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29 April 2019

Goodness, and lawless Christians.

If you know Jesus—really and truly know Jesus, not just know of him—you’re gonna want to follow him. You’re gonna want to do as he teaches, and actually try to obey his commands instead of shrugging them off with, “Well, they’re nice ideals, but they’re not gonna be practical.” You’re gonna want to be good.

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit. A rather obvious one: God is good, so shouldn’t those who have the Holy Spirit in us be likewise good? Shouldn’t he encourage us to be good, empower us to do good deeds, be gracious to us when we drop the ball and help us return to goodness? Shouldn’t he point us in the direction of sanctification, of living holy lives, unique from the rest of the world—where goodness is a huge factor in why we’re unique?

Likewise if you don’t wanna be good, not only do you lack the Spirit’s fruit: You’re probably not even Christian. And yes, bluntly saying so has a tendency to really offend people: “Goodness doesn’t make you Christian! That’s legalism. How could you say that?” Well I didn’t say that. I said you have to want to be good. You have to make the effort. You’re gonna suck at it in the beginning; everybody does; it gets easier with practice. And I didn’t say goodness makes you Christian; only the Holy Spirit does that. But the lack of goodness, or substituting it with hypocrisy and hoping no one will notice, indicates the Holy Spirit isn’t in your life—and if he’s not there, you’re not Christian. Period.

Let’s not be naïve. “Obey Jesus” is a hard lifestyle choice. The world is against us. Christianists have gone to a lot of trouble to swap real obedience with their cheap knockoff, and sometimes they’ll fight goodness just as hard as Satan itself. They’ll claim Jesus’s commands were nullified by a new dispensation, or they’re only meant to describe God’s kingdom after Jesus returnsnot before. They’ll claim our resistance to evil is really works righteousness and legalism; that trying to be better is another form of pride; that our commonsense interpretation of God’s commands is extremism, whereas the proper way to interpret them is to water ’em down till they’re nothing but water.

Plus our own selfish tendencies are gonna fight us. And yes, the devil might fight us too… but you’ll find the devil’s far easier to beat than your own flesh. We start off with a lot of ingrained bad habits, and conquering ourselves has to be done first. Which a lot of people never bother to do. Most of us simply relabel all our bad behaviors with Christianese names, and presto-changeo, we’re fixed now! But widespread popular hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.

Still, if we have the Holy Spirit in us, we’ll want to do better. And we’ve got to trust him to help us out with this. We absolutely can’t do it alone. God offers us power to live for him. Grab it with both hands. You accepted his salvation. Now accept his sanctification.

26 April 2019

Jesus takes out the Law’s curse.

The Law curses those who don’t follow it perfectly. That’s how we know we can’t depend on it to save us; gotta look to God.

Galatians 3.10-20.

So the legalists among the Galatians (and legalists today) thought of the Law as how we get right with God: We obey his commands, and because we’ve racked up all that good karma, we’re righteous and God owes us heaven. Problem is, God works by grace, and if we were hoping to be justified by merit, the Law indicates we have no such merit. We’ve broken the Law repeatedly. We got nothing. We’re cursed.

But we weren’t meant to be righteous by obeying the Law. Righteousness comes through faith in God. Through trusting Jesus’s self-sacrifice. Through the good news that God’s kingdom has come near.

God promised Abraham he’d bless the world—both Abraham’s “seed,” his descendants; and the gentiles, all the non-Hebrews not descended from Abraham—through Abraham. Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18, Ga 3.8 Pharisees presumed God’s 613 commandments was this blessing: If only the world would follow the Law, they could be blessed! But Paul recognized this makes no logical sense. Because Abraham was blessed—yet he didn’t have the Law. The LORD hadn’t yet handed it down. Wouldn’t even be a Law for another four centuries.

Now Paul wasn’t the first Pharisee to notice this problem. Plenty of Pharisees had. So they invented stories where the LORD actually did hand down the Law prior to Moses. Pharisee fanfiction took that weird little story about the Nefilim and claimed the “sons of God” Ge 6.2 were heavenly watchers, sent to the Adamites to teach ‘em Law. They claimed Noah somehow had a copy of the Law, somehow handed it down through his descendants to Abraham, so Abraham knew it. And Abraham’s descendants lost it in Egypt, which is why the LORD had to give it to Moses—again, apparently.

If Paul believed any of these stories he wouldn’t bother with this line of reasoning. But he knew better. Abraham’s relationship with God wasn’t defined by any Law, but entirely by Abraham trusting God. Abraham didn’t know the Law, couldn’t possibly be justified by the Law, and God promised him blessings regardless. Abraham’s trust in God is what justified him. And Abraham’s spiritual descendants are likewise those who trust God—and are likewise justified by our faith.

Whereas not only does the Law not justify us, nor anyone; it actually curses us. And kinda hinders any promise God made to Abraham, because it exposes deficiencies in our relationship with God. Deficiencies our trust in Jesus can overcome—if only we’d trust him.

Galatians 3.10-12 KWL
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law: “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4
12 And the Law isn’t based on faith, but “One who does them must live by them.” Lv 18.5
13 Christ Jesus frees us from the Law’s curse by becoming a curse for us,
for it’s written that anyone who’s been hanged from wood is cursed. Dt 21.23
14 Thus Abraham’s blessings might come through Christ Jesus to the gentiles;
thus the Spirit’s promise might be received through faith in Christ.

Verse 12 tends to get translated like the KJV’s “Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree,” though ξύλου/sýlu properly means “wood.” It’s because the Deuteronomy passage Paul was thinking of, refers to a tree.

Deuteronomy 21.22-23 KWL
22 When it happens that a person’s sin is judged worthy of death, and you hang them to death on a tree,
23 don’t leave their corpse on the tree overnight, but bury, bury them that day. For God’s curse is on the hanged.
Don’t defile your ground which your LORD God gave you as an inheritance.

A cross isn’t a literal tree, but when the Persians first invented crucifixion they used trees—and crosses became a substitute ’cause there weren’t always enough trees. Applying the Deuteronomy passage to Jesus is a little bit of a stretch—isn’t God’s curse more about the convict’s sins than the hanging itself? But Jesus, who had no sins of his own, He 4.15 took away our sins like a sacrificial ram, Jn 1.29 so that’s how he freed us from the Law’s curse.

And in so doing, also give us free access to Abraham’s promise. Legalism is wholly unnecessary: We don’t have to be good to inherit Abraham’s promise. We’re good. Jesus took care of it.

25 April 2019

God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

Back in seminary my theology professor introduced us to the concept of the tragic moral choice. Ancient Greek playwrights invented it for their tragedies: One god ordered the hero to do one thing, and another god ordered him to do the opposite. Obeying one god meant sinning against the other god. And like us, the ancient Greeks recognized sin has dire consequences… and wanna bet their plays would show the consequences?

Now, we Christians don’t have multiple gods with conflicting wills. We only have the One God. Yes he’s in three persons, but all three one the same thing, so God’s not the problem. We are. We sin, and we live in a sin-plagued world.

So in the Christian version of the tragic moral choice, we’re thrust into a scenario where all the possible outcomes are gonna be bad. The only choices we make are gonna be sinful ones. We can’t win. That’s just the world we live in.

Fr’instance. Say it’s World War 2 and you’re hiding Jews from the Nazis. Suddenly the Nazis come knocking. What do you do?

  • Duh; lie and say there are no Jews there. Except lying is sin. Yeah, it’s a really minor sin compared to Jews getting killed—and if the Nazis find out you’re lying, you’re getting killed. Still, this is the option most people are unthinkingly gonna take, as the best-case scenario. Still, lying is sin.
  • Give them up and let them be murdered by evildoers, just to save your own skin. True, you didn’t lie, but you did passively permit evil to happen, so that’s sin.
  • Try not to literally lie, and hope the Nazis misinterpret your statements and go away. Since God doesn’t do loopholes, that’s lying by omission, no matter what you might tell yourself to salve your conscience. Still sin.

Basically you’re picking the least-evil option. But don’t kid yourself: They’re all evil. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Tragic moral choices make a really good intellectual problem, and great drama. But they’re really bad theology. ’Cause unlike the Greek gods, who’d mess with humans and watch us squirm for fun, God loves his kids and doesn‘t abandon us to such tragedies. Says so in the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 10.12-13 KWL
12 So if you hope to stand firm, watch out. You might not fall.
13 Temptations (unless they’re common to humanity), haven’t overcome you.
God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted with more than you can defeat.
Instead he’ll work an escape route into the temptation. You’ll be able to endure.

Christians commonly misinterpret this to mean, “God will never give you more than you can bear,” which isn’t so. He regularly gives us more than we can bear—because he’s meant to bear that for us, and we need to stop striving and start trusting. But when it comes to temptation, he wants us to win. And there is always a winning option. In every temptation.

Y’see, God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Even though we might.

24 April 2019

Courtship: Dating… but no sex.

A favorite term of Christians who don’t wanna use the D-word.

Years ago I worked at a Christian camp. For the summer program we’d hire college students to be counselors. Some of them grew up Christian; some of them had only been Christian a short time; some of them had only claimed to be Christian on their applications, but didn’t know Jesus from Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Actually they may have known a lot more about Obi-Wan than Jesus.)

Once, while hanging out, one of the longtime Christians mentioned her brother was “courting” a certain girl. The Christian newbie in our group got a confused look on her face—she wasn’t familiar with the term.

“Courting,” I explained, “is dating. But no sex.”

The newbie nodded, understandingly. Some of the group grinned.

The girl who introduced the term “courting” objected.

SHE. “That’s not what it means.”
HE. “Does he bring chaperones to the dates?”
SHE. “No…”
HE. “No kissing? No hand-holding? No touching of any kind?”
SHE. “No.”
HE. “They go off and do things together, by themselves? But not sex.” [As far as she knew.]
SHE. “Yes.”
HE. “The rest of the planet calls that ‘dating’.”

’Cause to be fair, many Christians do add extra expectations to what they’ll call “courting.” When Christians use that term, it can range from my basic definition (dating, but no sex) to an arranged marriage—I’m not kidding—where the parents interview their children’s prospective spouses, approve them, and supervise every single interaction between the kids till they’re wed. Even listen in on phone calls and read their texts.

However, I should also bring up a couple I knew in college who called what they were doing “courting”—and yep, they were having sex too. They just wanted to use the Christianese word.

The whole point of having a unique Christian word for dating, is because nowadays “dating” can pretty much mean anything. And because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—and promiscuity isn’t—Christians usually don’t equate dating and sex… and pagans totally do. “I’m dating” means “I’m sexually active.” If they “wanna go out with you,” it’s ’cause they hope to have sex with you. If they “had a date last night,” they had sex.

Yep, it’s a jungle out there. So “courtship” implies civilization. It suggests a couple aren’t simply trying to get into one another’s pants, but want to really get to know one another. Want to develop a friendly, loving relationship—the kind of solid basis for a marriage.

But I should point out: Courtship doesn’t come from the bible. Isn’t found in the bible at all. Seriously.

23 April 2019

Quit praying to Satan!

There’s an traditional African folk song called “What a Mighty God We Serve.” If you grew up Christian, maybe you heard it in Sunday school. Sometimes adults sing it too. Goes like so.

What a mighty God we serve
What a mighty God we serve
Angels bow before him
Heaven and earth adore him
What a mighty God we serve

Years later I found out it had some more lyrics—words my children’s and youth pastors never bothered to have us sing. Maybe you can guess why.

I command you Satan in the name of the Lord
To take up your weapons and flee
For the Lord has given me authority
To walk all over thee

There are variations. There’s “put down your weapons” in the second line (which makes way more sense); there’s “stomp all over thee” in the fourth, along with stomping movements.

Anyway. Lots of churches tend to give these lines a miss, so lots of Christians aren’t aware of ’em. I particularly remember one summer youth camp: The pastor got all the kids to sing along with the first part, but when she broke into the second part, the kids sat there confused—why’s she singing to the devil? Anyway, because they didn’t sing along, she concluded, “I guess you don’t know that part,” and went right back to the “What a mighty God we serve” bit they did know.

As to why churches don’t teach it: Well you are singing to the devil. And shouldn’t. Don’t do that.

Likewise there are a number of Christians who pray to the devil. You may have seen it happen. Someone gets up to pray, and in the middle of all their other praises and petitions to God, they put him on pause, and get Satan in on this conference call.

“And Satan, we rebuke you. We bind you. We cast you out. You have no authority here. You have no business in this place. You get out of here, Satan. You’re under our feet.”

And so on. You get the idea.

Again: Don’t do that.

I know. Your pastors do it. Your prayer leaders do it. Christians you greatly respect do it. Loads of people do it. And they shouldn’t do it either.