The Kindle version of Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God is only $1.99 today, and it’s worth getting. (You don't need a Kindle to read it.) It’s an in-depth biblical defense of the wisdom model for making decisions (as opposed to the model where we learn to hear special messages from God as to what we should do in any given situation).
John Piper describes this approach in his sermon on Romans 12:1–2, the passage that instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
If you want to know the future details of God’s will of decree, you don’t want a renewed mind, you want a crystal ball. This is not called transformation and obedience; it’s called divination, soothsaying….
The Bible does not tell you which person to marry, or which car to drive, or whether to own a home, where you take your vacation, what cell phone plan to buy, or which brand of orange juice to drink. Or a thousand other choices you must make.
What is necessary is that we have a renewed mind, that is so shaped and so governed by the revealed will of God in the Bible, that we see and assess all relevant factors with the mind of Christ, and discern what God is calling us to do. This is very different from constantly trying to hear God’s voice saying do this and do that. People who try to lead their lives by hearing voices are not in sync with Romans 12:2.
There is a world of difference between praying and laboring for a renewed mind that discerns how to apply God’s Word, on the one hand, and the habit of asking God to give you new revelation of what to do, on the other hand. Divination does not require transformation. God’s aim is a new mind, a new way of thinking and judging, not just new information. His aim is that we be transformed, sanctified, freed by the truth of his revealed Word (John 8:32; 17:17). So the second stage of God’s will of command is the discerning application of the Scriptures to new situations in life by means of a renewed mind.
If you’re unfamiliar with this understanding of decision making, I recommend starting with Greg’s “Does God Whisper?” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
This week’s challenge is about salvation by faith:
A standard part of “becoming a Christian” is “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” There are a few choice scriptures which Christians use when explaining how people are saved.
John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV): “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
It’s the standard Christian dogma that people are saved simply by believing in Jesus and accepting His gift of forgiveness. However, Jesus Himself refutes this view in Matthew.
Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
So, Christians must either adopt a non-standard dogma, or admit that their belief system is wrong. This seeming contradiction within the Bible stands above others simply because it’s at the very core of the religion. Any intellectual within the religion must disbelieve the church’s teachings in order to preserve the church’s religion.
How would you explain this alleged contradiction? Give us your explanation in the comments below, and check back here on Thursday to hear Tim’s answer to this challenge.
Here’s John Piper’s take on the common objection that Jesus’ demands for love and allegiance (such as, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”) are egomaniacal:
Premise #1: Love desires and works and is willing to suffer to enthrall the beloved with the fullest and longest happiness….
Premise #2: Being eternally enthralled with Jesus as the decisive revelation of God is the fullest and longest happiness in the universe….
Conclusion: Therefore, when Jesus tells us that we must love him—treasure him, be satisfied in him—above all others, he is loving us….
Here is the end of the matter: God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is not the act of a needy ego, but an act of infinite giving. The reason God seeks our supreme praise, or that Jesus seeks our supreme love, is not because he’s needy and won’t be fully God until he gets it, but because we are needy and won’t be fully happy until we give it.
This is not arrogance. This is grace.
This is not egomania. This is love.
And the very heart of the Christian gospel is that this is what Christ died to achieve—our full and everlasting enjoyment of the greatness of God.
Read or listen to the rest of Piper’s message (and for more on the objection that God is a selfish egomaniac, see here and here).
It’s important to note that usually the person making this objection is imagining how he would react if a fallen human being spoke as Jesus did. Of course any fallen human being who demanded this kind of allegiance would repulse us! But such a person repulses us precisely because he is fallen and unworthy of what he’s demanding. To begin with the assumption that Jesus is a fallen human being who is unworthy of His demands, and then to use the resulting repulsion to prove that Jesus is a fallen human being, is to engage in circular reasoning.
If one wants to evaluate the character of the Jesus of the Bible (and thus, the morality of Christian theology), then one must evaluate theJesus of the Bible. Because of this, the question to consider is not, What would I think of a guy who demanded my love and obedience? That scenario is simply not analogous to the Christian view of Jesus; therefore, it could never lead anyone to a proper conclusion on the morality of the Christian view of Jesus. If one wants to debate the propriety of Christianity’s Jesus demanding our love, the precise question to debate is, If Jesus is God—our sovereign Creator—and is morally perfect and blindingly good and loving, then is it wrong for Him to call us to love Him above all others?
The question of the so-called Canaanite “genocide” is a difficult one to answer. It's difficult to answer for a few reasons. First, there is no sound bite response. In fact, I have a 50-minute talk devoted to addressing this one subject, and still much more could be said. Second, any adequate response requires laying out the historical and theological context. However, many who raise the challenge are biblically illiterate and have no interest in even attempting to understand the context. Third, any rational response may not be emotionally satisfying. There is something deeply disturbing about these accounts, and the apologist can’t just wave a magic wand to make it go away. Even though a response may not be emotionally satisfying, that doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonable response to the challenge.
Rather than rehearse my response to this challenge, I want to make an observation about the challenge. Many atheists have cited the killing of the Canaanites in the Old Testament to charge God with being a genocidal monster. Christians have rightly pointed out that the conquest of the land of Canaan was an act of judgment on a very wicked society. In fact, the Canaanites engaged in idolatry, incest, temple prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, child sacrifice, witchcraft, and sorcery (Lev. 18:20-30). For instance, the Canaanites worshiped the underworld god Molech. Molech was represented as an upright, bull-headed brass idol with a human body. The Canaanite people would heat the idol to hundreds of degrees and then place one of their children in its glowing hot arms. The child would burn to death. So this was judgment, not genocide.
Despite the horrors the Canaanites were committing, many atheists complain that God was immoral for stopping them. Yet, the most common challenge raised against the existence of God is the problem of evil. If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world? Why doesn’t God do something about the wickedness in the world? Why doesn’t God intervene?
At this point, there is a obvious inconsistency. They say, “God must not exist since He doesn’t intervene to stop wicked people.” But then when He does intervene in history to punish the wicked, they call Him a moral monster. The atheist cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, the atheist will complain about God because He is doesn’t intervene to stop evil in the world—the problem of evil. On the other hand, he complains about God because He intervenes to stop evil in the world—the killing of the Canaanites. I’m sorry, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Here is a short clip where I walk through this observation.
As the church continues to face cultural challenges from outside the church, we must strengthen our views of God’s Word within the church. Our culture is increasingly and brazenly running counter to the wisdom of the Word, and one of the church’s tasks is to help our people stand confidently and courageously in the face of such confrontations. Yes, make no mistake, we are in a war as the Apostle says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
However, simple appeals to the authority of Scripture or mere assertions the Bible is God’s Word are inadequate for the church in this day and age. We must help our people, and especially our young people, understand WHY the Bible is authoritative. Thus, apologetic arguments for the reliability of the biblical text, the historicity of its claims, and its divine origins are vital. But some leaders in the church think such an approach is not the best way forward for the church. Instead they suggest we focus on the role of Scripture in our communities and ground its authority in its ability to accomplish Kingdom work.
However, these activities are neither necessary nor sufficient to ground Scripture’s authority. Do the positive actions of the church confer authority on Scripture? No more than the positive actions of Hindus confer authority on the Bhagavad Gita or positive actions of Muslims confer authority on the Qur’an. Furthermore, if the efforts of the Christian church were wholly impotent in the renewal of men and the world, would the authority of Scripture be diminished? Absolutely not. In fact, this is an important theme in the Old Testament narrative. Israel’s history is fraught with accounts of the nation turning its back on God’s Word, yet the Word of the Lord remains. And this is precisely the prophet’s claim: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Such attempts to ground the authority of Scripture in its functions fail to deal with the ontological status of Scripture itself. What something is is separate and distinct from what it does. Certainly God’s authority is displayed in His kingdom work through the church, but the functions of the church do not constitute that authority. Here is the central question we must ask: What is the status of Scripture as God’s Word? As Christians, we cannot ignore the rich reservoir of biblical passages that speak of the Bible itself. The self-testimony of Scripture and Jesus’ view of Scripture shed clear light on the source of the Bible’s authority. Our understanding of Scripture can certainly be aided by the narratival character of Scripture and discussions on how it forms the body of Christ, but we cannot avoid the discussion of the authority of Scripture grounded in the nature of Scripture.
[In his book Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing,] Peter Kreeft proposes a thought experiment in order to assist believers in determining [their] motives. What would we say if God offered us whatever we most wanted in life? What would we take if, whatever it was, it was ours for the asking? Would it be wealth? Power? Honor? How about peace of mind? But while you are thinking it over, God goes on to explain that there is only one thing you may not choose. You will never see His face.
What would our response be to this declaration? Would you be secretly satisfied to take one of the many other treasures, or would you be emotionally crushed by the last condition? Where do your true desires lie? Do you desire God and His Kingdom above all else? Such an experiment might help to provide an answer to the question of our secret desires and our ultimate motivation.
James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” This isn’t to say that when we don’t receive a particular thing we’ve asked for, the explanation is always wrong motives (see 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 for an example of where this was not the case), but it does serve as a good reminder about prayer.
Here’s a question to consider as you pray: Are your prayers oriented toward God and His Kingdom? Is that thing you’re praying for a means by which you may know, love, and serve God Himself, or is God merely the means you’re using to get that thing?
By considering this question, you may find you’re praying for something you shouldn’t be asking for. But there’s another possible—and far more exciting—outcome: you might simply increase your awareness of how the good things of this world exist for the glory of God.
For example, maybe you’ve been praying for a spouse without having thought through how marriage is a picture of the union of Christ with His church, how when a husband loves his wife “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” when he “loves his own wife even as himself,” and when the wife “respects her husband,” together their relationship shows their neighbors who Christ is.
Or perhaps you’re praying about your need for a car, and as you consider the above question, you think of the many ways you will use that car to serve your neighbor and care for your family, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
If we always considered our prayer requests this way, I think it would transform not only what we ask for, but also how we see everything we’re given.
Andy Bannister explains that, contrary to Christopher Hitchens’s claim, religion isn’t what poisons everything. The problem is much deeper, more pervasive, and far more personal.
The problem is us. We poison everything. And, as it happens, that is precisely why we need Jesus. Far from contradicting Christianity, the existence of sin in the world (even in the church) confirms this central truth of Christianity. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “if we say that we have no sin, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
At root, the objection that “Christians are hypocrites” comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. It is widely believed (sadly, even by some who claim to be Christians) that Christianity is mainly about becoming a good person, and that being a good person is the way to heaven. This belief only glorifies the churchgoer, not God, for such a person is his only savior. It also inevitably leads to disillusionment and cynicism because it is false. No one is sinless, and anyone who expects otherwise of Christians will be let down sooner or later.
Christians, we openly recognize our sinfulness, so when someone accuses the church of housing sinners, that’s an opportunity to explain that our sin is the very reason why we go to church. We’re Christians because we know we sin. A Christian’s sin doesn’t contradict Christianity; it confirms it. It’s only more proof that we all need Jesus to take our sin and give us His righteousness. You can turn this objection on its head by explaining that Christianity is all about Jesus’ work for us, not about our work to become good enough to eliminate our need for Him.
God saved us “to the praise of the glory of His grace,” not the praise of our own righteousness, so don’t hide your sin. Be open about your failures and need for forgiveness, because that is how people will see and glorify Jesus’ grace.
Tim Barnett wrote this month’s Solid Ground to help you prepare for conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He says the best thing you can do is to focus on the most important question:
A host of issues can get you sidetracked with Jehovah’s Witnesses if you’re not careful—soul sleep, celebrating birthdays or Christmas, blood transfusions, Heaven, Hell, war, even the Holy Spirit. Don’t go there. None of these are the most important issue. The goal of your conversation is to answer only one question: Who is Jesus? How you answer this question changes everything.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the archangel Michael was the very first being in the universe created by Jehovah-God. Michael was then used by God to create the rest of the universe. Later, at the appointed time, Michael was born to the virgin Mary as a human being, thus ceasing to be an angel. Then after His spiritual resurrection, Jesus resumes His identity as Michael. That is the Jehovah’s Witness answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” Jesus, is the archangel Michael incarnate….
The salvation of anyone, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, depends on an accurate understanding of and belief in God the Son. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). Here Jesus is claiming to be the “I AM” recorded in Isa. 43. The irony is that Isa. 43 is the chapter where Jehovah’s Witnesses derive their name. Isaiah writes, “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He” (Isa. 43:10).
Jehovah says His true witnesses will believe of Him that “I am He.” Yet, Jesus says true believers must believe of Him that “I am He.” In fact, this claim, coupled with Jn. 8:58 (“…before Abraham was, I am”), was the reason the Jews tried to stone Jesus (Jn. 8:59). His point was clear: Rejecting Jesus’ deity is rejecting salvation itself. That’s why our question, “Who is Jesus?” is the only question we should focus on.
Tim goes on to explain how a simple comparison between Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 can help you demonstrate to your Jehovah’s Witness friend that Jesus is Jehovah. Read the rest of this month’s Solid Ground here.