God and being good

I was reading an article the other day that asked a perennial question, can people be good without God? Well that depends on what you mean by “good.” Good is one of those words that is very flexible, that is, it’s meaning is determined more by the context in which it is used than a definitive denotation.

For instance, Jesus was asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone,” Mark 10:17-18.

In the context of this statement Jesus is making the point that God’s nature is so completely holy and consummately just that it is unapproachable by any human standard or example. Jesus could have as easily said, “No one is perfect except God alone,” because in this context good is a synonym for perfect.

The word good does not commonly mean perfect though. If we say, “She is a good woman,” we typically mean that compared to other women we know she is better in some respect in our estimation. She may possess a better character, be a better attorney, or can clean house better than other women, but we would be using the word “good” in a relative sense. We would not mean, “She is a perfect woman.”

So when we talk about being good, it is important whether or not we are talking about being good in a perfect sense or a relative sense.

So the answer would be yes, a person could be a good productive, contributing member of society and a law-abiding citizen in a relative sense without God. Society would have no right to expect that of each citizen unless we were capable of being good in this sense.

But the psalmist did not lie when he wrote, “There is no one who does good,” Psalm 14:1. None of us can say we have always done what is right in every situation all the time. All of us have sinned at some time, and more; none of us can say we are perfectly good.

It is those imperfections, that lack of perfect goodness, that makes us unfit citizens for the Kingdom of God. We may get by on our relative goodness here, but we cannot enter there unless we are perfectly good, and we cannot do that without God.

Since we were imperfect and incapable of perfecting ourselves, the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Having been created in the image of God each of us are capable of great good, but having inherited our first parents propensity to sin we are also capable of committing great evil and often do. So you can be relatively good without God here, but will never be perfectly good enough without God to make it there.

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A Madman in Las Vagas

Stephen Paddock was the suspected madman of the Las Vegas massacre. I say, “was” because after unleashing a barrage of deadly gunfire on a crowd at a concert, with arrest imminent, he took his own life.

During the next few days news commentaries will be awash with speculation as to why Paddock shot up a crowd of fun-loving folk who only wanted to hear some country music. The truth is we will never know why he did it. Even if he had been arrested and was later questioned as to his motives, could we trust the testimony of such a madman?

Jay Michaelson recently opined that “conservatives,” too readily blame the cause of such violence on this being a “sick world” because of our “theology.” What does he blame it on, that Paddock went on his murderous rampage because he was sipping from the jug labeled “the milk of human kindness.”

Every time evil rears its ugly head fallen men fail to recognize we live in a sin-cursed world populated by people whose “heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So they search about futilely for a cause, something or someone to blame.

He actually blames the massacre on Paddock being able to possess modern automatic weapons. I agree with Michaelson here, I see no need for a ordinary citizen to possess automatic firearms, but I also know Timothy McVeigh killed almost three times as many people (168) when he bombed the Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City with a truckload of fertilizer.

We cannot blame what Paddock did on guns, but there will be a debate on gun laws because of this fresh instance of violence. So let me clear the air on where I stand on this issue. I own guns but I am not a member of the NRA. I have contemplated getting a concealed weapon permit, but in my heart of hearts I would rather be killed than kill another.

The only other reason to get one would be to protect my wife and those I love should someone try to harm them, but if I can trust the Father with my own wellbeing then I think I can trust His capable hands to care for them. So this is not a gun issue for me.

The issue for me is that we fail to see that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The first violent act in the Bible was a murder and at its core it was a religious conflict: Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was rejected, and Cain killed him for it after God had given him sound advice.

When Cain turned his back on God’s counsel, he turned on his brother, and it has been that way ever since; as people turn away from God’s truth, they turn on one another. Our only hope as a nation is to repent and turn to Christ.

Hugh Hefner is dead

Hugh Hefner is dead. Founder of Playboy magazine and media mogul of a multi-million dollar industry fueled by the sexual revolution “passed away…from natural causes” surrounded by loved ones.

Like most people I did not know Hugh Hefner apart from his public persona. He lived a lavish lifestyle and did not deny himself of anything money could buy. He lived in a mansion with a bevy of beautiful women waiting on him hand and foot. He will be missed by his friends and family and be envied by many more.

While alive he made no secret of his hedonistic philosophy and said he did not fear death because he did not believe in the afterlife.

I was reminded of a story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus in chapter sixteen of Luke’s Gospel. The rich man spent his days “joyously living in splendor every day,” Lazarus was a sickly beggar living with constant hunger. Both of them died, Lazarus was carried “away by the angels” and the rich man was buried.

Jesus tells us the rich man “in Hades lifted up his eyes in torment” and cried out to Abraham, who he could see at a distance, and begged him, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”

But Abraham responded, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and none may cross over from there to us.”

The rich man asked, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, in order that he may warn them, so that they will not come to this place of torment.”

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets: let them hear them.”

The rich man implored yet again, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

This story makes two points worth thinking about. First, riches will not buy one’s way into heaven; a ransom the rich man would have paid if he were able. Second, the one who begged in this life was not the one begging in the next.

None of us will get out of this life alive. Hugh Hefner is dead. Where he may be is not my call. But I would remind everyone what the Scriptures declare, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27.

Are Christians intolerant?

Writing for the Huffington Post, Peter Henne published an article titled For Conservative Christians, is engagement a one-way street? Henne says, “Conservative Christians frequently claim progressives are intolerant of their views…and shut them down when they try to express their beliefs.” Then he goes on to name two incidents where conservative Christians stopped progressive Christians from expressing their beliefs.

The first event is where a lecture from a “prominent Catholic priest was called off” because of “his call for compassion towards LGBT Catholics.” The second was when a well-known Christian leader criticized Tim Kaine, Hillary’s former running mate, for claiming a scriptural basis for improving healthcare when his pro-choice view of health care ignores the slaughter of the unborn.

It is interesting that these two issues of moral concern are the two that always seem to be foremost in the minds of those claiming to be “progressive” Christians.

Henne admits he knows the terms “progressive” and “conservative” are “problematic words” when defining American Christianity. This is because these words can mean different things in many different contexts.

The problem I have with these two terms is that Christianity should be defined biblically without any qualifying adjectives. When one begins to employ adjectives to define Christianity we begin to stray from and thus corrupt what the word Christian means in Scripture.

Since Christian means to be Christ-like we must look to the Scriptures to see what Christ was like to understand what being a Christian means. One unmistakable attribute of Christ was His belief in the authority of Scripture.

After His forty day fast in the wilderness Jesus fought off the three temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture and prefacing all three of His quotes with the words, “It is written.” Throughout his earthly ministry when questioned about His teaching, Jesus would quote the Scriptures as His foundation and used the words, “Have you never read?”

It follows that anyone claiming to be a Christian should view the Word of God as authoritative on any issue it addresses. So when it comes to moral matters we view the Scripture’s teachings on morality as moral absolutes. Anything less would be un-Christian.

And when it comes to biblical morality n the two issues we have mentioned, homosexuality and abortion, the scriptural teaching is crystal clear.

On homosexuality, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination,” Leviticus 18:22. On the sanctity of life of the unborn, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb,” Psalm 139:13. And these are just a sample of what the Scriptures say on these two subjects, there are many more.

Ergo, Christians cannot be tolerant of homosexuality that primarily causes the continual spread of HIV/AIDS, and the sin of fornication and adultery that causes us to seek abortions, but it will always be Christian compassion that will compel us to care for the sick and dying, and the children others do not want.

Is all this the Judgement of God?

Irma has wreaked havoc across my home state of Florida. My wife and I are recovering from the aftermath as are many others, and though we did not escape unscathed we did not sustain the property damage, bodily injury, and in some cases the loss of life that others have. We consider ourselves thankful and blessed, and pray for all of those who lost so much more.

Before this Harvey pounded the Gulf coast of Texas and Houston and they are still recovering from Harvey’s devastation. Mexico was rocked by an earthquake that registered 8.2 on the Richter Scale that was then hit by hurricane Katia. The northwest of our nation is scorched by wildfires and many are asking or thinking, what is going on?

An article I read said that “since the 1980s there has been a “400-percent increase in natural disasters globally.” Of course some of this could be attributed to increase awareness thanks to the technological advances of the Internet age, nevertheless, it points to an abundance of catastrophes occurring on a regular basis.

Some are asking and others are saying this is the judgment of God. Jesus said the Father “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45. The weather, whether good or bad, is experienced by the believer and unbeliever alike. If bad weather is God’s judgment then there are a lot of good people affected by it.

I do not think bad weather is the judgment of God. While God has used, and can again if He desires, natural disasters to execute His justice, I do not think that is what is happening now. But bad weather does reveal what we think about God, and how we handle the difficulties caused by it.

Some will curse God and Irma and complain about their losses and others will do what they can to help family, friends and strangers through the crisis. Some will simply become bitter, others will aspire to do better.

One thing that can be said about the catastrophic disasters we hear of or experience is this; man is not really in much control of what happens. What Irma did here in Florida in a few hours will take months to recover from, if at all. If in the midst of great loss this crisis opens us up to our complete dependence on God and the need to draw closer to Him it will not have been a wasted experience.

Natural disasters from without will not destroy our country as much as the spiritual storms within the hearts of men will cause our country to crumble and collapse under the weight of its own decadence. God is not sending His judgment; He is allowing us to destroy ourselves. Those who are suffering from the ravages of natural disasters are not greater sinners than the rest of us, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” Luke 13:5.

Interpreting the Bible

I have been a committed and passionate student of the Scriptures since 1973, forty-four years. My commitment and passion has been fueled by the sure belief that the Bible was inspired and has been preserved by Father God as a reliable guide to His holy nature and divine will intended by Him for us to read and understand.

My studies have served to reaffirm that conviction and my diligence has been rewarded with a greater understanding and insight of what the Scriptures teach. So I was concerned when I read an article recently titled Interpreting the Bible Just Got More Complicated by Dr. Hugh Houghton writing for The Daily Beast.

The title of the article suggests interpreting the Scriptures is too complicated based on the relatively obscure commentary of a fourth century scholar, Fortunatianus of Aquileia. He believed the Bible should be interpreted allegorically, not literally, and Dr. Houghton said this agrees with what the third century theologian Origen of Alexandria taught.

Based on their views Dr. Houghton concludes “you don’t have to read the Bible literally,” and “for most of the Christian era nobody thought you should.” If the allegorical interpretation of Scripture was the widespread accepted method of understanding the Bible in early Christianity, why did it lapse into obscurity?

The answer is because the allegorical method was so questionable that the majority of believers deemed it unworthy of their continued attention. It fell into obscurity for a reason; it did not enjoy the widespread popularity in the Christian community that Dr. Houghton claims.

The allegorical method of interpretation is inherently flawed; it subjects the meaning of the Scriptures to the personal perspective of the interpreter. And the Scriptures themselves tell us they are not “a matter of one’s own interpretation,” 1 Peter 1:20. It also suggest we cannot understand the Scriptures for what they plainly say.

The Scriptures are a straightforward claim to be a historical record of God’s interactions with men and understanding the historical context is important in understanding why God said what He did. He couched this revelation of Himself in human language so that understanding the interplay between semantics, what words mean, and syntax, the way words are put together to convey meaning, is important to interpreting His Word.

There are no hidden meanings, the Bible should be trusted to mean what it plainly says, although the mind darkened by sin and reluctant to accept the truth contained therein may find it incomprehensible. But every believer is promised “the Spirit of truth” who will guide us “into all truth,” John 16:13.

Therefore, the commonly accepted method of interpreting the Scriptures is the historical, grammatical, plain meaning of the Text.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” John 8:31-32. The Scriptures are a straightforward historical record not a collection of fables; that’s why its first words are “In the beginning” and not “Once upon a time.”

The Nashville Statement

This past August 29, 2017, approximately 150 evangelical leaders issued what is being called “The Nashville Statement.” It has been characterized as a “Christian manifesto” on the biblical perspective of human sexuality. While I do not know all the signatories, there are several I do recognize who command my respect as men of God.

It has a preamble and fourteen articles each comprised of an affirmation and corresponding denial about human sexuality. It was issued by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I have read it and can say it is a solidly Scriptural document.

It affirmed that the only marriage sanctioned by God is between one man and one woman, and God calls us to “chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage.”

Article 10 states, “WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

What Article 10 means is one cannot truly claim to be Christian and approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism. This statement calls homosexuality and transgenderism “self-conceptions,” that is, they deny God’s purpose in human sexuality and/or their birth gender in favor of what they decide to perceive themselves to be.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s biblical support for the Nashville Statement is, “Know that the Lord Himself is God: it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves,” Psalm 100:3. If we believe the Scriptures we must believe marriage was never meant to be between two men or two women and our gender is assigned at birth.

Of course, those within the LGBT community and those who sympathize with their agenda have been whining about the Nashville Statement since it was published. But most of the complaints can be summed up in the words of activist DeRay McKesson, he said, “The God I know does not support the #Nashville Statement.”

His is right because the God he knows is a god he has imagined, a god he imagines to agree with his perspective, an idol he has fashioned in his own image, not the God of the Bible. The Nashville Statement is predicated on what the Bible teaches, not what men think or imagine about God.

The question on my mind is why these men thought such a statement was “urgently needed.” There is no other teaching in the Bible any clearer than the teachings on human sexuality and gender. That’s why transgressors are enraged by it, and any believer who is confused about the issues is not reading the Bible or is reading it and not believing it.

The Christian already has a manifesto, it’s called the Bible. And if we do not trust and obey what it says another statement is meaningless.