Tolerance, Or Is It?

If I learned any one particular cultural philosophy during my four years in college, it was without a doubt the notion of ‘tolerance.’ I am not exaggerating when I say that this concept pervaded almost every lecture of my two humanity majors, Interpersonal and Organizational Communication and Religious Studies (and I even heard it mentioned in several of my pre-dental prerequisites before too, like Anatomy and Chemistry, believe it or not).

Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you understand that this philosophy of tolerance exists not only as a hot topic among thriving college campuses, but also is increasingly becoming the lifeblood of popular culture, politics, and societal frameworks.

Of course, recent develops this year suggest just that, as Hobby Lobby vs. Obamacare, Caitlyn Jenner, and the legalization of homosexual marriage all fundamentally point to this paradigmatic shift in culture away from absolutism and towards relativism, which crowns the concept ‘tolerance’ as the ultimate, ruling authority.

However, while I do think the cultural philosophy of tolerance finds its origins in our foundational philosophy of American rights and liberties, it seems like our culture is nevertheless tipping towards the extreme end of the ‘tolerance’ spectrum in such a way that it actually—and quite ironically—debunks its own stance all along.

To get at what I mean, let’s first re-assess the definition of tolerance, just to make sure we are all on the same page. Webster defines ‘tolerance’ as, “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

So, inherent to the meaning of ‘tolerance’ is two fundamental things: 1) the existence of disagreeing ideas, 2) acting in an agreeable manner despite such disagreement.

Personally, I think the issue of definition is the fundamental point of contention where this philosophy starts to sour. Meaning, while culture constantly promulgates the philosophy of tolerance, it appears that its functional definition does not always match its formal definition.

In other words, culture is not functionally preaching a true of tolerance when it forces a universal acceptance of a cultural norm (which is, ironically, functionally intolerant of other cultural values and expressions).

Going back to Webster, we can clearly see that ‘tolerance,’ on its own terms, emphasizes the nature of how people should disagree; tolerance never emphasizes that everyone should agree.

If I’m not mistaken, the very climate of tolerance necessitates the very existence disagreement after all. Truly, if there were no disagreement, then there would be nothing to tolerate. Tolerance does not mean agreeing on everything; it means being gracious and kind in our disagreements. Tolerance is a disposition of one’s position, not a ‘Spanish inquisition’ of one position.

Besides, how is one to accept the veracity of every worldview, especially when worldviews are in direct contradiction at some points? It’s impossible to say that a circle and a rectangle are the same.

The irony of a view of ‘tolerance’ that says ‘everyone must be like this’ is that it immediately becomes intolerant of other cultures that have views different to it. In other words, this view of ‘tolerance’ implicitly communicates that it is completely acceptable to be intolerant to intolerance in other cultures. But quite ironically, right at that moment, this view of ‘tolerance’ has become entirely like other cultural views of intolerance. But thinking it has the right to do so, it grants itself the high privilege of intolerance that it does not allow to other cultures—which ironically, is a greater degree of intolerance all along.

Are you tracking here? It’s kind of a cerebral conversation. I’m trying my best to explain the philosophical implications of twisting the definition of ‘tolerance’ to mean ‘agree on everything.’

An extreme view of ‘tolerance’ that advocates fights intolerance with intolerance is simply blind to the reality that they are just like other cultural frameworks. For example, if popular culture insists that homosexual marriage is acceptable, yet Islam’s and Christianity’s ethics state otherwise, then true tolerance of popular culture should say that while there are disagreements, we can do so in a gracious, respectable manner without emphasizing that every culture adopt our worldview. Similarly, Muslims and Christians, according to their worldview should disagree with the political climate, but should do so with gentleness and respect, without compromising their unique values, either. However, if popular culture were to discriminate against Islam and Christianity for their ethics, popular culture would not be tolerant, but intolerant.

If popular culture were follow ‘tolerance’ in the truest sense of the word, it would look something like this: when popular culture tells another culture to ‘tolerate’ this-or-that, that would mean an exhortation for agreeableness (warm and considerate), not agreement (accept or endorse). This distinction is extremely important, and I believe it is one that is often overlooked or underappreciated.

Some cultures, like Islam and Christianity, cannot inherently agree with or endorse homosexual marriage because it fundamentally violates their view of how the world and humanity has been designed and purposed.

To conclude, and on a semi-related note, I just want to emphasize the point that Christianity, especially, can never enforce spirituality through politics. Christians must stop depending on political climates to seemingly accomplish spiritual agendas. God has never and will never be confined to political climates, and the various political climates throughout Scripture and the early church and now prove that. Christianity’s salvation lies not in a political mold, but in a cross and open grave. The former does not have the power to change our hearts, but only the latter can. Therefore, at the end of the day, Christ is the hope for the world, not the political situation of the day.

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Do I Figure Out My Calling?

What is my calling? This is something I have struggled with my entire life. And I still struggle with it today. If anything, I have struggled with it more since I graduated college than any other time in life. Though, there have been two verses in particular that have profoundly shaped the way that I think about a life ‘calling’ as of recent.

Here they are:

The first verse is 2 Timothy 4:5, which reads, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (emphasis mine). Upon my emphasis of the last phrase, there exists a cross-reference to Colossians 4:17, which says, “see that you fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord.” These two verses work together to say something very important about the nature of what it means be ‘called.’

Paul told Timothy to fulfill your ministry. This is pretty significant. Note that Paul did not say, fulfill my or even fulfill the ministry. Paul said, “fulfill your ministry, [Timothy].” The sentiment behind this statement seems to communicate that God has given each of us a special type of ministry to perform based on the giftings, passions, and opportunities that he has uniquely given us, and no one else can really do this type of ministry quite like we can. Thus, this ‘calling’ is something that God has created us to do all along; it’s something that is found in our spiritual gifts, our heart of hearts, our open doors, and even our DNA.

But before we get too introspective, I think it is important for us to realize that God gives us two different callings, yet the callings fundamentally exists together much like two concentric circles (one smaller circle that is situated inside one bigger circle).

Initially, the ‘bigger, outside circle of calling’ represents that God’s call is first objective, broad, and general for every Christian: you have been commissioned to live for the glory and mission of God. This is all about the Great Commission. Every Christian is called to go and make disciples, expanding the quality and quantity of kingdom across the globe.

Next, the ‘smaller, inside circle of calling’ represents that God’s call is secondarily subjective, personal, and specific for every Christian: you have been wired to fulfill a certain angle of ministry for the glory and mission of God. This is all about your spiritual gifts, desires, passions, and abilities. Every Christian is called to make disciples, but there is no such clear-cut formulaic way that the Bible commands us to do so. It essentially gives us freedom with how we are to be on mission and to go about making disciples, beckoning us to be as creative as possible.

Thus, in other words, every Christian is called to join God in his ultimate mission to bring the gospel to all peoples, yet we are called to participate in this mission in differing ways. Indeed, at the end of the day, it’s not a matter of if you have been called; it’s a matter of where and how you will fulfill that calling.

You could even think of the mission of God like a big corporation. The goal of a corporation remains the same from top to bottom, yet each department of the corporation accomplishes the goal through their different, yet, complementary work. The marketing and administrative and human resources and product design and customer service each perform different roles, but there exists a fundamental, laser-beam focus of one goal at the forefront of each separate department. And indeed, different departments accomplish the goal better by working together, each with their own strengths and focuses. Similarly, the Christian ‘calling’ remains the same whoever you are, but you are to work towards its accomplishment in different ways based on who you are.

Ok, well. What is my ‘role’ or ‘office’ per se for how I am to specifically participate in this grand mission of God?

Many of us just wish God that would write it out in the sky for us, plain and clear in terms of what he wants us to do. But that’s the thing—this ‘calling’ doesn’t ever seem so plain and clear. So we lean especially upon dependence and prayer in this grueling time of uncertainty.

Dependence is great, but what about answers? Ok, yes, dependency is a great answer, in and of itself. But questions like these constantly raid us nevertheless: What else do I have to do to get certainty about God’s will for my life? Lay a fleece? Ask for the sun to stand still? Eh. Yeah, I feel the same way. So, now what?

While looking upwards to God in prayer and dependence is absolutely crucial in this gaining a sense of spiritual or vocational direction, I think the question of vocation is one of those rare times when Scripture actually permits us to look ‘inwards’ in ourselves as much as we are reminded to look ‘upwards’ to God. What do I mean?

Meaning, when trying to figure out our calling, don’t wait for a voice to tell you ‘here or there’ or ‘this or that.’ Let’s be honest and confess that it may never come. Instead, look in yourself and see how God has wired you, designed you, and created you. When God created you, he pre-packaged your life-purpose inside of you. Therefore, what you are looking for is not so much a question of ‘calling’ so much as it is a question of ‘wiring.’

What makes you burn? What makes you passionate? What makes you angry or excited or burdened? The answers to these questions likely indicate what God created you to do.

To be honest, working with and caring for children does not exactly cross my mind or make me passionate or make me burdened. Being a 3rd grade teacher is something that I have never before considered. But thank God for those of you who are deeply affected by this. This is a need. Personally, things like reading, writing, connecting, media, creating, and church ministry is what gets me hyped. It constantly heats me up. Reaching people is what gets my gears spinning. I don’t try to be impassioned by those things. No, those things impassion me because its what God has wired me to do.

So in a way, God has already answered this question of ‘calling’ for you—he’s placed it in your wiring. He’s given you those passions and abilities and skills for a reason. He’s calling you to be a steward of them, too.

Like in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), don’t sit on these gifts and passions. Use them in a responsible and shrewd way, banking on God to see your efforts through. Use them to bless others and to expand the kingdom. Take risks with them. See what happens. Trial and error is good.

But fearful paralysis to use and risk these gifts of God is the same as to bury money in a hole instead of to invest it in a future. Money and your calling functionally work in the same way: they can only multiply in a climate of risk, not in a cave of regret. If there is no risk, then there will be no reward. Sure, you could lose them, but then again, God is not calling us to be safe and inactive with our talents; he is calling us to be shrewd and active with our talents, banking on his sovereignty and love in the process of anticipation.

And God totally delights in our taking risks upon his sovereignty and grace. Our risks for him prove that we actually trust in him.

And in response to us making risks for the kingdom, I think God just kicks back and cracks a wide, fatherly smile, saying, “Try me. Your risks won’t be anything less than totally exhilarating for you, and nothing short of utterly glorifying to me.”

His glory and our joy are not separate. Just like his calling on us and his wiring of us are not separate. Indeed, they are one. Who you are—and what your calling is—is a unique, irreplaceable piece that fits into the grand, glorious panorama of redemptive history.

Look upwards to God for grand purpose. Look inwards to self for specific purpose. And then look outwards to see how your wiring fulfills a need for the overarching purpose of the Great Commission.

Upwards. Inwards. Outwards.

That’s your calling.

Now do it.

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whatever You Do, Wherever You Go: Missions

A common crime in Christianity is to assume hard-and-fast categories for Christians based on their default personality, gifts, experience, and passions. Such categories that we often create for ourselves and others in the church could entail some of the following: Servant. Leader. Missionary. Teacher. Learner.

Sure, people will always default more naturally to one type or another, and our specific tendencies are a result of our spiritual gifts, experiences, situation, and passions. However, the problem with making individual categories is that it undercuts the basic make-up of what all Christians are called to be at the same time: servants, leaders, missionaries, teachers, and learners. Categorizing someone as a leader but not a missionary, or a teacher but not a servant, or a learner but not a teacher, does a great disservice to the Christian church, both individual and corporately.

All Christians are called to be all of these things. Thus, we should think of these types (servants, leaders, missionaries, teachers, learners, etc.) not as predominant categories of different Christians, but rather as overarching characteristics of all Christians.

Unfortunately, this crime of ‘categorization’ becomes especially pronounced when the topic centers on mission work. When the subject of missions comes up, it is not uncommon to hear, “I’m not called to be a missionary, like Such-and-Such. God bless ‘em, though.”

However, I’m not innocent of making such a claim, myself. And I’m sure we all have categorized, marginalized, or dismissed missions at one point or another, too (but you haven’t, then here’s a genuine golf clap of admiration). Yet, while categorizing missions is something we do instinctively, it is something the Bible does not do dismissively.

What a lot of us do not realize is that our title of Christian actually implies the job description of missionary. Many of us naturally associate ‘missionary’ with full-time vocational ministry overseas. But that’s simply not the case. A quick look through Scripture will show that ‘missionary’ is not simply a type of Christian, but is the type of DNA in every Christian.

Here’s what I mean: If the meaning of ‘Christian’ means ‘Christ-follower,’ and if Christ was the greatest, ultimate missionary who came to earth from heaven to save a lost people, then following Jesus implies taking on the same trajectory, purpose, and perspective of life as Jesus, leveraging every aspect of our lives for the same ultimate cause that Jesus leveraged every aspect of his life for.

To be sure, however, Scripture does not command everyone to uproot their lives and go overseas. In fact, in Matthew 28:19, the famous Great Commission text, the terminology “Go and make disciples” in Greek actually renders a more accurate interpretation of “as you go, make disciples.” This is significant because the emphasis of Jesus’ command actually stresses on the ‘make disciples’ part—not the ‘go’ part. Contrary to what we assume, the word ‘go’ is actually the soft command while the ‘make disciples’ is the hard emphasis.

My seminary professor described the soft nature of the command to ‘go’ like this: “It’s like me asking you to go get me a cup of water. The emphasis is on ‘cup of water’ part; the ‘go’ part just explains the process. Similarly, when Jesus asks us to make disciples, he is saying this: ‘because making disciples is what you’re supposed to do, it’s obvious that you’ll go in the process of doing it.’” I thought that was a great explanation.

Therefore, the sentiment of the Great Commission text, all along, communicates the following: As you are going through life, make disciples. In other words, wherever you are in life inherently presents itself as a mission field that is just as ripe as some place overseas. That’s certainly not to discount missions overseas, but it certainly is to emphasize disciple-making wherever you are.

Unfortunately, we flip-flop the emphasis of Jesus’ Great Commission command by placing the stress on ‘go’ instead of ‘make disciples.’ The implication of such a skewed hermeneutic is actually quite disastrous. In fact, it might be why many Christians think it’s acceptable to pat themselves on the back for going on a short-term mission trip overseas, but never actually share Christ with that lost friend at home whom they see every day.

Indeed, the life trajectory of every Christian should be characterized as that of a missionary. Whether you are home side or overseas, it’s the trajectory of life that matters. Therefore, a Christian in any vocation is a missionary. A doctor is a missionary. A teacher is a missionary. A stockbroker is a missionary. A lawyer is a missionary. A pastor is a missionary. A marketing rep is a missionary. And a vocational missionary is a missionary. All are missionaries who use their vocation as a means and presence for unique missions. None is more important than the other. We each have our own unique mission fields. Do what you do best for the glory of God and do it in a place that is strategic for the mission of God. Maybe that’s at home. Maybe that’s overseas. But the call is still there.

A life that has a clear trajectory of mission—of God-ward and people-ward purposes—is much better than one that ‘does a mission trip’ for a week and then slumps right back into the trajectory of self-ward living. Does everything you do—whoever you are, and whatever you do, and wherever you are—ultimately funnel into the laser-beam of purpose that is glorifying Christ, enjoying him, and as a result, sharing him with others?

As Christians, our trajectory of life is not inward, but outward. That’s the difference. Like Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” If our trajectory of life does not have at its aim the mission of God, then we are simply estranged from what our alleged Savior is all about.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… (Colossians 3:17, 23)

Whatever you do: THAT is ripe with mission and ripe with harvest.

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Trinity

One of the most difficult perplexities of the Christian religion is its doctrine of the Trinity—the triune nature of God. This doctrine is utterly unique from other religions, which are monotheistic (one god), pluralistic (many gods), or pantheistic (everything is divine). It even seems like concepts of monotheism, pluralism, and pantheism would completely cover all areas of the spectrum for the nature of the divine. But Christianity’s belief of God’s nature actually exists on an entirely different theological spectrum altogether: a God who is three in nature but one in essence. The very thought of such a concept is simply mind boggling and transcendent to human logic, imagination, or comprehension. Not only do non-Christians struggle with this ideology, but Christians struggle to make sense of it, too. Nevertheless, the importance of such a doctrine cannot be overstated or exaggerated: it is truly the foundation of the Christian religion, and if it were to be removed, the entire construct of Christianity would instantly topple over into shambles of illogic and uselessness. Therefore, in the following blog, I want to highlight the biblical basis for this doctrine, and then conclude by conveying some important truths it warrants.

Scripture

Initially, although the Bible does not explicitly use the terms ‘trinity’ or ‘trinitarian’ or ‘triune’ to describe the nature of God, it nonetheless describes this God as existing in one essence, yet in three separate beings: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are several texts in both the Old Testament and New Testament that speak to this triune nature of God, thereby, serving to establish a theological framework of his nature from start to finish. Of course, while Jesus explicitly comes on the scene in the New Testament, the Old Testament mentions this coming Savior all throughout the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets, too. Let’s take a quick look to see what Scripture says about the nature of God.

One text that alludes to such a three-in-one description of the nature of God includes Genesis 1:1-2 and 1:26, which implies quite clearly that God’s nature exists as more than one being. For instance, Genesis 1:1-2—the first two verses of the Bible—reveal that God and the Spirit of God are separate beings, both preexisting and causing the origins of creation. Additionally, in Genesis 1:26, God says, ‘let us make man in our own image,’ thereby indicating that God’s nature is not just inherently singular.

Moreover, another group of texts that suggests the triune nature of God is John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1, which specifically argue for the divinity of Jesus, God the Son. First, John 1:1-3 says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Second, Hebrews 1:1-4 says,

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

And thirdly, Colossians 1:15-17 says,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Each of these texts undeniably exults Jesus as divine, existing as one part of the three-ness of God. These passages unequivocally communicate Jesus’ diety because they particularly highlight his preexistence of and involvement in creation, which are thought to be true marks of the divine.

Furthermore, other New Testament texts that also particularly imply the triune nature of God are John 16-17, Matthew 28:19, and 2 Corinthians 13:14. First, chapters 16 and 17 in the gospel of John document Jesus’ words to his disciples about how the Holy Spirit will come to them after Jesus ascends into heaven, leading them into all truth and comfort. Jesus tells his disciples that him leaving them and the Holy Spirit coming for them will actually be to their advantage. Is Jesus saying that the Holy Spirit is better than him, or more valuable? No, but he is communicating the sentiment that missions is impossible without the Holy Spirit because it will accomplish kingdom work all over the globe geographically, as opposed to Jesus, who is limited by geographic time and space upon entering into human form. In other words, while Jesus cannot be everywhere at the same time because of the limits of humanity that he assumed, the Spirit, on the other hand, can accomplish ministry everywhere through the commissioning and embodiment of many human vessels. Overall, in John 16-17, Jesus’ statement that the Spirit would be to their advantage communicates the Spirit’s deity, and the Spirit’s aim to glorify Jesus communicates Jesus’ deity (John 16:13-15). Additionally, John 17 includes Jesus praying to God the Father, revealing the oneness of the Father and the Son in essence and also the separateness of them as beings, too. These two chapters both serve to show direct, divine relationships between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—proving their divinity in essence, but also their individuality in being.

Moreover, Matthew 28:19, what is famously known as the Great Commission text, is another text that shows the triune nature of God. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ inclusion of all three beings of God seems to further drive home the reality of God’s triune nature. And lastly, another text that seems to highlight the reality of the Trinity is 2 Corinthians 13:14, where Paul concludes his letter saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Paul’s inclusion of these three in his doxology seems to strongly suggest his belief in the triune nature of God as well. Overall, each of these texts speaks to the reality that God is not singular in being, but singular in essence, yet triune in being.

History

Historically, the church has grappled with these difficult, counterintuitive, and allegedly contradictory truths about God’s nature. In fact, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD convened in order to organizationally and systematically reach a conclusion about this somewhat confusing and enigmatic nature of God. However, at the Council of Nicaea, one of the most significant terms emerged to describe the nature of Christ as a part of the divine Godhead—homoousia, meaning, of the same substance. Agreeing that Jesus was completely divine while also completely man categorically meant that he was still God since he never sinned and maintained perfect fellowship with God the Father. At these conventions is where the doctrines of the trinity became formally recognized and systematically enforced as what the Scripture clearly and significantly teaches. Truly, these doctrines were not invented at these councils, but were formally recognized and ratified as the pure, biblical teachings from of old—all the way back to Genesis. Recognizing these truths, therefore, functions to guard the purity of these doctrines from the corrupting dangers of heresy.

Objections

Objections to this doctrine, however, are certainly not unwarranted. Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity obfuscates logic and complicates comprehension. Indeed, this doctrine transcends conventional frameworks for religious concepts. As a result, the popular objection rings out, “It doesn’t make sense, therefore, it cannot be true.” Aha! But upon deeper reflection, this common objection actually serves to debunk itself. What do I mean? Track with me here: How could humans invent a concept that they themselves can barely comprehend? How could Jesus’ disciples develop an entirely new paradigm for the nature of God, unique from all of humanity’s religious history, especially as Jews who were deeply entrenched in monotheism? The logical line of deduction, then, is that Christianity’s doctrine of God’s nature wasn’t invented by human logic, but was revealed by God in his Word.

Applications

Besides, why would these disciples concoct such a doctrine after all? Why ‘up the ante’ so to speak, for purposes of evangelism and conversion? If they were making this doctrine up, then why would they make it so difficult and complicated? The logical line of deduction, then, is to conclude that they thought this triune doctrine was and is the truth—regardless of whether or not it makes sense or regardless of whether or not it facilitates the effectiveness of conversion. If it’s true, then it deserves communication and explanation—and this mentality represents the exact sentiment of the disciples. Ultimately, many people use the counterintuitive nature of the Trinity as an objection, but its inherent counterintuitive-ness actually serves to accomplish just the opposite: it suggests this doctrine could not have been invented by the logic of humans, but revealed by the Word of God.

Lastly, it is important to note that vast and endless implications shoot forth from the doctrinal stem of the Trinity, warranting much fruit upon appropriate and proper application. Meaning, the implications of such a trinitarian doctrine provide and demand related applications from our lives. For instance, since God is triune and since we were made in his image, this means that we are inherently wired for community and relationships. Moreover, since God is triune, this means that friendship and community existed before time, which means friendship holds a type of value that truly outlasts and supersedes the boundaries and toll of time; friendship is always timely, always timeless, and always desired. Furthermore, since God is triune, this means that the Great Commission is a community endeavor. Indeed, if God plans to accomplish his redemptive purposes for humanity through the community of himself, why should we ever think that our purposes for mission do not directly demand the involvement of the church community, too? Truly, because there are endless implications of such a divine truth, that means there are also equally endless applications for our lives in light of this doctrine, too.

Conclusion

The Trinity, indeed, foundationally influences the grid of our entire theological framework, as individual believers and as a corporate church. Without the pure doctrine of the Trinity, everything else in Christianity therefore exists without foundation as a structure that awaits its demise into the shambles of illogic and uselessness.

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

True vs. False = How You Respond to Grace

Many non-Christian lash out at the idea of Christianity’s grace-based (not works-based) salvation. They object that if salvation is given as a gift of grace, and not earned as a reward, then the result will only give Christians radical license to sin. They say that if salvation is just received as a gift, and you don’t have to earn it, then why not just keep indulging in your sinful pleasures? A real salvation should cause you to live a life of righteousness, not sin, right?

In my last blog post, I argued that Christianity’s unique grace-based salvation—as opposed to any other religion’s works-based salvation—actually is the only religion that can truly cause you to live righteously all along. If that interests you by chance, you can check that out here.

But I realized that my last blog post requires a follow-up blog because I can hear more, but less significant, objections in line, too.

The main objection I wanted to answer here is this classic response:

“I know many so-called Christians who live terribly immoral lives. Are you telling me that a devout, religious, moral individual like me who does not happen to be a Christian is going to hell while they of all people go to heaven, simply because of what they believe? How is it fair that I’m a much more moral person than these so-called Christians, yet, according to Christianity, they get heaven instead of me?”

That is a great point. So let me try to make an important distinction, of which there are really only two options.

Option 1: I say I am a Christian, yet I willfully live a life of sin. If that is true, then that means I have failed to grasp the concept of grace completely, which is the very basis of Christian salvation. If my life is marked by a trajectory of selfish, sinful living, then my sin means I have failed to grasp the concept of grace altogether.

Option 2: I say I am a Christian, and I strive to live for Christ, though I do have moments of lapsing into sin. If that is true, then that means when I sin, (which will happen more often than not) I have failed to grasp the concept of grace in that particular moment of my moral failing. If my life is marked by a trajectory of repentance and loving Christ, then my sin means I have failed to grasp the concept of grace in that moment.

Option 3(?): I say I am a Christian, but claim to never sin. I just need a reality check.

In other words, if you claim to be a Christian yet your life is marked by habitual, ongoing engagement in sin with no hint of repentance or desire to love Christ, then it is likely that you are not a Christian after all. However, if you claim to be a Christian yet your life is marked by shortcomings, but nonetheless is marked by an overarching sense of repentance and a love for Christ, then that means one is indeed a Christian.

Truly, the mark of a true Christian is not perfection, but a new direction. You can spot a true Christian by whether or not one has experienced the grace of Christ, which will compel him/her to a life repentance of sin and loving Christ.

Even though Option 1 claimed Christendom, it did not represent a trajectory of life that loved righteousness, which simply indicates that its claim was really just that: a mere claim. Option 2, however, demonstrated a new direction of life upon claiming Christendom, which indicates that it is simply more than just a mere claim.

Think about it this way: I can wear an NBA #23 Bulls jersey. And so can Michael Jordan. But even though we’re both wearing the same thing, it’s obvious who the real NBA player is. When MJ and I both step onto the court to play some 1-on-1, the superficiality of the #23 jersey becomes incredibly stark. Because at this point, what’s behind the jersey is what matters most–not the jersey.

Similarly, you can tell the difference between a true Christian from a false one not by their jerseys’ claim of Christendom, but by their reaction to God’s grace with the same jersey on.

 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.  (Matthew 7:16-20)

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Obedience vs. Christian Obedience

I was talking with two Muslim men last week, and the conversation took a rather expected direction that truly marks the difference between not just Christianity and Islam, but Christianity and every other religion.

I asked the two Islam men how they could be saved according to their own religion, and they answered as expected: that you must be a good person, obey the rules and laws, and then God will judge them based on how well they performed on this side of heaven. If their good deeds outweighed their bad deeds, then they would pass into bliss. But if their bad deeds outweighed their good deeds, then God would cast you into punishment.

Then, I asked them what they knew about Christianity, specifically asking them what Christianity says for how one can attain salvation. Without hesitation, each answered that Jesus—like Mohammad for Islam—functions as the central, moral figure of the religion who gives the laws that we must follow in order to be saved. He insisted that Christianity, just like Islam, operates the same way: how well you follow the law determines whether or not God rewards you or punishes you.

I interjected, admitting that I was a Christian, gently telling them that they were actually wrong about what they believed about Christianity’s message of salvation. I explained to them that in Christianity, salvation is not earned by our good works, but is received when we claim Jesus as our perfect righteousness. I continued, explaining that because God is perfectly holy, we need a perfect righteousness to stand in his presence and be acceptable in his sight. Hence, Jesus lived a perfect life, gained perfect righteousness, yet willing died in our place for our punishment of sin, and offers his righteousness as a gift to us. I concluded that Christianity’s message of salvation is about how Jesus’ righteousness saves us, not our own righteousness; salvation is a gift of grace, not a personal goal.

Their response to my explanation, was, of course, highly expected. Why is that? Because it’s anyone’s response after hearing about this seemingly absurd system of salvation. Along with the chorus of history, they reacted brashly: “Well no! That’s ridiculous! That means Christians can just do whatever they want! And still get salvation?! That salvation doesn’t work!”

I nodded and said, “I totally understand where you are coming from, but that is not exactly the case.” I then encouraged them to think about it this way:

Imagine that one day, your child was walking across the street, yet completely unaware that a 16-wheeler Mac truck was speeding right towards them. Death looked them directly right in the eyes. However, immediately before impact, someone ran into the street and pushed your child away just in time, accepting the deadly collision themselves. From afar, you watched the whole scenario unravel and simply became overcome by emotion. An indescribable amount of shock, gratefulness, and indebtedness welled up within you for the individual who graciously saved your child.

“Now, in light of this reality,” I asked them, “would you honor the family of this hero because you have to or because you want to? Would you feel obligated to do honor them, or would you feel honored to honor them?

They agreed, anyone would do it out of honor, not obligation. And why?

Because the answer is obvious: No one in their right mind would say ‘well, I guess I have to honor that hero’s family now. I guess their sacrifice obligates me to serve them. In fact, I wish they hadn’t saved my child’s life… because if they hadn’t, then I wouldn’t be indebted to them.” Of course not! Their immense sacrifice to you makes you want to honor them.

The two Islam made the obvious connection that this story serves as a small analogy of how Christianity’s notion of grace-based salvation fundamentally provides a change of heart toward good deeds and sin: it compels responding to God out of love.

Christianity’s distinctive point–among all other religions–is that grace-based salvation causes you to love God, which alone is the best motivation against sinful living. It does not give you a license to sin; it finally gives you power against it. If God saved our lives from sin, then why would we fight it simply because we have to? Rather, Christians live for Christ because he lived and died for us, which causes us to want to follow him.

It is the grace of God that teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions. (Titus 2:12)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

The Christian motivation for good works—unlike other religions—is not obligation or fear or guilt or bolstering our own spiritual resume before God. The Christian motivation is selfless, grateful love because of what God has graciously done for us in Christ.

All other religions say that salvation is earned. Therefore, these religious systems are inevitably motivated into good deeds by self-preservation, fear of loss, and personal reward. Religious peopledo good deeds’ to get salvation. Christians, on the other hand, ‘do good deeds’ because they already have salvation.

God doesn’t just want our obedience. Besides, you can do something right with the wrong motivations. God wants an obedience that flows from being in love with him, which are the right motivations. That obedience is a fragrant offering to God. He doesn’t want ‘cold-hearted, obligatory-based, fear-of-punishment, only-for-reward’ type of obedience. He wants an obedience that springs from the heart, gleams with delight, and rejoices in affection. He wants to see that you love him in light of his great love for you, which he supremely demonstrated in the person and work of Christ.

Only Christianity, however, can compel you to do something right with the right motivations. Only an experience of grace from God can first produce the love in your heart that you need in order to then accomplish the right kind of good works for God.

In religion, the cause is the obligation of good works, and the effect is the reward.

In Christianity, the cause is God’s reward, and the effect is a response of good works.

Religion: Good works are the roots, and salvation is the fruit.

Christianity: Salvation is the roots, and good works is the fruit.

Religion: Live and die for God; hope it’s enough.

Christianity: God lived and died for you; It is Finished.

Religion: God with a gavel and scales in his hands.

Christianity: God using the gavel to drive the nails into Jesus’ hands to pay for your sin.

Religion: You pulling yourself up by your own moral bootstraps.

Christianity: God pulling you up out of your own moral grave.

The problem with religion’s premise—that salvation and right standing with God is earned by good deeds—is that it leads to moral dead ends. It makes you your own savior, which inevitably makes you boast in your own ability to keep the law (leading to pride and self-righteousness) or makes you despair in your inability to keep the law (leading to hopelessness and self-deprecation). Either way, the result is moral failure; you’re back at square one. In addition, how much ‘good’ is enough for salvation? Religion doesn’t provide assurance of salvation, so you will inevitably keep trying to prove yourself through your deeds. Over time, you will simply grow exhausted and will be dominated by anxiety beneath that hollow veneer of righteousness you have been trying so hard to maintain.

Christianity’s premise—that salvation and right standing with God is given as a gracious gift—only leads to moral purity. In light of God’s gospel for us, morality becomes a response of natural desire, not of unnatural coercion. For example, when Christians do good deeds, can they boast or become prideful or self-righteous? No, because their works had nothing to do with their right standing with God (Eph. 2:7-10). When Christians sin, can they despair or become self-deprecatory? No, because they are forgiven and loved in Christ, which means their sin does not separate them from God’s love. In addition, Christians do know how much ‘good’ is enough for salvation: complete perfection. Because God is perfectly holy, he requires nothing short of perfect righteousness. But God in his amazing grace provided nothing short of perfect righteousness for us so we can be reconciled to him—Jesus trading his righteous life for our unrighteous life. Therefore, Christians cannot become exhausted by good deeds; rather, their assurance of salvation fuels them for good deeds. Christians have nothing to prove in themselves. The only want to prove to the world how good Jesus really is.

Therefore, the initial reaction—“That salvation is ridiculous! That means Christians can just do whatever they want! That salvation doesn’t work!”—isn’t completely wrong.

What do I mean? What I mean is, because Christians receive salvation instead of earn it, we can do whatever we want. What we want, however, is not sin; an encounter with Grace in the midst of unrighteousness causes us to want righteousness. So the assertion is correct: Christians can do what they want, except what we want is not what they expect. The effect of salvation upon us—that God graciously lived and died for us—organically changes our hearts to want and to honor him more and more every day. We don’t honor God out of obligation, fear, threat, or even reward. We honor him simply because we love him—more than anything else.

Thus, their assertion that “that salvation doesn’t work!” is incorrect. Christian salvation does work; and it’s the only basis that motivates a life of obedience to God from love, gratitude, and joy instead of the coercion from cold-hearted obligation, or white-knuckled fear, or self-invested reward. Christianity doesn’t just require obedience; it gives you a completely different kind of obedience. Indeed, as God promises, only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to write the law of love on our hearts and on our minds (Jer. 31:33).

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Cross: Physical Pain < Spiritual Pain

Some people–Christians and non-Christians alike–simply shake their heads when they hear the assertion that Jesus bore the worst physical pain any human being has ever experienced when he was crucified on that old rugged cross.

Their sentiment, however, is not exactly misled. For example, the cruel method of crucifixion was not just something the Romans developed for Jesus specifically, but was a practice they frequently used to punish criminals in general. In fact, in Jesus’ very own crucifixion, two other criminals hung beside him on their own respective crosses, receiving the same physical torment. In other words, because crucifixion was the popular punishment of choice in that day, that means it’s highly likely that many others experienced the same degree of physical pain that Jesus did, too. Also, while crucifixion has been historically regarded as the most painful form of torture, who’s to say that at least someone has not experienced a worse physical torture than that of the crucifixion?

So, if the physical torment of Jesus’ crucifixion was indeed on par with the physical torment of others who have been executed in human history–and maybe even less intense than a few of those tortured and killed–why is the event of Jesus’ passion particularly projected as drastically worse or more significant than others who have physically suffered in equal or maybe greater proportions?

Theologian J. I. Packer approaches this legitimate question by explaining that the uniqueness, significance, and degree of pain to Jesus’ torment was not primarily physical (however great!), but instead, primarily spiritual and mental. Packer says,

“On the cross Jesus lost all the good that he had before: all sense of his Fathers presence and love, all sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, all enjoyment of God and of created things, all ease and solace of friendship, were taken from him, and in their place was nothing but loneliness, pain, a killing sense of human malice and callousness, and a horror of great spiritual darkness. The physical pain, though great (for crucifixion remains the cruelest form of judicial execution that the world has ever known), was yet only a small part of the story; Jesus’ chief sufferings were mental and spiritual, and what was packed into less than four hundred minutes was an eternity of agony—agony such that each minute was an eternity in itself, as mental sufferers know that individual minutes can be.”†

Indeed, the dimension of Jesus’ torment exceeded the physical realm and absorbed an eternity of spiritual torment for our deserved sins. His physical death, the crucifixion, was certainly not without pain–but it was only the small, visible tip of an exceedingly larger, invisible torment underneath, which was spiritual and mental in nature. Truly, several hours of brutal physical pain was a mere taste of the eternity of spiritual pain he would take unto himself.

Thus, the objections are not misled: what is 8 hours of physical pain to an eternal, infinite God? 8 hours of pain is nothing for a being who has existed for over 800 trillion years! Correct!… kinda. But in order to truly understand his suffering, you must now talk of his spiritual and mental suffering, which accounted for experiencing the infinite degree and eternal decree of sin’s spiritual punishment. His suffering–however only 8 hours or so–was nothing short of experiencing the full weight of spiritual agony of hell for eternity.

The implications, while vast, are startling: if He suffered that much for us, then how much does He love us? And how much then, is He worthy of our surrender and adoration?

Knowing the degree of how much someone will suffer to get something truly shows the degree of how precious that something is to that Person. Jesus makes it clear how far he went for us in order to make clear how much he loves us.

Ever doubt God’s love for you?

Look at his scarred, pierced hands.

Even unto an eternity of hell, it’s proof that he wasn’t going to let go of you.

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” –Romans 5:7-11

_____________

† J. I. Packer, Knowing God. iBooks, p. 529

Posted in Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment