Monthly Archives: July 2012

Fighting Sin with Worship

Originally posted here by Tony Reinke but worthy of a repost.

(The following post has been transcribed and edited from Tim Keller’s sermon “Sin as Slavery,” which can be downloaded for free here.)

Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.

In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to wantthe good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.

Sin Is Addiction

All sin is addiction. Whether it’s bitterness, whether it’s envy, whether it’s materialism, whether it’s laziness, whether it’s impurity — every sinful action becomes an addiction. And every sinful action brings into your life a power that operates exactly like addiction cycles and addiction dynamics begin to operate.

In other words, in the specific addictions of alcohol or drug addiction, or voyeurism, or exhibitionism, or sexual addictions, you actually have a microcosm of how sin works in general.

You know how addiction works. It starts like this: There’s some kind of disappointment or distress in your life. As a result you choose to deal with that distress with an agent; it might be sex, it might be drugs, it might be alcohol. The agent promises transcendence. The agent promises freedom, a sense of being in control, a sense of being above all this, a sense of being liberated, a sense of escape. And so you do it. But when you do it, when you take the addicting agent as a way of dealing with life, the trap is set.

The trap is set because three things begin to happen:

1. Tolerance. You get trapped into what the experts call the “tolerance effect.” In other words, the tolerance effect is that today this or that amount of alcohol or drugs, or this kind of sexual experience, will pale in comparison to your desires tomorrow. The same activity will not give you that same experience any more, and you will find you need more and more and more. What brought you joy yesterday will not be enough to give you joy tomorrow, because your emotions are shriveling and numbing. There’s a tolerance effect.

2. Denial. Addiction destroys because of denial. We all know part of addiction patterns is that your craving makes you rationalize and justify. It twists your thinking. You become selective in your reasoning, selective about your memory. You’ll do all sorts of tortured rationalizations, but you refuse to think clearly and objectively. You can’t.

3. Defeat. Addictions destroy willpower. You know you are an addict when you are trying to escape your distress with the very thing that brought you your distress. And when you are in that spiral, you are stuck forever — down and down and down and down.

Sin in general operates like that. When you think disobedience to God is going to bring freedom, the very act that promises freedom is taking the freedom. The very act that you think is putting you in the driver’s seat of your life is taking you out of the driver’s seat of your life.

Playing With Fire

The Bible defines sin as craving something more than God. Sin is making something moreimportant than God. If you’re just religious occasionally, if God is on the outskirts of your life, that is the essence of sin, and that sin grows.

Jonathan Edwards says sin turns the heart into a fire. Just as there has never been a fire that said, “Enough fuel, I’m fine now,” so there has never been a sinful heart that said, “I have had enough success. I’ve had enough love. I’ve had enough approval. I’ve had enough comfort.” Oh, no. The more fuel you put into the fire, the hotter it burns, and the hotter it burns, the more it needs, the more oxygen it is sucking and the more fuel it requires.

And this is the heart of the fire. Next time you are crabby, or grumpy, or irritable, or scared to death, or in the pits, ask yourself: What am I telling myself would make me happy if onlyI had it? There is an if only at the bottom of this. Whatever is your if only, that becomes your slave master. It destroys your will.

This explains how lies necessitate other lies. Envy necessitates more envy. Racism necessitates more racist thoughts. Jealously necessitates more jealous thoughts. Bitterness necessitates more bitter thoughts. In the beginning when you first tell a lie you still have an appetite for the truth, but it won’t take long. Sin is a power. And the things you crave become your slave masters because in your heart those things burn with this idea: if only. Everything would be fine if only I had that. This creates a suction in your life. The more you throw in, the more it wants.

Winning the Firefight

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, “If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.”

And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.

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Catechizing as a Means of Personal Evangelism

The work of conversion consisteth of two parts: First, the informing of the judgment in the essential principles of religion; Second, The change of the will by the efficacy of the truth. Now in [catechizing] we have the most excellent advantages for both. For the informing of their understandings, it must needs be an excellent help to have the sum of Christianity fixed in their memory. And though bare words, not understood, will make no change, yet, when the words are plain English, he that hath the words is far more likely to understand the meaning and matter than another. For what have we by which to make known things which are themselves invisible, but words or other signs? Those, therefore, who deride all catechisms as unprofitable forms, may better deride themselves for talking and using the form of their own words to make known their minds to others. Why may not written words, which are constantly before their eyes, and in their memories, instruct them, as well as the transient words of a preacher? These ‘forms of sound words’ are, therefore, so far from being unprofitable, as some persons imagine, that they are of admirable use to all. Besides, we shall have the opportunity, by personal conference, to try how far they understand the catechism, and to explain it to them as we go along; and to insist on those particulars which the persons we speak to have most need to hear. These two conjoined — a form of sound words, with a plain explication — may do more than either of them could do alone.

Moreover, we shall have the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual’s particular necessity, and say to the sinner, ‘Thou art the man,” and plainly mention his particular case; and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If any thing in the world is likely to do them good, it is this. They will understand a familiar speech, who understand not a sermon; and they will have far greater help for the application of it to themselves. Besides, you will hear their objections, and know where it is that Satan hath most advantage of them, and so may be able to show them their errors, and confute their objections, and more effectually convince them. We can better bring them to the point, and urge them to discover their resolutions for the future, and to promise the use of means and reformation, than otherwise we could do. What more proof need we of this, than our own experience? I seldom deal with men purposely on this great business, in private, serious conference, but they go away with some seeming convictions, and promises of new obedience, if not some deeper remorse, and sense of their condition.

O brethren, what a blow may we give to the kingdom of darkness, by the faithful and skillful managing of this work! If, then, the saving of souls, of your neighbours’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labor, up and be doing! If you would be the fathers of many that are born again, and would ‘see of the travail of your souls,’ and would be able to say at last, ‘Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me’ — up and ply this blessed work! If it would do your heart good to see your converts among the saints in glory, and praising the Lamb before the throne; if it would rejoice you to present them blameless and spotless to Christ, prosecute with diligence and ardor this singular opportunity that is offered you. If you are ministers of Christ indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and you will ‘travail as in birth’ till Christ be formed in the souls of your people. You will embrace such opportunities as your harvest-time affords, and as the sunshine days in a rainy harvest, in which it is unreasonable and inexcusable to be idle. If you have a spark of Christian compassion in you, it will surely seem worth your utmost labor to save so many ‘souls from death, and to cover’ so great ‘a multitude of sins.’ If, then, you are indeed fellow-workers with Christ, set to his work, and neglect not the souls for whom he died. O remember, when you are talking with the unconverted, that now you have an opportunity to save a soul, and to rejoice the angels of heaven, and to rejoice Christ himself, to cast Satan out of a sinner, and to increase the family of God! And what is your ‘hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? ’ Is it not your saved people ‘in the presence of Christ Jesus at his coming? ’ Yes, doubtless ‘they are your glory and your joy.’

Richard Baxter (1615-91), The Reformed Pastor, Chapter 3, Section 2, Article 1.

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5 Ways the Bible Speaks of God’s Love

5 distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God:

(1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. John’s Gospel is especially rich in this theme. Twice we are told that the Father loves the Son, once with the verb aj gapa ́ w (John 3:35), and once with oile ́w (John 5:20). Yet the evangelist also insists that the world must learn that Jesus loves the Father (John 14:31). This intra-Trinitarian love of God not only marks off Christian monotheism from all other monotheisms, but is bound up in surprising ways with revela- tion and redemption. I shall return to this theme in the next chapter.

(2) God’s providential love over all that he has made. By and large the Bible veers away from using the word love in this connection, but the theme is not hard to find. God creates everything, and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be “good” (Gen. 1). This is the product of a loving Creator. The Lord Jesus depicts a world in which God clothes the grass of the fields with the glory of wildflowers seen by no human being, perhaps, but seen by God. The lion roars and hauls down its prey, but it is God who feeds the animal. The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God’s loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matt. 6). If this were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson that Jesus drives home, viz. that this God can be trusted to provide for his own people, would be incoherent.

(3) God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world. God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos (“world”) here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John’s Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.

The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out, “As surely as I live . . . I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).9

(4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others. The people of Israel are told, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37). Again: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descen- dants, above all the nations, as it is today” (10:14-15).

The striking thing about these passages is that when Israel is contrasted with the universe or with other nations, the distinguishing feature has nothing of personal or national merit; it is nothing other than the love of God. In the very nature of the case, then, God’s love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations.

Obviously, this way of speaking of the love of God is unlike the other three ways of speaking of God’s love that we have looked at so far. This discriminating feature of God’s love surfaces frequently. “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3), God declares. Allow all the room you like for the Semitic nature of this contrast, observing that the absolute form can be a way of articulating absolute preference; yet the fact is that God’s love in such passages is peculiarly directed toward the elect.

Similarly in the New Testament: Christ “loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). Repeatedly the New Testament texts tell us that the love of God or the love of Christ is directed toward those who constitute the church.

(5) Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience. It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” Jude exhorts his readers (v. 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God’s providential love; it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God’s yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love. If words mean anything, one does not, as we shall see, walk away from that love either.

Jude is not the only one who speaks in such terms. The Lord Jesus commands his disciples to remain in his love (John 15:9), and adds, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). To draw a feeble analogy: Although there is a sense in which my love for my children is immutable, so help me God, regardless of what they do, there is another sense in which they know well enough that they must remain in my love. If for no good reason my teenagers do not get home by the time I have prescribed, the least they will experience is a bawling out, and they may come under some restrictive sanctions. There is no use reminding them that I am doing this because I love them. That is true, but the manifestation of my love for them when I ground them and when I take them out for a meal or attend one of their concerts or take my son fishing or my daughter on an excursion of some sort is rather different in the two cases. Only the latter will feel much more like remaining in my love than falling under my wrath.

D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 16-20.

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God Glorified in Man’s Dependence

“so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:29-31

There is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God. The nature and contrivance of our redemption is such, that the redeemed are in every thing directly, immediately, and entirely dependent on God: they are dependent on him for all, and are dependent on him every way.

The several ways wherein the dependence of one being may be upon another for its good, and wherein the redeemed of Jesus Christ depend on God for all their good, are these, viz., that they have all their good of him, and that they have all through him, and that they have all in him:

First, the redeemed have all their good of God. God is the great author of it. He is the first cause of it; and not only so, but he is the only proper cause. It is of God that we have our Redeemer. It is God that has provided a Savior for us. Jesus Christ is not only of God in his person, as he is the only-begotten Son of God, but he is from God, as we are concerned in him, and in his office of Mediator. He is the gift of God to us: God chose and anointed him, appointed him his work, and sent him into the world. And as it is God that gives, so it is God that accepts the Savior. He gives the purchaser, and he affords the thing purchased.

1. The redeemed have all from the grace of God. It was of mere grace that God gave us his only-begotten Son. The grace is great in proportion to the excellency of what is given. The gift was infinitely precious, because it was of a person infinitely worthy, a person of infinite glory; and also because it was of a person infinitely near and dear to God. The grace is great in proportion to the benefit we have given us in him. The benefit is doubly infinite, in that in him we have deliverance from an infinite, because an eternal, misery, and do also receive eternal joy and glory. The grace in bestowing this gift is great in proportion to our unworthiness to whom it is given; instead of deserving such a gift, we merited infinitely ill of God’s hands.

2. We receive all from the power of God. Man’s redemption is often spoken of as a work of wonderful power as well as grace. The great power of God appears in bringing a sinner from his low state, from the depths of sin and misery, to such an exalted state of holiness and happiness.

Secondly, they are also dependent on God for all, as they have all through him. God is the medium of it, as well as the author and fountain of it. All we have, wisdom, the pardon of sin, deliverance from hell, acceptance into God’s favor, grace and holiness, true comfort and happiness, eternal life and glory, is from God by a Mediator; and this Mediator is God; which Mediator we have an absolute dependence upon, as he through whom we receive all. So that here is another way wherein we have our dependence on God for all good. God not only gives us the Mediator, and accepts his mediation, and of his power and grace bestows the things purchased by the Mediator; but he the Mediator is God.

Thirdly, the redeemed have all their good in God. We not only have it of him, and through him, but it consists in him; he is all our good.–The good of the redeemed is either objective or inherent. By their objective good, I mean that extrinsic object, in the possession and enjoyment of which they are happy. Their inherent good is that excellency or pleasure which is in the soul itself. With respect to both of which the redeemed have all their good in God, or which is the same thing, God himself is all their good.

1. The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling-place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honour and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the “river of the water of life” that runs, and “the tree of life that grows, in the midst of the paradise of God.” The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast.

2. The redeemed have all their inherent good in God. Inherent good is twofold; it is either excellency or pleasure. These the redeemed not only derive from God, as caused by him, but have them in him. They have spiritual excellency and joy by a kind of participation of God. They are made excellent by a communication of God’s excellency. God puts his own beauty, i.e. his beautiful likeness, upon their souls. They are made partakers of the divine nature, or moral image of God, 2 Pet. i. 4. They are holy by being made partakers of God’s holiness, Heb. xii. 10. The saints are beautiful and blessed by a communication of God’s holiness and joy, as the moon and planets are bright by the sun’s light. The saint hath spiritual joy and pleasure by a kind of effusion of God on the soul. In these things the redeemed have communion with God; that is, they partake with him and of him.

Let us be exhorted to exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption. Let us endeavor to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is naturally exceeding prone to exalt himself, and depend on his own power or goodness; as though from himself he must expect happiness. He is prone to have respect to enjoyments alien from God and his Spirit, as those in which happiness is to be found.–But this doctrine should teach us to exalt God alone: as by trust and reliance, so by praise. Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence” (sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:29-30, preached in Boston, July 8, 1731).

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The Man-Centeredness of Prosperity Theology

Prosperity teaching raises the very question that Satan asked God: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Though Job’s faith was proved genuine, many other people are less interested in God himself than in the fringe benefits we claim that he offers. The world comes to a prosperous Church with mixed motives. As Sir Robert L’Estrange, a seventeenth-century British journalist, observed, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”

The central problem with the health-and-wealth gospel is that it’s man-centered, not God-centered. When approached from a “prosperity” posture, prayer degenerates into coercion, by which we “name it and claim it,” pulling God’s leash until he follows our whims. We attempt to arm-twist the Almighty into increasing our comforts and underwriting lifestyles about which we’ve not bothered to consult him in the first place.

“Faith” becomes a crowbar to break down the door of God’s reluctance, rather than a humble attempt to lay hold of his willingness. When we claim the blood of Christ, believing that God must take away this illness or handicap or financial hardship, are we asking him to remove the very things he has put into our lives to make us more Christlike?

We treat God as an object, a tool, a means to an end. God’s blessing on financial giving is turned into a money-back guarantee whereby he is obligated to do precisely what we want. A Florida man heard a pastor say that if the man gave a hundred dollars, God would give him a thousand dollars back. When the thousand never came, he filed a lawsuit against the church.

In prosperity theology, God is seen as a great no-lose lottery in the sky, a cosmic slot machine into which you put in a coin and pull the lever, then stick out your hat and catch the winnings while your “casino buddies” (or fellow Christians) whoop and holler (or say “Amen”) and wait their turn in line.

God’s reason for existing, apparently, is to give us what we want. If we had no needs, God would probably just disappear. After all, what purpose would he serve? This feeble theology reduces prayer to an endless “wish list” that we take before our Santa God. Many healthy and wealthy Christians view God as little more than a wish-granting fairy. We call him “Master” but treat him like a genie. Instead of rubbing a lamp, we quote a verse or say “Praise the Lord” three times, and presto-change-o, abracadabra, the smoky God with the funny hat and big biceps is indebted to act out the script we’ve written for him. Consider God’s role in relation to us in these words of a prominent preacher of prosperity: “Put God to work for you and maximize your potential in our divinely ordered capitalist system.”

Our pragmatic use of God demonstrates a clear lack of interest in God himself. After all, who cares what a genie is like? Genies serve one purpose—to grant us our wishes and make us prosperous and happy. Instead of being the great subject of our faith, for many of us God is merely an object—which explains the glut of sermons, books, articles, seminars, and conversations about us and the dearth of those about God. He is introduced and dismissed at our convenience. “You can go now, God—I’ll call you back when I think of something else I want.”

The Bible shows us a very different picture of God, in which he is central, his glory is the focal point of the universe, and his sovereign purpose entitles him to do what he wills, even when it violates what we want and expect.

When righteous Job lost everything, even his own sons and daughters, he fell to the ground and worshiped God, saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” We’re told, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:21-22).

In contrast, when advocates of a prosperity gospel lose their health and wealth, they often lose their faith. They conclude that they must have committed some unknown sin. If they could only find it and confess it, they would get their health and wealth back. The only other alternative is that God’s promises are not true, that God is undependable, or that he’s forsaken them. Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.” Job’s response was a simple question that exposes the shallowness of prosperity theology: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10).

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Chapter 6.

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Beware the Religion of “I”

Paul recounts (Galatians 1:13-17) that he had been persecuting the church. He adds, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14). At that stage in Paul’s life, he was captivated by the religion of I.

1) The religion of I is a way of life (v. 13). It is a code, a series of rules. It is easily defined and quantified. It is something that I can feel good about having achieved. It is a series of boxes on my to-do list that I can check off. Particularly, the “former life” is likely to refer to the halakhah of rabbinic Judaism, the oral tradition of rules used to interpret the Bible; the word here is also used to translate the Hebrew halakh as “walk” or “conduct.” When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you . . . ,” he was referring to the rabbinic interpretation of the Old Testament, through which they brought the rules down to an achievable standard in their human flesh. Actually, the law was intended to point to Christ, who alone could achieve the standard for us. The religion of I is a way of life,a conduct, a behavior. It is concerned with the external, not the internal, with good doing, not good being. There is a constant temptation to interpret the Bible that way. People view Bible-believing Christians as those who are for certain moral positions and against certain behavior, not as a people who proclaim a message of good news to all nations.

2) The religion of I has a nationalistic interpretation of the Bible. It was Paul’s way of life in Judaism (v. 13), and he was advancing in Judaism (v. 14). This is the only time “Judaism” is used by Paul to describe his former lifestyle, and here it is used twice. Judaism as a term was developed by the Maccabees in response to Jews who were beginning to live more like Greeks. Judaism then became a nationally defined movement with certain particular criteria (circumcision, sacrifice, the Sabbath) that defined a proper Jew living like a Jew.

The religion of I typically becomes nationalistic, for, in the corporate entity of the nation, we find a larger than life I. We become proud of our nation in a religious sense. Most vicious totalitarian regimes cultivate a religious feeling toward the nation. We tend to feel that God is on our side and that God speaks our language. I suppose Mormonism is the ultimate extension of this, where, despite all the archaeological evidence, Jesus is viewed as having walked the sacred turf of America.

When I did mission work in the Republic of Georgia, I noticed that the pictures of Jesus contained a good, handsome Georgian man, whereas, of course, the Western Jesus tends to look Western, when surely, if anything, he looked Jewish. The British Israelites movement believed that the British nation was one of the lost tribes of Israel. Every nation has this temptation. It is a religion of I, where we see projected onto the big screen our national characteristics and claim God as an Englishman, an American, or whatever nation it is from which we come.

3) The religion of I is opposed to the church of God (v. 13). Paul violently and vigorously persecuted the church like a good zealous fanatic who had been commissioned to seek the punishment of those thought to have blasphemed by calling Jesus “God.” Looking back, he realized that those he had persecuted were actually the church of God, not a blasphemous sect. Today, the religion of I tends to persecute the church too, for in the gathered community of God’s people there is a deep and prevailing threat to the religion of I. Church is not individualistic. It is a community, and a community requires commitment. To find community in a church, you need to make a commitment, get involved, take the initiative, and have time together. The religion of I tends to sit back and let it all flow by. “What’s in it for me?” is the great question, not “What I can give?” and, of course, this is opposed to the community of the church of God, even if only passively.

4) The religion of I is competitive. Paul was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14). That is the classic feeling of the religion of I. Who is the best theologian? Whose Greek is the best? Whose is the best and biggest church? Whose prayer is the best? All this is vanity, for what is best with regard to God is defined only by God. When we are captivated with the religion of I, what matters is what other I’s think, not what the Great I Am thinks. We strive for heaven in order to impress earth, and heaven is not impressed.

5) The religion of I is zeal without knowledge (v. 14). It is fine to be zealous, Paul will say again (Gal. 4:17–18), provided the purpose is good, but the agitators were trying to make the Galatians zealous for them. He knew all about that. Zeal was almost a technical word at the time, and later the zealots became a defined movement. Paul was not a zealot, we think, but a Pharisee of Pharisees, yet zeal was a technical defined word for being zealous for traditions, for codes of behavior. The Judaizing false teachers were trying to turn the Christians back to what they had interpreted the Scriptures as being about—zeal for the human traditions of their fathers—rather than zeal for Christ and his gospel, as the Scriptures purely and simply spoke.

Classically, the religion of I is this zeal without knowledge. It is passionate, but it is the kind of zeal that blows up buildings and causes wars and fights. The solution is not relativistic tolerance or a vague “anything goes” attitude. The solution is zeal for what is good and godly. No one can be too zealous for love or too zealous for the gospel, but the religion of I is zeal without knowledge; it is barking up the wrong tree.

6) The religion of I is tradition overwriting the Word (v. 14). One caught up in this religion is zealous for the traditions of his fathers, this oral law and way of life. He is not zealous for the Bible or the gospel. This is typically what happens. A movement gets more concerned with “how we have always done it” or “what we did before” and not with the truly radical thought of what the Bible actually teaches us to do.

So reject the religion of I, which means religion as a way of life, a nationalistic interpretation of the Bible, individualism opposing church commitment, fractious competition, zeal without knowledge, and tradition overwriting the Word. Paul, by means of his autobiography, is telling us that we need to reject the religion of I and receive the faith of God.

Josh Moody, No Other Gospel, 62-65.

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Fascination with Fireworks and the Wonder of God

Summer heat holds the air.  The bronzing sun falls beneath the horizon.  As the blanket of darkness is pulled across the sky people young and old flee their homes seeking wonder.  Masses gather gazing towards the heavens anticipating the genesis of their amazement.  The hush of the crowd is broken by a cannon-like burst followed by a breach in the night.  The blackness of the evening’s ceiling is in a moment undone by the flash of multicolor pearls of light.  One after the other, the sky is illuminated, leaving children and the aged awestruck alike.  With mouths gaping and eyes fixed, everyone’s mind is filled with wonder and their hearts are carried away for a brief time.  As the sky darkens once again the multitude hastens back to their dwellings, singing the praises of the glorious display of power and artistry they have just witnessed.

Two thousand years ago this would sound like an appearance of angels, possibly to shepherds on a hillside, but today this is a yearly occasion for Americans – any one of the Fourth of July events centered upon a fireworks display.  The question that arises from such an occasion is why do we find such wonder and amazement in fireworks?  Why do they, year after year, from our youngest days to the day of our death, cause us to stand in awe? I do no think it is not simply because they are loud to the ears or spectacular to the eyes, though they are.  It is not simply because fireworks awaken the inner child within us all, who finds amazement in the simple pleasures of life, though they do.  I believe it is something deeper.  Something deep within us as well as something greatly outside of us.

The reason, I believe, we find such wonder in fireworks is their shadowy reflection of our Creator and mankind’s universal knowledge of Him.  Just think about it for a minute.  We were created by God, bearers of His image, to know Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him.  Mankind was appointed as vice-regents of creation, to be under-creators, being made in His image.  But something terrible happened.  Mankind was not satisfied with his position and sought to become more like God through his own efforts.  Rebelling against his Creator, the human race fell from its exalted position, marring the image of God though not destroying it.  While, before the fall, all human creativity and work was to be a reflection of God Himself, bringing Him glory, now, after the fall, mankind creates and works for his own glory, though a tension or better yet an unfulfilled desire exists.  Since all of creation was meant to point to and be a testimony to God’s glory and might, when we enjoy, find amazement in, or set our affections on something/one created our hearts cry out for something greater.  Something greater than ourselves.  Something greater that the world around us.  Our hearts cry out for God.

So how do fireworks fit into this picture.  Who is praised after the fireworks are over?  The manufacturers, the firework technicians, or the proprietors of the place putting on the show are all the usual recipients, but rarely ever is God praised.  Fireworks are a creation of man for the praise and enjoyment of man.  Still bearing the image of our Creator, we create and continue to do so unknowingly as a reflection of Him.  Fireworks are mere glimmers of creativity and power in comparison to God and His creation.  Just look past the fireworks and you will see the wonder, the beauty, the power of  God in the expanse of the heavens and the heavenly bodies that fill it.  The Psalmist proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  While fireworks come and go in an instant, God’s creation continues on.  Stars continue to shine, planets perpetually revolve, and we, here on this earth, minuscule in comparison to all things, still live.  It is He who in the beginning “created the heavens and the earth”, who spoke and said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”, and who at the very moment “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Amazing!  This, I believe gets at the root of our awe of fireworks.  In those moments we catch a glimpse of the most spectacular fireworks display ever, God creating.  To ignore this is to deprive ourselves of seeing and enjoying God’s glory in creation reflected through His image bearers.  It is to deny the very reason we were created.

This God is still at work today, not only upholding all things but is at work undoing the effects of our sin in us as well as in the world.  Not only do we need to stand in awe of the Creator of all things, we need that same God to illuminate our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, for our hearts are a dark void just as the world was before God spoke light into existence.  We all need what Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Without this light given by the grace of God the only wonder and joy we will ever find in this world and for eternity will be in fleeting flashes, shadows of beauty, and quiet echoes of something more.

Enjoy the show, stand in awe and wonder, but remember that behind all that you see is the hand, the reflection, the presence of God.

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