Monday, June 29, 2015

Who am I & What's Really Wrong with MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)?

Lately, the WIRED article titled, "The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is Bunk But I Don't Care" has been making its rounds in my social networking spheres. I thought I'd take a few moments to weigh in with my reflections on this particular phenomenon.

In the past, I have typically tended to follow the author's view that "The biggest problem with Myers-Briggs is what happens when any useful descriptor gets turned into dogma." In a practical sense this is true, because the most effective uses that I've experienced have been more in a team building setting where co-workers use the self-evaluation questions to provide helpful descriptors to try to better understand each other. When I worked at a local scientific company, this helped because the ratio of engineers, scientists, and chemists to marketing, advertising and creative types was significantly imbalanced. Helping each other understand that there were different work styles to be valued and appropriated actually improved the overall effectiveness of our product division. In that sense, I've held a positive view of the use of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Likewise, my negative experiences with MBTI were mostly concerned with the dogmatic application of categories. Teachers and school counselors would use the results of the test to pigeon hole young students into particular fields of study and to rule out "non-compatible" fields. Human resource directors would use the results of the test to qualify or rank employment candidates based whether their type indicator was a good projected fit for the role. Given the fact that any given test taker's results can change from hour to hour, both of these have always seemed like tenuous and possibly tragic applications of the test theory. 

Some will argue that the key to the test is answering the test authentically from some immutable sense of the truth of our inner being. In my case, I had taken the test so many times, I could manipulate the outcome of the test by answering the questions to fit basically any personality type desired.

A few years ago, our church hosted TruthExchange author and speaker Peter Jones, and since then I've come to learn more about the influences of neo-paganism, 
eastern religions, and the "new spirituality" on our rapidly changing culture. Although I do remember reading that the MBTI originated with Carl Jung, I had never considered how the "new spirituality" paradigm of its originator could matter much in terms of something that seemed so logical. scientific, and matter of fact to the professional community. 

In the WIRED article, the author asserts that another key problem with the test was that it creates dichotomies between the various types and that the issue is that many people fall in between in the gray areas. However, I disagree that creating such dichotomies is really an issue. On the purely practical level, most of the later programs that utilize MBTI, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, provide a methodology of interpretation for these gray areas.

So, What's Really Wrong with the MBTI?

The real issue, as I see it, emanates from the fact that MBTI results in justifying our preferences and feelings -- even our sinful tendencies -- by convincing ourselves and others that preferences and tendencies actually define who we are. The test accepts as normal and codifies things that should not be. 

Let's look at a few of the questions on one of the MBTI tests to see whether or not they are morally neutral:
You are almost never late for your appointments. Yes or No  
Observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome. Yes or No  
You tend to sympathize with other people.  Yes or No  
You prefer to isolate yourself. Yes or No  
You avoid being bound by obligations. Yes or No  
You have good control over your desires and temptations. Yes or No  
You try to stand firmly by your principles. Yes or No  
When considering a situation you pay more attention to the current situation and less to consequences.Yes or No  
Your decisions are based more on the feeling of a moment than on the thorough understanding.  Yes or No  
Your decisions are easily affected by strong emotions.  Yes or No  
You often think about humankind and its destiny. Yes or No  
The fact that the MBTI allows the test taker to answer yes or no is not the real problem, as the author of the original article supposes.The issue is that the MBTI codifies and normalizes both answers by providing us with labels that are socially respected and psychologically accepted. Peter Jones tells us that the synthesis of opposites is a key modus operandi of the new age movement. "New spirituality" oneness removes distinctions of good and evil, blurring the lines between Creator and creature. 

Folks, our identity is not found in our preferences. Our identity is found in our Creator and Redeemer alone. If our tendencies or preferences don't match His pattern for what is good and right, then we should not baptize those tendencies by adopting psychologically acceptable labels that remove the need for a Savior and to change/repent. 

At the beginning of the article, the author quips that astrology is mere superstition and rubbish. And while I am not in anyway trying to get all "conspiracy theory" here, let us not be fooled. New age spirituality and neo-paganism are nothing new under the sun. They go all the way back to the serpent in the garden.

 people will harmlessly use the MBTI as a fun and interesting way of describing themselves. Some teachers, counselors, and employers will dogmatically apply the results in ways that are counterproductive. However, we as Christians need to realize not only the limitations, but the possible self-delusional nature of relying on the test results to inform our identities and who we believe ourselves to be.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ascribing Repentance

To Whom Do We Ascribe Repentance?
We cannot ascribe our repenting and believing to our own wisdom, humility, sound judgment or good sense, but, rather, to Christ alone. We turn our trust from ourselves to Christ only  because He first opened our eyes, unplugged our ears and turned our stoney heart to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26) that we might believe the gospel. (Deut 29:4, 30:6) Arminian prevenenient grace actually begs the question - if two persons receive the same prevenient grace, why does one man believe the gospel and not the other? What makes them to differ?  It is obviously not grace which makes them to differ since both had grace so all that is left is some native good will or good inclination that the other did not have. But who makes the will good? Where does the wisdom or humility to come to Christ come from?  No man is naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. The Bible declares it: Jesus says, "the Spirit quickens, the flesh counts for nothing...that is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me grants it." (John 6:63, 54).  and just before this Jesus also declares "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37) 
So together in the texts Jesus in no uncertain terms declares 2 things: 1) that NO ONE can come to faith in Him UNLESS granted by the Father, and that through the quickening work of the Spirit AND 2) ALL whom He so grants will come to faith in Him.  It leaves no room for the synergistic view. But you say "God commands all people to repent and believe the gospel." This is true... and its in the Bible ... the gospel summons to all people without exception  but apart from grace NO ONE responds to it positively... left to themselves all people turn aside from the one true God. (See Rom 2, 3; and 1 Cor 2:14)  And "No one can say "Jesus is Lord" apart from the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).
So is it (even partly) by our own doing that we are in Christ? No it is..." His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30-31 
We repent, yes, and we believe, but it is God who, by his great mercy, changed our hardened heart to do so. It was not our natural wisdom or humility or good will that set us apart but it was the grace of God in Jesus Christ which granted all of these.  Salvation is of the Lord.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Charleston Church Members Display Gospel in Exemplary Act of Forgiveness

The tragedy in Charleston last week, where Dylann Roof opened fire upon the unsuspecting congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, has captured the attention of the media, the church, and Americans in general. Initially, many voices quietly suspected public outrage would ensue, leading to protests and riots because of Roof’s racist motivation behind the attack.

To the astonishment of nearly all, the families showed up at Roof's hearing to make statements of personal forgiveness that would boggle the minds of their hearers and send liberal media pundits into a tailspin, as they witnessed firsthand acts of salt and light. Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition points out two notable responses:
Abe Greenwald, senior editor of Commentarywrites:
The late Christopher Hitchens formulated (and forever repeated) a superficially clever challenge to people of faith: “Find one good or noble thing,” he said, “which cannot be accomplished without religion.” The astonishing rejoinder to Hitchens comes now from the family members of those who were gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles C. W. Cooke, an atheist who writes for National Review, tweeted:
I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity.

The watching world is in awe at this response, seeing the families' and church's good deeds and giving glory to God, even if in a somewhat limited way 

Most of my Christian friends are also quick to stand with their godly brothers and sisters in their act of personal forgiveness to the shooter and their use of the opportunity to call the young man to confession, repentance, and faith in Christ. However, a small band of bloggers and pundits have taken issue with their brothers and sisters in this matter, questioning the nature of the forgiveness offered by the families to Dylann Roof. 

What kind of forgiveness?

It would seem that some of these Christians may be having difficulty discerning between different types of forgiveness:

1) personal forgiveness from one individual to another for wrongs done or debts owed,
2) corporate forgiveness within the body of Christ, administered by the officers of the church,
3) civil / judicial forgiveness of wrong doings and debt to society, and
4) ultimate forgiveness of sin/divine judgment, which is through the Lord.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book "Studies on the Sermon on the Mount" states that distinguishing between these different types of forgiveness is crucial to understanding the Christian character and application of the Sermon on the Mount to our own lives. 

While we are commanded individually to forgive others for their offenses against us personally, just as we've been forgiven, we need to remember that personal forgiveness does not automatically equal reconciliation. Reconciliation involves both parties. Reconciliation requires some form of repentance from wrong-doers, which might vary from case to case.

When it comes to the church or the civil government, clearly these entities play a very different role, thus forgiveness on the corporate level and the societal level will look different from what we are called to as individual Christians.  In the case of Dylann Roof, there is not a contradiction between the forgiveness offered by those families on a personal level and the legitimacy of a judge sentencing him to death for the acts that he committed. Personal forgiveness does not erase guilt or consequences. If Dylann Roof were a member of a Christian church and remained unrepentant for his crimes, for his sins, the church has every right to excommunicate him. And of course, just as the families stated, the Lord will hold Dylann Roof accountable for his sins eternally if he does not ultimately confess and repent by giving his life to Christ.

All of these other facts about the church, the government, and God's law toward unbelievers does not negate the fact that we must forgive others. We must not harbor unforgiveness, even toward our enemies. Not only that, but remember that if our brother or sister has an issue WITH US, WE are called to refrain from the Lord's Table. Surely we must not harbor unforgiveness in ourselves.

The Charleston church's victim's families are correct to personally forgive the shooter. In so doing they are truly being salt and light by demonstrating the free offer of grace that they also received when they were lost.

"Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven"
A few of my friends have quoted Dr. David Murray's blog post in which he insists that we should not forgive those who have not repented. He begins by stating that "God does not forgive those who do not want forgiveness", but by stating this he seems to misunderstand the nature of God's forgiveness and potentially betray an Arminian view of salvation.

From my perspective, it would seem that the idea of God's forgiveness being contingent upon our repentance is an Arminian formulation. For example, the reformed ordo salutis places regeneration before faith and repentance. Additionally, we have the teaching of Paul on God's forgiveness toward us, in many places, such as Romans 5:10 
"While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" and in Ephesians 2: 
"1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (emphasis mine).
Within a reformed soteriological framework, one might put it this way:
  • Total Depravity--No one wants forgiveness
  • Unconditional Election--God chooses us, regardless of our lack of desire for forgiveness, and our election is unconditional
  • Limited Atonement--God's free offer of forgiveness is accomplished and applied to His elect
  • Irresistible Grace--When God forgives our sins, we are forgiven. Period. Past, present, future. 
  • Perseverance of the Saints--Our salvation does not depend on us seeking forgiveness for every sin.

Strictly from a Biblical and reformed point of view, it is apparent that God's promise of forgiveness is the CAUSE of repentance and that forgiveness is not conditional on our action. 

If our repentance was the only instrument by which people received forgiveness, then we would all stand before the Lord at judgment for unforgiven sins that we do even know we commit. Nor could infants ever be saved because they are unable to understand repentance. It is entirely a work of God. 

Clearly, when we are commanded to forgive others as we have been forgiven, we are not be called to put ourselves in the Judges' seat, making ourselves equivalent to our holy, righteous, perfect Lord. We are being called to extend the type of grace - unmerited favor - that we were offered through Christ. The scriptures state that it is the loving kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance, and so it was with each and every one of us.

If, as some may claim, we are supposed to forgive in exactly the same way that Jesus (the holy, perfect, righteous one) forgave us, then we would be required to die on a cross. And sometimes forgiveness feels like a death. Certainly, for the victims of the Charleston shooting, their act of forgiveness toward the offenses they've suffered requires a type of death to their notions of self that transcends human nature. But ultimately, only Jesus could die to pay for our sin. Only God can forgive the offense of sin, because sin ultimately is against Him alone - not us.

We must not skip over Jesus's words, such as in Matthew 6:15, when He states: "But if you do not forgive others their debts, your Father will not forgive your debts." and again in Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

We must not ignore the teaching of Paul when he writes, 
·         "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath" [Ephesians 4:26] 
·         Paul told the believers in Corinth to forgive so they would not give Satan an advantage. When we don’t forgive, we give Satan a foothold in our lives and in the Body of Christ.
In Romans 12, we are called to leave room for the wrath of God (see more below).

·      Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to forgive seven times seventy times, then goes on to describe someone who refused to forgive. It says he was delivered “to the tormentors” (v. 34). When we refuse to forgive, we may start to experience spiritual, emotional, and even physical consequences of holding bitterness in our hearts.

I wonder how many ways we are being disobedient to the Lord when we try to justify ourselves in unforgiveness? We as reformed Christians should be the last to resist the Lord's commands to forgive others. It is ultimately to our own detriment and does nothing good for the other person to personally begrudge them their offense. In fact, the scripture says it is the Lord's loving kindness led us to repentance. We are called to forgive the offense that was done to us personally - their debts/their trespasses against us, plain and simple. In this way, the church in Charleston serves as an example to all of us as to one such way we can embody Christian character to a lost and dying world. To be salt and light in a dark and deteriorating world.

Practically speaking

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we cannot dismiss the consequences of their sin (which is up to the church and the government) or ultimately forgive their sin (which is falls to God alone), but we can point them to our Savior who has granted us the grace that we freely offer them. I have seen the Lord use Christian obedience in such acts of forgiveness in countless ways in my life and those of others.

One of the ways I've ministered to those outside the church is in the area of mentoring and discipling women recovering from a background drug and alcoholic problems. Many of them have come from the streets and incredibly dark and desperate places. They often end up getting help from 12-step programs before they can even contemplate attending or a joining a church. There has been countless speculation as to why 12-step communities seem to help more folks in the early phases of their recovery. In my work with these women, I've come to believe that it is the emphasis that is placed on forgiveness of perceived wrongs, letting go of resentments, placing full trust in God’s sovereignty in all situations, and seeking reconciliation with others whenever possible.

As I've worked with many of these women (and some men), I've found that once the drink or drug is left alone, they are plagued by resentments: well-nurse grudges against perceived wrongs (many of which are actually quite grievous and many of which are decades old with wounds as fresh as if they happened yesterday). All too frequently, the man or woman who struggles relentlessly to quit their life-threatening habit altogether finds the pain of their tangled, muddled past relationships far worse to cope with than their blackouts and hangovers. Most 12-step programs tend to help people by focusing them on overcoming their own underlying fear, insecurity, and pride -- root sins that continue to keep them in bondage to these past harms. One of the cliches is that the word “resentment” comes from words “re" and "sentiment” which means to re-feel the pain, over and over and over. By not knowing how to forgive others, people create an internal nightmare for themselves.

As a Christian, I’m able to help these women more than others because I understand that forgiveness is difficult and that we don’t just pretend that the wrong doesn’t’ exist or pretend that it doesn't hurt. As a Christian, I first understand that sin exists and ultimately must be dealt with by God. I can trust that the wrath of God WILL be executed either on someone who will never come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through eternal damnation, or that it has been executed on Christ Himself on the cross and applied to the person, if they are saved. In either case, I know that the wrath of God will suffice to repay the person for their sin.

Update: Saying all of this is not meant in anyway to oversimplify the process that people go through to forgive others from the heart. Sometimes the process can take significant time and should provide space and time for mourning and grief. The process is not a blanket statement or like waving a magic wand. In additional to proper mourning and grief it typically requires a significant work of mortification of self-seeking, fear of man, worldly attachments, insecurity, and pride - just to name a few. Don't let anyone tell you that forgiveness is an easy thing! The kind of forgiveness that we witnessed in Charleston is only possible by the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in a blood-bought believer. The watching world is amazed by the visible display of the Gospel being lived out so boldly by Christians who know what they believe and why they believe it. May this be true of all us!

In the meantime, as we travel through this world, we can chose to forgive personal offenses, regardless of the other person’s eternal state and regardless of the person’s consequences. Consequences may dictate incarceration or the death penalty for another citizen, such as Dylann Roof, based on the offense. Consequences might also mean excommunication for a church member, such as an abusive spouse, if they are unrepentant. Forgiving people their personal offenses against us doesn't proclaim reconciliation or cheap grace, as some fear.  Therefore, let us be clear that these are just a few of the distinctions we need to consider when thinking about individual, corporate, societal, and eternal forgiveness. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Identity & the Gospel for the Judges 19 Woman (He was Torn for the 12 Tribes)

Identity and the Gospel Message for the Judges 19 Woman

Whenever the passage in Judges 19 is read, pastors and speakers alike typically take great care to caution their hearers about horrific events told concerning the concubine, her suffering, and her unredeemed disposition. Additionally most studies do well placing Judges 19 within the larger context of the book of Judges and bringing out the doctrine of the depravity of man whereby everyone did right in their own eyes, because in those days there was no king to rule.

Yet, the story of the Judges 19 woman requires more than a magnifying glass on her sinful condition and the sinfulness of others in the culture around her. Yes, absolutely, the wages of sin is death, and Judges 19 does graphically depict this for us. But it is my continued hope that women (and men alike) see how Christ redeems the hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman by bringing the Gospel message to bear even in those utterly hard and dark passages.

We might first start by thinking about the covenantal concept of identity. To this end, I found it quite interesting to note that none of the characters in Judges 19 are named. They are all anonymous entities, which is likely intended to achieve several different things, as many commentators believe. A common view is that the Levite, the stranger, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman” that ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In this way, the concubine is meant to represent the people of Israel as a whole who had been enslaved by sin, given over to wickedness by the very leaders who were responsible for their well-being. But there are some other layers of meaning here concerning the anonymity of the concubine. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were generally not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine would only derive a unique identity from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing and otherwise would typically not be remembered within the historical covenant. Interestingly, today when we think of women who are enslaved by sexual sin or who have been given over to the illicit and dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, they become objectified and defined by their sinful acts. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes them to go underground, becoming anonymous entities whose lives matter little either to their new masters or the culture around them.

Even these deep issues of identity are redeemed by Jesus who is our true King,and, yes, even in a land where everyone only does what is right in their own eyes. And He is the true and better Israel. He is the perfect husband, who protects his bride. Jesus doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead King Jesus leaves His Father's house and offers his own body going in the bride’s stead to be torn apart for the twelve tribes. Instead of giving us over, without hope or any possibility for rescue, Jesus gives himself up on the Cross. His battered body is the sign to his people that he is our true King and Redeemer and Husband.

So, on the practical end, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are training folks in the church to be like the Levite who orders the woman on his doorstep to “Get Up”, even though she is dead (or nearly dead)? “Be a Biblical Woman by doing X and Y and Z or fulfilling such and such role.” Or are we equipping women to point these Judges 19 women to the true Savior and true King who redeemed us out of slavery? Unfortunately, too often the great temptation as we know it in women’s ministry is get to the imperatives too fast -- to be prescriptive far too soon -- because of our emphasis on women’s roles and what women are supposed to do, rather than who we are in Christ first and foremost. Identity.

The prophet Hosea looks back in Chapter 9 and 10 and warns Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah from the days of the Judges by going after false gods and idols and forget who they are; Whose they are; Who they belong to. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over. Do we remind each other that we are His Bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10), but we too were delivered out of an Egypt, out of slavery (Exodus 20:2) and the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13), by the One who took our place and who has called us by name?

We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. Our savior Jesus, who has written our names on His hands, who has rescued us from the kingdom darkness described in Judges 19, and who has adopted us children of the Living God who will never leave us or forsake us!

Finally, I believe it it may be helpful for to consider the words of Paul written to the Galatian church regarding the contrast between Abraham’s concubine, Hagar (representing life in the flesh and slavery to sin), and Abraham’s wife, Sarah (representing the freedom of the new covenant in Christ). 
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;  she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.” ” (Galatians 4:25-27, ESV)

Now we know that we were all once the concubine, sold as slaves under the law, powerless to save ourselves from the kingdom of darkness, but God because of His great mercy, saved us by the blood of Christ, who gave Himself for us when we were nothing, so that we could be His very own treasured possession - His Bride .. That He called us by name and has written our names on His very hands so that we could have eternal life with Him .. Does this -- should this -- help change how we look at and minister to the Judges 19 woman? And to women in general? Just some food for thought.

To be continued...

Throwback: Thoughts on Mardi Gras and Lent

From February 2008 (with some updating):
Today is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. I remember going to Mardi Gras back in 1985 when I was in the Navy, stationed at Meridian, Mississippi. These were crazy times. As a 19- year-old gal, I could legally drink some things in some states and not at all in others. I can remember the thrill my Navy buddy and I had of going to New Orleans for the weekend on "liberty" with our Marine friends. Total freedom after complete restriction. We had just finished boot camp in Orlando and the first eight weeks of our training at our "A" school at NAS Meridian. After not being able to wear civilian clothes, go off post or do anything without being within earshot and full view of some petty officer, having a full four days of liberty... in New Orleans... during Mardi Gras was just too much for a bunch of young chicks like us to handle. We didn't get in any real trouble per se, but my friend and I were ill-equipped to handle the decisions and experiences we were about to encounter. Neither one of us had ever been away from home on our own before boot camp, and now here we were with some older 21-year-old dudes who were more than willing to introduce us to the wild world of Mardi Gras. Within a few days after all the frivolity, we knew we would be back in our highly structured and restricted environment again where every word and deed would not go unseen. Needless to say we took every advantage of our temporary freedom possible.

In a lot of ways this story reminds me a great deal of how Christians often treat freedom and legality, especially at this time of year, when many prepare to observe Lent and some even practice the revelry of Mardi Gras.

In terms of Christian liberty, we know that Paul writes (1 Cor. 6:12a)"everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial" and again "to the pure, all things are pure"(Titus 1:15). Some of us would take this freedom to the absolute extreme on the occasion of Mardi Gras, so that the following day we may begin a fast of some sort leading up to Easter when we will observe and celebrate Christ's resurrection. So, Fat Tuesday is sort of a reward in advance for the coming harshness we expect to endure by giving up things that our hearts really long for secretly -- things that we are willing to white-knuckle it for a while, as we await the day when we can again pursue our various and sundry idols without the heavy guilt inflicted by our consciences. As if God closes His eyes for the day just so we can "Get it all out of our system." Then the following day, we get back on the treadmill of performance, doing all the respectable things that we think will earn God's approval and make us acceptable to be in His presence. Of course this kind of legalism is wrong, and it doesn't only happen at Mardi Gras and Lent, but in fact the cycle often continues well after the Easter holy day has ended. 

Moreover, the licentiousness of Mardi Gras is also not Biblical. In 1 Cor. 6:12b, Paul continues, "'Everything is permissible for me'—but I will not be mastered by anything." If we create days or situations for ourselves whereby we indulge our flesh as a reward for legalistic performance or as an outlet for dealing with emotional stress, it is still a just as much a form of idolatry. The behavior, thought, thing, food, drink, whatever, that we long to indulge has mastered us from the inside, even if we only secretly practice it once in a while. The Bible says all of our hearts are idolatrous this way, looking to dethrone our Creator, replacing Him with the things He has created to glorify Him. John Calvin said that our hearts are essentially idol factories that are always capable of manufacturing things to put in God's place. 

To use a more modern illustration of how we think of the cycle of idolatry, I submit to you: "Whack a Mole"

When we battle sin in the flesh, it seems like just as soon as we stop one idol, a new one pops up in its place. The more idols we whack or beat down, the better we feel about ourselves on the outside. In fact, if we live this way for a while we can often convince ourselves that we're doing quite well. Meanwhile, on the inside, Christians can't help but sense the compiling of sin and idolatry that is going on. Just like Paul in Romans 7, we eventually either come to the end of ourselves and are exhausted, or we delude ourselves thinking, "Game Over", I won on my own! This is a snapshot of the nature of our depravity since the fall. 

But recognizing our idolatry and nature of our sinful flesh does not have to result in condemnation. It is moment to fall at the foot of the cross and look on Jesus Christ, who is sufficient to forgive us. To surrender all our wiles and whims and games to Him. To find our complete rest and trust in Him. To have our hearts abide in His work on the cross and His unending love for us as children of the most High God. When we find our rest in Him, we also find that His Holy Spirit can keep us off the Mardi Gras/Lent treadmill. If we keep in step with the Spirit, we will neither feel the bondage of sinful slavery that used to rule our lives and beckon us to forsake the Lord, nor will we find God's Law a brutal and unending task master/drill sergeant/whack a mole machine that condemns us continually. Rather we will have peace with God through Christ, having been reconciled by His blood, and being given the ministry of the Holy Spirit who will renew us and remake us into His image bearers as we bask in His Word.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces - (Horton)

Christianity Today published an article almost three years ago that is more relevant than ever: Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces by Dr. Michael Horton (I gave it five stars back when it first came out. It's still all of that and more)

He writes about how the doctrine of sin and redemption is simple, but not simplistic and describes our sin nature this way:
"If sin were just a behavior, we could stop it. If we had done it a lot, we might need some help in stopping it, but eventually—if we tried hard enough—we could. However, sin is not just a behavior. Long before they made any choice about what to do with it, people were predisposed toward same-sex attractions. Affirming original sin, Christians don't have trouble accepting this. We reject the Pelagian reduction of sin to an action that one can overcome with enough will-power. We are depraved (warped) in every respect: spiritually, morally, intellectually, volitionally, and physically. Long before genetics became a flourishing field, Christians have spoken about sin as an inherited condition. Furthermore, we can inherit specific sins—or at least tendencies—of our fathers and mothers. Then add to that the ways in which people are sinned against by the attitudes and behaviors of others, especially in childhood. So even before we actually decide to take that first drink, place that first bet, unleash our first punch, or fool around with our best friend, we are already caught up in the tangled web of solidarity in sin. At the same time, we are responsible for our choices, which reinforce or counter the specific sins toward which we are especially disposed."
He goes on to provide some key insights into the nature of sin and redemption:
"The gospel frees us to confess our sins without fear of condemnation. Looking to Christ alone for our justification and holiness, we can finally declare war on our indwelling sin because we have peace with God... If there is no biblical basis for greater condemnation, there is also no scriptural basis for greater laxity in God's judgment of this sin."
"Unwilling to embrace the paradox of being 'simultaneously justified and sinful,' we reject either justification or sanctification. However, a simplistic view of sin as acts requires as its solution nothing more than red-faced threats or smiling therapies for getting our act together. 'Just stop doing it,' says the simplistic anti-gay position. 'Just embrace it,' says the simplistic pro-gay position." 
(more recently, the pro-gay position is a bit more disguised: Wheaton's gay-Christian counselor)
"Conformity to Christ's image can only be driven by the gospel. And yet it is directed by the specific commands and exhortations of God's word."
"We are all under church discipline: that is, the obligation to mutual accountability in the body of Christ. This is exercised, by Christ's own appointment, through pastors and elders."
"We dare not try to cut Christ in pieces, as if we could receive him deliverer from sin's guilt but not from its dominion, or as Savior but not as Lord. Nor can we cut ourselves in pieces, severing our body from our soul—as if we could give our heart to Jesus and keep the title deed to our body."
He also references 1 Cor. 6:13-20, where Paul draws the analogy of sexual immorality as uniting the body of Christ to that of a prostitute. 
"You are not your own, for you were bought with a priceSo glorify God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:20).

In my next post, I hope to follow-up by continuing with more thoughts beyond Dr. Horton's fine article here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

John Owen on Galatians 6:14

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14)

Owen's commentary:
"Set your affections on the cross of Christ. This is eminently effective in frustrating the whole work of indwelling sin. The apostle gloried and rejoiced in the cross of Christ. His heart was set on it. It crucified the world to him, making it a dead and undesirable thing. The baits and pleasures of sin are all things in the world, "the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life." By these, sin entices and entangles our souls. If the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesirability on them all, leaving no seeming beauty, pleasure, or comeliness in them. Again, Paul says, 'It crucifies me to the world and makes my heart, my affections, and my desires dead to all these things. It roots up corrupt lusts and affections, and leaves no desire to go and makes no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts." Labour, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ."
- John Owen, Indwelling Sin in Believers (Banner of Truth Trust, 2010) pp. 99-100.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Waking Up in a Puddle of Mud is Not the Worst Place to Be

Put yourself in this situation. Go play in a muddy field but don't get dirty. Impossible! It’s no wonder then that those struggling with life-dominating/indwelling sin issues often conclude, “Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, I am displeasing to God. I am perpetually dirty.”  (Illustration taken from The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 28-3. Page 26)

In this illustration, the person who experiences overwhelming desires of the flesh and who is without the hope of the Gospel, will find the law of God simply impossible! They may merely try by the power of self-will to straighten up and fly right, then only to find that the best they can muster is the aesthetic management of outward appearances and avoidance of blatant overt acts of commission by white-knuckling abstinence. But eventually, if the Holy Spirit is working in this person, the matters of the heart will surface and will need to be dealt with head on. Are we equipped?

Some believe that the pastoral implications of and the compassionate approach to dealing with such overwhelming guilt and shame and sense of moral bankruptcy is to backpedal on the law of God and the sinfulness of sin (as previously addressed in my posts quoting John Calvin on indwelling sin and Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30). Rather than walking with our predecessors, Paul, David, Isaiah, and so many others given in the scriptures, many of our contemporaries are actually going the way of what the prophet Jeremiah warned against in Chapter 8:11, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace".

Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden where all was very good and only one thing forbidden. But after the fall, this world is polluted, like a muddy field. We are surrounded by unclean things, not only in the world, but also in our flesh. So, every one of us struggles and fails to keep ourselves cleansed in the muck and mire of our fallen surroundings.

God bless the man or woman who comes to the end of his or herself and is able to cry out to the Lord as did Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector:
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
"For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, "My sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3-4)
"Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’" (Luke 18:13)

To feel that weight and burden of sin -- to be awakened by the Holy Spirit to the puddle of mud in which we have been wading  - is the ideal place to find the mercy and repentance found in the good news of the Gospel message. As David wrote in Psalm 51, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." We too should have compassion and not despise those who bear heavy hearts broken by their sin and stained by the sin of the muck of life in this world.

However, if the message we are giving is little more than moralistic therapeutic deism (as it often tends to be), then of course we are heaping nothing but shame and guilt and remorse onto the broken and needy sinner. Moralistic therapeutic deism teaches people to try to find life by digging their own cisterns in their fields of mud. But no life can be found in such places. Eventually, that puddle of mud will increasingly feel more like quicksand, leading the way straight down to Sheol and away from salvation in Christ alone.

Having experienced the result of living in the dark of moralistic therapeutic deism, that feeling of fighting against a quicksand that never seems to end, we can then find ourselves prone to swing to the other extreme.

In some Evangelical circles, this may be partially why various forms of antinomianism have cropped up.  And if not full blown antinomianism, then perhaps a lower view of sin has been preferred, so as to attempt lighten the stain and guilt of sin (without the blood of Christ).

If we try to ameliorate the burden of sin by minimizing the deceitfulness of sin, then we risk losing the opportunity to share the full Gospel, the forgiveness and healing of Christ. For a Biblical example, consider the testimony of David in Psalm 32, verses 3-5:
"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;  
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you,  
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,'  
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin

So, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and offered to those condemned souls who have come to feel the weight of their sin, then and only then, is freedom and newness of life possible for those who embrace Him as Lord and Savior. He assures us:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30
Let's not forget the Lord's wondrous works toward Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector who cried out to Him for deliverance. Each of these men were blessed by the gift of conviction and repentance unto the Lord and the Lord saved them out of the miry pit of their guilt and shame, and even more out of the very pit that leads to hell. This is what they say:
Isaiah: "Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
David: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) 
Paul: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) and "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin," (Romans 8:1-3)
The tax collector: "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14) 

In his new book, "Hide or Seek", John Freeman writes in Chapter 6: Letting the Gospel Disrupt You and Dispel the Lie that You're Powerless:

"What enables us to progress from one stage to another, to boldly and radically be honest about the state of our hearts? It comes from knowing you've nothing to lose but everything to gain by trusting it all to Christ -- trusting your hardened or confused heart, your corrupt desires, and your love for your sin, to him. It also requires trusting in the finished work of Christ for the past, present, and future for you -- just where you may find yourself right now. It means trusting his record instead of yours. It means realizing that we all, at any given moment, are in desperate need of the grace that is found in Jesus. It's a grace that isn't manufactured or self-produced, but one that comes from above as a gift from God.
It's an excellent book that is Gospel-centered and extremely helpful.

And finally, in the process of writing this post, I came across Carrie Sandom's plenary from The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012, which speaks directly to this topic:

(Note: Carrie Sandom will be the featured plenary speaker at Women in the Word: A Workshop at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA (just north of Philadelphia) this October!

Monday, January 26, 2015

John Calvin on Indwelling Sin & Lust of the Flesh

This is a continuation from my previous post where I quote Matthew Henry's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30.  The issue at hand is that I referenced was the weakened view of the sinfulness of sin by some in our Evangelical circles, perhaps in an effort to appear more compassionate in the public debates, especially with regard to sexual sin. 

One of the dividing points is the distinction between the believer's experience of indwelling sin which still causes temptation and their willful acting out of particular behaviors. Generally speaking, the distinction made is that indwelling sin is not culpable (eg. merely one of the outcomes of the fall and just happens to people, like getting cancer). Historically, Protestants (especially of the reformed persuasion) have not held this view and I do not believe this view is based on scripture. 

John Calvin, as one example, speaks rather clearly on these matters in several places in "The Institutes of Christian Religion". Here is an excerpt to that end:
"It may be alleged that human laws have respect to intentions and wishes, and not fortuitous events. .. They consider the animus with which the act was done, but they do not scrutinise the secret thoughts. Accordingly, their demand is satisfied when the hand merely refrains from transgression. On the contrary, the law of heaven being enacted for our minds, the first thing necessary to a due observance of the Law is to put them under restraint. But the generality of men, even while they are most anxious to conceal their disregard of the Law, only frame their hands and feet and other parts of their body to some kind of observance, but in the meanwhile keep the heart utterly estranged from everything like obedience. They think it enough to have carefully concealed from man what they are doing in the sight of God... Here the principal thing  which the Law requires is wanting. Whence then, this gross stupidity, but just because they lose sight of the Lawgiver, and form an idea of righteousness in accordance with their own disposition? Against this Paul strenuously protests, when he declares that the "law is spiritual"    (Rom. 7:14); intimating that it not only demands the homage of the soul, and mind, and will, but requires an angelic purity, which, purified from all filthiness of the flesh, savours only of the Spirit." - The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book II, Ch. 8 para.6.

Additionally, Calvin's commentary on Matthew 5:28-30 is exceptionally informative, as well:

MATTHEW 5:27-30
27. You have heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not commit adultery. 28. But I say to you, That whoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29. And if thy right eye shall be a stumbling block405 to thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is better for thee that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell. 30. And if thy right hand shall be a hindrance to thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is better that one of thy members perish, and that thy whole body be not thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:27Thou shalt not commit adultery. Christ proceeds with his subject, and shows, that the law of God not only has authority over the life, in a political view, to form the outward manners, but that it requires pure and holy affections of the heart. We must remember what I have already stated, that though Christ quotes the very words of the law, it is the gross and false meaning, which had been put upon it by dishonest interpreters, that he blames. He has already told us, that he did not come as a new Legislator, but as the faithful expounder of a law which had been already given. It might be objected that, through long practice, that interpretation had grown old. Christ expressly admits this, but meets it by saying, that the antiquity of an error ought not to be allowed to plead in its favor.

28. Whoever shall look upon a woman. The design of Christ was to condemn generally the lust of the flesh. He says, that not only those who have seduced their neighbors’ wives, but those who have polluted their eyes by an immodest look, are adulterers before God. This is a synec-doche:406 for not only the eyes, but even the concealed flames of the heart, render men guilty of adultery. Accordingly, Paul makes chastity (1 Corinthians 7:34) to consist both in body and in mind. But Christ reckoned it enough to refute the gross mistake which was prevalent: for they thought that it was only necessary to guard against outward adultery. As it is generally by the wantonness of the eyes that temptations are presented to the mind, and as lust enters, as it were, by that door, Christ used this mode of speaking, when he wished to condemn lust: which is evident from the expression, to lust after her.This teaches us also, that not only those who form a deliberate purpose of fornication, but those who admit any polluted thoughts, are reckoned adulterers before God. The hypocrisy of the Papists, therefore, is too gross and stupid, when they affirm that lust is not a sin, until it gain the full consent of the heart. But we need not wonder, that they make sin to be so small a matter: for those who ascribe righteousness to the merit of works must be very dull and stupid in judging of their sins.

29. If thy right eye shall be a stumbling-block to thee. It might be thought that, considering the weakness of the flesh and of nature, Christ pressed too severely on men, and therefore he anticipates all such complaints. The general meaning is, that however difficult, or severe, or troublesome, or harsh, any commandment of God may be, yet no excuse ought to be pleaded on those grounds, because the justice of God ought to stand higher in our estimation, than all that we reckon most precious and valuable. “You have no right to object to me, that you can scarcely turn your eyes in any direction, without being suddenly drawn away by some temptation: for you ought rather to part with your eyes, than to depart from the commandments of God.” And yet Christ does not mean, that we must mutilate our body, in order to obey God: but as all would readily wish, that they should not be restrained from the free use of their senses, Christ employs an exaggerated form of speech to show, that whatever hinders us from yielding that obedience to God which he requires in his law, ought to be cut off. And he does so expressly, because men allow themselves too much liberty in that respect. If the mind were pure, the eyes and hands would be obedient to it; for it is certain, that they have no movement of their own. But here we are deeply to blame. We are so far from being as careful as we ought to be, to avoid allurements, that we rather provoke our senses to wickedness by allowing them unbounded liberty.