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

06 May 2024

God’s unmerited favor.

Titus 3.4-7.

Previously in Titus, Paul reminded Titus and the church of Crete—the men in particular—to be good people, not “tough guys” and alpha males who are constantly battling everyone else to be the top dog. There are a lot of unhealthy Christians who still try to behave that way—who think we should be that way; be far more like the characters Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood play in the movies, than Christ Jesus.

We used to be that way, Paul said; stupid, unyielding, evil, envious, hate-filled…

Titus 3.4-7 KWL
4 That’s when the kindness and love for humanity
of our savior God appeared—
5 not because of works of righteousness which we do,
but God saves us because of his mercy,
through washing, rebirth, and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he richly pours out over us
through Christ Jesus our savior,
7 so we who are justified in that grace might become heirs,
according to the hope of life in the age to come.

That’s when the Cretans—that’s when we all—encountered God’s grace. While we were still jerks and sinners, while we were still unworthy of salvation and adoption by God, while we didn’t deserve God’s kingdom at all, Christ died for us.

And you’ll find that same sort of grace—that same unmerited favor—throughout the bible. It’s hardly just in the New Testament. It’s everywhere.

When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of כְּנַעַן/Kena‘án (KJV “Canaan”) and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 then promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. He wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity. At all.

Yes he had loads of faith. But his story doesn’t start with that faith. He didn’t have it yet. He acquired it—as the product of his God-experiences. After God appeared to him, gave him a mission, and promised him stuff. After he spent 25 years—not a short time!—following God before he finally got the son God initially promised. God showed up way before Abraham’s faith did.

So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with Abraham and his descendants? Grace. Solely grace. Pure grace.

And he did it again. When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, then patiently dealt with these Hebrews’ sins thereafter, and finally got their descendants into Canaan and helped them take the land: Again, ’twasn’t because the Hebrews were good people. Without constant divine supervision, they’d turn idolatrous within a month! Miraculously supply ’em with daily bread, and they’d still piss and moan they had it better in Egypt. (Where they were slaves. Where the Egyptians murdered their babies.) The Hebrews were just awful to their God. So why’d the LORD even bother with them? ’Cause he promised Abraham he would. Dt 7.7-8 ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

When Jesus decided to save me, what had I done to merit saving? Not a thing. I was a little kid. Not a good little kid either. I could be a tantrum-throwing brat when I didn’t get my way. (I still can be, which is why I gotta keep that misbehavior in check. God help my poor nurses if ever I go senile.) Plenty of Christians will easily confess they were awful human beings when they first encountered Jesus. Why’d he save us anyway? ’Cause he loves us. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

Christians love to describe grace as “unmerited favor.” It’s actually more than that—it’s God’s entire attitude towards us, which includes unmerited favor. And often we forget the unmerited part: It really isn’t deserved at all. Totally unfair. Often inappropriate. It breaks all the rules of karma. We shouldn’t get it!

Hence there are a lot of people, Christians included, who still strive to achieve good karma. Who try their darnedest to be good people, try to balance out any bad in their lives, and make it so they do merit God’s good favor. Who think the whole purpose of good deeds is to make ourselves worthy of heaven. They forget God doesn’t work like that. At all. He forgave us already. He makes us worthy of heaven. Ep 1.15-23

Why? Nah; I’m not gonna repeat it anymore. Go back and read it again.

14 June 2023

Works righteousness: Salvation through good karma.

WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS 'wərks raɪ.tʃəs.nəs noun. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through good deeds.

Works righteousness is how the world works. We tend to call it karma: If we want people to think of us as good, upstanding, deserving, even holy, we’ve gotta publicly do good deeds. Like doing charity work, making big donations, rescuing needy people, doing stuff for the public good. Not just the stuff ordinary citizens do, and should do, like follow the laws and not be jerks. It’s gotta be actions which go above and beyond.

Or (and this is the much harder way, although many people prefer it ’cause it’s quicker and passive) we’ve gotta suffer a catastrophic loss. One which totally doesn’t seem to fit our circumstances. Like getting a deadly disease, surviving a disaster, losing all your stuff in that disaster, losing all your family in that disaster… basically, Job’s story. He was a really good guy, yet lost all his kids and stuff in a single day. Jb 1 Stuff that’ll make people sympathetic, or even cry.

See, people presume the universe oughta balance things out. Good things should happen to good people, right?—and bad things to bad. When circumstances expose the truth—that the universe is random and meaningless—people are outraged at this illusion getting shattered, feel things are just wrong… and frequently take it upon themselves to fix things. (Then claim, “See? The universe balanced things out.” Yeah, not without human help.) People pour out support to the needy… and y’notice it’s sometimes entirely out of proportion. More than once I’ve seen a news story in which someone’s in need, and the public donated so much money, 100 other people could’ve been helped by it. Sometimes the needy people pass some of that generosity along; sometimes they don’t, but that seldom makes the news.

But as you can see, the world runs on works righteousness. On karma.

The kingdom of God, by contrast, runs on grace. God’s people don’t get what we deserve, much less what people think we merit. Instead we get what God wants to give us, and that’s a lot. Way more than we can ever ask or think. Ep 3.20 He wants to give us his kingdom.

For a whole lot of Christians this idea hasn’t entirely sunk in. When we come to Jesus, we bring our existing ideas, including our existing wrong ideas, with us. One of ’em is the idea we owe God big-time. After all, look how much he’s done for us! But we often conclude we gotta pay him back. You’ll even hear Christians claim this is why we’ve gotta do good deeds: We owe God. We’ll never ever be able to make it up to him; not even after a trillion years of good deeds… but we should try.

Which is simply nuts. And goes against everything God’s trying to teach us about grace. We’re supposed to give without expecting anything back, Lk 6.35 because that’s how our Father gives.

But karma is so pervasive in every human culture, even those of us who know God does grace instead of karma, try to make it up to him in big or small ways. We don’t always do stuff for God out of pure gratitude. We’re still trying to balance out our infinite karmic debt to an infinite God. Good luck with all that.

Nah. The reason we Christians are to be holy and good is because it’s what God instructs us to do. It’s not to earn anything, not to pay anything back, not for any other reason than love. If you love God, do as he says. Jn 14.15 If you don’t really, you won’t really. But forget about earning his love; you already have it. Forget about earning his favor; you already have it. That karma stuff only works on humans. Not God.

23 May 2023

Different kinds of grace.

GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Had to start this article by reminding you of the definition of grace. Yeah, plenty of Christians are gonna insist it only means “unmerited favor,” but I consider that definition insufficient. I knew a dad who’d let his daughter get away with loads of stuff… but purely out of apathy. He didn’t care enough to check up on her. And he really should have; she was spending an awful lot of his money on stupid stuff! That too is unmerited favor. But the most profound component of God’s favor is his favorable attitude. God is love, and that’s why God is gracious.

Anyway. When Christians talk about God’s grace, every so often one of us starts listing and detailing different kinds of grace. Fr’instance I’ve written on prevenient grace. Other Christians are gonna talk—a whole lot—about God’s saving grace. Or common grace. Or preached grace, provisional grace, sustaining grace, enabling grace, serving grace, and miraculous grace. Or God’s justifying grace, his sanctifying grace, and his glorifying or eternal grace. There’s more than a dozen of these types of grace.

Except there aren’t really a dozen types of grace. There’s just grace. There’s just God’s generous attitude towards his people.

And dozens of effects of God’s generous attitude—which theologians have turned into “kinds of grace.” But they aren’t. God’s attitude is consistently the same. He still loves us, still forgives us, still does for us, still offers us his kingdom. It’s just sometimes we notice, “Hey, when it comes to salvation, God’s grace does [THIS COOL THING]… so I guess that’s what ‘saving grace’ is!” Nah dude; you’re just noticing different facets of the same infinitely valuable gem.

God’s grace is superabundant. It’s in way more places than we realize. When we find it in a place we weren’t expecting, sometimes we’ll foolishly think, “Oh this is a different kind of grace for this particular circumstance!” And again: Same God. Same love. Same grace. Different circumstances don’t turn it into a new thing.

Yeah, it’s just another instance of people overcomplicating something that’s really not complicated. It’s a case of Christians thinking, “Wow, lookit all the different kinds of grace!—and how wise of me to know about each and every one of them.” Yeah, don’t get too full of yourself. You didn’t really learn anything new about God; you only learned he applies grace in more places than you thought. And y’know what? He applies grace in way more places than even that. Like I said, superabundant.

The other problematic thing about compiling a big ol’ list of types of grace: You might lose sight of the fact grace is God’s generous attitude, and start thinking of grace as a substance which can be separated from the God who has it. Like magic dust which you can sprinkle on things to make ’em forgiven. Grace is not that; it can’t be divorced from the person who grants it. Divine grace without God behind it, ceases to exist. Human grace without a generous person making sure it’s effective, likewise ceases to exist—“What do you mean Dad canceled this credit card? No, don’t cut it up!” Any “type of grace” always has a grace-Giver at its center, and we should never take him for granted.

01 May 2023

“Mortal sins”: Sins which send you to hell?

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 “a sin 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 those sins which obviously cause death, like murder and suicide and abortion; nor those 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 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 and does forgive all. If you commit a mortal sin, you don’t have to end up in hell; you can repent. So do! Murder may be 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 continually commit ’em. But mortal sins are figured to have effectively broken it off immediately.

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. Not as the Old Testament describes it, i.e. sex with women outside your patriarchal fiefdom, whereas any non-relatives within your fiefdom are fair game. Nope, Catholics define this as any non-marital sexual activity. Which includes divorce, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, polygamy, porn, prostitution, and rape.
  • 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. But Catholics have a slightly different idea of how grace works.

As Evangelicals like me understand it, grace is God’s generous attitude towards his people. That’s why it’s unlimited, just like its giver. But lots of people treat grace as a substance, a liquid God pours out on us, a pixie dust he sprinkles upon us, or a blanket he 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 printed out, and gonna distribute to people. So don’t push him!—or he’ll favor someone else.

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 dole 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.

17 November 2022

Grace and liberalism.

As regular readers know, I’m somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum in the United States. It’s because I’m trying to follow Jesus rather than any of the political parties, and when his teachings differ with the party platforms, or the politicians running for office or holding office have deficient character and no plans to reform, I’m gonna differ too. Hence progressives see me as conservative, and conservatives see me as liberal.

Since most of the people I know are conservative, some of ’em see me as just a little bit leftist, and others consider me a fully radical socialist nightmare. Of course it all depends on how conservative they are; really, how much they’ve permitted partisans to compromise their Christianity. Because some of their beliefs aren’t Christian at all. They’re disguised as Christian beliefs, which is why I call ’em Christianist: Some of ’em do a full 180-degree turn from anything Jesus, the apostles, and the scriptures teach.

And no, this isn’t just a phenomenon found among conservatives. Partisans of every stripe do it. I know lots of people on the Christian Left who’ve made similar compromises. Because more of the people I know are conservative, you’re gonna find me pointing at them more often. Same as in the gospels when Jesus was constantly correcting Pharisees (or as the gospel of John calls ’em, “Judeans” or “Jews”) —that’s who he interacted with most.

Whenever conservatives object to my politics, it’s predictably because I don’t follow the party line. Right-wing radio and TV told ’em real Americans gotta think or behave a certain way; I won’t behave that way, so they rebuke me. I don’t keep up with their favorite pundits, so obviously I’m not gonna be in lockstep. Which is fine by me; those guys aren’t my Lord anyway.

But an equally common phenomenon is they object to my politics because I’m practicing grace. As Christians should; it’s a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus expects us to love all, forgive all, be generous with strangers and even enemies, show compassion, and preach good news to the poor. So I try to do that. And they object.

Yes, they object to grace. The same grace by which they’re saved; the same grace God shows to the just and unjust without limit. They don’t practice grace y’see, so it stands to reason they don’t recognize it as something we Christians are to do. It’s only something “the bleeding-heart liberals” do.

You know where the bleeding heart idea comes from? From Jesus. From the Roman soldiers stabbing Jesus in the heart. Jn 19.34 Over time Roman Catholics turned “the sacred heart of Jesus” into a big devotional thing, meditating on how Jesus’s compassion for sinners resulted in shedding his blood to save us. A “bleeding heart” used to be how irreligious people mocked compassionate Christians. Now it’s how conservatives mock compassionate people in general. They lost sight of the connection between bleeding hearts and Jesus—and whenever I point it out to them, they just dismiss it as ridiculous Catholic stuff. No, it’s Christian stuff—but what do they know of how Christians oughta behave? They don’t do grace.

To them, compassion is “liberal.” Charity is “liberal.” Generosity is “liberal.” Good works are “liberal”—they’re “works righteousness,” and the only reason people do ’em is to make themselves feel self-righteous. Loving your neighbor?—“liberal.” Grace? Same deal.

It’s actually not liberal. Conservatives can do all these things too—and if they claim to follow Jesus, they should be doing all these things too! Heck, they should be outperforming pagan liberals by a mile. So why don’t they? Because there are tons of Mammonists in the American conservative movement. Loads of social Darwinists who see generosity as a drain on their wealth; who see no profit in helping needy people whom they consider unworthy. They’ve come up with Christian-sounding arguments so as to lead the Christians in their movement astray—and these arguments have worked profoundly well. Screw grace; it’s not “good stewardship.”

Hence gracelessness has become associated with conservatism. I know; if you’re conservative but practice grace, you certainly don’t see it that way. Back when I was conservative, I didn’t see it that way either. But that’s reality. The Mammonists are ruling the movement (they are funding it, after all), and their policy is the reigning policy: Charity is for suckers, and if you “need” a handout you’re either weak or a con artist. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Get a job.

If conservatives don’t do grace—at all—stands to reason you’d think it’s a liberal thing.

16 November 2022

Grace is a fruit of the Spirit.

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5 is not a comprehensive list. Wasn’t meant to be. Plenty of other fruit, like generosity, forgiveness, and humility, oughta be overt and obvious in Christians who follow the Spirit. But Christians who suck at fruit in general, who struggle enough with faking the few items Paul enumerated, immediately squawk when I make mention of other fruit: Stop adding to the list! But if they were truly trying to follow the Spirit, they shouldn’t have to protest; we’d already see this fruit in ’em.

And if they already exhibit love, they should already exhibit grace.

God’s love is what generates his grace. Love, like Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1Co 13.7 NKJV Love forgives all, takes the optimistic view, and grants unmerited favor to people because we simply love ’em as God loves them. Because the Spirit within us wants to use us to spread more grace.

Those who don’t do grace, are always looking for ways to merit the favor. Fr’instance, “Everybody has potential.” They love the unloveable because they’re hoping their love will change these people, just like it does in their favorite romantic comedies. They figure their love will break these people, show ’em the error of their ways, get ’em to repent, make ’em want to be a good person from now on. You know, like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, or Darth Vader in Star Wars. Yea, happy endings!

But offering favor because of someone’s potential, isn’t grace. It’s a karmic bet. One which often won’t pay off in real life; some people are far too set in their ways to ever make them pay off the time and attention we show them. But worthiness isn’t the point; never was. The point is to follow the Spirit. Do as Jesus does. Love everyone. Love enemies. Lk 6.27 Love the people who mock and crucify you. Lk 23.34

Luke 6.35-36 NLT
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

The reason people get called “children of the Most High” is because we exhibit his traits—or in other words, his fruit. Grace is one of the Spirit’s most obvious fruit; so obvious it really doesn’t need to be listed. Christians are meant to be known for our love, and grace means our love doesn’t come with strings attached. It’s not about trying to profit off new relationships, not about the satisfaction we feel when our love affects people in positive ways; it’s not even about winning them to Jesus, although that’ll happen. It’s about the fact every human being is a child of God, and if God loves them, so should we.

15 November 2022


As I indicated in my article on grace, a number of Christians aren’t familiar with the concept, and think it’s a mystery or something indefinable. God grants us his unmerited favor; they know not how.

They don’t define grace by God’s attitude towards us. Largely because they don’t share this attitude, and don’t think we have to duplicate it towards others. God’s instructions about generosity, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, favor, and kindness haven’t sunk in. God is love, but we don’t love; at least, not without conditions.

So they’re graceless. They’re ingrates—a word usually defined as someone who’s not grateful, but comes from the Latin ingratus/“no grace.” They don’t do grace. They love friends and family… but big deal; everybody does that.

Matthew 5.46-47 GNT
46 “Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47 And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!”

The love of God doesn’t project outside their social circle, into the world, into dark places where we’re meant to be light. We don’t represent Jesus to our lost and hurting society. We don’t spread grace. We don’t produce fruit.

’Cause grace is a fruit of the Spirit. True, it’s not one of the fruits Paul listed in Galatians. Doesn’t need to be included in his list. It should be fairly obvious this is a trait Christians oughta have if we have the Holy Spirit within, and are following him, and his godly attitudes and characteristics are overflowing into our lives. You oughta see grace in Christians. If you don’t, they might have the Spirit in them, but they don’t know him.

Grace is the whole point of Jesus’s Unforgiving Debtor Story. We were forgiven; we oughta forgive as well. God has been compassionate towards us; we oughta show compassion. God loves everybody; so should we. God makes no exceptions; neither should we.

Christians can be easily identified because we love one another—as we should. But we should likewise be identified because we love everyone. Because we’re gracious to everyone. Because we act like Jesus in that regard.

But as you probably notice, we don’t. We’d rather not.

14 November 2022

Grace. (It really is amazing.)

GRACE greɪs noun. God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people.
2. A prayer of thanksgiving.
[Gracious 'greɪ.ʃəs adjective.]

Years ago I was sitting in on a kids’ Sunday school class when the head pastor visited, and encouraged the kids to ask him anything.

Bad idea. We spent way too much time discussing the existence of space aliens. The pastor’s view: They’re not real, and all UFO sightings are likely evil spirits messing with people. (He was one of those dark Christians who suspect devils are just everywhere.)

Dark Christianity is likely why this pastor whiffed this question: One of the kids asked what grace is.

Someone had previously told her we Christians are saved by grace. Ep 2.8 So she understandably wanted to know what this “grace” stuff was. She wanted to get it and be saved. Her assumption—same as that of way too many Christians—is it’s some sort of heavenly pixie dust. Pastor’s response: “We can’t define grace. It’s a mystery. It just is.”

I know; you’re probably screaming at your phone right now, “It’s God’s unmerited favor, you numbskull,” which isn’t very kind of you; bad Christian. But yeah, shouldn’t a pastor of all people know what grace is? Shouldn’t any Christian in church leadership? Heck, shouldn’t every Christian?

Problem is, many Christians don’t know. Largely because our fellow Christians suck at teaching on it, and more importantly and problematically, living it. There are a lot of ingrates in Christendom… because there are a lot of ingrates in humanity, and they didn’t give up this behavior once they became Christian. Instead they excused their ungracious behavior by describing and justifying it with a lot of Christianese words. You know, hypocrisy.

And too many churches don’t teach on grace enough. Or at all. We’re saved by God’s grace, but when you listen to those churches, you get the idea we’re saved by other things. Like having all the right beliefs. Like being a good person. Like saying the sinner’s prayer, getting baptized, regularly doing certain sacraments, being a regular at church, knowing another saint who can “get us in,” or just believing really hard you are—and never permitting yourself to question it.

If you think you’re saved by any of these other things, and not grace, stands to reason you don’t understand grace. And won’t care that you don’t. Won’t practice it much either.

Since Pastor didn’t know what grace was, and I did, I explained it once he left the room. (I figured since he wasn’t clear on the concept, he wouldn’t appreciate me correcting him.) And no, I didn’t go with the usual cliché of “God’s unmerited favor”—though it’s that too. But more accurately it’s God’s attitude. One he wants us to share.

God is love, and loves us. Despite our bad behavior, rebelliousness, apathy, and sometimes outright hostility towards him, grace is how God thinks of us. His attitude overwhelms and overcomes everything we totally deserve. Any of us would give up on humanity entirely, and sweep us away with floods or raging fires, or burn us down like a mean kid takes a magnifying lens to an anthill. But God forgives all, loves us regardless, and even adopts us as his kids and gives us his kingdom.

That’s why we call it amazing.

18 October 2022

So you feel unclean. Pray anyway.

Probably the most common reason Christians don’t pray… is because we don’t feel clean enough.

I’m not talking about ritual cleanliness. (Most Christians don’t even know what that is anyway: It’s the idea of ritually washing yourself before worship. Since the Holy Spirit now dwells in us Christians, we don’t need to ritually wash before temple; we are his temple.) But it’s not that; it’s feeling clean, because we feel dirty, because we sinned. Maybe we sinned recently; maybe we didn’t, but we’re aware we sinned a lot over the past few weeks, so we figure we’re not worthy to approach God. He’s too holy, and we’re too gross.

Some Christians even claim God is repelled by our sins. If there’s any sin in our lives, there’s no point in approaching God ’cause he’ll just turn away from us and ignore our prayers. Or even leave, in offense and outrage, like a heavenly snowflake.

It’s because these Christians either don’t understand, or don’t truly believe, Jesus covers everything. They don’t recognize when God accepted us as his kids, he was entirely aware of every sin we were gonna commit in the future. Even sins we’re committing this very instant. (Cut that out, by the way.) But Jesus paid for everything. God doesn’t dole out grace on a sin-by-sin basis: You and he are good. You’re his kid. He’s happy to talk with you!

Now I can say this, and you might understand it and sorta believe it… but Christians still find this a really difficult hangup to get past. For three reasons.

  1. Partly it’s because other people don’t act this way at all, so it’s a wholly foreign mindset, and we’re not familiar with it.
  2. Mostly it’s because it’s our mindset. We’re so used to karma! We can’t fathom the idea of preemptive total forgiveness. We’d certainly never do it, so of course it’s hard to imagine God doing it.
  3. And, y’know, the devil. It’d prefer we never pray, and the longer it can keep us acting upon our unhealthy beliefs, the better.

17 October 2022

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

CHEAP GRACE tʃip greɪs noun. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little; taking it and God for granted.

Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some ignorant Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve fully explained in advance what I mean by “cheap grace”; even if I’ve written an entire essay like this one, defining the idea.

Every. Single. Time.

It’s a knee-jerk response. They were taught all their lives how grace isn’t cheap at all; how it cost Jesus his life. So whenever someone brings up the subject of cheap grace, they’re offended, therefore emotional, therefore irrational, about it: “Grace isn’t cheap!” Someone tweets a comment about cheap grace, and they tweet right back, “Grace isn’t cheap!” Someone uses “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the very first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!”

YES. I KNOW. I’M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT. I WOULD IF YOUD LISTEN. So can you please practice some self-control just this once, and give me a minute? Okay? (Betcha I’m still gonna get these comments regardless. You just watch. Ugh.)

Adam Clayton Powell Sr. gets credited with coining this term, and if you think it came from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it’s only because Bonhoeffer went to Powell’s church and got it from him, then popularized the heck out of it in his The Cost of Discipleship. It’s used to describe “grace” whenever this grace is misdefined and malpracticed by irreligious Christians. As Bonhoeffer put it,

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. […] Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Bonhoeffer 44-45

That’s cheap grace: Taking expensive, valuable, amazing grace, and demeaning it by using it as a free pass to sin. Taking God’s safety net, and bouncing on it for fun like a trampoline.

Part of the reason people object to the term “cheap grace” is they don’t like to see God’s generosity taken so casually like that. Well, me neither.

Part of it’s ’cause they don’t believe God’s grace actually can be cheapened. No matter what we do with grace, it’s still awesome, still worthy, still priceless. It’s like when you accidentally drop your phone down a porta-potty: Doesn’t matter how foul that commode is; they’re making some really expensive payments on that phone, so they’re going in up to their armpits to fish it out. (Although yeah, some people would never. Because they’re rich, and buy $1000 phones as stocking stuffers, and would casually pay $1000 to avoid touching poo-poo. The rest of us have real jobs. But I digress.) Grace is far more valuable than any phone, and has inherent worth, so nothing could cheapen it.

If that’s the way you imagine grace, I get why you’d balk at the concept of “cheap grace.” But I’m not describing the grace itself, nor devaluing it. I’m describing the crappy attitude people have towards it. When they treat it like it has no value, that’s cheap grace. If you wanna call it something different, go right ahead. “Cheap grace” has already caught on, which is why I’m using that term.

22 February 2022

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

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.

    18 November 2021

    Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

    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.

    16 November 2021

    The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

    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.

    27 October 2021

    God can’t abide sin?

    “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.

    07 March 2021

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

    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.

    19 November 2020

    Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

    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.

    02 November 2020

    Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

    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?

    29 July 2020

    Does suicide send you straight to hell?

    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.