Tag Archives: morality

Daily Scripture Meditation

In reading through the Old Testament, particularly the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles; one of the first things we notice is that there is a constant fluctuation between the worship of God and the worship of idols in Israel. In many cases this change took place in rather extreme ways within a single generation. One minute there would be a good king and the people would pursue God and then the next minute that leader would be gone and it would be right back to idolatry. Now obviously we know that God preserved for himself a remnant of those who were faithful to Him (1st Kings 19:18 for example0, but have you ever wondered why the people were so quick to switch back and forth between the worship of God and the worship of idols?

2 Chronicles 15:3-4 provides an explanation that has some important truth for us today as well.

“For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to The Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them.”

Like most people, Israel turned back to God when the futility of their idolatry became clear and they had no where else to turn; and God, being gracious and abounding in mercy, responded to their repentance and prayer. That they had a long tradition of idolatrous ways (as does all post-Eden humanity) partially explains there constant back and forth, but the 2nd half of verse 3 shines some additional light on the subject. They had been a long time without a teaching priest and without law.

When the law departs from a people, when the priests fail to keep in constantly before them. They have no solid foundation on which to resist idolatry and wicked behavior. There commitment to The Lord is based on emotion, and upon what they need to receive from The Lord in that hour. When a political or cultural leader stands as the driving force to follow God, then they will. When that leader is gone, they won’t anymore. Without the sound teaching of scripture to provide a moral backbone, nations flounder in idolatry and sin.

We live in a day and age where idolatry is running rampant. Obviously we don’t put our trust in little statues of made up gods anymore, but instead we have turned to insurance policies, to political leaders, to economic systems, to money, television, and others. In the midst of all this idolatry, the Church, the “kingdom of priests” has allowed herself to be silenced by the need for “tolerance”. In an age of moral relativism, holding forth a bright light of absolute truth, right and wrong, is unpopular. People are more comfortable lurking in the gray haze of “it doesn’t really matter”, “don’t judge”, and “no one is really right”.

If this is allowed to continue that the pattern from Scripture is clear, we will see a back and forth vacillation between worship of God and worship of idols based solely on emotion. As that vacillation continues idolatry will become worse, up until the point that God chooses to pour out His wrath on our nation and punish the idolatry for the sake of His name, which on our account is now slandered among the nations. Ultimately responsibility for this will fall on the Church in this nation for failing to hold up the Scriptural commands as absolute and essential.

If you don’t want the blood of others on your hands, then don’t participate in this deliberate watering down of Scripture. Cling to the whole Word and beg others to do so as well.

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Can the Old Testament be Trusted?

In the ongoing debate over the morality of the homosexual lifestyle this question is becoming more and more relevant, and yet the focus has been entirely on the issue at hand with most people quietly refusing to ask the hard questions that should be at the center. Can we accept the Gospel apart from the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament reliable, and is it compatible with the message of the Gospels?

Over the past few weeks, I have repeatedly seen info-graphics, pictures of facebook discussions, short “stories”, etc. that take an aggressive posture against the teaching of the Old Testament, particularly when it comes to basic definitions of morality. The argument is that the Old Testament Law is separate from the New Testament teaching of grace and forgiveness. The idea is that when Christ introduced the Gospel of grace all obligation to the Old Testament law was lost. For Christians, according to this line of thinking, the Old Testament is outdated and shouldn’t be relied upon for sound moral teaching.

Those who teach this seem to have forgotten to read the Gospels in all of their haste to separated them from the Old Testament.

Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:17-20

We should note that this passage comes right after the ever popular beatitudes, in the middle of the sermon on the mount, and just before all of the “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” teaching that no one wants to dispute.

Is it possible that Jesus could really have meant to uphold the teaching of the Old Testament law? Look at the teachings on murder (5:21-22), adultery (5:27-30), and divorce (5:31-32) that follow right after this teaching. In most of these cases, true to what He said in 5:20 Jesus’ moral teaching either affirms the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of the law or goes beyond it. From this it is safe to gather, that just as He said, Jesus fully intends for Christians to adhere to the Old Testament’s moral teaching.

All the confusion comes from what we see happening in verse 17 “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”. The key to understanding what is going on in this passage is to have a correct view of the unity of Scripture.

The Bible is divided into to two testaments, or covenants, but it stands as a unified whole. The key is to understanding this unity is to properly recognize the purpose of the Bible itself. The purpose of Scripture is to tell the history of God’s redemptive working for mankind after our fall into sin, and to ultimately tell how God stepped down to redeem us from our sin and show us the way back to Him through grace.

This purpose is clear from the message itself. Genesis 3 tells the story of mankind’s deception and fall into sin. Yet look what God promises from the first moments of man’s sinful condition, in speaking to the deceiver:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Even from the beginning God had promised to send One who would crush the head of the Serpent, but since a testament is a covenant, we should recognize that everything that proceeds the giving of the covenant to Abraham in Genesis 12 is the prequel, the back story that explains why the story is necessary. Look at the covenant itself and God’s plan is perfectly clear:

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)

From the very institution of the covenant, God is working to see the redemption and blessing of all the peoples of the earth, in fact, those who read the Old Testament well will find that the “Great Commission” is simply a restating of what God has been getting at all along.

When we recognize this unifying theme in Scripture, then we can ask ourselves what the point of all those dreaded books of the Law is. The New Testament writers as well as the early church fathers all agree, the purpose of the Law is to demonstrate to mankind our own sinful condition, the insufficiency of animal sacrifice as well as our own works, and our ultimate need for redemption. This means that the moral requirements of God do not simply go away because we cannot meet them, they are tied directly to God’s divine nature and cannot change. What does change is the means by which mankind ACCESS God.

God gave us the full weight of His moral law, and a sacrifice system for when we failed to live up to it, to demonstrate in fullness that we are unable to live up to His just requirements. As shown above Jesus reiterated and reinforced these just requirements, but then chose to introduce the power of grace. Christ bore the punishment of our moral failure on the cross, once for all time, and freed those who place their faith in Him from the just recompense of their sinful ways. In so doing He put an end to the need for the sacrifice system, by His one perfect sacrifice.

It gets even better though! Rather than excuse us from the demands of God’s just law, the power of Christ allows us to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirt who makes us able to meet God’s righteous requirements. The moral demands of God cannot go away because to do so would make God not God, but being God He has chosen to not only pardon our past sins but also to empower us to walk a life free from entangling sin. The message of Christ is not that holiness will be redefined so we can reach it, but rather that we will be transformed so that we can attain true holiness.

Where does that leave this discussion? What is it we are actually doing when we try to reject the moral nature of God and His just requirements? There are two ultimate issues with choosing to ignore the Old Testament because we don’t like what it has to say.

First and foremost, those who reject the moral teaching of the Old Testament are closing the door to God’s grace. The Old Testament is necessary to demonstrate to mankind that we are sinners in need of grace, without the knowledge of sin, there is no room for grace. When we try to redefine sin to make ourselves or others more comfortable, ultimately we are blocking God’s ability to forgive us of that sin and to empower us to overcome that sin. God had to give the Old Testament first, before we would have any ability to comprehend what the New Testament meant. Apart from the knowledge of sin, there can be no forgiveness of sin. The reason for this is obvious, I won’t repent of sin that I don’t acknowledge is there. Our goal ought to be to recognize and repent of ALL sin in our lives, and as followers of Christ we are under command to help others recognize and repent of their sin as well.

Second, those who fail to study the Old Testament will fail to see the working out of God’s constant faithful dealings with those who follow Him. The New Testament doesn’t attempt to cover any ground that the Old Testament has already thoroughly addressed, for this reason it dwells on the Gospel itself, the establishment of the Church, and the teaching necessary to establish the Gospel in men’s hearts. Most of the great stories of God’s faithfulness to those who trust Him are in the Old, not the New Testament. Christians would have a much better grasp on how to handle suffering and walk faithfully through difficult times if they would just read the first 2/3 of their Bibles.

Ultimately, Scripture is a unity. It is all written for man’s redemption. If we choose to ignore part of it, we damage the means of our own redemption.

A Christian Nation?

The Balance Between Faith and Liberty

For the last several decades, the secular humanists and the “Religious Right” have been engaged in a political struggle for influence in the government and public life of our nation. The humanists claim to be non-religious and thus able to enforce their views forcibly on the nation without infringing upon the “separation of Church and State”. The Right claims that these United States were founded as a Christian nation and that our Founding Fathers never intended for Christianity to be excluded from the national life of the country. Both sides are ultimately basing there entire arguments on false assumptions. In order to understand the truth, we need to break down the false assumptions on both sides and then form a more complete world view in order to avoid some of the worst historical pitfalls.

To begin with, let me say this: Despite its not appearing anywhere in our founding documents, I agree 100% with Thomas Jefferson on the need for a “separation of Church and State”. In any case we look at historically, a merger between political power and religious institutions resulted in massive loss of life and great destruction of the spiritual vitality of the nation. The takeover of the German churches by the Nazi government was vitally necessary in properly indoctrinating the German people to accept the Fuhrer concept and later war atrocities. Pastors like Bonhoeffer who dared to call out the whole concept of the Fuhrer as contrary to the commands of scripture had to be jailed and ultimately killed. The opposite has also been true, the Catholic domination of the European political scene gave us atrocities like the Crusades and the Inquisition, as the inquisition demonstrates the temptation to use the political might of the “Church” to crush spiritual dissenters is to great to be overcome. In the most comprehensive early history of our nation The Life of Washington, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall even spells out the failures of the early Puritans when they sought to crush dissent despite having only recently fled persecutions in England themselves.

Ironically, this issue they claim to cherish so dearly, is in fact the ultimate issue for the humanists in their rise to power. Secular humanism is the religion of non-religion, it has no more right to oppress religious people than religions people have to oppress its adherents. America is teetering dangerously on the edge of accepting a new State Church in the name of tolerance and political correctness. We are approaching the point where those with certain world views are being treated more and more harshly in the public eye, most notably are dissenting views on the morality of homosexuality, abortion, the creation of the world, and the concept of just war. Most of these pushes are coming not from the Right (ridicule of just war excepted) but from the humanists on the left. Even while proclaiming toleration and justice they are engaging in exactly the kind of religious oppression they claim to abhor. It is not enough that they have different views on moral concepts than the rest of the nation, they are trying to force their vision of morality on the rest of us in the name of equality and toleration.

The ultimate issue, the root cause if you will of this fight, is the vast overreach of our Federal government. Consider some of the hot button “moral” issues facing the nation today:

Prayer in Public Schools: If the Federal Government had not chosen to completely seize control of our Pubic Education system, there would be no church/state issue where school prayer, or for that matter curriculum involving origins was involved. Schools need to be run at the extreme local level, and as has historically been the case parents need to be directly responsible for the hiring of teachers and selection of curriculum. Ultimately, it is the parent and not the government who is responsible for the well being of the child. As soon as we restore our education system to this recognition, this issue fades away.

Homosexual Marriage: The only reason that this is a national political issue is because the government, through the tax code, has gotten itself involved in determining who may and may not marry; which I may add is a very frightening and dangerous prospect indeed! Had we not violated the entire spirit and letter of the Constitution with the formation of the IRS and modern tax code, this issue would not exist. Marriage is fundamentally a religious institution, therefore each religions group ought to maintain its right to marry whomever it chooses. The state has no business coming in and defining marriage, but the tax code has made it necessary for the state to do so. While I’m on this point though, let me point out that much of the homosexual agenda does violate the separation of church and state. Any attempt to use the violent force of government to silence others because they believe that your actions are morally wrong, violates their right to hold their own moral convictions. Arguments that this kind of speech causes bullying, emotional trauma, or violence are a scape goat for the real issue, which is that the homosexual movement is unwilling to permit free speech that they find disagreeable. I would like to strongly advocate that this position be dropped before, like a double edged sword it comes back upon them. As soon as the force of the government is used to silence opposition, the majority (most of whom hold the opposite world view) will role over on the homosexual movement and we may actually see real oppression. Instead we need to get the government out of the whole situation and return to recognizing each other’s freedom of religion.

Notice I didn’t mention Abortion. Abortion is not actually a purely moral issue, and does fall under the authority of the Federal government to address. Abortion involves the murder and oppression of one group of defenseless citizens by the very people who are charged to defend them. The question in the abortion issue is are unborn babies people? To be totally honest, I have never seen strong evidence from either side that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt at what point in pregnancy they suddenly become people. Is this ignorance an excuse to continue wide spread killing until we “know” that they are people? NO! The unborn must be treated as full fledged citizens and as human beings with all the rights thereof from birth, precisely because we do not know at what point we are killing a human child. This then represents the repression of one group by another, and is therefore a liberty issue that must be addressed by the state, much like slavery was not a “moral issue” but rather a liberty issue.

I would warn caution on this one though, the root causes of abortion are moral and must be addressed at the cultural and religious level before any government solution will have any real effect. I believe, despite slavery being fundamentally a freedom issue, that the Civil War illustrates very clearly why morality, even when liberty is at stake, cannot ultimately be legislated nor forced at the tip of the bayonet. Finally passing legal protection for the unborn will not end the mass murder until the society behind the killing fundamentally changes.

This leads to the root question then: How are Faith and Liberty connected? What is the relationship between the two? We have established that morality cannot be legislated, but what about the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Founding Fathers were Christians?

The short answer is this, you cannot have liberty without faith. Unless the nation maintains its moral values at the cultural and religious level, any government built on liberty will ultimately fail. The reason for this is rather simple, the principle of liberty is built upon the belief that all men are created equal and have certain natural or divine rights as soon as my neighbor comes to believe that he has the right to take my rights away, the government must step in. Once government intervention is forced to become to frequent, liberty fades away into the distance. Only a society in which men acknowledge and revere each others rights can maintain liberty. This can only exist when men are sufficiently moral to know and protect each other rights.

For this reason, it was the strong Faith of our Founding Fathers, and Forefathers that ultimately produced the liberty rich environment upon which our Constitution was established. They did not set out to form some sort of Christian nation where the state enforced morality, this couldn’t have possibly been further from their minds. The Founding Fathers had no motivation to establish a political Christian nation, because these United States were already a Christian nation! As soon, however, as the faith and moral principles of the nation began to slide we began to lose our liberty. And so it is that every time the American people place their faith for salvation in the government, be it the Great Depression, 9/11, etc; we give away more of our liberty. Only a root level restoration of the faith that made America, America; the sort of Faith that moves from man to man and community to community, the sort of Faith our Fathers and Forefathers had, can create an environment from which our liberty can ultimately be restored.

God of Wrath, God of Grace

The Gospel is good news, it’s good news for all of humanity; but in order to be good news it has to be understood properly. There has been an on going trend, over the last several decades, to reject anything condemning in the Gospels. As a culture, we have chosen to ignore all references to the need for holiness, and to God’s righteous wrath being poured out upon those who reject the Gospel.

When we look at what the Gospel is all about, we ought to turn to the Gospels and see what Jesus Himself had to say. Many people today, uncomfortable with the moral demands of scripture try to argue that Jesus taught only grace and no punishment, but Jesus in fact was very clear that without salvation, mankind would most certainly face the wrath of a righteous God.

Look at this passage, where Jesus addresses the certain punishment of those who are unable to satisfy the requirements of a just and righteous God, all passages are taken from the NKJV:

Mark 9:42-50

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

And this one, where Jesus maintains that we must maintain proper fear of God, who maintains the power to cast us into Hell:

Luke 12:5

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

As for the righteous requirements of the law, look what Jesus has to say in this next passage, in that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we are more righteous than one of the most legalistically righteous sects of all time:

Matthew 5:20

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven

Now look at the passages immediately preceding and following the above passage, in which Jesus lays the kind of morality that God demands

Matthew 5:1-19

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Notice that last passage, Jesus affirms that the teaching He is revealing does not in any way remove or nullify the moral law of the Old Testament, rather it reveals more clearly what the law demands. Now for the passage following 5:20

Matthew 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Notice that Jesus’ moral teaching demands not only right behavior, but right thoughts and heart conditions behind that behavior. If we show self control and don’t commit a sin, such as adultery or fornication or murder; but in our heart we really really want to, and entertain thoughts and images to that effect, then we are just as guilty before God as if we had carried those thoughts into action. This poses great difficulty, because none of us is capable of keeping a law this perfect. In fact, if we are judged for our very thoughts, then everyone of us sins on a frequent basis.

This leads to an important question, if none of us can possibly meet God’s moral demands: What then is the Gospel or Good News?

This is where Jesus’ teaching varies radically from every other religion on earth, take a look:

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Matthew 18:23-27

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt

A talent of gold, according to at least on source I looked at would be worth over $840,000 at todays gold prices. 10,000 of them of course goes way beyond anyone’s ability to ever even consider repaying.

And this is where the Gospel of Jesus differs from every other world religion. Whereas all other religions in the world lay out moral laws and demand that men be “good enough” to get into heaven, the Gospel clearly states that none of us can possibly live up to God’s moral demands; and so, rather than allowing us to perish, Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us and took our sins upon Himself. Now if we will accept Him we can put on His righteousness and experience a total heart transformation that will take away all of sins and make us into those who can say honestly they meet God’s moral demands. This an only be done through the work of Jesus on our behalf and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. All we have to “do” is surrender our lives to the work Christ did on our behalf. In choosing to falsely believe that God does not practice wrath at all, we make the work of Christ of no value, and blaspheme the very one on whom we must believe for salvation. If God is only grace, then first of all Christ Jesus Himself was a liar and fool and secondly His death and resurrection were completely unnecessary. As it stands it is the paradox of God’s righteous wrath and saving grace that makes the Gospel the Good News.