making-decisions Making decisions is one of the most difficult things we do.  If it is that hard to choose between the mint chocolate chip and the rocky road, how much more do we agonize over this church or that church, this school or that school, this job or that job, this person or that person? We pray, we sweat, we weep, we read, we toss, we turn. Why this fear? Why this agony? Why these sleepless nights? It is the uncertainty of it, I’m sure. It is the uncertainty of where our choices may lead. When it comes to making decisions, we have this desire to protect ourselves from the wrong decisions or, more properly, from the consequences of the wrong decisions. I don’t want to make an educational choice that imperils my child’s soul; I don’t want to make a dating choice that leads me to marital misery; I don’t want to make a vocational choice that leads me to unemployment. I don’t…I don’t want to be unhappy, and want to ensure that my choices don’t lead me there. What I really want when I make a decision is to see the future. I don’t only want to see the options before me, but the result of each of those options. If I could gaze into the future and see my child as a growing, thriving, Christ-honoring adult, it would make choosing this school that much easier. If I could gaze into the future and see myself hand-in-hand with that woman sixty years from now, I would know that she will make a fine choice for a wife. If I could only see the end, I would know. If only I had access to the future. But the thing we want is a thing God does not give us. He is far too wise for that, and does not give us that view of the finish line, that sneak peak of the future. He could, of course. After all, he is the one who declares, “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…’ (Isaiah 46:10).” As the one who declares it and will bring it to pass, he is also the one who could display it in advance. But he doesn’t. Instead, he does something far better: He gives us a view of himself. We don’t need to know the future when we know the one who holds the future. God does not want us to put our hope in a future outcome, but in him. We don’t ground our faith in a result, but in a Person. If we could see the future we would take our eyes off him. If we could see the future, our faith would be in the future. But when all we see is God, our trust must be in him.

God doesn’t comfort us by showing us the future, but by showing us himself. He shows himself as the all-powerful, all-knowing God who is for us, not against us. He shows himself as being far more committed to us than we are to him. He promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us, that he will work all things for good, that he will hold us firm to the end. He guarantees that he has purposes in this world and that nothing can change or interrupt or thwart them. He assures us that he will be glorified. He says, “Don’t look at the future, look at me!” Decisions are difficult simply because we do not trust God with the results of our decisions. Decisions are difficult only because we are prone to misplace our comfort, to find our hope in a vision of the future more than in the one who holds the future. Your confidence in making decisions is directly related to your confidence in God himself.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever
Click on cover to purchase from Amazon.Com

Hell and humor between the same two book covers. Seriously? As a co-founder of Cruciform Press, I like to provide occasional updates on news and tell you about our books. Our recent release, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, by Thor Ramsey, is as unusual and compelling as its title.

In recent years, some very famous books have claimed that the hell described in Scripture doesn’t actually exist. These books have gotten a lot of attention and generated a ton of controversy. Bible-believing Christians understand that we can’t deny this doctrine (it’s taught plainly in Scripture), but we tend to be uneasy about it just the same. As Ramsey says, “In today’s age of peace, love, and misinformation, the subject of hell seems to make church leaders sweat even when they’re not trying to be ironic.”

Ramsey doesn’t think this attitude is wise or ultimately helpful. He even goes so far as to say that he’s learned to delight in the doctrine of eternal punishment. As he shares his delight, you will see how he managed to write a book on hell that actually does turn out to be encouraging.

This might seem shocking to you, but I delight in the doctrine of hell. Let me explain myself before you tell me to go there. I didn’t arrive at this mindset overnight, but now I delight in everything that God has revealed to us about himself. Any glimpse into the workings of the mind of God should delight a Christian.

Ramsey starts with the question, “What do we really lose if hell freezes over?” As he works through this, we see that the answer is…everything. The orthodox doctrine of hell is closely tied to the fear of God, the holiness of God, the gospel of God, and the love of God. Ramsey unpacks each of these four points in separate chapters that make up the heart of the book.

Ramsey is an unusual guy. Besides being a pastor and teacher, he spent 20 years as a Christian stand-up comic, and it shows in this book. Some have wondered whether a book about hell from a comedian could truly work. It does work, though. Ramsey’s sense of humor comes through, and the book is entertaining and even funny in places, but he’s not flippant or disrespectful. Sometimes the humor catches the reader by surprise, but isn’t that the nature of humor?

With the reality of hell still actively under attack, this accessible, winsome book on a difficult subject is truly needed. If you’re halfway familiar with the debate about hell, you’ll know whose ideas Ramsey is dismantling. Ramsey, however, does not focus on the teachers, but on the doctrine. As he says, “The person is not the point. The bad theology is.”

So while this book does correct recent false teaching, it does more than shore up a besieged doctrine. It logically and theologically integrates an orthodox view of hell into the gospel, thus reminding the reader to delight in the beauty and cohesiveness of the whole of God’s Word. With endorsements from author Eric Metaxas, actor Stephen Baldwin, and Drew Dyck of Leadership Journal, I doubt you have read anything quite like it. You will come away from this book with a better understanding of a doctrine that many reject, while growing in appreciation for God’s love and holiness. Along the way, you will probably even chuckle, and more than once. Now that’s no small trick.

You can buy The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever at Amazon (Kindle; Softcover) or direct from Cruciform Press (all formats).

hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner-NS-770x355-300x138

Member Mailbag – I hear this term a lot: “hate the sin, but love the sinner” or “hate the crime, but not the criminal.” It sounds like an excuse to hang out with people, while ignoring their sin.

I find it hard to separate the sin from the sinner. I’m not saying I hate people. The analogy I’ve come up with is if someone broke into a home and killed a wife or child. Or maybe a drunk driver slammed into a family and killed a spouse.

I would blame the person and hold him responsible. I would not blame the sin for what happened. Surely the people who say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” would want the person in prison.

While I don’t want to ignore my duty to love the sinner and hang out with them like Jesus did, I’m confused. Something does not sound right.

You raise a good and thoughtful question about a phrase that has been tossed around Christianity for a long time. It is one of those bumper sticker statements or fiery pulpit lines that sounds good in the moment, but lacks depth and needs more explanation and nuance, hence your question.

It reminds me of the caricatured conservative Christian lambasting the gay community. If we “hate the sin and love the sinner,” but never practicalize what God’s love fully means as it relates to the sinner, then we are missing something important.

Though the intent of the statement is good, the danger is it can lead us into the pluralistic relativism we so despise in our culture today. Hate the sin, but love the sinner is a forced juxtaposition of Bible thought that can abuse the word love, while obscuring God’s plenary character and attributes.

Whenever we take two thoughts like this–hate sin/love sinner–and put them together and try to create a doctrine out of it, we can create an unnecessary tension that can perpetuate Biblical ignorance while confusing the unregenerate world.

Though the goal may be noble–Christians should love everybody–the result can be bad: God’s justice, holiness, and wrath will be siphoned from His character. What you will end up with is a god that is amenable to our culture, but unable to save the ones you want to reach.

Can we hate?

My sister-in-law shot my brother five times with a gun. He died. She murdered him and was released from her crime by serving a couple hundred hours of community service. His death is a real illustration of your point: how am I to hate the sin and love the sinner?

I am using my illustration because it is real and I have had to wrestle with the “sin/sinner” juxtaposition. This situation affected me deeply as I had to work through what God was writing into my life.

There is no use for me to interact with the “hate the sin” part of your question because I think we all can agree that sin is to be hated. One look at the cross and we all can say in unison, “We hate sin. We hate that our sin caused the death of the LORD’s dear Son.”

The world may love their sin, but we do not love our sin. We hate our sin with a passion. Even if we find temporary pleasure in our sin, we always come back around to a biblically informed, heart motivated hatred for sin (Hebrews 11:25).

The more contoured issue for us to think about is what does it means to love a sinner. Unfortunately, in an effort to communicate that Christians are loving people, some of us have twisted love into something that looks more like our culture’s view than our LORD’s.

What is love?

If hate implies not accepting something—I reject your sin—then it makes sense for love to mean the acceptance of something. That is the message the Christian wants to communicate to the sinner. The problem is that this simple slice of love can easily run afoul without a deeper explanation of the whole.

If we are not careful, we can say, “The sin is not about you. You I love; it is your sin I hate.” As you have already noted, this is a biblically awkward juxtaposition. There is no nuance or deeper reflection about what love should be, can be, or how we are to live it out in light of the real threat of personal sin.

Love is deeper and broader than I accept you. There are other aspects of love that must be part of our definition and when they are, we will be able to represent God more impressively and comprehensively, whether it is in the evangelism of our friends or the sanctification of them.

Love without justice leads to a low view of sin. Justice without love leads to fear.

God of love

  • God is love and He will allow a person to go to hell because of their choice to live in sin.
  • God is love and His wrath is on a person who chooses to live in sin (John 3:36).

Our God, who is love (1 John 4:8), is also the God of wrath (Romans 1:18). God so loved the world (John 3:16) and His wrath is currently on any person who chooses to live in sin. The fact He allows a person to choose hell does not diminish His love at all.

  • God loves sinners.
  • God punishes sinners.

There is on contradiction here. If we interpret love without understanding God’s wrath or justice, we will have a gushy, post modern, to-each-his-own, cultural world view of love.

I love my former sister-in-law, but I demand her sin be punished. If her sin is not punished, then I am making light of my brother’s death and I am placing little significance on his life or how he died.

The hard truth is that her sin cannot be punished unless she is punished. It is also true she cannot experience the depth of God’s love until she realizes the depth of her sin (Luke 7:47).

God’s love for me is as profound as my understanding of my sin. If He ignored my sin, then His love would be without force. And I would have never understood the love of God or experienced His love to the depth that I have if he had not confronted me about my sin.

  • Love without justice leads to a low view of sin.
  • Justice without love leads to fear.
  • Love and justice lead to holy, worship-filled awe, and reverence.

God of justice

To ignore sin is to say it does not matter. What would God be like if He did not punish sin? We would most certainly conclude that sin was not a big deal to the LORD. This is not the God you want to worship.

You want a God who believes in justice, a God who does not let sins go or sinners escape. You want a culture like this too. No justice for all the wrongs committed is a world that even our culture does not accept. To some degree they have a sense of and desire for justice. They would even say this is love.

Love is so large that it encompasses justice. To love well is to demand justice.

The hate the sin, but love the sinner mantra does not fully or accurately communicate the seriousness of the problem and can easily miss the eternal judgment that is certain to come on any sinner that does not repent. To love well is to punish sinners. This truth cannot be avoided.

If you have a gushy view of love, you will not punish the sinner. You will see it as hate. Sometimes love is confrontational. Sometimes love requires a sacrifice for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:10).

The LORD has no choice: He has to confront sin, which means people will be punished. To punish sin and to punish sinners is the right thing to do. The justice part of love demands this.

Mercifully, our great God of love chose to punish His Son so we, who should be punished, do not have to be punished. The justice part of love was served. God hated our sin so much that He punished the Innocent.

The hate the sin, but not the sinner forced juxtapositions makes preaching from a pulpit easier to listen to, but it can twist our understanding of God by weakening His attributes, specifically His justice.

God’s love for me is as profound as my understanding of the depth of my sin.

Can we love?

If you mean you hate the sin and love the sinner enough to tell him the whole truth about God’s current and future wrath, then you would be using the expression in a theologically precise way.

If you mean you hate the sin, but you want to show him how loving you are, and part of how you do this is by compromising the love of God, then your understanding of the love of God is insufficient.

Still yet, there is a deeper issue for us to explore. Rather than thinking about our topic in a generic or theoretical sense, let me ask you this question:

What does your love look like for the sinners who sin against you?

Let us suppose you are in a difficult marriage and your bitterness, un-forgiveness, and general disappointment toward your spouse continues to grow, even if it is imperceptible to others. How much do you love those who sin against you?

  • How much do I love my sister-in-law?
  • How much do you love your spouse?
  • How much do you love the person who hurt you?

Let us circle back around to our mantra, hate the sin, but love the sinner. Is that really true for you? Is there someone in your life who has sinned against you and you are not able to actively love them by your kindness, affection, and desire to serve them? We can abuse our love the sinner mantra in two ways:

  1. We want sinners to like us, so we do not tell them about the LORD’s wrath.
  2. We dislike sinners who have hurt us, so we refuse to love them the way LORD does.

My experience has been that most people have a hard time loving those who have sinned against them. As an example, there are too many Christian spouses who have a genuine disdain for the person they married. They may say they hate the sin, but love the sinner–except when the sinner sins against them.

If you are really going to love the sinner, then love them the way Christ did by dying for them (Ephesians 5:25). Let us lower the platitude flag and get in the trenches with them.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:19-21 (ESV)

I mean, if we really do love the sinner and hate their sin, then we should be spending time with them, helping them, serving them, and genuinely leading them away from their sin.

Jesus is our perfect example of someone who hated sin, but loved sinners. He had comprehensive love that encompassed any kind of person. All sinners and any sin fell within the parameters of His Gospel love for them.

  • He gave them time – Jesus never turned a person away when they came to Him, e.g., Nicodemus and the rich young man.
  • He gave them truth – Jesus never compromised what God’s love meant, which included speaking about the LORD’s justice, wrath, and holiness.
  • He gave them love – Jesus was never sinful to anyone, no matter how sinful they were to Him. He never responded with unkindness or un-forgiveness toward others.
  1. Do you hate the sin, but love the sinner? If yes, then…
  2. Are you willing to love them enough to explain the wrath that is on them?
  3. Are you willing to love them even when they hurt you?

PreachingI am one of those New Calvinists, I guess, which means I am part of a crowd that values preaching, and expository preaching in particular. Of course I was an Old Calvinist before I was a New one and was raised in a tradition that valued preaching just as highly. For my whole life I’ve been around preachers and preaching.

I spent a good bit of time last week pondering the nature of God’s Word and thinking specifically about Paul’s mandate to Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” That’s a passage about preaching, but it’s also a passage about just plain reading the Bible out loud. It intrigued me.

I travel a fair bit these days and often enjoy worshiping in other churches, and here is something I’ve noticed: We tend to be far more committed to the second part of that command than to the first. We love our preaching, but what about the public reading of Scripture? Most churches I visit will read the Bible immediately prior to the sermon, and some will read a text in sections during the sermon, but few just dedicate themselves to reading the Bible aloud. Conferences, too, are known for their preaching, but not necessarily for their emphasis on reading the Bible. Last week I found myself wondering why this is. I wonder if our emphasis on preaching has inadvertently nudged it out.

Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture can be better understood by looking to 2 Timothy 3 where Paul speaks about the nature of God’s Word. When we understand what God’s Word is and does, we better understand why we ought to read it. Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul isn’t talking about the Scriptures as they are preached here—not yet—but the Scriptures as they are, as they are read, as they are understood, as they are absorbed by the Christian.

Paul uses two groups of two words to explain how the Bible functions and what it accomplishes. The Bible is profitable for teaching and reproof. These are words related to doctrine, to the positive teaching of truth and to the correcting of falsehood. The Bible teaches us truth and it convicts us of error. The Bible is also profitable for correction and for training in righteousness. These are words related to living, to the correction of unrighteous ways of living and instruction in godliness. The Bible teaches us how to live and convicts us of sinful habits and patterns.

And because it does all of these things it completes us, it grows us in Christian maturity and prepares us to do those good things—those good works—that God means for us to do. It prepares us to do good things that are done not to make us look great, but to make ourselves diminish so that God can increase all the more.

Once more, the Bible does not need to be preached in order to do this. It just needs to be read. God’s Word alone has the power to do this because those words have been breathed out by God; in that way it has a supernatural power no other words can have. Preaching has a role, to be sure, but preaching only does what it does because the Bible is what it is. God allows us to preach and even tells us to preach, but he does not need preaching in order to change us and mature us. The Bible alone can do this. The Bible is its own preacher, its own counselor, its own teacher, its own evangelist. If we have de-emphasized the public reading of the Bible because of our love for preaching, the solution is not to diminish preaching, but to re-emphasize the reading.

So here’s the question: Do you commit yourself to the public reading of Scripture? Do you read it in your church, even if you cannot explain it at the time? Do you read it in your home, with your family, even if you do not have a lot of opportunity to explain and apply it? If the Bible is so powerful, and if the Bible accomplishes so much, it would be ridiculous not to read it, not to read it faithfully and consistently and expectantly.

And here’s another question: What do you expect when someone reads the Bible to you? Do you expect that it will teach and train you? Do you expect that it will admonish and correct you? Do you expect that as the Bible is read, God himself will speak to you and convict you of sin and unrighteousness and teach you about himself and how to live in a way that honors him? You should expect nothing less.

 

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Dan back in January 2013. Dan explains why if you're going to remove verses from the Bible, Gen 1:1 is the only one you need to bother with.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Folks at war with God have always snipped out the parts of the Bible that they didn't like. Rationalist critics in the 19th-21st centuries have turned Biblical authorship claims into pious lies at best, rationalized prophecies and miracles to remove, well, prophecy and miracles. Anything that offended their rival philosophy was discarded by one elaborate contrivance or another.

Some are less artful. A well-known actor tries to ameliorate his guilt over pursuing his slavery to unnatural desires by snipping out unwelcome passages from Gideon's Bibles in motel rooms. This is vandalism as therapy, evidently yet another pursuit of the idle rich.

It has occurred to me, however, that every one of these folks could save themselves a lot of trouble. Just one snip is all it would take.

Snip out Genesis 1:1.

Among the things the decades have brought to me is a deepening appreciation of the opening chapters of Genesis, and particularly of the first verse. As S. Lewis Johnson once remarked, if you believe Genesis 1:1, nothing in all the rest of the Bible is incredible. Reject it, and all goes with it.

In Genesis 1:1 we find a sovereign, self-existing, timeless, omniscient God creating the universe by fiat. Simply because He wants it to exist, because He wills it to exist, it comes to exist. There is none of the struggle and bloodshed of contemporary myths. Simply one God, creating all things the way He wants to create them, simply because He wants to for His own glorious reasons.

Much follows from this simple fact, this simple act. Because He pre-existed everything, God is independent of everything, and everything is dependent on Him. Because all that is exists as a reflection of His will, the universe is neither undefined nor self-defining. It is pre-defined. Scrooge isn't wrong when he says “An ant is what it is and a grasshopper is what it is” (though he is wrong about Christmas). He just didn't go far enough, and add that the ant and the grasshopper are what they are as created and defined by a sovereign God.

And so is man. So while the emergent and the PoMo alike gaze inward to the endless morass of their own subjectivity, and while the immoral pursue their cravings, and while the materialistic pretends to acknowledge nothing beyond “molecules in motion,” their pursuit is a charade. It reminds us of the riddle:

Question: if we call a tail a “leg,” how many legs does a dog have?

Answer: four. It doesn't matter what you call it, a tail is a tail.

And so with ourselves. We can self-realize and self-actualize and self-affirm and self-love all we like, but we are creatures of a sovereign God. Our choices are only two: believe Him and think accordingly; or to come up with a diverting ruse.

But the ruse will always be a lie, and its pursuit will always be a doomed and damned enterprise.

As Genesis 1:1 reminds us. It reminds us by what it says about the beginning; but it also does that by its very use of the word, “beginning.” Because just as the word “black” makes one think of “white,” and “up” brings to mind “down,” what does the word “beginning” suggest?

End.”

And as Genesis ends, so ends the Bible, with a vision of all rebellion defeated, Christ made head over all (cf. Eph. 1:10 Gk.), and God and His people reconciled forever in a glorious new Eden (Rev. 21—22).

Genesis 1:1 is the first sign-post, pointing to that inevitable resolution.

Which is why it should really be the first to go.


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Wisdom, pages 64-65, Pilgrim Publications.

“The Lord of love bestows it; His tenderness rocks the cradle for us every night; His kindness draws the curtain of darkness about us, and bids the sun cover his blazing lamp.”  

How thankful should we be for sleep! Sleep is the best physician that I know of. Sleep hath healed more pains of wearied heads, and hearts, and bones than the most eminent physicians upon earth. It is the best medicine; the choicest thing of all the names which are written in all the lists of pharmacy.

No magic draught of the physician can match with sleep. What a mercy it is that it belongs alike to all! God does not make sleep the boon of the rich man; he does not give it merely to the noble, or the rich, so that they can monopolize it as a peculiar luxury for themselves; but he bestows it upon the poorest and most obscure.

Yea, if there be a difference, the sleep of the labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. He who toils hardest sleeps all the sounder for his work.

While luxurious effeminacy cannot rest, tossing itself from side to side upon a bed of eiderdown, the hard-working labourer, with his strong and powerful limbs, worn out and tired, throws himself upon his hard couch and sleeps: and waking, thanks God that he has been refreshed.

Ye know not how much ye owe to God, that he gives you rest at night. If ye had sleepless nights, ye would then value the blessing. If for weeks ye lay tossing on your weary beds, ye then would thank God for this favour.

As sleep is the merciful appointment of God, it is a gift most precious, one that cannot be valued until it is taken away; yea, even then we cannot appreciate it as we ought.


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 32, sermon number 1,900, “Rejoice evermore.”

“Certain religious people are of a restless, excitable turn, and never feel good till they are half out of their minds.” 

You would not wonder if their hair should stand bolt upright, like the quills of the fretful porcupine. They are in such a state of mind that they cry “hallelujah” at anything or nothing, for they feel ready to cry, or shout, or jump, or dance.

I do not condemn their delirium, but I am anxious to know what goes with it. Come hither, friend; let us have a talk. What do you know? What? Is it possible that I offend you the moment I seek a reason for the hope that is in you? Is it so, that you do not know anything of the doctrines of grace? You were never taught anything; the object of the institution which enlisted you is not to teach you, but only to excite you.

It pours boiling water into you, but it does not feed you with milk. That is a miserable business. We like excitement of a proper kind, and we covet earnestly a high and holy joy, but if our rejoicing does not come out of a clear understanding of the things of God, and if there is no truth at the bottom of it, what does it profit us?

Those who rejoice without knowing why can be driven to despair without knowing why; and such persons are likely to be found in a lunatic asylum ere long. The religion of Jesus Christ acts upon truthful, reasonable, logical principles: it is sanctified common sense.

A Christian man should only exhibit a joy which he can justify, and of which he can say, “There is reason for it.” I pray you, take care that you have joy which you may expect to endure for ever, because there is a good solid reason at the back of it.

The excitement of animal enthusiasm will die out like the crackling of thorns under a pot; we desire to have a flame burning on the hearth of our souls which is fed with the fuel of eternal truth, and will therefore burn on for evermore.