Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: sin

Jesus and Satan

Jesus and Satan were not strangers when they met before Jesus began His earthly ministry. They had known each other since before the world began. Each understood the other’s intentions and that it would be defeat for them if the other one could gain his goal.

Satan offered Jesus sovereignty over all the nations and peoples of the world, as a subordinate to himself. Jesus could enforce righteousness over all the world, but in the end all people would be doomed to hell.

He had already convinced the Jewish leadership of that day that this was a good plan. Messiah would come and rule the world with a rod of iron and the Jewish people could Lord it over all the people of the world.

He offered the same idea, just packaged a little differently to Karl Marx. There would be a time of struggle followed by an ideal society of equality and peace. He offered it to the Ayatollah’s of Iran, a strict enforcement of righteousness would bring peace. He offers an earthly utopia in many different ways, all have brought disappointment, and left people worse off than they were before.

The devil is even offering this dream of an earthly utopia to Christians today. He tells them that Christ will return and establish a 1,000 year reign of peace over all the world. But even those who describe this earthly reign of peace in alluring terms say it will end badly. At the end of the 1,000 years there will be a great rebellion ending in an unprecedented bloodbath.

This dream offered by Satan in many different forms is a means of distracting people’s attention from their greatest need. They are sinners, doomed to eternal damnation.

Jesus refused Satan’s offer. Satan’s only alternative then was to destroy Jesus, so that he could have uncontested sovereignty. That was going to be easy, because Satan already had control of the Jewish authorities.

Thus it happened that Jesus was condemned to death, scourged and nailed to a wooden cross. There He hung, broken, defeated; Satan’s total victory just minutes away.

Then Jesus spoke from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and Satan’s expected became a crushing defeat. Satan had never anticipated that God would forgive the world of sinners who had rejected and mistreated His Son. How could He? Forgiveness is completely foreign to him.

Satan is defeated, doomed. He knows it; his hatred of God and his anger at God now moves him to capture as many people as possible and take them to hell with him.

God forgives us when we surrender completely to Him with all our being. He sets us free. But we won’t be free for long if we do not forgive others. If our feelings are hurt, if we are bitter over being mistreated or neglected, if we are angry, Satan already has us in his claws. The only way to get free is to forgive.

Even if we say, I forgive, but surely God will deal with that other person some day, Satan still has us in his claws. We must forgive completely to be completely free. God will judge all sin. He doesn’t need us to tell him who, or when or how. That is His domain, not ours.

We cannot outsmart Satan, we cannot overpower him. There is only one weapon that is effective against him. For that reason he does his utmost to prevent us from using it. Forgiveness is the weapon that is more powerful than anything in Satan’s arsenal.

All Christians are hypocrites

□ True
□ False

I think we have to check the true box on this one. Let’s be clear though, that we are not hypocrites because we are Christian, we are hypocrites because we are human. The desire to appear to be better than we are is endemic in humanity.

Becoming a Christian makes us aware of that fact, but we are very prone to forget. Perhaps we should write it in red lipstick upon every mirror in our home: “We are not better than other people.”

Would that help? Perhaps at first, then we would probably forget again. Oh, we would see it there and nod our heads in agreement. But, human nature being as it is, our thinking would gradually shift to believing that it applies to other people that we know, not so much to us.

The one thing that should make a difference between people who are Christian and those who are not, is the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I think back to the time before I was converted, I really and truly believed that I was doing the best that I could, under the circumstances. That is how we are made, and it is probably best for our mental health to think that way–as long as we know of no remedy for the all things in our life that we have messed up.

But there came a day when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I could not blame people and circumstances for all the things that I had messed up in my life. I had done them and I needed to own up to them. That condemnation was easier to accept by the invitation that came with it. If I would confess my sins to God, He would forgive them. I did, and He did.

My Christian life began at that point, when all my past sins were taken away. But that is only the beginning.  I did not suddenly become a “good” person, incapable of making the same mistakes that I had made in the past. The only difference was that now I had the Holy Spirit to warn me when I was about to sin. If I ignored Him, He would then prompt me to go back and clean up the mess I had made.

That should be the obvious difference between a person who is a Christian and one who is not. Both will make mistakes, do and say things they shouldn’t, often things that hurt other people. The Christian should admit his fault, apologize and try to make things right. And it should not seem in any way forced or artificial.

Restitution is difficult. It is often difficult to admit what I have done, apologize, and do the best I can to undo the damage that was done. But the more I will do that, the easier it becomes for me to hear and obey the warning voice of the Holy Spirit before I do such a thing the next time. It is when a Christian repeatedly quenches the warning voice of the Holy Spirit that he comes to appear more and more like a hypocrite.

© Bob Goodnough, January 05, 2020

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. [First posted on this blog September 14, 2014]

The abolition of sin in children’s literature

Nowadays the lead character in a highly acclaimed book for children is apt to be a lesbian who is a practicing Wiccan. Parents have been banished from children’s books for many years, but are making a comeback in situations where a child has two mothers or two fathers. But any mention of God, Christianity or morality makes a book far too dangerous for young children.

Perhaps this started in a small way many years ago. The fairy tales of Charles Perrault, from the 18th century, were morality tales. When Little Red Riding Hood got into bed with the wolf, that was the end of her. Perrault made it clear at the end that he was thinking of wolves of the two-legged, smooth talking kind. In Cinderella, the heroine forgave her two stepsisters and found good husbands for them. Perrault’s point was that true beauty is not on the outside, but inside, in the heart. Those moral teachings disappeared in the versions of the Grimm brothers that appeared 100 years later. Little Red Riding Hood was miraculously rescued and Cinderella was well rid of her mean stepsisters.

Children’s books that depicted the value of moral purity and respect for parents went out of fashion years ago. Modern books are teaching a whole different sense of values.

On the other side are the type of conservative Christian children’s books where sin and evil have become unmentionable. Tender and sensitive children must be protected from such awful things. Many parents who think like that would be appalled to see what their children read a few years later.

Even Bible story books are getting the makeover to supposedly make themn less scary to children. David doesn’t kill Goliath, he just defeats him. The Bible says that David didn’t stop with stunning the giant with a stone from his sling, he cut his head off. That is not just gratuitous blood and gore, David did not want to see the giant get up from the ground and seek revenge. He wanted to be sure that he was well and truly dead. We need to do the same with the things that tempt us.

By either denying that anything is sinful or pretending that sin is something about which little children should have no knowledge, neither extreme prepares children to navigate the dangers and temptations of life. Children realize from quite a young age that the world is a scary place. How do we explain the dangers in the world in a way that helps them know to avoid evil and trust in the good?

C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and others have endeavoured to answer this question by creating a genre of Christian fantasy for children. As fantasies they portray dangers in a way that is not explicit, but shows that there are dangerous unseen forces in the world. Children can relate to that. Even more importantly, these books always show that evil can be overcome. The good guys in these fantasies never use the methods of the bad guys in order to win, in itself a very important lesson that is not characteristic of books like Harry Potter.

Another book in the genre is Hari & Rudi in the Land of Fruit, by English author Andrew Ratcliffe. It was published earlier this year and is available from Amazon.

 

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

The bishop said I needed a new heart

In January 1953, Dad told the preacher I would attend the catechism classes, then came home and told me I was going. So I went. I didn’t dare defy my Dad; besides I was with the four guys closest to my age, Leonard, Larry, Carman and Allan. I suspect their dads had done the same thing.

Once a week after school we walked to the Vicarage to study the Anglican catechism. Reverend Brown explained each article, as much as eleven year old boys could understand. The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in June.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began. The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman. He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted. Then he told us:

When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore. When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before. They came just as easily as they ever had! When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you that will change nothing inside of you. To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you. You will need a change of heart.

I didn’t understand what they meant, but those words stuck in my mind. They would resurface occasionally over the years, but it took another 17 years for me to understand. I had grown up in a home where the Bible was read, we attended church faithfully, but nobody else ever spoke to me about the need of a changed heart.

I quit going to church after I left home and tried to enjoy the pleasures of the world, but didn’t find them very gratifying. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what it was. In my reading I had come across the story of people long ago who had refused to deny their faith, even when threatened with death. Many of them did die. They were called Mennonites and it seemed to me that they had been real Christians.

I wondered if there were any people like that left in the world. Twice I attended a worship service in a church in a nearby city that called itself Mennonite. No one spoke to me or gave any indication that they knew I was there. I gave up on that, but started reading the Bible for the first time in many years.

In the spring of 1970 things came to a head. I was facing many troubles that seemed insurmountable. I opened the Bible at random and a verse stood out before me that told me I was a sinner. I knelt and prayed for forgiveness and promised to do whatever God wanted me to do.

Nothing happened that I was aware of. It took several months before I took stock of how much my life had changed and realized that something had happened. Silently, unseen, my heart had changed. It clicked that this must be what people called the new birth.

In 28 years, no one had told me that I needed to be born again, much less explain what that meant. In 28 years, only one person had ever told me that I needed a changed heart.

I’m sure things haven’t improved in the last fifty years. Whose fault is that? How many people have I told that they need a new heart? A few. Reflecting on all this leaves me uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing. I have been too comfortable for too long, thinking others were doing the telling. I need to get out of that comfort zone.

Robotic Christians?

Am I nothing more than a robot? Is every detail of my life preplanned and manipulated by an unseen hand, right down to the moment and circumstances of the end of my life?

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That made sense to Zeno the Stoic, to Augustine, to Mohammed, to Buddha and to John Calvin. Some people find it comforting to think that God is in control of everything, but is that really so comforting?

Paul writes about predestination in Romans and Ephesians. However, if we read the complete letters, we find that he is not using the word the same way the Stoics used it. He is saying that God had planned, predestined, before the world began, that salvation would be offered to all mankind.

There are those who believe Paul is speaking of individual predestination – that only some are predestined to be saved and others to be lost. What shall we do then with verses such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”?

What Paul is saying is that all mankind is predestined to be saved, not only the Hebrews. This was not clearly understood in previous times, but was revealed by the Gospel. Salvation is now offered to all people on th basis of faith.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 9:30-33).

We live in a chaotic world. Forces were unleashed by the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden that make life unpredictable and dangerous. Those chaotic forces disrupt and distort everything.

God is not in control. He could intervene to control the actions of every person, and every event, in this world. If we choose to believe that He has done that, we make Him responsible for every atrocity, war, genocide and murder that has ever been. Would you trust your life into the hands of a God like that?

There is a god like that. He promises wonderful things if we will trust him and reach for the bait he offers us. That god is a liar. He gives us brief tastes of things that feel good, then torments us. He promises greater pleasures, and the result is greater torment. Finally he tells us that there is no good thing to expect from life. Everything is against us, why not just put an end to it.

We are responsible for allowing this chaos and evil into the world. God allows it to continue to show us the consequences of our disobedience. When we face that reality, then God reveals His grace, the blood of Jesus Christ to cover our guilt and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. We can be happy, free and have a pure conscience.

The spirits of evil and chaos are still active around us and we are not immune to their influence on other people and the effects of their influence. People are not our enemies; our enemies are the evil spirits who egg them on into reacting with bitterness, anger and hatred.

The true God, our Creator, can give us inner peace and quietness in the midst of the chaos of this world. One day the chaos in our world will be transferred to a place where there never will be a hint of God’s grace and we who trust in God will live in a world where even the memory of the chaos will be gone.

We are not robots; the choice of our destination will not be made for us by the invisible hand of a God we hardly know. Now, while we have the opportunity, is the time to choose which world will be our final destination.

Freedom of the will

Freedom of choice means that I am at liberty to do as I please. Nevertheless, I learn every day in small ways that the choices I make have consequences; and the choices that other people make often have consequences that affect me. Why then should I not expect that consequences might not only be immediate, but long-term, even eternal?

God is not to blame when bad things happen, He has given us the liberty to choose freely. Often those choices have unanticipated consequences. The unpleasant consequences of our bad choices should lead us to pause a moment to consider whether God might not have a better way for us.

God does not protect us from the negative consequences of the choices we and other people make. Neither does he force us to choose His way.

Yet God does speak to us, quietly and often, asking us to reconsider the direction we are travelling in life. Some time in our life He will tell us that the bad things happening to us are the result of our bad choices which make us sinners.

It doesn’t work to decide that we will live the way God wants us to live by our own will and strength. But we do have the ability to accept God’s judgment on our sin and ask Him to help us. That is called repentance and when God sees that our repentance is genuine, He forgives us because of the sacrifice Jesus has made for our sin, He adopts us as His child and gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to make right choices.

That is called the new birth, conversion, regeneration. Those words all mean a change in the way we think and a u-turn in the direction of our life. When we live to please God and to love and help the people around us, we will be far happier than when we were only trying to please ourselves.

This is the beginning of Christian life. Some people stop as soon as they reach this point, thinking this is all there is to Christian life. God wants us to keep on going, learning a little more each day about our own weakness and about God’s will and the blessings that He has for those who really consecrate their lives to Him.

Meeting God in His Word

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day and we attended the Anglican Church every Sunday. I became a member of that church when I was 11; a few years later I became an altar boy and continued faithfully until I moved away from home to attend university.

There was a time when God seemed very near, yet never did it seem like a connection was made. After I left home, I lost connection with the church and with the Bible. It seemed to me that most churches talked a lot about God, but followed a path that didn’t have much to do with God. The Bible was suspect, too. Perhaps some of it was inspired by God, but it seemed to contradict itself, most of it must be the opinions of those who wrote it.

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When I was 24, I borrowed a well-worn Bible from my parents and began reading it again to try and sort out what was really the Word of God and what was man-made additions. After several years I knew that was an impossible task. This book, written by 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years, was only one book. Every part of the Bible was connected to every other part. It was either the Word of God from beginning to end, or entirely a man-made fraud.

The second option seemed less and less tenable as I saw how the Bible explained itself as I read the whole thing. The so-called contradictions disappeared as I began to discern a purpose in them and see how God had revealed Himself step by step to recalcitrant mankind.

Then came the day in 1970 when I was reading the Bible and God pointed His finger directly at me and told me I was a sinner. And I knew it was true. On my knees I admitted to God that all that had gone wrong in my life was my fault and no one else’s. That was the point where my relationship with God began.

That relationship has grown over the years. I have read the Bible through many times, in both French and English. I don’t follow any Bible reading plan that leads me skipping hither and yon through the pages of the Bible. It is only meaningful when I read a book of the Bible through and get the whole picture.

From time to time God still points His finger at me and tells me “You’ve been struggling with that temptation, that bad attitude, or that unwillingness, for long enough. It’s time to repent of it, to clean house.” And He gives the grace to do it. I am constantly amazed at His patience, with the people of Bible times and with me.

The purpose of daily reading and meditating on the Word of God is not to learn about God, or to learn how to please God. Our motivation for opening the Bible must be to meet with God, to deepen our acquaintance with Him whose actions and purposes appear on every page, who inspired those 40 men over a millennium and a half to write the things that are in the book. We will learn about God and about how to live a life that is pleasing to Him, but that has to be a result of first learning to know Him in a personal way. The teachings of the Bible will not stick if we do not know the Author.

Snow

Snow – snow – fast falling snow!
Snow on the house-tops – snow in the street –
Snow overhead, and snow under feet –
Snow in the country – snow in the town,
Silently, silently sinking down;
Everywhere, everywhere fast falling snow,
Dazzling the eyes with its crystalline glow!

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Snow, snow – beautiful snow!
Hear the bells ringing o’er the fresh-fallen snow!
How the bells ring, as the sleighs come and go!
Happy heart voices peal out in the air,
Joy takes the reins from the dull hand of care,
Singing and laughter, and innocent mirth,
Seem from the beautiful snow to have birth.

Pure, pure, glittering snow!
Oh! to look at it and think of the woe
Hidden from sight neath the mantle of snow!
Oh! but to think of the tears that are shed
Over the snow-covered graves of the dead!
Aye, and the anguish more hopeless and keen,
That yearneth in silence over what might have been!

Snow – snow – chilling white snow!
Who, as he glides through the bustling street,
Would care to follow the hurrying feet,
Crushing beneath them the chilling white snow –
Bearing up fiercely their burden of woe,
Till, weary and hopeless they enter in,
Where food and fire are the wages of sin?

Snow – snow – wide-spreading snow!
No haunt is so cheerless, but there it can fall,
Like the mantle of charity, covering all.
Want, with its suffering, – sin with its shame,
In its purity breathing the thrice blessed name
Of One who, on earth, in sorrow could say –
“The sinning and poor are with you alway.”

Oh, brothers who stand secure in the right –
Oh, sisters, with fingers so dainty-white –
Think, as you look on the fast-falling snow –
Think, as you look at the beautiful snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow – chilling white snow –
Think of the want, and the sin, and the woe,
Crouching tonight ‘neath the wide-spreading snow.

Give of your plenty to God’s suffering poor,
Turn not the lost one away from your door;
For His poor He prepareth blest mansions on high;
Rich in faith, they inherit bright mansions on high.
The lost ones, though sunken never so low.
Christ’s blood can make them all whiter than snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow, beautiful snow.

Jennie E. Haight, 19th century

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