The Righteous Are Scarcely Saved

There are a lot of verses in the Bible that should scare us. Seriously. I’m not even close to joking.

Terrifying verses have been explained away in most cases. One of the driving forces behind Theology is explaining away stuff we don’t like. Theology is a living thing. Societal change leads to moral change. Moral change leads to theological change.

We need theology to appease our guilty consciences troubled by bothersome verses we wish weren’t there.

1 Peter is an astounding book. The more I read it, the more depth I see in there. In chapter four, Peter talks about judgment beginning with the house of God. We should stop judging the sin of the world and take care of the sin in the church. Sin in the church is a bigger problem than sin in the world.

We’re already getting nervous, aren’t we?! Quick, think up a theology that will stop the flow of Peter’s thought.

Grace Abounds–God is grace. Sin doesn’t matter. God only sees Christ, not me.

The righteous–He’s talking about self-righteous people, like the Pharisees, not people who are actually righteous.

God is Love–God loves unconditionally, which means I can do whatever I want and God will still love me.

We all have the Spirit–I don’t like how you interpret this verse, I have the Holy Spirit too, and He told me this verse doesn’t mean what you say it means.

Peter was writing for other people–I only listen to Paul/Jesus/John/Apollos/Calvin/my dad/etc. Whatever Peter is talking about, he’s not talking to me.

Allow me to cut through the muddied waters of these “theological” excuses: none of them are legitimate.

Peter is talking to the Church, and he says sin is a problem. This isn’t even the verse that scares me though. It’s the verse after “judgment begins with the house of God.”

And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

Wow.

The context is speaking of trial and temptation coming to the believer. It’s going to be rough. One of my commentaries on this verse says, “The scarcely marks the severity of the ordeal, and the unlikelihood (in a mere human point of view) of the righteous sustaining it.”

It’s not easy to be righteous for at least two reasons. 1) Doing what is right is hard for us to do. 2) The results of doing right are hard to take–all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

The life of faith is a fight and a race. It aint easy. It’s going to hurt. Most people won’t make it to the end. If we understood this truth, said several times in the Bible, we would buckle down in prayer and watchfulness, and we would also, no doubt, stop judging everyone else.

Feel free to simply deal with this verse. Maybe get a little fear for your soul. Perhaps we take the whole thing a tad too lightly.

Dissing Happy Christians Makes Me Happy

Several months ago I picked up a book entitled The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. I got it for .25 at a thrift store.

If you know me, you know I’m going to hate this book just from the title. I knew I would going in, but it was next on my pile ‘o books.

I am about half done with it as of this writing. This book falls into what is labeled Keswick Theology. Keswick Theology is all about yielding and trusting and abiding and resting. “Let go and let God” is an appropriate summation of their thinking.

Keswick Theology is focused on sanctification–being made holy. Their opinion is that lots of people try to be holy, only to fail. They should stop. They just need to yield and God will holify them all by Himself.

I appreciate their desire to overcome sin and be holy. Nothing wrong with that. I detest their take on how it happens.

Although this theology was invented to help people overcome works and legalism, it merely puts you in another defeatist spiral of circular thinking.

“I try to be holy but I can’t” says a Struggling believer.

“Stop trying and just yield to God.” says a Keswickian believer.

“How do I yield to God?”

“Just give it all to Him.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you know, yield. Let Him do it for you. Stop trying.”

“So I do nothing then?”

“Yes, just yield and abide.”

“Isn’t yielding and abiding doing something?”

“No, it’s yielding and abiding.”

“How do I know when I’ve yielded?”

“Because you will feel at peace.”

“What if I don’t feel at peace?”

“Stop it! Just yield. Trust your yielding, forget the feelings.”

“But you just said I’ll know I’ve yielded when I feel peace?”

On and on it goes. The bottom line is that you have to do something. The author takes 175 pages to tell me the steps I have to take to do nothing and rightly yield. You can’t just do nothing, as doing nothing is doing something. It’s a confusing jumble of circular reasoning.

I find it very frustrating to read this and frustrating to talk to people who buy into it. The Bible is filled with verses about fighting, running, fleeing, putting off and putting on, bringing the body under subjection, etc.

Keswick Theology never mentions these verses. They’ll talk about vines until they are blue in the face, however.

This Happy Life book is a Keswick Classic. It is written by Hannah Whitall-Smith. Her and her husband were Keswick leaders and went all over the world preaching, teaching, and writing about yielding and the victorious life.

This continued until Mr. Smith started having adulterous flings. He renounced Christianity and divorced his wife. Hannah also renounced Keswick Theology and became a Universalist.

Although you can’t necessarily dismiss a theology because the theologians behind it are creepy, it certainly should enter into your critique of the theology.

I have little respect for Keswick Theology. It’s nothing more than the opening rounds of Positive Thinking gibberish. Think it and you will be it.

Sorry. Sanctification is warfare; not some sort of transcendental meditation, feel good, psychological blather.

Thank you. I feel better now. I am, in fact, currently A Happy Christian. Hey! The book worked!

Healthy July 4th Skepticism

Today is July 4th, the Day we celebrate our nation’s independence.

I have long been a skeptic of the notion that we are a “Christian nation.” The Founding Fathers were mostly deists, which isn’t Christian.

Certainly our nation had Christian phrases and even biblical knowledge thrown around; we were more Christian than any other religion, but that’s still a far cry from being a Christian nation, which I would take as meaning a nation of Christians.

It should be noted that I don’t even think the church largely consists of Christians, so, you know.

The notion of us being a Christian nation stems from the anti-Communist propaganda of the 1950’s. The phrase, “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 by President Eisenhower. The bill proposing this addition was first introduced by a Democrat, by the way. The Pledge had been around since 1892 without being under anything.

Two years later, Ike also made “In God we Trust” our national motto.

People who grew up in the 1950’s are usually the ones who say we are a Christian nation, because that’s what our Cold War politicians were wanting us to believe. It was a great way to rally the troops against the evil, anti-God, Commie Pinkos.

The Church got played for political ends. The Church continued to be played right up through The Moral Majority of the 1980’s, until now we see the fallout.

After all our Church involvement in politics, we now have abortion, gay marriage, and any number of other things that are decidedly not “under God.”

Buying into government propaganda while simultaneously dropping off Gospel distinctives is no recipe for righteousness. We have reaped what we sowed. I say we go back to sowing the seed of the Gospel and let America do its thing.

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

Lying is A Sin Too

In our obsessions with “bad sins,” Christians have skillfully avoided dealing with actual sins in their own lives. The sins that are the most fun to rail against are the ones you don’t personally struggle with.

Although we like to talk about murderers, abortionists, and homosexuals, how often do we feel convicted about our sin?

Lying is a classic example. Lying is bad. Christians aren’t supposed to lie. In Ephesians 4 where Paul talks about putting off the old man and putting on the new, guess how he starts talking about the new man?

put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour

Lying is the first thing he brings up. God speaks truth. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you follow Him, then speak the truth.

Again, it’s more fun to make fun of our postmodern society and their shifting ground of truth and mock their lies, propaganda, and deception, but again, bring it home. How often do we lie?

I know liars who claim to be Christians. Most of their lies seem innocent, they are justifications of sin, attempts to not be rude, trying to be complimentary, trying to dismiss one’s self from obligations in a nice way, and other not so evil sounding things.

But lying is bad. Habitual lying is bad. Liars don’t get into heaven.

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Again, I didn’t say that. Just quoting the Bible.

The main problem with lying is that you can’t love people if you’re a liar. Love “rejoices in the truth.” Liars, because they know they are liars, have a real problem trusting other people. Since I’m a good person and I lie, imagine how much these other people are lying to me?!

Lying eats at the soul, makes you nervous, paranoid, and eventually, very lonely. People don’t like to be with liars.

Liars are insecure, they say things to make up for the reality of their failing. They pump up their stats in word, only to look foolish when it’s time for action. Thus they fear action. They fear vulnerability. They can’t love and they are very difficult to love in return.

Lying is antithetical to all that God stands for. Christians should be known as people who speak the truth. That keep their word. That deal with reality, not vain-talkers. God is honored by truth, so don’t be afraid to speak it.

The Good Gifts of James 1:17 Are Not Money and Possessions

Rich people seem to have a problem dealing with what the Bible says about money. Although the Bible is filled with verses about the dangers inherent in wealth, rich folk like to find a couple of verses that justify their materialism.

A classic example is James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Rich people then conclude: I think money, and the stuff I buy with it, are good. Therefore, if I get money and stuff, which are good, God must have given them to me.

Let me explain why James is not talking about money and stuff being the good gift.

Because James is not talking about money and stuff!

When James does talk about money and stuff (2:6-7; 5:1-6) he says it’s evil and nasty. Based on the general context of his epistle, James can’t possibly be saying that money and stuff are good gifts.

James, in fact, seems to be saying that bad stuff is actually a good gift.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” is how James opens his letter. He develops the point further in 1:12-15

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Our lust drags us into sin. Wanting stuff leads to sin. He then says every good gift comes from the Father. Good gifts, to be considered good, can’t lead to sin. Getting what you lust for is not a good gift.

If context means anything, there is no way that the good gift of James 1:17 is referring to money or possessions. The good gift is that God makes us new creations, not living in the entrapment of the old creation.

The good gift is that God is forming us though trials to grow into Christ, and to enjoy new life in Christ, able to love others rather than be consumed with self.

Words mean things, and it’s a good idea to find out what they mean, rather than misapplying them to feed our lust.

Rich People Are Evil, Thus Saith The Bible

I mention the dangers of money and materialism quite frequently in my sermons, Bible studies, and on my blog. I do this for two main reasons

  1. It’s all over the place in the Bible
  2. This is a problem that I and many others struggle with

The Bible is very clear on the issue and very repetitive. While pointing out the clear, oft-repeated message, I have gotten accustomed to the responses. They generally go like this:

  1. The Bible’s teaching on money is unrealistic. You can’t go through life literally applying what the Bible says. It makes no sense.
  2. What? Are you saying I can’t have a house? You have a house, so who are you to tell me?
  3. It’s OK to be rich as long as you do good things sometimes.
  4. I’m not rich, I have problems paying off my cell phone, cable bill, credit cards, and Starbucks drinks every month.

Few respond with, “Oh, wow, I should seriously examine this issue and take steps to resolve my errors.”

The Bible says bad things about rich people.

You should realize that. James is probably the worst of them all. He sounds like a Bernie Sanders supporter, in all honesty.

you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

That’s from James 2.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That’s from James 5.

James basically says the rich only get rich by doing sinful stuff. That’s James, which is in the Bible. He equates being rich with being sinful.

We tend to view riches as God’s blessings. We must be doing things right if we have so much stuff. James decidedly disagrees.

Again, I know the justifications–Jame’s is speaking generally, not all rich do this, Abraham, David, and Solomon were all rich and God liked them, etc.

The issue will be brought up on Judgment Day. Thought you’d like to know.

10 Thoughts About Marriage You Probably Won’t Like

  1. Marriage is held by some as a sacrament and others at least think it should be a church thing. Depending on who you ask, or rather, who answers, marriage became a sacrament of the church in the 11-12th century. Before that it wasn’t. “Sacrament” is one of those words that means different things to different people. For me sacrament means “something you do in church to make God like you more.” More cynically, sacrament to me means, “A way for the church to get money out of people.” Marriage has nothing to do with church. It is not a means of grace. Most marriages occurring in church do nothing but trivialize the church, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I am about done doing weddings and would be perfectly fine if everyone just went to the courthouse, filled out the paper work, and then went home and had a barbecue with friends. I have suggested this to every couple that has come to me to get married.
  2. Although we assume marriage is a huge deal, the Bible actually says very little about it. Ephesians 5 makes it clear that marriage should be held up highly as a picture of the Gospel. But it makes no mention of the church being involved. Nor does it give pointers about how to go about finding someone to marry. What it does say is wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should give their lives for their wives, which no one hardly agrees with anymore let alone does.
  3. Giving biblical advice on marriage is a can of worms. A can few realize exists until they’ve accidentally opened it. For God, you are married to whomever you have sex with. That’s why Jesus said marrying a divorced person is adultery. That’s why there is warnings about joining your body to a prostitute.
  4. Biblical Marriage sounds awful nice until you realize what the Bible says. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder. The “joined together” bit means the sexual relationship. That is what consummates marriages. That’s why the Old Testament (which is part of your Bible) says if a guy rapes a woman, he should take her home and have her as a wife. Yup. In traditional Jewish weddings, the wedding party would involve taking the couple to the marriage bedroom. They would then wait for the couple to consummate their marriage and then come back out and resume the party. I am eternally grateful this part of the wedding ceremony has been dropped. I say we should drop the rest of it.
  5. Since the sexual union of a man and a woman is what makes you married in God’s eyes, there can be no such thing as “gay marriage” anyway.
  6. Since the sexual union of a man and a woman is what makes you married in God’s eyes, divorce is a very big deal. So is promiscuity of any sort. Although our culture has sufficiently watered down these sins, I doubt God has changed His mind any.
  7. Getting marriage advice from the Bible may be asking more than you realize. Rarely do people bring up 1 Corinthians 7:29, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” We have turned the Bible’s teaching on marriage into “Make sure you have date night.” Oy. I imagine this verse means something and every married couple would be well served to figure out what.
  8. The exchange of marriage vows is damning. Do some study on vows in the Bible. Making a vow and not keeping it is held up by God as a very bad thing. God does what He says. Not doing what you say, and going the extra step by including God in the vow, is a serious offense to God. Do not rashly make vows before God. Your broken vows will be brought up on Judgment Day.
  9. Thank God for grace. Thank God for mercy. Thank God for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have failed in your marriage, or have been promiscuous, there is forgiveness. There is mercy. Let this humble you and help you go and sin no more.
  10. Marriage is a picture of the Gospel. Be careful about entering into it. When we ruin marriage, we hinder the reflection of the Gospel. There is a weight of responsibility in representing the relationship between Christ and His Church. I do not see the seriousness understood in our day.

CLARIFICATION ADDED LATER:
Since several people have contacted me about this post with the same impression, obviously I am not communicating properly. I am not saying that you just have sex with someone to be officially married. There are two views of marriage that are being covered here: our view and God’s view.

Since Christians are to submit to the laws of the land and are to provide things honest in the sight of all people, they should get legally married before sexual relations. What I do see in the Bible consistently, and also as illustration of Christ’s relationship with the church, is that there should be an engagement and there should be some sort of wedding celebration involving food. There should be no sex until after an officially recognized marriage.

At the same time, the reason why the Bible puts so much stress on sexual sin is because in God’s eyes, whoever you have sex with you become one with, in essence married to. Two becoming one is the essence of marriage. Our term monogamous is from the Greek (gamos is the Greek verb typically translated marriage in the NT) and literally means married to one, yet we use this mainly to denote sex with one. Sex with multiple people, or outside the bonds of a marriage, makes a mockery of the Gospel that it is to illustrate.

I see nothing in the Bible that the church should be included in a wedding. The church can be involved if both people understand the Gospel/marriage connection. But too many pastors and churches are being used as patsies, making a mockery of the church, Christ, and the Gospel by doing insincere weddings. This is yet another place where the church has compromised itself for the sake of money and importance.

People who have a light view of marriage (who don’t see it as a reflection of the Gospel), should probably skip the vow bit, especially vows in a church (presumably before God). Doing vows is simply adding another layer of sin to their marriage they don’t plan on keeping anyway. Vows are a serious deal and every couple planning on doing vows should be warned beforehand about what the Bible says about vows and breaking them. I would rather a couple be terrified of vows than take them lightly.