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Showing posts with the label #Grace

Ingrates.

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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 last

Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

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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) p

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

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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.

God can’t abide sin?

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“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

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

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The words we never want to hear from our Lord. 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 a

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

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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 t

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

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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 tim

Does suicide send you straight to hell?

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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 fo

Karma: How we imagine the universe seeks justice.

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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.

Sins which send you to hell?

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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 add

“Prevenient grace”: Already there, without limit.

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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

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

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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

The storehouse of merit?

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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

Legalism versus grace.

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LEGALISM 'li.gəl.iz.əm noun. Excessive adherence to law or formula. 2. Dependence on law or merit, instead of grace and faith, for righteousness before God and salvation. [Legalist 'li.gəl.ist noun. ] The absence of grace is legalism: Subtract the optimistic attitude, the forgiveness which should immediately follow when we slip up, the trust that God can take care of the details and manage our biggest messes. It’s when people figure yeah, God saves, but he only cares to save those who merit it with our good karma. Most Christians are aware legalism is the wrong route to God. The evangelists drummed the idea into our heads pretty early: Salvation is through grace and nothing else. We can’t earn salvation; we shouldn’t try. If we try, we’re kinda trying to do an end-run around God and the system he set up, which is for Jesus to take out our sins. And the only reason we’d wanna do an end-run around God is pride, sin, delusion, or some other evil or self-centered