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.

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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)

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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).

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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

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Is God For You? = The Biggest Unanswered(?) Question of Major Religions

I think if we are all really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we don’t like religion. Even the most religious people—who go to church and read religious books and constantly do great things in the name of religion—I think, deep down, don’t like religion and feel exhausted from it. I think deep down there are massive insecurities, fears, and wars of self-righteousness below the surface of an allegedly admirable religious persona.

Why do I say this? Because I know it personally. And all too well. But hang with me.

It seems that at the heart of most religions is fear. Underneath all the good deeds, there exists this heart-felt subtle pain that something isn’t right, and I think it expresses itself in the worried question, “is God for me?” You can’t rid the anxiety of this big question, regardless of how good you are. And accordingly, you need justification and resolution to this problem.

Judaism, Islam, Animism, Hinduism, and moralistic Christianity—I think—all fundamentally relate upon this question as their common denominator. “Is God for me?” is probably the biggest question… Ever. Think about it. In fact, scholar A.W. Tozer famously quotes, “What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important about you.” Indeed, “Is God for me?” is an important question, yet because it often goes unanswered, it yields rigid strains of insecurity, fear, despair, and exhaustion.

And as a way to provide justification, resolution, and alleviation to this insufferable question, it seems natural to assume that doing good deeds becomes the solution. It becomes the transaction-based way of appeasing this God and ensuring that you are on his good side.

Thus, good deeds exists as the currency of peace, security, hope, and confidence. Good deeds become the inevitable, functional savior.

But still—like I have discovered myself—regardless of all the good deeds, you still don’t feel totally assured that God is for you.

And that’s when the questions come: So how much ‘good deeds’ is enough? How good is good enough to be ensured? Is it a matter of how gracious God is? Then everyone will be let in. Or is it a matter of how holy and just God is? Then no one will get in. So how do you know exactly? Will you ever come to a point in your life where you feel completely, totally ensured of your standing before this deity?

Yet, some say you can find assurance. But how? Mainly, by measuring yourself up against everyone else. The classic bell-curve of life. But how trustworthy is this methodology to gain assurance anyways? Let’s take a look.

For one, this is admittedly a very self-righteous thing to do. Especially because you really don’t know other people as much as you think, and additionally, everyone concurs that outward behavior isn’t the only barometer of moral goodness. Motivations, intentions, and attitude are incredibly important to morals. So is finding assurance of your salvation through the self-righteousness means of comparison a moral way of finding your moral assurance? Certainly not. Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally.

In addition, this a also a very judgmental thing to do. For as soon as you become the judge of how much better you are than others, are you not assuming the role that only God has the authority to ultimately determine? Truly, as soon as you start comparing, you inevitably fail yourself morally—twice over. In essence, therefore, to find assurance of your moral standing by comparison to others is to lose assurance of your moral standing altogether.

What do major religions say about assurance for salvation?

Islam and Hinduism says that you can’t be totally ensured. And it is this fear of uncertainty over your salvation that motivates you to do more and more good deeds (to escape levels of spiritual purge or to escape levels of bad caste karma). This is the same ideology of moralistic Christianity, too. You just do better and better to give yourself an advantage in God’s eyes.

This is an age-old problem of all religions, too. Even in the New Testament, a young, rich ruler who claims to have kept the law perfectly since birth still comes to Jesus asking for how he can really, truly be sure if he is saved. Jesus’ response? Whatever is the most valuable thing in your heart is what indicates your functional savior.

Jesus says a rather counter cultural thing—religiously speaking.

In essence, he declares that true Christianity is radically and totally altogether different from every other religion when it comes to assurance of salvation. He says that any currency—especially wealth in god deeds—is not sufficient for salvation. Why? Because any currency before God that is not currency of God can never give you assurance with God.

The God of Christianity is totally holy and just—which means no one gets salvation because we are all too sinful and He is too holy. But the God of Christianity is also totally gracious and loving—which means he has made a way for everyone to be saved.

On the cross, Jesus paid our debt for sins before God, satisfying the just requirements of his holiness, but Jesus offers us his perfect righteousness as a gift of grace to all who would receive. Through Christ, God did not compromise his holiness or his grace. The intersection of the cross was the penultimate and perfection expression of them both.

Christian salvation, then, is radically different: because while major religions say salvation is achieved, Jesus says it is received.

Achieving salvation seems an impossible feat, and never alleviates the pang of whether or not you are assured that God is for you.

Receiving salvation, however, seems an impossible gift, yet always guarantees that God is for you.

The heart of true Christianity, therefore, is not fear, but gratitude and confidence. Unlike every other religion, it proclaims a Savior better than our good deeds—Jesus—whose righteousness was perfect and becomes our own through faith in his perfect life, his death in our place of punishment, and his resurrection, which proves that his righteousness was indeed sufficient for our salvation.

Christianity boldly proclaims that God is for you. And it doesn’t let you doubt it. Its motivation for living a life of good deeds is not by the elusive bait of spiritual gain, but by the concrete gift of obtaining all that is ever to be gained in Christ.

As such, having God’s full acceptance, approval, and love in Christ—not by our deeds—Christians are motivated to live in light of this reality, being grateful for such a salvation and boasting in the Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.

Indeed, we don’t live in fear, because our Savior took our punishment for sin. And we don’t love in un-assurance, because our object of assurance, Jesus, is surely alive and reigning over all things. And we don’t live as judges, because no one is better or worse before God in our own merit. Rather, the motivations for our living are confidence, gratitude, and humility, for we are constantly humbled by the truth that in Christ, God is indeed for us.

If God is for us, who can b against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:31-39

The bigger question is, therefore is not how do you feel about God?, but how does God feel about you?

Indeed, how God feels about you will inform how you feel about God. And how can we know how he feels about us? “He loved us and gave himself up for us” (Gal. 2:20-22); “God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); and “We love because God first loved us” (1 Jn. 1:19).

God is indeed for us, and we can be assured of that most ultimately through Christ.

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Five Love Languages Of GOD = JESUS

We’ve all heard of the five love languages, right? The book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman has been a best seller, not only among Christian circles, but in the non-Christian circles, too.

The basis of the book communicates that we are each wired to experience and give love in different ways. However, Chapman argues that there are five general ‘love languages’ categories and everyone typically falls into either one or two.

These five ‘love language’ categories include the following:

  1. Gifts
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Quality Time
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Think about which category you generally fall into. Maybe you express and receive love the same way. Or maybe you express and receive love differently. Overall, the point is we are creatures that are wired—by our personalities, strengths, and experiences—to enjoy giving and receiving love in different ways.

So, it got me thinking. This renowned book points out the five love languages that apply at a horizontal level, between man and woman, but what about at a vertical level, between humanity and God? In fact, implicit to Chapman’s thesis—that we are created to give and receive love in different ways—lies a significant premise that flies completely under the radar. Namely, if we were created to give and receive love in different ways, then that means, therefore, there is a Creator who has wired us in that specific way for a specific reason. If that premise is true, that means the primary emphasis belongs first to how this Creator relates to us and us to Him, and then secondarily focuses on how we relate to one another in light of that first relation.

Ultimately, the Creator—along with all his characteristics, personality, and nature—is reflected in his design. This is true of authors, painters, basketball players, musicians, and etc. In other words, the art is always an imprint or an expression of the artist. Same goes with God. Being the Creator of the natural order, every aspect of the physical universe bears the weight of God’s glorious fingerprint.

But what else? We know can know God is a brilliant artist, but what about his heart? He simply could have created everything and then skipped out. Creation doesn’t exactly give us enough evidence for how God feels about us, relates with us, and how we are to relate to him.

And that’s where, significantly, these five love languages come in. While creation can deductively point us to God, these love languages can inductively point us to God. Meaning, how he has created us to give and receive love provides us the blueprints for how he wants to give and receive love to us. God is creator (Gen.1) and God is love (1 Jn. 4:19).

So these five love languages (gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and physical touch) tell us about the nature of God. However, before we start filling in the blanks for God is like all these things, we first must let God fill in the blanks about himself about he expresses himself in this way.

And his answer?

Jesus.

Jesus is the five love languages of God.

He is the ultimate Gift of God to us. He was given at the greatest cost, for the greatest purpose, to be the solution for the greatest need, when we were least worthy.

He is the Word of grace of truth, the ultimate dynamic of true affirmation. Being all grace unfortunately results in liberal sentimentalism, with no backbone for true justice. But being all truth all unfortunately results in cold-hearted fundamentalism, with no acceptance for true love. But Jesus exudes the perfect balance, who died for our sins to fulfill all justice, but who gives his righteousness as a gift to display only grace.

He is the embodiment of Quality Time, for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and whose presence will never be exhausted from you (Heb. 13:5,8). In Christ, you can approach God with confidence whenever because Christ reigns as your mediator forever (Heb. 4:6; 3:12).

He is the ultimate example of Acts of Service, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Ph. 2:6-8).

He is the ultimate example of Physical Touch, who, while he was transcendent, became descendent, incarnating into our nature, being the God-man who alone could bridge the gap between God and fallen man.

Overall, God says that if you want to know who He is, then look at Jesus. And Jesus says, if you want to know who God is, look at Him. For Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” and “the image of the invisible God” (Heb. 1; Col. 1). Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn. 14:9).

After all, how we can really know what all these five love languages are without the Standard to measure them by? Jesus, indeed, is this standard and the ultimate example for all these languages.

So when you think about how you like to give and receive love, be assured that God has first given that type of love to you, and that you can ultimately know His love by the person and work of Jesus. Whatever love language you are and whatever longings you need fulfilled, God has fulfilled it.

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Motivations of Christianity

Let’s just be honest for a second. With the exceptions of Christianity’s ethics toward sex, money, and power (which I understand are pretty big things), Christian ethics look a lot like secular ethics. In fact, secular ethics borrow much of their ethics from Christianity. The 10 Commandments, for example, are a prime example. Everyone seems to inherently understand that stealing is wrong, murdering is wrong, false witness is wrong, and sleeping with someone else’s spouse is wrong—even the most passionate relativist (which is a whole other argument in and of itself).

However, the motivations that lie at the bottom of Christian ethics and secular ethics could not be more different. In fact, the motivations behind Christian ethics even differ from every single other world religion, too. On the surface, each ethical system—secular or religious—calls forth similar external behavior, but Christianity makes a case that only it can deliver the best type of ‘external’ behavior, because only it starts with a radically different set of ‘internal’ motivations to cause such a type of behavior after all.

So, what is this motivation, and why is it even important?

Author and theologian, J. I. Packer, brilliantly explains the power of biblical motivation, and what sets it apart from every other world religion or ethical system. Check out what he has to say:

The secular world never understands Christian motivation. Faced with the question of what makes Christians tick, unbelievers maintain that Christianity is practiced only out of self-serving purposes. They see Christians as fearing the consequences of not being Christians (religion as fire insurance), or feeling the need of help and support to achieve their goals (religion as crutch), or wishing to sustain a social identity (religion as a badge of respectability). No doubt all these motivations can be found among the membership of churches: it would be futile to dispute that. But . . . a self-seeking motivation brought into the church is not thereby made Christian, nor will holiness ever be the right name for religious routines thus motivated. From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain but the heart of gratitude.[1]

In a nutshell, the distinctive factor that sets Christian ethics apart from every other secular or religious system is that its motives starts as a response to what has already been gained—not a response to gain.

Do you do good deeds to gain reward from God or do you do good deeds for God because you’re grateful that in Christ God has given you everything that you could ever want or need by His grace, and that there is nothing left to be gained by your works?

In fact, when we think that there is more love, acceptance, and approval to be gained by our good works, we are essentially implying that Jesus’ work on the cross for us was lacking, and that we must or can even add to that.

For one, we can’t even add to Jesus’ work for us to gain God’s love and forgiveness and approval. If we think we can, we are overestimating how sinful we are and how holy he is. Besides, can an inherently sinful person strive in his naturally unholy ways to present God with a holiness on par with Jesus’ holy work, who was inherently holy, as a way to add to Jesus’ work for us? No, of course not. It’s logically inconceivable and functionally impossible.

Here are some critical implications of the belief that we think we can earn God’s blessing, love, approval, and acceptance by our works. If our motive is fundamentally to gain, then the result of our works will be either despair or pride. If you end up morally succeeding, then you inevitably become prideful because you can only credit yourself for earning God’s approval. However, if you end up morally failing, then you inevitably despair because you can only blame yourself for failing to earn God’s approval. So what are the moral byproducts of such a moral spectrum? Pride and despair. Seems like a moral dead end to me.

So, regardless, morally speaking, you are all the way back to square one. And let’s be reassess the situation as it is—are self-righteous pride and self-loathing despair the best sources of motivation to constantly refuel and strengthen your moral endeavors anyways? No, of course not. If anything, they will just exhaust you. And in the process of your exhaustion, it is likely that you will inevitably resort to do three things. In fact, I have witnessed this in the church—and in my own life—more than I would ever like to confess. Here’s what you will do if you are exhausted morally:

  1. You will lower the demand and the law, cheapening the requirements of goodness, so that you can feel better about yourself. I’m not that bad after all, right?
  2. You will give yourself cheap grace, continually sweeping sin under the rug and trying to maintain the appearance of goodness. I’m pretty good after all, right?
  3. You will actually believe something else. You can’t live according to your beliefs, so you change them in order to alleviate your stress over the issue. As long as I’m a good person, it doesn’t matter what I believe, right?

In other words, an ethical system from secular society or other religions motivates ethical living by the whip and spur of fear, guilt, pride, or self-preservation. All these start and end with the individual.

But the motivations at the heart of Christian ethics are radically different, as J.I. Packer explains. Instead of starting with the individual, it starts with God. Before we could even think about doing good works for gain, God gives us everything that we could never have earned, even if we had infinite lifetimes to try to earn it.

While we were at our absolute worst, being enemies of God, being in direct rebellion against him, and living for ourselves and under our own lordship—God gave up everything he had to save us from our own destruction, took our penalty of sin into himself, and died in our place. And even while we were at our absolute best, trying to be friends of God, trying to live in direct adoration of Him, living for his approval and lordship—our efforts are too stained with selfishness and are too unholy, so God died for our sins and offers the perfect righteousness we need for salvation through Christ.

Before we could do anything for God, Christ did it all for God, for us. Now it’s our turn—so is there anything left to do? No. Jesus claimed, “It is finished.” All the work for salvation is completed, and His righteousness is offered to you. In Christ’s righteousness, you have perfect fellowship, approval, acceptance, and love from God the Father. You can’t add to it.

There’s nothing left to be gained, for you have gained it all in Christ. So, now you live motivated with a supernaturally huge amount of gratefulness, humility, and confidence in God’s love.

Remember how the motivations from other ethical systems end in either pride or despair when they start with the effort to gain? Well now let’s see what happens when we start with gratefulness and humility for the fact that we have gained everything in Christ. So you succeed morally? Fantastic, and praise the Lord, for he’s worth living for, right? So you fail morally? Get back up, and praise the Lord, for he’s forgiven you already, right? The gospel doesn’t allow you to boast in your goodness and doesn’t allow you to despair in your badness; instead it motivates by gratefulness, humility, and confidence and produces exactly what it promises: righteousness. Because Christ gave you his righteousness, you inevitably become functionally for God what you already are positionally before God: righteous. You become in practice what you already are in position: righteous.

And what about long term progress? You won’t grow exhausted. Rather, you will grow encouraged, even in your shortcomings. And you will get better morally, too. Ironically, though, you won’t even know you are getting better because your focus will not be on your improvement, but will be on your great Savior. In fact, the paradox of Christianity is this: if you work on your improvement and not Christ, you won’t really get either. But if you seek Jesus as your ultimate ends, you will find great improvement along the way. Indeed, when you stop naval-gazing morally, you will only then become more attuned to others’ needs instead of your own, and your Savior’s glory and kingdom more than your own.

All in all, Christian motivations are important. They start with God, and end with God, and in the process we are swept away in a glory that transforms us more and more into the person of Jesus, who is the ultimate example of morality after all.

Therefore, don’t get caught up in the DO of Christianity. Get caught up in the DONE. And meanwhile, I think you’ll find the ‘DO’ a lot easier, more enjoyable, and more motivating than before.

_______

Here’s another blog of mine on motivations: https://gospelfocus289.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/extravagant-motivations-come-from-our-extravagant-god/

[1] J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, Mich: Servant Press, 1992), 75.

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