Hamartiology


If you think “God just wants me to be happy,” you are going to be very disappointed in your Christian life, and inclined toward sin and doubt. False expectations never end well.

The notion that God just wants us to be happy has led many believers to question God’s existence when some evil befalls them or their life is not working out the way they wanted. It has led others to disobey God’s Word, reasoning that God can’t possibly require them to do X since X does not bring them happiness. I see this all the time when it comes to matters of sexuality and divorce/remarriage.

This isn’t to say God wants us to be sad, but merely that God’s purpose for our lives is not our personal happiness per se. His purpose is that we live our lives for His purpose and that our character be conformed to His image. He is primarily interested in our obedience, our dedication, and our faithfulness – not our happiness. While obedience often leads to happiness, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it leads to loss, sorrow, and personal difficulty.

No, God does not want you to be happy. He wants you to obey Him. He wants you to take up our cross and follow Him. Doing so will always bring ultimate fulfillment, but not always ultimate happiness.

We are saved by faith, not works, but the faith that saves is a faith that works. True saving faith will produce good works. Faith, not works, is the causal condition for salvation, but good works are the necessary effect of our saving faith. That doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but it does mean we will be moving toward perfection via the process of sanctification.

Our biggest temptation as humans is works righteousness – thinking that we can earn our salvation by own goodness. Ask the average nominal Christian in America how he knows he is saved and you’re likely to hear, “Well, I’m a pretty good person.” Even those who recognize that they are saved by grace alone often feel the temptation to believe they are “kept,” at least in part, by their good works. While we are certainly saved for good works (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 2:11-12), good works cannot save us or keep us saved. Our trust in Jesus alone saves us. Faith causes salvation – good works are the effect.

We could never do enough good works to be accepted by God because, in God’s economy, good works cannot cancel out evil works. And it’s our evil works that are the problem. They are an affront to God’s holiness. If we are to have a relationship with a holy God, our evil works have to be dealt with. The problem is that mankind has no ability to atone for his evil works. Only God can do that. And He did. He became a man and paid the penalty for our sin (death) on the cross. The sinless man died in the place of sinful man. The way we access the atonement God provided for us is by trusting in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Since God’s acceptance of us is based entirely on Jesus’ work rather than our own, God’s continued acceptance of us is also based on Jesus’ work rather than our own (Rom 5:8-11).

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Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Let me give you two examples where Christians cannot seem to win with non-Christians.

Non-Christians will often complain that Christians are hypocrites, by which they mean we do not live up to our own moral codes. While we say people should do X, we ourselves fail to do X. And yet, these same people will complain when one Christian calls out another Christian for their immoral behavior. Now the complaint is “you shouldn’t judge” (not recognizing that they themselves are making a judgement when they say “you should not judge” – and thus being hypocritical themselves – and that they make a judgment when they say Christians are hypocrites). So let me get this straight. Christians are damned if they fail to live up to their own moral standards, and they are damned if they try to encourage each other to live up to their own moral standards. Can we win?

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Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Our eternal destination is not determined by our sin, but by our Savior. If no good work can earn salvation, then no evil work can forfeit our salvation. All Christians commit sin. We are saved, not because we stop sinning, but because we trust in the One who never sinned.

A hypocrite is not one who fails to live up to his own ideals, but one who falsely proclaims to have such ideals in the first place.

 

See also “I’m not a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church

We tend to define backsliding as a believer reverting to a life dominated by sin, but I think a better definition of backsliding is simply when we lose spiritual ground that we had achieved previously.

We often speak of the need to “forgive yourself.”  While I understand what is meant by this phrase, it is unintelligible on the Christian worldview.  People speak of the need to forgive themselves in the context of feeling guilt for something they did (or failed to do).  They recognize the need to eliminate this guilt and get on with their life – to stop beating themselves up for their failure.

The problem with this notion is that it’s not possible to forgive oneself.  Forgiveness is something only a third party can grant to you.  You can no more forgive yourself than you can give something to yourself.  On the Christian worldview, the ultimate source of our forgiveness is God Himself.  We will never stop feeling guilt if we are looking to ourselves.  The solution for guilt is not self-forgiveness, but divine forgiveness.  If we continue feeling guilt after we have repented of our sin, that is evidence that we have not truly believed that God has forgiven us – because once God forgives and we believe He has forgiven, the conscience ought to be quieted (Heb 9).

I am no prophet, but based on the current trends in our culture, I think the following may be the cultural and moral battles of the near future:

  1. Normalization of sex between adults and underage teens (age ~14-17)
  2. Genetically modified designer babies (for health, longevity, intelligence, etc.)
  3. Sexual reproduction to be replaced by the scientific engineering of babies (babies created and grown in the lab – artificial wombs)
  4. Temporary marriages
  5. Marriage to robots and animals
  6. Normalization of adultery and open marriages
  7. Parental “ownership” of their children will be denied
  8. Some animals will be deemed “persons” with rights
  9. Nature rights will spread
  10. Infanticide

Do you agree or disagree?  Any items you would add to or remove from the list?

Story of ChristianityMuch of the Bible is written in narrative form.  It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless.  There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture.  So how does one put it all together?  What is the essence of the Biblical story?  What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation?  Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line.  Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is.  I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told: (more…)

Cohabit - Not MarriageThe American College of Pediatricians explains why cohabitation is bad for society in just about every way imaginable.  And yet cohabitation continues to rise as the folk wisdom says it will increase one’s chances of marital success.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The most happiness does not come from receiving the benefits of marriage (sex, playing house) without actual marriage, but from marriage itself.

 

See also: The sociology of cohabitation: “Shacking up” isn’t such a good idea after all

YuckTrying to make Christian morality palatable to those in moral rebellion against God is like trying to make civil law palpable to criminals. They will never like God’s laws no matter how reasonable we demonstrate those laws to be. Defiant children do not care that eating too much candy will make them throw up or give them diabetes. They simply want candy. Likewise, those who want their sexual sin, their abortion, and a myriad of other sins do not care about the wisdom in God’s laws. They want what they want, and they will ridicule and deride those who say otherwise. This is not to say that we should not attempt to explain the reason for and benefits of God’s law. It’s just to say that we shouldn’t be surprised when this fails to change their behavior.

SinMany Christians wonder whether God will forgive them for intentional sin – particularly premeditated and habitual sins.  It’s easy to believe God will forgive us for accidental sins, but not for sins that we plan out in advance or choose to do over and over again.

So, will God forgive such sins?  Before we answer that question we should be clear about what God thinks of these sins.  He hates them because He hates all sin.  Sin is contrary to His holy nature.  Sin ruptures God’s relationship with us, and this grieves Him.  He has given us the power to choose righteousness (Romans 6; 8:1-4), and yet we choose unrighteousness instead. (more…)

Cannabis leaf on grunge background, shallow DOF.Now that Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, more Christians are asking whether smoking marijuana is truly immoral. After all, it’s legal.[1] Joe Carter has a thoughtful article on this issue that I found extremely helpful.[2] He argues that smoking marijuana is immoral. Here is Carter’s argument in a nutshell (with some ad-lib on my part at certain points): (more…)

Christians often disagree regarding matters of personal holiness.  Those defending themselves against the charge of sin for some X will often respond by saying, “It’s not that bad.”  Of course, to say something is “not that bad” is tantamount to saying it’s “not that good” either.  In such cases, we should be honest with ourselves and others and just admit that X is not spiritually advantageous for us, even if it is morally tolerable.  Would we be better off if we abstained?  Perhaps.  Are we sinning if we don’t?  No.

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IFWe should not confuse permissiveness for grace. Grace says, “I love you and forgive you, so you need to stop this sin,” not “I love you and forgive you, so it doesn’t matter what you do.”  We are living in a culture that thinks love and forgiveness mean we should permit people to continue in their sin while we continue in our silence.  This is not grace, and this is not love.  Grace and love will always confront sin, because grace and love are the remedy for sin, not the license to continue in it.

J. P. MorelandAlmost everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, knows of Jesus’ teaching, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Mt 7:1).  I have addresses the proper interpretation of this passage elsewhere in my treatment of judgmentalism, but I recently read some brief comments by J. P. Moreland on the matter that I found  helpful as well.  Moreland writes:

[W]e need to distinguish two senses of judging:  condemning and evaluating.  The former is wrong and is in view in Matthew 7.  When Jesus says not to judge, he means it in the sense that the Pharisees judged others:  their purpose was to condemn the person judged and to elevate themselves above that person.  Now this is a form of self-righteous blindness that vv. 2-4 explicitly forbid.  Such judgment is an expression of a habitual approach to life of avoiding self-examination and repentance and, instead, propping oneself up by putting others down.[1]

The distinction between moral condemnation and moral evaluation is an important one.  We cannot and must not avoid moral evaluations.  Such are necessary and good.  What we must avoid are moral condemnations of people that elevate our own sense of moral superiority and blind us to our own moral inadequacies.


[1]J. P. Moreland, “On Judging Others: Is There a Right Way?”; available fromhttp://www.jpmoreland.com/2012/12/19/on-judging-others-is-there-a-right-way/; Internet; accessed 31 January 2013.

One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too.  Even God himself is not above their judgment.  They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster!  They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc.  Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned.  You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!

Is what they say true?  Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil?  Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT.  Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.  

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Tim Keller had this to say about the relationship between immorality and irrationality:

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 want the 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.[1]

See also What I’ve Been Reading: The Making of an Atheist, Part I

HT: STR


It is often said that Adam and Eve did not know the difference between good and evil prior to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE).  This does seem to be the straightforward meaning of Genesis 3:22a: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’” (ESV)  There are a couple of problems I see with this interpretation, however:

  1. The text does not say Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of evil after the Fall, but knowledge of “good and evil.”  If we understand “knowledge” in a cognitive sense, this would mean God originally created human beings as amoral beings, having no knowledge of moral concepts or moral categories.  If we were created as amoral beings, then our moral intuitions and our capacity for moral reasoning are not part of the imago Dei (image of God) in which we were created, but rather a consequence of the Fall.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for two reasons: (1) Moral reasoning is one of the unique characteristics of God that among God’s creatures, humans alone exhibit.  Since humans alone were created in the imago Dei, it stands to reason that moral reasoning was part of that original imago Dei; (2) How is it possible for an act of disobedience to produce in us the knowledge of good?  Evil, yes, but good?
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