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A couple of weekends ago the annual Pride Parade shut down the city center here in Toronto. It capped what had already been a 10-day Pride Toronto festival. The parade gave an opportunity for the LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities to declare their pride in who they are, and they did it by parading through the heart of the city. The event was publicized, televised, and celebrated.

At the same time, I was preaching the next text in a series of sermons and came to Romans 1:16-17 where the Apostle Paul declares some pride of his own. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he says. He was writing to this church in Rome to tell them of his desire to travel to their city for the specific purpose of preaching the gospel to them and to the people around them. The reason he wanted to do this was his gospel pride. He was proud of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it.

And I found myself wondering, Why is the gospel more offensive than a pride parade? Why is gospel pride scorned while gay (and lesbian and trans and…) pride is cheered? After all, the parade, its floats, its participants, its nudity, its blatant sexuality—these things could easily be offensive to many people. My family has been warned by gay people not to take our kids anywhere near it because of what it would expose them to. Yet our culture celebrates LGBTTIQQ2SA* and mocks the gospel. In a world of crazy ideas, the gospel sounds like the craziest one of all. Why?

Because of this: The gospel is the one message that counters everything we want to believe about ourselves and about God. It counters the message of Pride Toronto, it counters the message of liberal Christianity, it counters the message of atheism, it counters the message of Mormonism, it counters the message of humanism, it counters every single message outside of itself.

We want to believe that we are autonomous, but the gospel assures us we are under the jurisdiction of God. We want to believe that we are good at heart, but the gospel says we are far worse than we could possibly imagine. We want to believe we are wise, but the gospel says we are foolish. We want to define ourselves by our desires and preferences, but the gospel says that God has already defined us in the act of creating us. We want to believe that we can do whatever we want today without fear of eternal consequences, but the gospel unapologetically declares that there will be the most fearsome and eternal consequences for our sin. That is an offensive message. That is an ultimately offensive message.

Gay pride and its many extensions—that is an easy sell. It is selling candy to children, crack to addicts, ESVs to Calvinists. It is simply giving people what they crave. It is reassuring them of what they long to believe. It is allowing them to celebrate what they already love.

But the gospel cuts against the grain with a message that counters it all: You are disobedient, you are dead, you are doomed. (And, of course, until Christ found me I, too, was disobedient and dead and doomed.) This bad news of the gospel is so offensive (yet so demonstrably true!) that few people stick around to hear the good news—the good news that there is hope and forgiveness and freedom for those who will put their faith in Jesus Christ and receive his salvation. The bright stars are only visible against the dark sky, and the ultimate joy of the gospel only shines against the ultimate bad.

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

I posted a version of this article in 2011. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Last Days And Legacy Of JesusAuthor: David R. Edwards

Product Description

Utilizing just the Bible as a source, this book examines the last days of Jesus on the earth, from prior to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to His post-resurrection appearances to the apostles and many other disciples. From there, the story relies on the activities of the apostles and evangelists of the early church who, inspired by their faith in the risen Lord, set out to take the gospel message “to the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, King James Version).

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FaithHacking_Updated

I love to find and share practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life–ways other Christians live out their Christian faith day-by-day. As I speak with people, as I read books, as I listen to sermons, I am always looking for these tips which I call “faith hacks.” I am going to share another one with you today. It comes from Jerry Bridges and deals with the important disciplines of preaching the gospel to yourself.

Bridges has written in several of his books about the importance of the daily practice of preaching the gospel to yourself. In The Discipline of Grace he writes, “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” He also gives an overview of the practice: “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God's holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

But it is in Respectable Sins that he gives the practical example from his own life. Here is how he preaches the gospel to himself every day:

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus' blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

That has been his daily practice for many years. Why don’t you make it part of your practice, and see the difference it makes to begin each day reminding yourself of who you were, and who you now are in Christ.

Do you make it your practice to preach the gospel to yourself? If so, what have you learned? How do you go about it?

 

shutterstock_166980404A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

Dadme-300x208In many ways the family in which I grew up would be considered by modern psychologists as “dysfunctional.” Most of the difficulties that we had stemmed from my father and the demons that he fought his whole life. Like every other father who has ever lived, Dad was a mixture of blessing and curse. The latter was easier to see for the first three decades of my life. By God’s grace, the former has become increasingly apparent over the last half of my journey.

My father’s father was a Muslim who migrated from Damascus, Syria. Dad was born the oldest of three children on September 10, 1911, exactly one month after his mother and father were married. She was a woman of questionable reputation and left her husband and three children when the youngest was an infant. When Dad was 11 he was sitting next to his father on a horse-drawn buggy when a jealous husband fatally shot my grandfather. According to a story in the June 13, 1923 issue of the Arkansas Gazette,

Ascol drove to Hembree’s home in a buggy. Accompanied by his 10 year old son (sic), Abdal (sic), who told Judge Graves at a preliminary hearing this afternoon that his father was shot down without warning. The boy said that Hembree was lying on a bed in the house when his father drove up and that before either he or his father said or did anything, Hembree fired through a window near the bed.

The judge gave custody of the three children to a local farmer who abusively used them until my dad became of legal age and was able to separate himself, his brother and sister from the man’s authority. How Dad came to marry my mother is a fascinating story, much of which they took with them to their graves. Mom came from a strict Baptist family and her influence in our home is both inestimable and a testimony to the power of a faithful, godly, praying Christian mother. Their marriage was marked by the kinds of trials and sorrows that almost always result in divorce. It lasted 63 years until mom’s death in 1994 and stands as a testimony to the power of God’s grace in our broken world.

Before he got married Dad walked an aisle and prayed a prayer in a Baptist church that took such actions as tantamount to saving expressions. Whether or not he was genuinely converted from that point only the Lord knows. He went on to become a Sunday School teacher and a deacon, the latter of which he remained for all of my years growing up.

There were lots of times in my childhood and youth when I was ashamed of and embarrassed by the actions of my dad. His deficiencies were obvious and easy targets for sinful, youthful anger. It wasn’t until I came to understand more clearly the power and workings of the gospel that I began to evaluate those experiences in a more proper, accurate light. That light exposed both the sin in my own life as well as grace in Dad’s in ways that I could not previously see. Self-righteousness always distorts reality and only the grace of God in the gospel can deliver a Pharisee from it. That delivery, I am discovering, is a lifelong process.

Dad died April 28, 1998. The last four years without mom were peculiarly trying on him. My oldest sister, Gay, took him into her home and, together with my youngest sister and oldest brother, cared for him through many physical difficulties. During those years I spoke to Dad every few weeks or so but only saw him on those rare occasions when I could travel from Florida to Texas. In most of those conversations he spoke words of remorse and regret. He knew he had left some deep wounds in his children and would often weep when talking about things he wished he could undo. Just like the rest of his children, I tried always to respond by preaching the gospel to him; reminding him of things that he had heard and professed to believe, and helping him connect the dots between God’s grace and our lives.

What I discovered over those last four years of his life is that the conversations we had were far more for my sake than for his. The gospel that I explained to my dad is precisely what I desperately needed—and need—to sustain me day by day. I often tell people who hear me preach that I preach to myself and they merely get to listen. That was true of my conversations with Dad, too. By having me explain how the gospel makes sense of our lives, grants hope in despair, and sanctifies sorrow with joy, God was causing me to explain the workings of His grace from His Word for my own benefit.

God used my dad to teach me more about the depth of my own sin and the power of sovereign grace than any theological textbook I have ever read. I cannot begin to imagine the way sin ravages the mind and emotions of a small boy who is abandoned by his mother; or an 11 year old who watches his dad be murdered by his side; or an adolescent who feels responsible for his younger brother and sister but who is helpless to stop the abuse of their legal guardian. That my dad even stayed alive is a testimony to God’s grace. That this son of a Muslim married and helped raise (however imperfectly) six children, all of whom (including the one who is now in the presence of the Lord) love Christ causes the manifestation of that grace to be magnified.

The last time that I saw my dad was on Christmas day, 1997. He had received a day pass from the hospital facility where he was being treated for one of his many ailments. Most of the family had gathered at my sister’s house and Dad enjoyed every minute of it. I drove him back to the hospital that night and helped get him settled back into his room. I kept finding excuses to delay my leaving because I was trying to formulate words that I had wanted to speak to him for the previous few years. I knew what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

As he told me how much that day had meant to him and how grateful he was to be able to spend all of it with family, he began to veer again into the territory of his lingering sorrows and regrets for the pain he had inflicted on the family. I stopped him and reminded him that it was real sinners like us that Jesus came to save. I tried to explain that his life had not disrupted God’s purpose, it was an integral part of it. Grace shines brightest where sin is seen most clearly. Just as Dad had come to grips with his sin so he needed to come to grips with God’s grace and love for sinners in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Dad assured me that he believed that, and that he was trusting Christ as Lord but that he still wished he had been a better father.

At that point it was as if God opened my mouth and gave me the words to speak. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I told him that I had been reflecting on my life the last few years. Each time he talked about how sorry he was for his failures as a father and the many regrets that he had for the things he did became an opportunity for me to think about all of those things in the light of God’s sovereignty, wisdom and love. “And Dad,” I said, “As I think about my life now, with my own fears and sorrows and regrets and the ways that God has shown Himself so loving and merciful to me I have come to a very firm conclusion. I have thought a lot about it, and if I could go back and choose any man in the world to be my father, I’d choose you. Because you have been God’s gift to me and the Lord has used you in wonderful ways to teach me about and shower His grace on my life.”

We wept. We prayed. We hugged. And I left with an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me and with deep gratitude for my earthly father. In certain ways he was an amazing man. More accurately, he was a man whose life reflects the grace and power of an amazing God. Despite challenges and failures that could have easily destroyed him, God sustained him, used him and brought him to a hopeful, if at times wavering, faith in the only Savior that real sinners have. I am grateful God made me his son.

The prosperity gospel has not produced a new generation of great Christian hymns. Neither have Positive Thinking or Progressive Christianity. There is a reason we would not expect them to. The fact is, the deepest songs come from the deepest truth. The most faithful songs come from the most faithful expressions of the Christian faith. The richest songs come from the richest understanding of who God is and what God has done.

As Christians we are told to sing from the gospel, for one another, to the Lord—a ten-word summary of Colossians 3:16 which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As Paul writes to this Colossian church, he wants them to realize that every Christian needs singing lessons. If we want to sing a song that glorifies the Lord, we first need to apply some lessons.

The first lesson is this: The gospel must be the basis of your song. Before you can sing a song that glorifies God, the word of Christ—the gospel—needs to be dwelling within you. Paul has just said: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” That is a glorious message, and one worth singing about. There is, quite literally, nothing better than this in the entire universe. You will never hear a better, richer, sweeter message. If you want to sing a God-glorifying song, you first need to have that rich, sweet message dwelling within you.

The second lesson is this: The gospel needs to dwell richly within you. It is not enough to let the gospel dwell within. Before you can sing—really sing—you need to have that gospel dwelling richly within. To dwell in you richly, a message must be rich. You can’t fill yourself with a shallow, trite, silly message and expect that it will dwell richly. And this is exactly why the prosperity gospel has not produced the next generation of great hymns of the Christian faith. This is why we don’t look to churches dominated by positive thinking for rich, gospel-centered songs. Where there is a shallow and unbiblical message, there must also be shallow and unbiblical songs. Conversely, a rich message generates rich dwelling, and that rich dwelling generates rich contemplation, and that rich contemplation generates rich songs.

As we sing to God, we proclaim who he is, what he has done, and what he requires of us. We also cry out to him in supplication, asking him for those things that he delights to his people. If this is true, it is a call to substance in our songs. We have thousands of great songs at our disposal, so why would we waste our time with songs that don’t say much at all? The richer our understanding of God, the richer the expressions of praise and the richer and bolder the requests we can make in our song. If we know God only as the one who dispenses riches, our songs will ask for nothing more than wealth. If we know God only as weak and barely holy, our songs will tell of a too-small God, a God unworthy of our worship. But if we know God as he is and if we know what he has accomplished through his Son, our songs will be full of rich, sweet truth.

We sing best when that gospel is dwelling richly within us. God is not looking at the quality of our tone or the perfection of our pitch. He is looking at the heart. Tone and pitch matter, but when you stand with the congregation and sing to the Lord, it is your heart that is far more significant. You can be utterly tone deaf and sing beautiful music in the ear of God when the gospel is dwelling richly within and when you are singing to exult in the Savior.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

 

Mack Stiles has a new book called simply Evangelism. I haven’t read it all yet, but I sure did enjoy this quote about the power of a church that evangelizes. Don’t you long for this kind of a church?

I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.

 

TeamPyro
by Phil Johnson

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 Phil back in April 2007. Phil addressed a common—and seriously erroneous—view of propitiation.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Too many Christians think of divine forgiveness as something that utterly overturns justice and sets it aside—as if God's mercy nullified His justice—as if God's love defeated and revoked His hatred of sin. That's not how forgiveness works.


Is forgiveness from sin grounded only in the love and mercy and goodness of God—apart from his justice? Does love alone prompt the Almighty to forego the due penalty of sin, wipe out the record of our wrongdoing, and nullify the claims of justice against us, unconditionally?

Or must God Himself be propitiated? In other words, do His righteousness and His holy wrath against sin need to be satisfied before He can forgive?

It truly seems as if most people today—including multitudes who identify themselves as Christians—think God forgives merely because His love overwhelms His holy hatred of sin. Some go even further, rejecting the notion of propitiation altogether, claiming it makes God seem too harsh. The problem with every such view of the atonement is that mercy without propitiation turns forgiveness into an act of injustice.

That is a seriously erroneous view. As a matter of fact, that very idea was one of the main errors of Socinianism.

The original Socinians were 16th-century heretics who denied that God demands any payment for sin as a prerequisite to forgiveness. They insisted instead that He forgives our sin out of the sheer bounty of His kindness alone. They argued that if God demanded an atonement—an expiation, a payment, a reprisal, or a propitiation—for sin, then we shouldn't really call it “forgiveness” when He absolves us. They claimed that sin could either be paid for or forgiven, but not both.

In other words, they defined forgiveness in a way that contradicts and contravenes justice. They were essentially teaching that God could not maintain the demands of His justice and forgive sins at the same time. They thought of forgiveness and justice as two incompatible ideas.

Scripture expressly refutes that idea. One of the most glorious truths of the gospel is that God saved us in a way that upheld His justice. Justice was neither compromised nor set aside; it was completely satisfied. God Himself was thus fully propitiated. And our salvation is therefore grounded in the justice of God as well as His mercy.

Our thoughts about such things are almost always too shallow. We take God's mercy for granted and ignore His holy justice. But a right view of God will always exalt His righteous hatred for sin as much as it magnifies His love and mercy. God's mercy is not some maudlin sentiment that causes Him to forget about His holiness and set aside His righteous anger against sin. The demands of righteousness must be fully and completely satisfied if God is ever going to forgive sin. He cannot and will not simply overlook sin as if it didn't really matter.

In other words, the gospel is not only a message about the love of God. It is that; but it is not only that. The true gospel magnifies His justice as much as it magnifies His love.

When was the last time you thought of the gospel as a message about divine justice?

“Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).