hypocrites don’t wanna be open books, so they insist the folks in the bible never publicly did any such thing—

    Acts 19.17-18 NKJV
    17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.

    —that confession is just a Catholic thing, and even that it’s wrong to share such things with people. Besides, what business do we have telling people they’re forgiven, or telling ’em to go in peace?

    John 20.22-23 KWL
    22 And when [Jesus] had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

    But in fact whenever we publicly or semi-publicly confess, God forgives us. 1Jn 1.9 When Christians say, “Go in peace; you’re forgiven,” all we’re really doing is telling them God forgave ’em already. But if you wanna argue, “No, I can forgive anybody’s sins,” well… Jesus kinda backs you up in this scripture.

    The reality is, people refuse to confess, and reject the very idea of confession, because we really don’t care to stop sinning. But we wanna look like we have. We’re not fooling God, but we are trying to fool our fellow Christians, and look devout and righteous when we’re no better than they. Yep, it’s total hypocrisy: We’re dirty liars. And since God calls us sinners, but we’re pretending to not be, we’re making it look like God’s the dirty liar. 1Jn 1.8 That ain’t good.

    Now that we belong to Jesus, we’re meant to quit sin. Ro 6.11-12 When we hide our sins, disguise the chains sin still has on us, and pretend we’re living like Christians… we remain the same old slaves to sin we always were. It’s as if we never had turned to Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who never quit drinking because he’s not going to any bloody A.A. meeting. Or the addict who pretends she went to rehab, and hopes nobody notices she’s still hooked. Same fraud; different vice.

    So we rail against confession. If nobody knows about our sins, and how often we commit ’em—if the only person we tell these things to is the Holy Spirit, and we assume he’d never tell on us (biblical evidence to the contrary Ac 5.1-11), we can go right on committing ’em. Secretly. Privately. Hypocritically.

    Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 November

    Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35.

    Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray,

    Matthew 6.12 BCP
    And forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us.

    He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:

    Matthew 6.14-15 KWL
    14 “When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
    15 When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”

    And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching:

    Mark 11.25 KWL
    “Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.
    Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”

    He elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story.

    Matthew 18.21-35 KWL
    21 Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me, and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus told him,
    “I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’
    but as many as seven by seventy times.
    23 “This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee who wanted to settle a matter with his slaves. 24 Beginning the settlement, one debtor was brought to him who owed 260 million grams silver. 25 Having nothing to pay, the master commanded him to be sold—and his woman and children and as much as he had, and to pay with that. 26 Falling down, the slave worshiped his master, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’ 27 Compassionately, that slave’s master freed him and forgave him the debt.
    28 “Exiting, that slave found his coworker, who owed him 390 grams silver. Grabbing him, he choked him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe!’ 29 Falling down, the coworker offered to work with him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.’ 30 The slave didn’t want to, but went to throw him in debtor’s prison till he could pay back what he owed.
    31 “Seeing this, the slave’s coworkers became outraged, and went to explain to their master everything that happened. 32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘Evil slave: I forgave you all that debt, because you offered to work with me! 33 Ought you not have mercy on your coworker, like I had mercy on you? 34 Furious, his master delivered him to torturers till he could pay back all he owed. 35 Likewise my heavenly Father will do to you—when you don’t forgive your every fellow Christian from your hearts.”

    The “delivered him to torturers” bit Mt 18.34 makes various Christians nervous, and gets ’em to invent all sorts of iffy teachings about devils and curses and hell. As if our heavenly Father is gonna hand us over to torturers too. No; he’s gonna leave us to our own devices, and without his protection it’s gonna feel like torture.

    But fixating on this torture stuff misses the point. God shows us infinite mercy. What kind of ingrates are we when we don’t pay his mercy forward?

    Does suicide send you straight to hell?

    by K.W. Leslie, 29 July

    Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had the usual classes you’ll find at most schools, plus bible classes and a weekly chapel service. Principals led most chapels, but the last year of our junior high program (before the school phased it out and I went on to teach fourth grade), our principal handed off the duties to various guest preachers. Earnest guys… but let’s be blunt: Some of ’em didn’t know what they were talking about. Some churches have no educational standards, and’ll let anyone babysit pastor the youth.

    One of our regular chapel speakers was a youth pastor, the husband of one of our school’s daycare teachers. As far as theology is concerned, my eighth graders knew more. Not just ’cause I trained them; he really was that ignorant.

    One week this guy was talking about salvation, and he let slip that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. It wasn’t his main point, but one of our seventh-graders did catch it and question him about it: “You go to hell for suicide?”

    “Yes you do,” he said, and went on.

    Once the eighth-graders were back in my classroom, one of ’em asked, “You don’t really go to hell for suicide, right?”

    ME. “What’re you saved by, God’s grace or good deeds?
    SHE. “Grace.”
    ME. “Any of your evil deeds gonna send you to hell if you have God’s grace?”
    SHE. “No.”
    ME. “Suicide gonna send you to hell if you have God’s grace?”
    SHE. “No.”
    ME. “Okay then.”
    SHE. “Well, why’d he say suicide will send you to hell?”
    ME. “Because somebody told him that, and he believed it. He didn’t bother to ask questions and get to the truth like you’re doing. He doesn’t know any better.”

    Some of the kids were looking in surprise at one another—Pastors can be WRONG?—and if they didn’t know this yet, best they learn it now. We’re all wrong in one way or another. No exceptions. And when you catch someone getting it wrong, ask questions. “Where in the bible does it say that?” usually does the job, although a lot of times they do have a proof text—which they’re quoting out of context.

    But I digress. The youth pastor’s belief is surprisingly common among a whole lot of Christians. The rationale is simple… but graceless.

    Saved by confession.

    Works like yea: You’re saved by grace, right? This, they’ll concede. We don’t save ourselves; God does the saving. So how do we get grace? Easy: We ask God for it, and he grants it.

    And every time we pray, let’s be sure to ask God’s forgiveness for every sin we’ve recently committed, and every good deed we’ve left undone. He’ll totally forgive us; we’re clean. Now, go and sin no more. Otherwise… we’ll be unclean again, and now we gotta apologize to God all over again. He’ll forgive us all over again, but do try to stop sinning.

    Sounds good? It won’t in a moment.

    Now what if we die before asking God’s forgiveness for the most recent batch of sins we committed? Say you just left the accountant’s office after lying a whole bunch about your taxes. Or nothing so dramatic; you just told various white lies throughout the day, and just haven’t got round to confessing them yet. Then you stepped into the street, got hit by a distracted Uber driver, and had no time for a last-second “Save me Jesus!”—you were dead on impact. What happens then?

    Right you are: You still got sins on your soul. God forgave everything up to the last time you confessed your sins, but you’re still on the hook for everything since. And God can’t abide sin… oo it’s off to hell with you.

    So wait: We can spend our entire lives following Jesus, carefully and devoutly, and one little mishap can plunge us into fiery hell? What kind of grace is that?

    Well it’s not grace. It’s good works.

    Yep, turns out we imagine we’ve been saved because we regularly performed the good work of apologizing to God for our sins. And I’m not saying it’s a good work we shouldn’t do! The Christian life is meant to be one of repentance. But in this scenario, if there’s any lapse between repentance and death, we wind up un-saved.

    This is how graceless Christians think. They don’t view God as loving and forgiving, but harsh and strict, and any little mistake will doom us. They’re the ones who claim suicides are going to hell. Because suicide is self-murder, and murder’s a sin. Ex 20.13 Either they killed themselves quickly, and had no time to repent; or slowly, but they didn’t bother to stop their coming death, so they weren’t all that repentant. Either way, suicides had sins on their souls. They’re going to hell.

    Especially since John said murderers don’t have eternal life in them. 1Jn 3.15 Self-murder or not, suicide is considered a hell-worthy sin.

    Thus for centuries Christians (more accurately Christianists, worried about how it’d look) refused to bury suicides in church graveyards. ’Cause these people were in hell, right? Why should their bodies mingle with those who are going to heaven? Why should they be confused for saints?

    Didn’t matter if these suicides were suffering from clinical depression. (A subject, I should point out, which the average person nowadays still doesn’t entirely understand.) Didn’t matter if they were suffering from chronic pain, or from an abuser they didn’t imagine they could get away from; suffering makes no difference. Suicide is a sin, and puts you in the hot place, where the worm doesn’t die and the fire doesn’t go out. Mk 9.48

    Is suicide a sin?

    Now, a lot of the reason people today insist suicides don’t go to hell, has nothing to do with God’s grace. It’s because they don’t consider suicide a sin.

    Usually it’s ’cause they’re pagan. They don’t care what the scriptures say, one way or the other. They’re sympathetic towards the suicides, and figure they killed themselves because they were suffering in some way. They figure God’ll be kind enough to comfort them in the afterlife after all their suffering on earth. (Well, most of the suicides. Not Adolf Hitler. He’s in hell.)

    But the fact is the scriptures never specifically describe suicide as murder. For one very simple reason: If you permit yourself to die in order to save others, you actually are killing yourself. It is suicide. But you’re saving others, so that’s noble, and people immediately overlook the suicide—or even argue it’s not suicide, and can’t be suicide: You’re sacrificing yourself, which is the most selfless and noble thing you can do.

    (It’s not actually what Jesus meant by “laying down your life for your friends.” Jn 15.13 He meant submission, not sacrifice. But yeah, dying for them can be a form of submission. Sometimes it applies. Not always though.)

    Simply put, the bible puts suicide into a gray area. It always depends on circumstances. Just like homicide: Sometimes it’s murder. Sometimes not: When you shoot an attacker it’s self-defense. When you intentionally poison a rival, it’s just plain murder. Suicide’s the same way, so we gotta look at motives. If you’re trying to end your own suffering, most folks, including a number of Christians, consider it yet another form of self-defense. I don’t always agree: Same as when people shoot “attackers,” there’s often a non-fatal way to deal with the problem. But people didn’t wanna take that route; killing the bad guy is quicker and easier—and let’s be blunt: Some of ’em have always wanted to kill somebody, and this makes it nice ’n legal. Killing yourself has often been called the easy way out, because dealing with pain is hard. But unless they’re nuts, nobody likes pain. So they won’t call it self-murder: To them it’s justifiable homicide.

    Now true, some people kill themselves to escape justice. A former pastor of mine shot himself before he could be arrested for fraud. He figured instead of going to jail, he’d go to heaven. That situation is a little hard to be sympathetic about. Hard to classify as self-defense. Hard to not call sin. The pure selfishness of it wipes away any gray area.

    Jesus, as we know, came to save the world. Jn 3.17 He did so by sacrificing himself. He wasn’t a victim of circumstances: He was in total control of these circumstances. He could’ve put a stop to his death at any second. Mt 26.53-54 He chose not to.

    John 10.17-18 KWL
    17 “This is why the Father loves me: I put down my life so I can pick it up again.
    18 Nobody takes it away from me; I put it down on my own.
    I have the power to put it down, and the power to pick it up again.
    I received this commission from my Father.”

    But those who consider suicide a sin, do not wanna describe Jesus’s self-sacrifice as that. They’re gonna be outraged by the very idea.

    And yet it’s what they themselves have always taught: Jesus was a willing sacrifice. Jesus was in complete control. Jesus is sovereign. Jesus could’ve stopped his death at any time. They’ll say all this stuff about him. They’ll just never say “let himself be killed” is the same as “killed himself.”

    …That is, till someone waves a gun in front of a police officer, hoping to suffer “death by cop”—then it’s not the officer’s fault for shooting the apparent criminal. Or till someone signs a “do not resuscitate” form—then it’s not the doctor’s fault for doing nothing to revive the patient.

    Fact is, suicide is sometimes sin, sometimes not. In an ideal world nobody should have to, or want to, kill themselves. Should never be necessary in God’s kingdom. But sometimes it happens, and yeah, we can judge the act as sinful or not.

    If it’s a sin though, does that mean it nullifies grace?

    Grace trumps all.

    If suicide is just the latest selfish act in a person’s life, capping off a lifetime of disregarding God’s commands and taking him for granted, culminating a life of fruitlessness and gracelessness, there’s absolutely no evidence God will save this person. These suicides will likely go to hell. I say “likely” because we never know for certain: God can do whatever he wants, including save ’em anyway if he so chooses. Since they’re likely gonna hate heaven—and be very annoyed their death didn’t result in non-existence—I wouldn’t count on it.

    But for everyone else: Thanks to Jesus, we know God forgave our past sins, our present sins, and our future sins. Not that this gives us a free pass on future sins: Keep avoiding sin. But when we do sin, we have Jesus, our advocate, who cleanses us. 1Jn 2.1-2

    Our real, living relationship with Jesus means we’re not getting sent to hell on a technicality: “Well, you murdered yourself, which is a no-no, and died with an unconfessed sin on your conscience; guess that cancels out everything I’ve ever done since I sealed you with the Holy Spirit, so off to hell with you.” That makes no sense. Might to a legalist, or to anyone so graceless as to throw away a decades-long relationship over one poor decision. But not to God.

    God isn’t like that. If we’re his friends—really friends, and not just suck-ups or hypocrites or people who think their orthodoxy will save them—we were never going to hell anyway. Suicide won’t tip the scales against us. Thanks to grace, God threw out those scales a long time ago.

    Karma: How we imagine the universe seeks justice.

    by K.W. Leslie, 27 January

    Matthew 5.38-42, Luke 6.29-31.

    KARMA 'kɑr.mə noun. The sum of one’s deeds in this life (and previous lives), used to decide one’s fate in future lives or the afterlife.
    2. The sum of one’s deeds in this life, used to decide one’s fate in this life.
    3. One’s destiny or fate, seen as the result of one’s deeds.
    [Karmic 'kɑr.mɪk adjective.]

    Karma is a Hindi word, from the Sanskrit karman, “fate.” Because Hindus and other eastern religions believe in reincarnation, karma has to do with why you’re born into your particular family, class, comfort level, or caste: You deserved it. Not from anything you did in this life; it’s the actions of your previous life, and when you got reborn, the universe assigned you to the place you deserved. If you were good in your previous life, now you’ve been rewarded with a blessed life; if your life sucks, it’s your own fault for being bad in your past lives. Be good now, and maybe next time you’ll be born into a better caste. ’Cause evil means the universe will assign you a worse life. You might even be reborn as some icky creature, like a cockroach or gnat.

    When Hindus talk karma, it’s usually in that context: Why they need to be good. Why they deserve to be in the caste they’re in. Why others deserve to be in the castes they are. (And how they justify treating lesser castes like crap, even though proper Hindu teachings frown on treating anyone evilly; it’s bad karma! But just as there are many sucky Christians, there are many sucky Hindus.)

    But when westerners speak of karma, most of us aren’t thinking of reincarnation. We’re thinking of the afterlife: Goodness gets you into heaven, and badness puts you into hell. No that’s not how it works, but that’s the popular pagan idea. And when we look into every human culture, we find this idea there: Goodness earns you a good destiny, and evil gets you a bad one.

    But we don’t just use this idea to describe the afterlife. Humans believe it applies to this life as well. Be good, and good things will come to you. Be evil, and some day there will be a reckoning. It’s how the universe works, they claim. It’s a natural law. You get what’s coming to you. You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around.

    It’s in the bible, isn’t it?

    Galatians 6.7-8 KWL
    7 Don’t deceive yourselves: God isn’t sneered at.
    Whatever a person plants, they’ll harvest.
    8 Hence those who plant things in their own flesh will harvest gangrene out of their flesh,
    and those who plant things in the Spirit will harvest life in the Spirit in the age to come.

    Various Christians who believe in karma insist it certainly appears to be in there. Unlike pagans and nontheists, who figure it’s how the universe naturally works, Christians are kinda divided as to how it works. Some of us think God built it into the universe, and others think God’s personally dispensing the blessings upon good people, and bad stuff upon bad people.

    Other Christians figure God’s holding off on these judgments till the End. In the meanwhile, any good things experienced by good people are either coincidences, or the result of people wanting to reward good deeds and punish evil deeds. Because let’s face it: There are a lot of good people who get crapped on, and a lot of evil people who get away with stuff. Life is unfair that way. And yeah, that’s in the bible too.

    Ecclesiastes 4.1 KWL
    I came back and looked at all the oppressed people under the sun.
    Look at the oppressed’s tears!—and no one to rescue them.
    Power in their oppressors’ hand—and no one to rescue them.
    Ecclesiastes 7.15 KWL
    I saw it all in my vaporous days:
    There’s a righteous man getting destroyed because of his righteousness.
    There’s a wrongdoer living large thanks to his wrongdoing.

    Much as people wanna believe in karma, believe the universe sorts out good and evil people and gives them what they deserve, we know plenty of cases where that’s not happening; where people live as “exceptions” to this rule of karma. I would argue we mostly know “exceptions”; for some of us, we know nothing but “exceptions.” And I’d also argue most of the reason they remain exceptions is because nobody lifts a finger to bring justice to the situation, ’cause we assume the universe is gonna do it for us. Meanwhile evil people keep right on doing evil, and good people keep suffering.

    In fact there are a whole lot of evil people who are counting on the rest of us clinging to karma. Because it’s how they justify their prosperity and wealth. “I’m doing well because I deserve to do well; I’m doing something right, and you’re not.” It’s the very same thing as the Hindus who insist they deserve to be in their castes… and the poor and needy deserve to be ignored and mistreated for the same reason. We may not be Hindus, but we’ve fallen for the same fiction.

    God does grace. Not karma.

    Whether we call it karma, reciprocity, eye for an eye, Ex 21.24 tit for tat, or balance in the universe, it’s a human idea. It’s how we work.

    Well, on our better days. Left to our own devices, humans want satisfaction: We wanna punish evildoers till we feel better. Frequently with a punishment which doesn’t remotely fit the crime. Somebody offends me, so I ruin his life and drive him to despair. Somebody insults my honor, so I duel her and shoot her. Somebody raped Simeon and Levi’s sister, so they murdered the rapist’s entire city. Ge 34 Humans are creatures of extremes, and we take vengeance to extremes too. It’s why the LORD had to mitigate these extremes by telling the Hebrews “eye for an eye”—if you’re truly seeking justice, you don’t go overboard.

    But God’s ideal has never been reciprocity. It’s always been grace. It’s what Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount.

    Matthew 5.38-42 KWL
    38 “You heard this said: ‘Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth.’ Ex 21.24, Lv 24.20, Dt 19.21
    39 And I tell you: No standing toe-to-toe with evil.
    Instead, whoever punches you on the right cheek: Turn the other cheek to them.
    40 To those who want you judged, to take your tunic: Forgive them, and give up your clothing.
    41 Whoever drafts you to carry their gear one mile, go with them two.
    42 Give to one who asks you. Don’t drive off one who wishes to borrow from you.”
    Luke 6.29-31 KWL
    29 “To one who hits you on the cheek, offer the other also.
    To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
    30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
    31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

    Now, have you ever seen someone turn the other cheek in real life? Probably not. Most of the time, when someone gets socked in the jaw, they don’t get back up and offer the other side of their face. They punch back. Christians included. People simply don’t follow this instruction: They retaliate. It’s human nature. You hit me, I hit you. Bruise for bruise. We’ll justify it by quoting the bible verses which let us return bruise for bruise.

    Now, in movies you sometimes see someone turn the other cheek. But the reason they do it actually isn’t because they’re trying to follow Jesus. It’s ’cause they’re trying to intimidate the person striking them, “Look what a badass I am. That was the best you could do? Your mother kisses harder. I could stand to take another punch. Go ahead. Hit me again. I dare you.” Yep, it’s a hostile act.

    Ever seen someone have an item taken away from them, and in response they offer to give up something else? Again, they’re not doing this ’cause they’re following Jesus. It’s part of a tantrum: “Oh, so you’re repossessing my car? Well here! Why don’t you take my driver’s license while you’re at it! Take my bike! Take my bus pass! Take every means I have of getting anywhere! Here, you can have my shoes!” Again, it’s not done for any other reason than aggression and a lack of gentleness.

    “Hit me again!” or “Go ahead, take it all!” are never done in the spirit Jesus wants of us. ’Cause when we interpret Jesus’s teachings, we primarily have to remember Jesus’s character. He wants us to do these things out of the Spirit’s fruit—out of love, patience, kindness, gentleness. Not rage. Not pique.

    Μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ/Mi antistíne to poniró, “Don’t stand up to the evil,” tends to be interpreted, “Do not resist an evil person.” (NIV). But that contradicts “Resist the devil.” Jm 4.7 We’re meant to resist evil, not kowtow to it. There’s your sign we’re dealing with a bad interpretation. Do resist evil. But the way we resist evil varies, and sometimes the best way to do it is not to stand up to it. It’s not to face off, be self-righteous or passive-aggressive (or even full-on aggressive). It’s to be like Jesus, and overcome evil with good. Ro 12.21

    So I interpret Jesus’s statement as “No standing toe-to-toe with evil.” Don’t adopt evil’s tactics. Don’t reciprocate with violence or vengeance. Don’t give in to the temptation to help karma along. Be gracious like our heavenly Father is gracious.

    I’ve heard preachers point out more than once: A right-handed opponent is likely to hit the left side of your face. The only way they’d hit your right cheek is if they backhand you. For some reason, preachers assume this is worse than getting hit or punched any other way. More degrading; more insulting. But the fact is, people tend to be outraged when they’re hit in the face, no matter how they’re hit. And Jesus’s instruction tells us to stifle that outrage, our dignity, our vengeance… and expect more.

    As for suing your tunic off: Jesus is actually using hyperbole. He didn’t mean someone who was literally suing you to get your tunic; he meant someone who was suing you for every cent you had, and if you had no money, they’d supposedly take the shirt off your back. But if you gave ’em your robe too… well, they actually couldn’t accept that. Because the Law required creditors to give back one’s robe every night at sundown, so people could at least have something to sleep in. Dt 24.12-13 Giving “thy cloke also,” (KJV) was therefore also hyperbole: If creditors wanna take everything, stop fighting and give ’em everything.

    Why do people assume Jesus means giving people more than what they ask for? ’Cause of verse 41, going the extra mile:

    Matthew 5.41 KWL
    “Whoever drafts you to carry their gear one mile, go with them two.”

    Under Roman law, a Roman soldier had the right to draft non-Romans to carry their gear for 1,000 paces. (Mille/“thousand” is where we get mile—even though it’s now more than 1,000 feet.) Problem is, Romans would cheat. They’d miscount the paces. Or, once you did your thousand and put down their gear, they’d immediately draft you again for another mile.

    But rather than embrace the hurt feelings and outrage—“Hey, I’m done with my service!”—Jesus instructs us to quit thinking, “What’s the least I have to do before I’m done?” and just fulfill the whole obligation. If you have to carry a burden a few more steps, don’t pile a grudge on top of it. You’ll be carrying the grudge long after you put down the other burden.

    Anyway, Christians read that extra-obligation idea back into the previous verses. And they don’t necessarily belong there. If someone sues your pants off, you do owe the money, so accept your circumstances. If someone punches your jaw, don’t escalate things; again, accept your circumstances. If a Roman makes you walk 1,300 paces, that’s annoying, but don’t let it eat you up inside; accept your circumstances.

    None of this is about inviting extra abuse upon ourselves. It’s about the fact life will sometimes suck. Stop looking to balance the score. Stop seeking karma or reciprocity, whether it’s merited or not. Accept the circumstances, embrace serenity, and get on with your life.

    Fairness, justice, and grace.

    I’ve heard this preached many times: “The word ‘fairness’ isn’t in the bible. Go ahead and look. You won’t find it.”

    Well no, not in the KJV or NKJV. But better not give ’em an ESV or NASB (appears twice), or the GNT (four times), or NLT (seven times), or NET (14 times). See, it all depends on the translation. The specific word might not be found in your bible. The concept is definitely there. It tends to be translated “justice.” You did know “fair” and “just” are synonyms, right?

    But like karma, westerners redefine justice so that it no longer means “fair or reciprocal behavior”—like eye for eye, tooth for tooth. When people say they “want justice,” what they now mean is they wanna see people get what they deserve… in the negative sense. Someone did ’em wrong, and they want the wrongdoer punished. More accurately they want revenge. Since revenge isn’t allowed under our laws, they’ll settle for the next best thing: “Justice.” Meaning a great big fine, prison, or the death penalty. Given the option, they’d prefer the death penalty. But that’s what “justice” has become in our culture: Fair punishment.

    Justice means more than that in the scriptures. ’Cause God wants us to be fair with one another. When we see things going wrong, he wants us to make things right. He’s more pleased with that, than when we offer him sacrifices. Pr 21.3 What more does he want of us than to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God? Mc 6.8

    I bring up justice and fairness ’cause I’m trying to explain the cultural baseline which Jesus was starting from. Our culture does karma, which is kinda like justice. But unlike the scriptures, we expect the universe to make things right. We expect God to punish evildoers, reward the righteous, or help the needy. Not us; that’s not our job. We’re fellow recipients of karmic payouts.

    Just goes to show how disconnected we are from God.

    Meanwhile Jesus is trying to teach grace. If someone punches you, don’t punch back. If someone penalizes you, don’t try to get out of it. If someone obligates you, don’t perform the bare minimum. If people ask your help, don’t drive ’em off. You know, like Moses said in the Law:

    Deuteronomy 15.7-11 KWL
    7 “If there’s a needy person among you—one of your brothers, at one of your gates
    in your land which your LORD God gives you,
    don’t close your mind. Don’t shut your hand to your needy brother.
    8 Open, open your hand to him. Promise, promise whatever he needs, whatever he lacks.
    9 Watch yourself, lest there’s this useless thought in your mind,
    saying, “Sabbath year is near—the year debts are canceled,”
    and you eye your needy brother warily, and won’t give to him.
    He’ll call to the LORD against you. It’s a sin for you.
    10 Give, give to him. Don’t do evil in your mind in giving to him.
    For this reason, your LORD God blesses all your work, all your hand creates.
    11 There will never stop being needy people in the land. Therefore I command you,
    saying: Open, open your hand to your brother, to your poor, to your needy, in your land.”

    This attitude flies in the face of popular culture. Including popular Christian culture. Plenty of Christians will likewise insist we should offer the needy “a hand up, not a handout.” Plenty of people—both in Jesus’s day and now—take advantage of generosity, and accept handouts regardless of their own ability to provide for themselves. They milk the system. Jesus knows this. Knew this when he taught us to give to those who ask of us. Yeah, they might scam us. Even so. Fight your tendency to want to get your own back. Put others first. Do for them. Be generous. Even if it’s “unfair.”

    It’s a hard command for a lot of Christians. One we tend to ignore: Look at all the Christians who are insistent, even proud, that we stand up for our rights, and stop people from taking advantage of us. In American culture it’s considered shameful to let someone have the advantage over us. Yet Jesus orders us to let ’em.

    Yes, we have rights. No, it’s not fair when others exploit us, or take from us. Karma fans expect when we’re mistreated this way, the universe will step in and rectify things. When they’re Christians, they’ll even preach it: “Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek because, at the End, that cheek-slapper will get his. Jesus’ll see to it.” In fact Jesus said no such thing. In fact Jesus wants the opposite: He wants that cheek-slapper to repent, turn to him, be saved, and beg forgiveness. Jesus wants that cheek-slapper to get away with it, and enter his kingdom.

    Same as you. And me. And everyone. How many cheeks—literal or figurative—have we slapped? And Jesus wants us all to get away with it. That’s what grace means.

    Jesus wants his followers to demonstrate this grace. Yeah, we can try to make things equitable, balance things out, or get even. Might feel really good about ourselves for doing so. Might feel great satisfaction. But he wants us to be bigger people than that. Let it go. Forgive, in favor of people who need saving. Be merciful instead of “fair.” Seek to help the needy instead of seeking “justice.” Show ’em grace instead of righteous anger.

    It’s why Jesus caps off this teaching, in Luke, with the “golden rule”: Do as you’d like done to you. Lk 6.31 You want God to show you grace and mercy when Jesus takes his glorious throne? Show grace and mercy to others. You want people to give you the benefit of the doubt? Go and do likewise.

    Be generous. Not because they’ll then owe you, but because it’s how our Father works. It’s how his kingdom works—and you wanna be ready for it, right?

    Sins which send you to hell?

    by K.W. Leslie, 16 January

    Quoting from John’s first letter:

    1 John 5.15-17 KJV
    15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

    This passage has managed to confuse an awful lot of Christians. What’s John mean by ἁμαρτάνουσιν πρὸς θάνατον / amartánusin pros thánaton, “sinning unto death”? Or sinning not unto death?

    Both Paul and James wrote that sin causes death. “The wages of sin is death” Ro 6.23 and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” Jm 1.15 and all that. They weren’t just speaking of sins which obviously cause death, like murder and suicide and abortion; or sins which indirectly but still kinda obviously cause death, like gluttony or addictions or other lapses of self-control. Popular Christian thinking is that all our sins contribute to the decay, and eventual end, of our lives. Sin is a cancer which eats away at our lives until they finally but inevitably end. And even if we resist temptation—even if we could be as sinless as Christ Jesus—sin is so toxic other people’s sins will kill us, same as they did Jesus.

    But when Christians read John’s passage about sinning to death (KJV “sin unto death”) what we tend to think of is the Roman Catholic idea of a peccatum mortale / mortal sin, a sin which is so offensive to God, committing it the same as committing apostasy: We effectively just told God “I’m not following Jesus; I prefer hell.

    Now, Catholics believe—same as most Evangelicals, including me—God can forgive all. If you commit a mortal sin, you don’t have to end up in hell; you can repent, so do! Murder’s a mortal sin, but Moses murdered an Egyptian slaveowner, David murdered Uriah, and Paul probably murdered Christians before he became one; all of ’em repented. (Well, maybe Moses repented. Bible doesn’t say.) But if you never repent—if you murdered someone, and if you could redo everything, would totally murder ’em again—Catholics are entirely sure you’re going to hell. Because a real Christian would realize they were wrong, feel sorry for it, and be repentant.

    How do Catholics determine what’s a mortal sin, and what’s a non-mortal (i.e. easily forgivable, dismissible, venial sin)? Usually it’s by degree. If popular Christian culture considers it especially bad, and enough Catholic leaders and theologians have denounced it as something that’d particularly get in the way of our relationship with God—if it’s a serious violation of his will—it’d be a mortal sin. It’s not that venial sins don’t degrade our relationship with God, especially when we keep committing ’em. It’s that mortal sins have effectively broken it off.

    You want a list? Most people who ask me about this want a list. Here ya go.

    • APOSTASY, obviously. Quitting Jesus definitely won’t get you into his kingdom.
    • ADULTERY—as defined as deviating from heterosexual marital activity. (Not as the Old Testament describes it, i.e. sex with wives and concubines.) Catholics also lump any non-marital sexual activity, divorce, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, polygamy, porn, prostitution, and rape under this category.
    • ANGER, ENVY AND HATRED. Particularly to a degree where people take harmful action, like terrorism.
    • BLASPHEMY, by which they mean disrespecting God, not just slander against God. So this’d include using God’s name as a profanity, sacrilege, and skipping Mass.
    • CHEATING AND FRAUD. Unless we’re talking harmless frauds like pranks, this refers to anything which harms others, like unfair bets, stuff which endangers others’ lives, injustice, lying, perjury, unfair wages, unjust prices, or oppressive interest rates.
    • HERESY. Teaching other than, or sowing doubts in, what Christians oughta believe. This includes encouraging people to defy church leadership, church splits, idolatry, simony, sorcery, and trying to be simultaneously Catholic and another religion. Catholics also include Freemasonry—in part ’cause Masons have historically been anti-Catholic, and in part ’cause Masonic rituals like to dabble in pagan, magic, and Muslim iconography, which creeps Catholics out.
    • MURDER of various sorts; anything which intentionally kills another person. This’d include abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. Catholics also include contraception.
    • SUBORNATION, i.e. getting someone to sin for you, or otherwise encouraging another person’s sins and vices. Likewise gossip, scandal-mongering, or other such things which nudge others the wrong way.

    All these things are forbidden, or implied to be forbidden, in the scriptures. You notice many of ’em are taken from the Ten Commandments. So obviously we should resist any temptation to slide into ’em.

    Does sin undo our salvation?

    The big problem with the idea of mortal sins, is its logical conclusion: If certain sins cut us off from God’s grace, and we never repent, nor have the chance or means to repent… it means if we die with a mortal sin on our souls, we’re not saved. We’re not forgiven, not getting into God’s kingdom, not getting eternal life. Sin unsaves us.

    Is that how God’s grace works? No.

    Catholics have a slightly different idea of how grace works, than Evangelicals. Properly, grace is God’s generous attitude towards his people. But lots of people treat grace as a substance, a liquid God pours out on us, or a blanket God covers us with; an object not an attitude. And if it’s a substance, it’s a finite substance: It’s not unlimited. There’s only so much of it God’s gonna grant us. So don’t push him!

    For Catholics, God gives people all sorts of grace, in all sorts of ways. But he particularly grants us grace through his sacraments. That’s why we gotta do them! Go to church and have holy communion every week—every day if possible—because you need to stay connected to Jesus, and that’s the easiest way to do it. And in response God will pour out more grace. So if you’re feeling low on grace, go to church!

    Now yeah, if you go to church you’re certainly gonna notice God’s grace a lot more than in most places. But God’s grace isn’t something he only grants when people are religious. On the contrary: God’s grace is all the more for people who aren’t religious. Sinners can’t be saved unless God finds us, comes and gets us, forgives us, and brings us into his kingdom! And does God go and get ’em because they go to church and participate in sacraments? Nope; he went and got us because he loves us. Loved us before we made any effort to follow him; loved us before we repented of our awful, sinful behavior; loved us before we even knew we needed grace. Loves us in spite of many of us not entirely understanding what grace is.

    Loves us in spite of those mortal sins. Wants to save us anyway. Isn’t giving up on us, but the Holy Spirit continues to prod us in the conscience so we’ll wise up and repent. That’s grace.

    Romans 5.20-21 NABRE
    20B …but, where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    So does sin, any sin, cut us off from grace and salvation? Only apostasy. Only intentionally quitting Jesus. Properly that’s how blasphemy of the Holy Spirit works—we deliberately cut himself off from him and his guidance, and refuse to follow him further. Rejecting God is the only way we “lose” his salvation. Which means we gotta mean to do it. It’s not accidental! You’re never gonna stumble into losing your salvation; you can only willfully reject it.

    (Or, as is the case with pagans who believe they’re Christian, never have it to begin with. They still need to repent, and actually follow Jesus instead of only following the trappings of Christianity which they like best. But they merit their own article.)

    So what’s John talking about?

    If John didn’t mean to create this whole designation of “mortal sin,” describing sins that’d send us to hell as opposed to venial sins God can easily forgive, what was he really writing about? For that, we gotta look at John’s culture, not ancient Christian culture nor medieval Roman Catholic culture. John grew up Pharisee.

    The Pharisees identified two categories of sin in the Law—all of which God forgives, but all of which still had consequences. For most of ’em, like killing a neighbor’s animal, the consequence was restitution for the sin against one’s neighbor, and ritual sacrifice for the sin against God. And for many of ’em, like killing a neighbor, the consequence was death.

    Yep. That’s what John meant by “sinning to death”: Violations of the Law which merited the death penalty.

    The United States has such laws too. Largely we’ve limited them to murder, terrorism, and treason. The Law in the scriptures executed people for stuff we’d never execute people over, like breaking Sabbath. Its list of mortal sins is a lot larger than the Catholics’ list—and includes much different things. Anger’s not a mortal sin in the Law. But these things are:

    • Not properly penning an ox, so that it broke out and killed someone.
    • Interfering with temple ritual, or the Levites and priests who do it.
    • Priests being drunk on the job.
    • Going to temple while ritually unclean.
    • Kidnapping.
    • Hitting or cursing your parents.
    • Bestiality.
    • False prophecy, promoting other gods, or spiritualism.

    Stuff American culture won’t kill you over—but ancient cultures would and did. Whether you repented or not.

    Naturally, many ancient Christians didn’t bother to study the Law, had a lot of biases against the things they considered sinful, and decided it wasn’t too huge of a leap between stuff which got you capital punishment, and things which might endanger your eternal life. Plus threatening people with hellfire goes a lot further when you’re trying to get ’em to stop sinning.

    But yeah, it’s wrong. John wasn’t writing about stuff that might put you in hell. Just sins people commit which, in context, are serious crimes. Read it again; I translated it with this idea in mind.

    1 John 5.15-17 KWL
    15 Once we’ve known God hears us about whatever we may ask,
    we’ve known we have the requests we ask of him.
    16 When anyone sees their fellow Christian sinning a non-felonious sin, they’ll ask,
    and God’ll give life to that person—to those who commit non-felonious sin.
    There’s felonious sin: I say this so you’d ask, but not about that.
    17 Everything immoral is sin—and includes non-felonious sin.

    If the sins they commit are things they really oughta go to prison for, like fraud and thievery and molestation, or even treason and murder, we can’t only pray about it, and figure that’s that. We need to get authorities involved. John wasn’t writing about felonious behavior, but sins between us and God, stuff where authorities don’t need to be involved, and hopefully we have the sense to know the difference.

    And regardless of the sins, God can and will forgive all. So relax.

    “Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

    by K.W. Leslie, 27 November
    PREVENE pri'vin verb. Arrive first, come before, pre-exist.
    [Prevenient pri'vin.jənt adjective, prevenience pri'vin.jəns noun.]

    Time for an old-timey word, prevenient. One you’ll really only find theologians use anymore. But I gotta inflict it on you—sorry—because so many Christians use it to describe how God’s grace works.

    Y’might already know humans are selfish, and this self-interest distorts everything we do. Including everything good we try to do: There’s gotta be something in it for us. Even if it looks and feels like there’s nothing in it for us—if it’s an absolute act of sacrifice, one which harms us instead of benefits us, one which makes us feel awful instead of noble—there’s still something way deep down, embedded in the core of our being, which gets some satisfaction from it. Otherwise we we’d never voluntarily do it. That’s just how messed up we are. “Totally depraved,” as the theologians put it.

    But people usually pretend this messed-up core doesn’t exist, and claim it was a truly selfless act; that it proves we humans aren’t all bad. But self-justification is also selfish.

    This total depravity means we’re too messed up to save ourselves. We’re never gonna be good enough. Even if, by some mathematically impossible fluke, we follow all God’s commands to the letter, we’re still gonna have this hanging over us: It wasn’t done out of love for God. We did it so we could claim righteousness. We want to be “good people.” We want the good karma; we want to merit heaven. Don’t lie; it’s totally why we go to all the trouble. It’s a pride thing. And God never did care for pride. Jm 4.6, 1Pe 5.5

    So how can we be saved? Well duh; only God can save us. We gotta trust God.

    But aren’t we pretty far gone? Aren’t we too messed up to trust God? We’re so self-centered, so focused on ourselves, humanity is spiritually dead inside: We can’t hear the Holy Spirit poking us in the conscience. Before we can turn to God, doesn’t he first have to transform something within us?

    Sure. And he did. When Jesus died for the world’s sins, 1Jn 2.2 he took out sins both past and future. Ro 3.25 His act of atonement worked its way backwards and forwards through time, so that everyone receives God’s grace—from Adam and Eve, to you. Thanks to Jesus, through Jesus, every human on the planet, no matter how messed up, has the ability to recognize we need God to save us. We had the ability before we even realized we needed it.

    This grace was always around. Always available. Prevenient.

    Yeah, there are other Christians who insist it’s not. It’s not prevenient; it’s particular. God doesn’t offer grace to just anyone. He only offers it to the repentant. Or to the elect. He doesn’t waste his grace on people who want nothing to do with him, on people who will never turn to him. Grace is only for certain people, a limited few.

    This idea doesn’t come from bible. Not that people don’t try to twist certain verses really hard, and claim it totally does. It comes from graceless humans. We don’t consider the whole of humanity worth saving; we figure there are sinners who just aren’t worth it. Jesus can’t have wasted his precious life on them. So, in these Christians’ minds, he didn’t. It’s a ransom for many, Mt 10.45, 20.28 not all.

    Our infinite God has infinite resources, infinite love, infinite grace, and the ability to save absolutely everyone who turns to him. And wants to! 2Pe 3.9 But not all the world is willing. Mk 13.34, Mt 23.37 To all who receive him, he makes them his children. Jn 1.12 To all who don’t… he tries again. And again. His mercies never come to an end. Lm 3.22 ’Cause he’s patient like that.

    Humans, not so much. And we project many of these selfish, depraved qualities upon God, and limit his grace because we lack grace. They feel it depletes their karma to waste love on people who will never reciprocate. They can’t justify this irrational, unbiblical idea, so they reframe it this way: They don’t love everybody because God must not love everybody—because he’s so almighty, so sovereign, his love would overwhelm and transform everyone it touches. Since not everyone is overwhelmed and transformed, God must not have loved them; certainly not in the way he loves us. So if he doesn’t love the world (despite Jesus saying he totally does Jn 3.16), why should they waste their love on ingrates? Hence limited love. Limited atonement. Limited grace.

    It’s totally inconsistent with how Jesus describes his Father:

    Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
    43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
    44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
    45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
    since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
    46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
    Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
    47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
    Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
    48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
    like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

    Our heavenly Father loves both good and evil people—and grants his amazing grace to both. To all. Without limit. Preveniently.

    We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 August

    Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.

    The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

    On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

    Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

    Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? which is where I first heard it. Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft, in a speech Kreeft gave at Calvin College. I’ve no doubt he did.

    Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though.

    Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever. Smarter than those religion experts, who somehow never read anything G.K. Chesterton wrote about the uniqueness of Christian grace. But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

    Grace is in Judaism, ’cause grace is all over the Old Testament. The LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt, not because they were a great and deserving people who merited salvation, but purely out of his love. Dt 7.7-8 The LORD gave them Palestine, not because they deserved it, but because he promised it to Abraham and their ancestors. Dt 9.5 We make the same mistake Pharisees did, and confuse the Law with the foundation of their faith. But the foundation is Abraham—who trusted the LORD, and the LORD graciously considered his faith to be righteousness. Ge 15.6

    Grace is in Islam. Those whose only experiences with Islam is with its legalists, assume it’s not. They assume Muslims struggle to follow Islam’s rules because it’s how they earn heaven. It’s not. Muslims are quick to remind people we can follow the rules perfectly, yet still not know whether you attain heaven, ’cause heaven has nothing to do with the rules. Only God decrees who’s going to heaven or not, and it’s entirely based on his grace. The Quran begins, Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi, “In God’s name—most gracious, most merciful.” Muslim prayers regularly address him this way. They’re continual reminders of his grace.

    Grace is even found in Hinduism. Karma only gets people so far, y’know. But Hinduism’s gods can be appealed to, intervene, and push people ahead a little further. Apparently they can be gracious.

    That’s the thing: Scratch the surface of every religion, and you’ll find despite any legalism they might have, they also have grace to grease the wheels. Otherwise their wheels can’t turn.

    Nope, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace. In fact many’s the time Christians don’t practice these things… and other religions do, and frustrated Christians see this, quit Jesus, and go try those other religions.

    Yeah, I’ve heard many a Christian apologist claim we’re the only ones who do grace. We’d sure like to think so, wouldn’t we? But we make that claim only when we don’t know squat about other religions. (Or we hope our debate opponents don’t know squat—and lying to win such debates is evil, Dt 5.20 so don’t do that.)

    The storehouse of merit?

    by K.W. Leslie, 18 June

    Jesus tells us to stash our wealth in heaven. Actually he said it this way:

    Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
    19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth,
    where moths and corrosion ruin it, where thieves dig it up and steal it.
    20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven,
    where neither moth nor corrosion ruins, where thieves don’t dig, nor steal:
    21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”

    If our wealth consists of material possessions—like homes, cars, electronics, jewelry, cash—we waste way too much time stressing about its upkeep and safety. We hoard more, “just in case.” We encourage laws and business practices which let us keep our wealth… and, all too frequently, aren’t charitable with others. The love of money becomes the underlying cause of all sorts of evil. 1Ti 6.10

    Thing is, people skip this whole idea of de-prioritizing material wealth, and focus on the idea of treasures in heaven. Which, because humanity believes in karma, isn’t necessarily a cache of wealth waiting for us in New Jerusalem; mansions and streets of gold and a diamond-encrusted Bentley. Instead it’s a giant stash of karmic wealth: All our good deeds mean God owes us a few favors. A few thousand favors. And someday we’ll cash in on them.

    Which is why I actually know certain Christians who don’t request things of God. Not because they think he can’t or won’t come through for them: They’re saving up their favors. At some point, they figure, they’re really gonna need something from God, and that’s when they’re gonna call in their chips. “Santa… I mean God, I’ve been such a good little boy. Can I have what’s on the top of my wishlist?”

    God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. Never did. It runs on grace and nothing else. But karma is a very old, very well-ingrained idea in humanity, and sometimes it’s just gonna leak into our dealings with God. It shouldn’t; it paints a very messed-up picture of him. It makes him sound like he runs on merit—like a congressman.

    The point of treasure in heaven is not so we have something with which to purchase prayer requests. Your heavenly wealth is meant for you to enjoy—in kingdom come, sure, and to some degree now. But the idea we’re racking up favors for God is ridiculous. What can we give God that he doesn’t already have, that he can’t already create from nothing with a minor thought? What can we dangle in front of him that a billion other Christians won’t already freely give him?

    But of course the folks who think of their treasure in heaven as a storehouse of merit, don’t realize how foolish they’re being. Sometimes it’s ’cause they haven’t experienced enough grace in their lives, so they just assume God thinks like they do—and like everyone else. Sometimes they grew up with a lot of bad preaching—the kind which tells them God loves them so much, values them so much, doesn’t wanna live without them, which is why he sent his Son to die for them—they get the warped idea they can hold God hostage by threatening to deprive him of them. Which ain’t love, you know.

    Yep, there are many ways human pettiness and selfishness tends to distort our relationship with God. Turning our treasures in heaven into a karmic bank is one of them.