Archive for October, 2009

We are, everyone of us, corrupt

I was doing some research the other day and, as a result, was led to Leviticus 15 as a reference. Someone I was reading was using this particular chapter as proof that a certain things would be sin because of the examples of uncleanness listed in this chapter. And many of these things are simply natural functions of a person’s body!

What I think Leviticus, in general, is showing us is that we human beings are truly and really broken and corrupt creations, at least compared to what we were originally designed to be. The commandments God gave Israel concerning so many things that God considered unclean, and yet were purely normal bodily functions, shows us how very unclean and unholy we human beings are to God. We are far, far removed from attaining what we once were. But, we will attain this perfection when Christ returns!

This makes it so incredibly amazing that Christ Jesus would lower himself to associate Himself not only with us, but as one of us!!

Thank you Lord Jesus! What a sacrifice to come and dwell with those whom you can barely stand to tolerate from your place high in Heaven! But, as John Stott says, “We would be mistaken to think that the Son was coerced or that He was begging God by dint of His suffering. No, the plan of salvation was agreed upon and put into motion by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Can an unbeliever in God or Christ Jesus be tempted?

 If so, how? James clearly states that no man is ever tempted by God. Instead, as the Total Depravity adherents will tell you, we are tempted by our own lusts and selfish desires. That is not only scriptural, but also self-evident in any strata of human life. People today are praised for their “self-determination” even when the end result has nothing to do with the good of others. Good may come of their work or their purposes, but that is usually in spite of the intent that drives these self-made people.

 On the other hand, if a person who is not “born again” is totally depraved then he or she would, logically, never resist doing something that hurt others if it profited them. There would be no conscience to guide or reprimand what the natural and narcissistic want. Indeed, everyone would be living in a truly “dog eat dog” kind of world where “survival of the fittest” wasn’t just a philosophy, but a fact of daily life.

 Unlike animals, humans have the image of God implanted in their very nature. That is the only explanation for things like good-hearted and benevolent atheists, agnostics, or even deists (the majority of our founding fathers). Even in the most heathen of peoples, there is always a sense of right and wrong, even if their sense of it is markedly different than that of our culture. These folk, such as the cannibalistic tribes of the Pacific islands or the headhunters of South America, are depraved indeed, but it is primarily because they have no written laws or codes, and thus have only their individual consciences to compete with the day to day survival demands and peer pressures of the group they live with and know.
 
At the same time, humans have a propensity for cruelty far beyond that of any animal and genocide is a historical and present day fact. We wonder how a Hutu could kill a Tutsi, or vice versa, so cold bloodedly? How the Khmer Rouge could massacre so many millions of their countrymen? People claiming to be Christians participated in the Rwandan genocides. Clergy as well as laymen were witnessed killing other people from a tribe that wasn’t their own. I needn’t mention Hitler’s Holocaust, Stalin or Mao Tse Tsung’s purges, either, to make my point.

However, a person who wants to be good and wants to do what is right, can be found in any nation or location in the world. Persons who do not even know the gospel or the name of Jesus Christ have been known to be extraordinarily good people. Think of Gandhi as one example. Are, or were, they righteous? No, but neither are any of us outside of Christ.

On the other hand we have people who claim to be believers and who purport to be truly holy and righteous, because they have been perfected. Yet we know that any believer is still very capable of doing wrong and being evil. Else, there would be no reason for temptation or the flesh would indeed no longer be weak. Does this make believers depraved? I doubt anyone who believes in spiritual rebirth would agree. Rather, while all humans, saved or not, have a propensity toward evil, those who are in Christ Jesus have a motivation (hope) and a new spirit that compels them to do the right things. Paul makes it clear, I believe, that what actually changes in a new born Christian, is their mindset. Read Romans 8 and tell me if you don’t see that emphasis. Paul also points this out here:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.“ (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Being holy in Christ Jesus is a mindset that wars against our natural inclinations:

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17 ESV)

This mindset may sometimes appear to be simply an application of willpower, but our hearts will follow the Spirit when push comes to shove. This is where I believe the difference between a converted person and a “good” unconverted person can be seen for what they are. Very few people are willing to be “good” if it means they may lose their lives or property for it.

And yet, we have people throughout history who burned themselves to protest war, starved themselves for a political cause, sacrificed their life for another, and so on. If mankind was completely depraved we would not have what appear to be examples of unconverted people outdoing, in many cases, the works of so-called believers.

Nevertheless, when people devote their lives for the sake of eternal souls and the name of Christ, it completely outweighs any other form of sacrifice. What appears to be very commendable actions, if they do not have eternal significance, they are worthless.

Augustine developed the view of Total Depravity from his conviction that every person is born with ‘original sin” and is thus guilty of sin from birth. From this came the view that even innocent babies were hell-bound (I hate the term “hell” because it is NOT where people who refuse God’s grace will end up – hell and death will be destroyed according to scripture Rev. 20:14), which is antithetical to Jesus’ view of children in Mark 10:13-16.

I would like to remind anyone reading this, that the “Fall” was caused by disobedience before the “Fall” itself! And the true effect of this “Fall” was the acquisition of the ability to know both “good and evil”. Only then were Adam and Eve condemned by their awakened consciences. This did not make them depraved, but added the propensity for sin that did not exist beforehand.  If mankind from that point was totally depraved, then how do we account for the righteous people of the Old Testament?

Was Noah depraved? Abraham? How about Moses? Which leads to the question: were they converted somehow? Samson, a man dedicated to God from before his conception and who was empowered by the Spirit of God, was a very depraved person in many ways. But, would God have used a totally depraved person to be the leading warrior for his chosen people?

This is where both concepts of Christian Perfectionism and Total Depravity fall apart, I believe. If man, in this present life could be made perfect, then the Adamic nature would have to be removed, as is claimed. However, the fact that these so-called “perfectly holy” Christians still have a propensity to sin (or at least can sin by their own will) belies the idea that they have had this fallen nature excised. Anyone who would have the nature of Adam removed would also lose the knowledge of evil. Only then would a person become truly pure and only good.  And, as a result they would be truly eternally secure because they would be unable to sin, not even knowing what that is.

So, are we humans “Totally Depraved”? Absolutely not, but neither can we be “Totally Holy” outside of Christ’s righteousness. We must depend on His righteousness, because we are, all of us, depraved, yet not completely.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

(2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)

For it is God who works in you….

Yesterday, just another ordinary day of leaving work after another routine eight hours, I was praying as I walked to the train. Still struggling with what God wants me to do with the life I have left here on earth.

When I got down to the train stop and while I was standing there, waiting for the next train, a young Hispanic fellow walks up to me and asks “Do you have a piece of gum you could spare?”

Now, I have been asked a lot of things, mostly for change, while standing at the train stop, but never this. Fortunately for him I have a small addiction to chewing gum and was able to give him a piece. What was strange was how he acted after I had kindly given him a piece of gum.

He looked at me quizzically and asked, “You’re a good man aren’t you? I can tell. You have this…this…thing about you.”

I answered, “Well, I don’t know about all that, but I am trying to live right.”

He continued to look at me strangely and said, “Do you believe in God?”

“Of course!” I answered and again he looked at me very oddly. Then he says, “I know you! I’ve seen you before!”

Now, I didn’t know what to say, since he looked vaguely familiar to me, but certainly not in a really familiar way. I thought possibly he’d been in one of my chapel services at the jail, but I didn’t want to insinuate that.

Now, granted, he’d had a few beers, but it was just uncanny how he kept coming back to me. Soon, he says, “Are you a cop?” To which I replied, “No!” and laughed.

I then asked him what his name was. He looked at me like I had accused him of something.  He shook his head and said, looking up, “What are you trying to tell me, God?” continuing with something like, “I don’t know why God won’t leave me alone. That’s why I drink, man, to get away from Him.”

I told him, “You can’t run away from God! I tried it and now I am His.”

Just at this time, the train arrived and I followed him on board.

He went off into a corner by the bike rack, his face turned from me, shaking his head. I hung around just long enough to give him a business card I use to invite folk to church. It includes my name and I told him to look me up if he wanted to talk. He still wouldn’t tell me his name, so I felt led to leave him alone and went up to the upper section of the light rail car. I found a seat toward the back and sat down. I was pondering what I should do, but felt I should just leave things to God at this point.

About five minutes later, I noticed he had taken a seat right behind me and was listening to some tunes on an MP3 player. He smiled and said “You like Pink Floyd, man? ‘Wish You Were Here’?” I said, “Yeah, I used to like them a lot” and asked him which song he was listening to right then. Rather incredulously, he says, “ ‘Wish You Were Here’, man!” I laughed and about that time the train started moving rather quickly and he hit his face on a hand rail that rose from the back of the seat row I was in. I suggested he move up beside me to avoid that happening again.

He complied and continued to listen to his music. Yet, he continued to look up at me with a mixture of profound sadness and then joy. I finally heard him say, “I hurt, man. I hurt a lot.” All I could think to say at that moment was, “I know man, I know.”

Anyway, as he talked, on and off, he alluded to the fact that he knew the Bible and that the world was soon coming to an end. I agreed and we spoke a bit about that. Then he asked, “Aren’t you scared?”

I immediately said “Not at all!” and I am not usually that confident about it, believe me.

Shortly afterwards, he said, “Faith without works is dead!” and then said he needed to get off the train now. I let him go, of course, and told him to keep looking because you cannot find what’s lost unless you look for it. Then, he seems to have figured out where he’d seen me before and said, “You and your analogies! I know where I’ve seen you before!”  But refused to tell me where.

Nevertheless, he continued to talk about how God wouldn’t leave him alone. I told him that God loved him and wanted to rescue him from this present world. He replied, “I know that, man.” The he says, “You know this is the second go around for the world? God destroyed the first one with the flood.”

I agreed that this was so and said, “God purged the earth with a ‘baptism” of water. A lot of people think baptism is only symbolic, but God uses water to clean things up and quoted John 3:5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

He smiled and said, “I know that. Baptism does matter.” 

I felt led to show him Ezekiel 18:21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”

Suddenly he decided it was time to get off and we exchanged a few firm, friendly handshakes. I told him something encouraging (I hope) and off he went.

Shortly after he’d gotten off, the lady behind me said “I was praying for you.”

I turned around and said, “Why thank you! It’s pretty hard to talk to a person who’s been drinking, but I tried.” to which she replied, “At least you seized the opportunity. In season and out of season, you know?”

I then introduced myself and she did to me. Hers was the next stop, but I think we were both very blessed. I know I surely was. I felt that God had directed the whole thing from start to finish. Now, granted, I had a short period there where I almost got full of myself, picturing myself as some sort of “holy man”, but thank the Lord, that feeling was easily put down by the Spirit of God. I can see, though, how powerfully attractive this sense of “holiness” could be and why some go off on their own, drawing others after them, thinking they are “called’.

Fortunately, I have been (without knowing why) studying the old time “holiness” movers and shakers and have come to feel that some of them fell into the same pit the Pharisees did: “that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith…”

What happened yesterday was not pre-planned. I was not, in my mind, prepared for it in any way. My prayer life hasn’t been what I would like it to be lately. But, I am so heavily influenced by the “holiness” movement that I grew up in, that I always feel I have to work at this salvation, to somehow qualify to be used by God. God is showing me that I am just a lowly vessel that He can choose, or not choose, to use for His purposes and His glory. I just need to surrender myself to Him and always be ready to follow His lead, not mine.

I mean, really…. I didn’t know which train to catch that day or even when I should leave work. The train I caught was 20 minutes earlier than my usual one. I just happened to have gum on me. I just happened to sit in front of a fellow believer who prayed for me while I tried to minister to that man.

There are no coincidences in a Christian’s life! Praise God!