Here’s a question you may be thinking about after the Oregon murders: Would I lose my salvation if I denied Christ out of fear? Jesse Johnson of Cripplegate responds to this question:
[M]any Christians have denied Jesus when faced with persecution. The most obvious example of this is Peter—he denied Jesus three times, yet Jesus directly told him that he was still a follower of Christ (John 21:19). So on the one hand, the heart of the gospel is a truth worth dying for (as evidenced by Jesus and most of the Apostles), but on the other hand the gospel offers forgiveness even to those who deny Christ.
This is potentially confusing because of 2 Timothy 2:12: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
But the denial in this verse is not talking about the momentary denial like Peter, or like a student scared for his life in the face of a gunman. That denial references the absolute walking away from the faith; apostasy. And in that case, there is no salvation.
This verse seems so drastic, and that is the point. Paul—himself facing martyrdom (4:6)—challenges his readers to persevere. But Paul does not want true believers to lose heart, and so he immediately follows verse 12 with: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).”
There will always be moments where we lose faith, but for those who are in Christ, we should have confidence that while we may lose faith, Jesus may never lose us. Even if we momentarily are gripped by fear, and value our lives more than the life of Christ, Jesus still possesses us, and he cannot deny himself.
Even so, Johnson says, you should say you are a Christian if an answer is demanded of you, even at the risk of death. He explains why you need not worry about whether or not you would be strong enough to do this in the rest of his article.
I was recently asked (by email) what I think of two male Christians with same-sex attraction (SSA) pursuing a platonic relationship together. By “platonic,” the questioner meant that these two men were attracted to one another, but they were not going to engage in sexual activity because they upheld a biblical sexual ethic. Below was my answer.
First of all, I can only imagine how difficult it is for Christians with SSA to develop healthy relationships with others of the same sex. I’m grateful for those I know who are trying to honor Christ in their relationships. They deserve our respect, love, support, and prayer.
My view is that it’s unwise for Christian men with SSA to form that kind of platonic relationship. I can think of at least three quick reasons. First, it will frustrate them. Their relationship will be in constant sexual tension because of their attraction to each other without the possibility of fulfilling those desires. Second, it will create unnecessary risk for sin (either lusting or sexual behavior). The longer you’re in a relationship where both of you are attracted to each other, the more opportunity there is for sinful missteps. Third, it will encourage each other’s same-sex attraction and habituate an unhealthy pattern of thought. Keep in mind, sexual desires towards people of the same sex are described in Romans 1 as “degrading passions” (NASB). That’s because it treats a person of the same sex as a sexual counterpart, which is a violation of the complementarity expressed in Scripture (Gen. 1:27, 28, 2:24, Matt. 19:4-6).
By the way, I would apply the same advice to myself in a similar heterosexual relationship. I would not carry on in a platonic relationship with a woman I’m attracted to (and she attracted to me). It would be unwise. Sure, I can talk to her when I see her, say “hi” here and there, but if we’re attracted to each other, it’s unwise for me (and her) to develop and maintain that kind of platonic relationship.
I’m not saying men with SSA should not form any relationships with other men. It would be better for them to form strong relationships with other men they’re not sexually attracted to.
John Newton found prayer to be difficult, but here’s what gave him hope:
How strange is it, that when I have the fullest convictions that prayer is not only my duty—not only necessary as the appointed means of receiving these supplies, without which I can do nothing, but likewise the greatest honor and privilege to which I can be admitted in the present life—I should still find myself so unwilling to engage in it. However, I think it is not prayer itself that I am weary of, but such prayers as mine. How can it be accounted prayer, when the heart is so little affected—when it is polluted with such a mixture of vile and vain imaginations—when I hardly know what I say myself—but I feel my mind collected one minute, the next, my thoughts are gone to the ends of the earth. If what I express with my lips were written down, and the thoughts which at the same time are passing through my heart were likewise written between the lines, the whole taken together would be such an absurd and incoherent jumble—such a medley of inconsistency, that it might pass for the ravings of a lunatic. When he points out to me the wildness of this jargon, and asks, is this a prayer fit to be presented to the holy heart-searching God? I am at a loss what to answer, till it is given to me to recollect that I am not under the law, but under grace—that my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus. The poorer and viler I am in myself, so much the more is the power and riches of his grace magnified in my behalf. Therefore I must, and, the Lord being my helper, I will pray on, and admire his condescension and love, that he can and does take notice of such a creature…. (Quoted in Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ—the best book I’ve read this year.)
Thank goodness “my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus.” May the difficulty you have praying today remind you of the riches of Christ’s grace and love!
Here’s a charge I hear surprisingly often. From John Loftus in God or Godless?:
Child sacrifice was commanded of the Israelites by Yahweh, the biblical God. In Exodus 22:29–30 we read:
You shall not delay to offer from the fulness [sic] of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (RSV)
The context of this passage concerns offerings and sacrifices, and it says God requires firstborn sons to be literally sacrificed to him. Later on we find Yahweh admitting he commanded this in Ezekiel 20:25-26, where he purportedly said:
Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD [Yahweh]. (RSV)
I’ll take those two passages one at a time, and then I’ll quote a passage that should definitively put an end to the idea that God required child sacrifice.
“Every Firstborn of My Sons I Redeem”
First, Exodus 22:29-30. In order to understand what is meant by “give to me” in reference to firstborn sons, we need to look earlier in the book of Exodus where God gives the specifics of how this is to be done, for Exodus 22:29-30 only addresses when the command is to be carried out; it doesn’t contain the instructions on how to do it (and contrary to Loftus, these verses aren’t anywhere near a section devoted to sacrifices). For the instructions, we need to go back to Exodus 13:12-13:
“[Y]ou shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord. But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
I don’t know how that could be clearer (and it’s repeated again in Exodus 34:20: “You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons”). They are to sacrifice the animals, but redeem the sons. It helps to understand why God commanded this, which is explained in the verses immediately following, Exodus 13:14-15:
“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’”
These verses tie the firstborn-son command to God’s rescue of the Israelites in the Exodus. God was merciful to the firstborn of the Israelites by not destroying them along with the firstborn of the Egyptians, and as a result, now they all belong to Him. Exodus 13:1-2, the introduction to this chapter, explains:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”
And just as God redeemed His sons from the death of the firstborn, so the Israelites are to redeem their sons. Chapter 13 sets all of this up immediately after the Israelites begin the Exodus. Child sacrifice fits neither with the specifics of these instructions, nor with the practice’s overall purpose of serving as a continual visual reminder of God’s redemption of the firstborn in the Exodus. If the Israelites had killed their firstborn, they would have been identifying their sons with the Egyptian firstborn who were killed under God’s judgment. That would obviously go against God’s stated purpose for commanding this in the first place.
God Gave Them Over to Statutes of Death
Now let’s look at the Ezekiel verses. They come at the end of a passage of judgment by God against Judah that recounts their rebellion even as far back as the 40 years in the wilderness. Here are excerpts to give verses 20:25-26 more context, in the more literal NASB:
I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live…. But the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live…. So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. Also I swore to them in that wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them among the lands, because they had not observed My ordinances, but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers. I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live; and I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire so that I might make them desolate, in order that they might know that I am the Lord….
Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and play the harlot after their detestable things? When you offer your gifts, when you cause your sons to pass through the fire, you are defiling yourselves with all your idols to this day.
The first thing to note here is that God says they defile themselves when they burn their children. God is against it and “pronounced them unclean” because of it. We also see that God first gave them statutes “by which, if a man observes them, he will live.” This is what God wanted for them—life. But they rejected those statutes, returning to idols; and attached to those idols were statutes of death, by which they defiled themselves. They would not have statutes of life? Then, God says, here are your idols’ statues of death. God gave them over to these statutes of death so He could judge them for their evil through their own actions, showing that He is Lord and judgment awaits those who reject His life-giving commands. Romans 1:18-29 gives some insight into this idea:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures….
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice….
The “giving over” of cultures to do evil is part of God’s judgment. Just as God did not command the people of Romans 1 to murder, so He did not command the Israelites to burn their children in the fire. But He gave both over to the evil they desired so that “they might know that He is the Lord” through His judgment of that evil. Since His judgment proves He is against that evil, ironically, the Ezekiel passage is merely more evidence of God’s hatred of child sacrifice.
“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
“Whatever I command you [specifically, in this context, in how to properly worship God], you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it [i.e., by following the examples of the other nations’ worship practices].”
This passage is the definitive response to those who claim God required the Israelites to engage in child sacrifice, because it closes a possible loophole: Some atheists argue that the only problem God had with the Israelites sacrificing their children was that they burned them to other gods; but here, the command specifically says they “shall not behave thus toward the Lord.” They’re not to serve their God the way the nations serve their gods, particularly not in this way. Why? Because, the text says, burning sons and daughters in the fire is an “abominable act which the Lord hates”—not merely when it’s done for other gods, but when it’s done toward the Lord. When the text says, “Every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods,” it’s the actsthemselves that are specifically being condemned.
In other words, the Israelites are not to learn how to worship Yahweh by watching how other nations worship their gods because the nations worship their gods with abominable acts the Lord hates. Further, by saying, “For they even burn their sons and daughters,” the act of ritual child sacrifice is cited here as being the ultimate example of an abominable act.
Loftus claims Ezekiel, in the sixth-century passage cited above (nearly a thousand years after Moses), tried to rationalize the Torah’s command to sacrifice the firstborn because “in his time [he] had come to realize that child sacrifice was repugnant.” But we don’t need to wait for the sixth century. We don’t even need to go beyond Moses and the Torah. Before the Israelites even entered the Promised Land, they were vehemently warned against sacrificing their sons and daughters to Yahweh.
If you doubt whether Alan Chambers has abandoned the biblical view of sex, homosexuality, and marriage, then read this interview. Here are a few excerpts, but you can read the whole thing (which is rather short) for context and more.
“As a man who has same-sex attractions who has an orientation that is gay…”
“I do not think changing your orientation is something anyone experiences.”
“If your biblical understanding of sexuality is such that gay is not something that you can reconcile, I don’t think that straight is better.”
“I do believe that same-sex relationship [sic] can be holy.”
“I think same-sex marriages can reflect, and often do, God’s image.”
This post is not a refutation of his views. I’ve made my concerns about this kind of thinking clear in this and thisSolid Ground. My point here is to make believers aware of his views as media attention will increase now that his book is out.
It's not a question most of us have thought very much about. How did you get your soul? Even to ask the question is a little awkward since “you” are your soul.
There are two basic perspectives held by orthodox theologians on the origin of each human soul: creationism and traducianism. The creationistview (not to be confused with scientific creationism) holds that God directly creates a new individual soul for everyone born into this world. Even though the soulis supernaturally created by God, the body for every new human is generated by the parents. The exact moment the soul is created is debated amongst creationists. However, most evangelical creationists maintain that the soul is created by God at the moment of conception. Others have attempted to argue that the creation of the soul doesn’t come until implantation, or after implantation, or even at birth. All three of these views are fraught with difficulties.
The Bible supports the argument that the soul exists at conception. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We are also told that Jesus existed in Mary’s womb at conception. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
There are also scientific arguments demonstrating that every individual human life begins at the moment of conception. The most important is that all the genetic information is present at conception. There is nothing added (genetically speaking) from that moment on. Given proper health and safety, the human zygote will develop into a newborn around nine months later.
The word traduciancomes from the Latin tradux, which means “branch of a vine.” This means that every human being is a “branch” off of his or her parents. Both soul andbody are generated by father and mother. This is in opposition to the creationist view that says God creates every new soul directly.
Traducianism seems to have overwhelming support from Scripture. First, God said that He had finished His work of creation on day six (Gen. 2:2) and is resting from His work (Heb. 4:4). Therefore, it would contradict Scripture if He is creating souls today. Second, the creationist perspective doesn’t make sense of the fallen nature of man, while traducianism does. Creationists must suppose that God creates each soul witha sinful nature. However, the best explanation of inherited original sin is that both fallen soul and body are generated by the human parents. Romans 5:12 appears to indicate that we all sinned “through one man,” which points to everyone’s connectedness to Adam and his original sin.
Now, it must be stated that on the traducian view, the parents are only the instrumental cause of the new human soul. God is still the efficient cause. Therefore, both creationists and traducianists believe that God creates all souls; creationists claim God does it directly, while traducianists believe He does it indirectly through parents. That is to say, God causes being, while parents cause becoming.
In addition, the creationist view holds that man is a soul, but man has a body. Traducianists would push back and say that man is a unity of soul and body. As a result, traducianists take the image of God to include the soul and body, while creationists take only the soul to be the image of God.
Applying the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 42:3 to Jesus, Matthew says, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” As followers of Christ, we’re told to emulate His humility and kindness towards those who are suffering, including those who don’t yet know Him.
John Piper wrote the following about counseling, but it also applies to using apologetics:
It is true that we must be personally bold and afraid of no man but courageous as we contend for the truth. If we are simply nice, concerned, genuinely curious, attentive, supportive, and affirming, we may win a hearing with suffering people, but we will never lead them to life. Grace means courage and clarity. But it is just as true that our boldness must be brokenhearted boldness, that our courage must be a contrite and lowly courage, and that we must be tender contenders for the truth. If we are brash and harsh and cocky and clever, we may win a hearing with angry and pugnacious people, but we will drive away those who suffer. Paul makes it so clear that we are laid low and given comfort “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Those we counsel must feel that we are utterly dependent in our lives on the merciful comfort of God to make it through our days.
None of us likes to suffer, but know that suffering creates good apologists because suffering teaches us humility and gives us a greater experiential knowledge of God’s grace, making us better representatives of God’s grace to others.
Here’s an objection to Christianity from an atheist:
Christianity credits what you believe far above what you do. This idea has caused much misery and suffering over the course of the past two millennia. The notion that what you believe can erase your bad deeds is a very attractive idea to someone who wants to take liberties with the lives and property of other people. If you believe that the threat of the death penalty is enough to dissuade people from breaking the law then you must acknowledge that the promise of unconditional forgiveness is enough to entice people to break the law. And this is exactly what happened during the scourges of the Inquisition and other atrocities committed by Christians.
How would you respond to him on this one? What questions would you ask? What ideas would you ask him to defend? Where is his reasoning shaky? What ideas about Christianity would you clarify?
Let us know what you think in the comments, and come back on Thursday to hear Alan’s response.