Ezekiel 18.25-27 – Repentance and Salvation
Posted: 8 September 2010 in Ezekiel

Yet ye say, The way of the LORD is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.

One of the things which can scandalise people about Christianity is its doctrine of repentance. According to the Christian understanding, had Adolf Hitler had a dramatic conversion experience a few weeks before his death in 1945, suffered near suicidal remorse over his past misdeeds, and turned wholeheartedly to God, he would, according to the Christian understanding, have stood justified before God. On the other hand, somebody who spends most of their life working for the poor and underprivileged, whilst remaining resolutely atheist, and ridiculing religion at every turn, will stand condemned before God.

How can it be right, it is asked, that somebody who has lead a mostly evil life gains access to heaven, whilst somebody who has lead a mostly good life doesn’t. The question presupposes that salvation is based upon some sort of calculus, whereby if you do X amount of good in your life, and Y amount of evil, then, provided X is greater than Y, you get into heaven.

Imagine an alternative scenario. You have paid 80% of your tax bill, decided that you have parted with quite enough cash, and if the taxman wants the other 20%, that’s hard cheese on him. After all, you argue, he can’t reasonably complain, can he, when the amount you have paid him is four times greater than the amount you haven’t paid him?

Most people would be extremely surprised if that sort of argument worked with the taxman, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying it out on God. In reality it works with neither God nor with the taxman. What is more, we struggle to pay God even 50% of what is his due by way of our service and worship.

The difference is that if we want God to forgive us the maybe 99% of our “tax bill” which remains unpaid, the only requirement is that we be prepared to kneel before him and ask for forgiveness. That, however, is where pride can yet again intrude itself into the divine-human relationship. The very notion of humbling ourselves before God can too easily result in a rebellious conviction that we have done quite enough to earn our ticket into heaven, and there is no way we are going to get on our knees – before the Lord of all Creation or anybody else.

You don’t have to spend too long around the new atheists before you realise that is one of the unconscious motives behind their atheism.

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1 Corinthians 1.19-31 – The wisdom of the world & the wisdom of God.
Posted: 6 September 2010 in 1 Corinthians

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

The Christian God is not an incompetent fool. He did not create a universe in which the fall was an unforeseen catastrophe, and then have to mount a desperate rescue mission to try and retrieve the situation. That both the fall and the Incarnation would be part of history were known to God before the creation of the world. Since he is an omnipotent God, had he wanted to he could have created a universe in which the fall did not happen, and the Incarnation was unnecessary, and yet he did not do so. Why? Part of the answer is given in verse 29 of the above passage: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

It was not God’s will that we should be able to obtain our salvation through our own works, or through our own wisdom, because that would detract from the glory which belongs only to the God who is Lord and Creator of all things. Instead salvation was to be available only to those who would humble themselves before him, and submit to the wisdom of God, to use Paul’s words. God’s will is that our salvation should depend wholly upon him, and that our worship of him in eternity should be motivated, at least in part, by the unmerited gift of eternal life.

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Romans 15.4 – Humility and God’s Word
Posted: 3 September 2010 in Romans

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Therein lies the humility required of anybody who would come to God. The scriptures are there for our learning. The notion of authority comes ill to some today. They think they should be able to make up their own religion as they go along, and God should be more than happy with the result.

Even people with a professional duty to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” can sometimes be heard to say, “I don’t believe that because….”, and then follows a statement to the effect they do not believe something because they wouldn’t like that something to be true. Typically, a statement such as that will involve predestination.

But it really does not matter whether we like what we read in the Bible or not. If something is revealed to be true, then we must learn to like it, because we must learn to love God’s will and to desire only what he desires.

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Luke 16.19-31 – Belief & Unbelief
Posted: 2 September 2010 in Luke

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham…… I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The final verse in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus reminds me of the verse in John 6.45. The rich man’s words correspond exactly to what I hear from the new atheists today: “If God wants me to believe in him, why doesn’t he materialise if front of me, and raise somebody from the dead?” or words to that effect. Always it is one more piece of evidence, and then they will believe.

The New Testament bears witness to the fact of it always being the other way around. Those receptive to new revelation are always those who have been receptive to what God has had to say for himself in the past. Conversely, those who have not been receptive to existing revelation are also those who will continue to find excuses for not believing in the future. In the final analysis it all hinges upon what is in the heart, and not upon the amount of evidence available. For those who do not want to believe, no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient. For those who are prepared to believe, because they have been blessed by divine grace, and are God’s children, all the evidence they need is available to them in the Bible.

I do not want those last couple of sentences to sound too harsh. There doubtless are people, growing in faith, for whom the Bible may not seem to be sufficient evidence. I used to be one of them. There are others for whom the biblical evidence, though important, needs to be supplemented. But the key difference is that they are not looking for reasons not to believe.

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Acts 17.16-31 – Repentance and our attitude towards God
Posted: 1 September 2010 in Acts

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. ….. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him….. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”

There is but one God. He is the creator of all things, if there is one theme which runs throughout the Bible it is that this God does not give his glory to another, and he commands all men everywhere to repent.

And yet it is a command we are completely unable to obey. Sold under sin (Romans 7.14) we stand condemned before this holy God. Our only chance of salvation is if the Holy Spirit works in our hearts in such a way as to bring about a receptivity to the message of Jesus. And in some hearts he does work to bring about repentance – but not all. Why not? The Bible is silent on that subject. Perhaps with the intention that we should tremble before this fearful and ineffable God of ours.

How many of today’s Christians are possessed of the same feeling of dread experienced by Moses at Mount Sinai, or the dread the ancient Israelites experienced more generally, when they considered it not possible that any mortal man should see God and live?

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