Monday, April 29, 2013

The Socially Acceptable Sin

---By Jason Todd

It’s everywhere in our society and churches, yet almost never talked about.

Most Christians today like to say that all sins are “equal” in the eyes of God, that there is no scale of less or worse sins, or that a white lie or a homicide alike would have been enough to require Christ to die on the cross. We say this in theory, but in practice, we know that a white lie won’t get you kicked off the church leadership team. And a homicide likely will.

In practice, there are some sins that are socially acceptable, even in the Church. There’s one sin in particular that has pervaded our society and churches so silently we hardly give it a second thought, and that is the constant hunt for more over what is enough. Or, in an uglier terminology, what is known as gluttony.

When I think about gluttony, I think about my desire to shove a dozen donuts into my mouth and wash them down with chocolate milk. Or perhaps it’s my tendency to mindlessly feed chips to a stomach that’s no longer hungry. Many of us can look at the sin of gluttony and think, “That’s not really my struggle.” Or, we think, “What’s the big deal?” After all, most congregations have compulsive over-eaters among them, and they’re not considered “less spiritual” or “backslidden” for it.

But gluttony has never been merely an addiction to food. And if we look at it in its original definition and context, gluttony becomes far closer to home than we’d like to admit.

At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess.

At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need. And in America, where upsizing has always been part of the American dream, it’s often difficult to distinguish what is hard-earned achievement and what is indulgent excess. In this sense, even the most athletic and toned among us can be gluttons. Any of us can be.

All desire for excess stems from a lack of satisfaction. I’m not satisfied with my portion—be it the portion on my plate, in the marriage bed, or in my bank account. Because I’m not satisfied with my portion, I then seek a greater portion. But because every portion is a finite part of a finite whole, I am constantly chasing an excess that can never satisfy.

This is the story of Genesis 3. What was the sin in the Garden of Eden if not a desire for excess? Adam and Eve were given beautiful sights and beautiful tastes in the absence of shame, but what made the garden a paradise was not any of this. It was a paradise because God walked in the cool of the day with them. And yet, Adam and Eve’s downfall was because they deemed even this as not enough. They weren’t content with their portion of paradise, and they reached out—to disastrous consequence—for more.

Like them, we are ravenous beings. We embody bottomless cravings that constantly paw at the next attractive thing. Our appetites are as strong as death, Proverbs 27:20 tells us. We are always on the move for the next thing that can satisfy and slake our restless thirst. This endless pull is the engine of gluttony. It propels our souls ever toward excess.

And yet, the desire for “more” is not inherently bad, but it is often misdirected. What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness. Our craving souls can turn and become enthralled by a goodness that is found in the presence of an all-glorious God. There is only one infinite source of satisfaction that can satisfy our bottomless cravings.

A taste of His supreme grace is enough to lure an appetite long held prisoner to lesser portions. If stolen water is sweet, lavished grace is sweeter.

And here’s a strange side effect: The more we drink deeply of the endless love of an infinite God, the more our tastes will be changed. The deep bright marrow of grace will drip down into the restless souls of the ever-hungry.

The desire for “more” is not inherently bad, but it is often misdirected. What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness.

In pursuit of lesser portions, our tastes have dulled. We’ve become numb to our real hungers, filling them with lesser fare. But when we return to the source, we taste anew.

Psalm 34:8 challenges us to see the difference for ourselves: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I think Paul understood this verse when he told the people at Lystra that God gives food and gladness so that our hearts would turn from vain things and turn to the ultimate satisfaction of who God is (Acts 14:15-17).

Consequently, if God has ordained that His goodness can be tasted and seen (and, I would submit, heard, smelled and touched), this has at least two direct implications. First, it means that every finite pleasure and satisfaction is meant to point us toward the infinite pleasure and satisfaction of God. My admiration for a sunset, then, need not stop at that horizon, rather it can curve upward into praise and gratitude. Second, it means that if our desire for "more" is misplaced, then certainly it can be redirected to something good as well.

Is the desire for excess sinful? It depends on whether the soul is addicted to a finite excess or an infinite excess. Do we ever think of gorging on God? Do we relish the chance to spend a few more minutes in prayer, hidden away from the world for just one more taste of the divine? When was the last time we lingered long over the pages of an open Bible because we just couldn’t stop admiring the honeyed flavor of an ancient truth? If the Bible is the story of the only infinite good, why do we spend so much of our lives at lesser tables?

We Christians have so tamed our enjoyment in God that we cannot fathom what such thrill-seeking would even look like. Feasting on God is as foreign to most Americans as an empty stomach. Why can’t we fix our souls on the only goodness who can handle our cravings? Why do we chase the more mild flavors of money, food and sex?

If only we would not stifle our gluttonous cravings, but turn them in the right direction. If only we would feast on an infinite God who offers fullness of life, rather than these lesser tables with the far milder flavors of money, sex, food and power.

As George MacDonald put it, “Sometimes I wake and, lo, I have forgot.” Sleep is like a reset button and my hunger is misdirected often. I think I’m hungry for the finite, but I’m really hungry for God. To remember, we need to taste daily, deeply and constantly of the goodness of God. So let us turn together, and feast rightly.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

10 Scriptural Principles on the Nature of Human Government

From J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Baker Academic, 2006):

  1. God is the true sovereign; he ordained all human government for the good of man, whom he made in his image (Ps. 22:28; Rom. 13:1, 3-4; Gen. 1:27).
  2. Although God originally chose only one nation, he desires ultimately to draw all nations into the light of his Word (Isa. 49:6; Rom. 10:12; Rev. 21:23-24).
  3. He disciplines the nations according to their deeds (Jer. 18:7-10; Jer. 5:28-29).
  4. He also disciplines their rulers (Dan. 2:20-21; Jer. 25:12; Dan. 4:27).
  5. In general, disobedience to human government is disobedience to God; indeed, government deserves not only obedience but honor (Rom. 13:1-2, 7).
  6. But there are exceptions: Any governmental edict that contradicts the commands of God must be disobeyed (Acts 5:29; Dan. 3:18; Ex. 1:17, 20-21).
  7. The just purposes of human government include the commendation of good, the punishment of evil, the maintenance of peace, and the protection of the oppressed (1 Pet. 2:13-14; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Isa. 10:1-2).
  8. In pursuance of these purposes, God authorizes human government to use force on his behalf and in grave cases even to take life, though never deliberately to take the life of the innocent (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:3-4).
  9. Yet human government cannot fully or permanently redress wrong, because it cannot uproot sin from the human heart; this can be done only by the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ (Jer. 17:9; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:22-25).
  10. Moreover, the community of redemption is not the state but the church. No matter how much respect is due to the state, the church is never to be identified with it (John 18:33-36; Acts 20:28).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

If Dead Men Don't Rise

Almost 2,000 years ago, a Christian named Paul wrote a letter to a group of people in Corinth, a city in Greece. People in that city had at one time been enthusiastic about the Christian faith, but had then begun to have some second thoughts. They had written a letter to Paul to ask something like, "You told us that this man Jesus died and then came back to life. We're pretty sure you don't actually expect us to believe that a man was dead and then alive again. That must have been some kind of a metaphor or a moral, right?"
But Paul doesn't blink. He says, "Yes, that is exactly what I am saying." In this letter to those Christians he affirms again and again that Jesus really and actually died. Paul is concerned that these people in Corinth are faltering in what they believe about the resurrection and he addresses them in an interesting way. He says, "Okay, so you think that dead people simply cannot come back to life. Well why don't we just take a moment to consider that. Let's consider the implications if that is true." He does this in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.

I find it very interesting that he approaches things in this way. You and I need to think about the implications of what we believe, or what we don't believe, or what we refuse to believe. Sometimes we have these little dangling threads in what we believe and we just haven't considered them properly. What Paul does here is say, "Let's think about what will happen if we say that dead people don't ever come back to life. Let's just ponder that for a few minutes." He begins to tug on that loose thread.

We Worship A Dead Man

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised." If there is no resurrection, then Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead. We worship a dead man. Jesus went to the cross, he died, he was buried, and his body decayed to dust just like everyone else's. Christians are followers of a dead man.
The Christian faith is unique in claiming that its great teacher is not only a man but also God; it is unique in claiming that its great teacher not only died but was resurrected. But if there is no resurrection, suddenly the Christian faith is unique only in a few small points, but really, it is pretty much the same as every other faith. We are people who put our hope in a guru, a spiritual leader, who lived and then died. While he lived he taught us some good lessons and helped us see how to live a good and moral life. But then his time was over and he died and is gone. And now we are left trying to be like him, trying to model ourselves after him so we can be good like he was good.

We Preach an Empty Message

The second consequence flows right out of the first. If there is no resurrection, Christ has not been raised. And, says Paul, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain." If there is no resurrection, Paul has been preaching an empty message. His preaching is useless and a waste of everybody's time. He isn't talking so much about the form of preaching here -- standing in front of a church to explain and apply the Bible -- but the message. If Christ has not been resurrected, then everything he has been preaching to this church is a waste. If you deny the resurrection, you have gutted the Christian faith and the whole Christian message is destroyed.

We Hold An Empty Faith

There is a third consequence that builds on these other two. "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." If Christ has not risen from the dead, our preaching is in vain. And if our preaching is in vain, anything you've learned from it and any way you live differently because of it is a waste of time. This is a necessary conclusion. You can't have it both ways.

Whatever you have done with the message that has come by way of preaching, however you have applied it to your life, is also just a complete waste. You have built your faith upon nonsense, upon something that is impossible, something that didn't actually happen. This is what the Apostle taught these people he loved. “Go ahead and deny that Jesus rose from the dead, but if you do that, you no longer have a faith worth holding to.”

We Misrepresent God

Here is the fourth consequence of refusing to believe that dead men can return to life. Verse 15: "We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised." If we have been teaching that God resurrected Jesus from the dead, and if that did not actually happen, we are misrepresenting God. We are false witnesses.

Paul reminds these people of the message he proclaimed to them right from the time he first met them. He had told them that a matter of first importance, utmost importance, is that Jesus rose from the dead. If this is not true, if God did not actually resurrect Jesus from the dead, then we are telling lies about him. We are telling lies about the Creator of the universe. If we do this, we are directly violating one of the ten commandments which says, "You shall not bear false witness." We are violating the warning of Proverbs 19:5, that "a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape."

We Are Lost In Sin

As he explains the fifth consequences, Paul will repeat his main point and then add to it. "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins." If Christ has not been resurrected, then you and I are still lost in sin.
I can think of two possible reasons why Jesus might have died and stayed that way, why he could have died on the cross but never come back to life.

Maybe Jesus was not actually sinless. Maybe he faced the judgment of God as a sinful man, and God judged him guilty of sin, and his death was that full and final separation from God that he deserved. If this is true he was just like you and me; he was a man who was stained by sin and God was right and just to condemn him and to keep him dead. If he was a sinful person, he would not have been able to pay for his own sin, not to mention for the sin of any other person. Like you and me, he would have been a finite person who had an infinite debt to pay.

There is a second reason Jesus might have died and stayed dead. Maybe he actually was without sin. Maybe he actually did suffer the wrath of God for the sins of other people. But maybe God did not accept his work. Christ offered himself for the sin of other people, but God did not accept that offering. And God displayed that he had rejected what Christ offered by keeping Jesus dead in the grave.
Here is what Paul is saying. If either of these are true, if Jesus was actually sinful and stayed dead or if God rejected his offering and Jesus stayed dead, you and I are still dead in our sin. We still have no Savior who has conquered the death we deserve to die. We are lost. We follow a faith that has no power over sin and death.

We Have No Hope Beyond the Grave

There is another tragic consequence if there is no resurrection. Verse 17 again. "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." If there is no resurrection, then every person who has died trusting in Christ for their salvation experienced a very different reality. Instead of awaking in the presence of Jesus Christ's glory, they just faded into the black and were gone. Or even worse, they believed they were falling asleep to awake in the presence of Jesus but actually they died and found themselves in the torment of hell.

Either way, for all of Christian history God's people have had confidence that for them death is like falling asleep and waking to a far better reality. They have fallen asleep, confident that they will experience the blessing of God. Confident that it is better to be with Christ. If there is no resurrection they have been dead wrong. We have fooled people into believing a lie and all of those people are our victims.

We Are Pitiful

Paul gives one final consequence for denying that Jesus rose from the dead. Verse 19, "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." He ends with a bang. If there is no resurrection, then you and I are not hugely blessed by God, but we are just plain pathetic. We are pitiful. People should pity us for believing something so silly, so hopeless.

I love Paul’s strategy and I love his honesty. And I love his conclusion: If Christ did not rise, we have no business considering ourselves followers of Christ. If he did not rise, the Christian faith is a complete waste.