Logically

So Jesus died for all our sins past, present and future. Therefore there can be no law against anything any more if it is all forgiven.

23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 

1 Corinthians 10:23

Logical.

But then why not go out and sin?  Because God knows that the response of a believing heart to the revelation of Jesus’ death is gratefulness and a desire to please Him (1 John 4:19).  Paul says we died to sin when Jesus died (Romans 6:1-11).  The revelation that God sent His Son to die for us works in our hearts automatically and we want to do what pleases Him (Romans 7:23).  We are wed to Him in a way and forever spoilt for anything else.

However in some ways we haven’t changed.  The old nature still wants to do the wrong thing (Romans 7:14-25).  So the answer is to offer ourselves, our every member, to God as a love slave to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Then He will show us what to do and He will work within us to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12).

Being Reasonable

The following is taken from C.S. Lewis’ essay called “Why I am not a pacifist” written in 1940 and found now in a book called “Compelling Reason” published by Harper Collins in 1996.

….. Reason – by which I do not mean some separate faculty but ……, the whole man judging, …… about truth and falsehood.

Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements:

Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority.

Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition.

Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions which linked together produce a proof of the truth or falsehood of the proposition we are considering. Thus in a geometrical proof each step is seen by intuition, and to fail to see it is to be not a bad geometrician but an idiot. The skill comes in arranging the material into a series of intuitable ‘steps’. Failure to do this does not mean idiocy, but only lack of ingenuity or invention. Failure to follow it need not mean idiocy, but either inattention or defect of memory which forbids us to hold all the intuitions together.

Now all correction of errors in reasoning is really correction of the first or the third element. The second, the intuitional element, cannot be corrected if it is wrong, nor supplied if it is lacking. You can give the man new facts. You can invent a simpler proof, that is, a simple concatenation of intuitable truths. But when you come to an absolute inability to see any one of the self-evident steps out of which the proof is built, then you can do nothing. No doubt this absolute inability is much rarer than we suppose. Every teacher knows that people are constantly protesting that they ‘can’t see’ some self-evident inference, but the supposed inability is usually a refusal to see, resulting either from some passion which wants not to see the truth in question or else from sloth which does not want to think at all. But when the inability is real, argument is at an end. You cannot produce rational intuition by argument, because argument depends upon rational intuition. Proof rests upon the unprovable which has to be just ‘seen’. Hence faulty intuition is incorrigible. It does not follow that it cannot be trained by practice in attention and in the mortification of disturbing passions, or corrupted by the opposite habits. But it is not amenable to correction by argument.

Before leaving the subject of Reason, I must point out that authority not only combines with experience to produce the raw material, the ‘facts’, but also has to be frequently used instead of reasoning itself as a method of getting conclusions. For example, few of us have followed the reasoning on which even 10 per cent of the truths we believe are based. We accept them on authority from the experts and are wise to do so, for though we are thereby sometimes deceived, yet we should have to live like savages if we did not.”

It is worth reading the whole article and, indeed, all of C.S. Lewis’ essays and writings are worth reading. From the above we can see that – according to C.S. Lewis – every judgement about truth and falsehood depends on three elements: Facts, intuition and reasoning. C.S. Lewis goes onto argue that intuition is in-built and has to be learnt from childhood and cannot be argued against. It is the framework from which you start. For me that intuition is the Word of God. I start with believing what God has said in His Word and assess every fact and line of reasoning from that base.

The reason I wanted to highlight and reproduce the passage from C.S. Lewis is because of something that seems self-evident to me and I think many others: There is a crisis occurring in many people’s minds when it comes to all three of the elements: Facts, intuition and reasoning. The Internet is awash with “Facts” on everything. People’s intuition is not normally based nowadays on the Scriptures and many people cannot or will not reason.

One example is the moon landing that happened 50 years ago yesterday. I was 9 years old at the time and remember it well. There were thousands of people directly involved in engineering and building the rockets over 10 years. 13 massive Saturn V rockets took off from Cape Canaveral. The blast was so enormous that you had to stay at least 3.5 miles from the launchpad to be safe. 1 million people turned up to see the Apollo 11 launch alone. Over 100 million people watched the live pictures from the moon and saw and heard the astronauts talking and putting up the flag, etc. More recently a satellite called Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been sending back pictures of the places where the different moon missions landed. Despite all this evidence and facts, many people still believe that the moon landing was a faked Hollywood story.

Of course such scepticism is not unusual and considering the amount of falsehoods people have believed over the centuries en masse, it is wise to be sceptical. My first problem with unreasonable scepticism though is that it has its origin in a lie told by someone:

A false witness shall perish,
But the man who hears him will speak endlessly.

Proverbs 21:28 (NKJV)

If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NIV)

According to C.S. Lewis in the passage above, there are two main things that cause people to believe a lie about something: 1. they want to because of some passion or other; 2. they are too lazy to give the matter enough attention. In the second case people lazily accept the statements they read or hear without questioning the source, verifiability or motives behind the propagator of the statements.

But he also points out that probably fewer than 10% of the facts we believe have been reasoned out. Normally we just accept them on authority. Hence the joke that people make about “Well, if it is written on the Internet then it must be true.” The Internet becomes the authority usually for those who are not paying attention to why someone has said something. The initial lie, e.g. the flat earth hoax, gets picked up by thousands as truth. It is no wonder that the Scripture says:

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
19 is the man who deceives his neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”

Proverbs 26:18-19 (ESV)

Many people make the mistake of thinking they can deceive people and think that is harmless.

One of the complaints many people have about the Scripture is that God seems devoid of humour. If, by this, we mean that God doesn’t play tricks on people then, yes, He is devoid of that kind of humour. Practical jokes are not in His repertoire of ways of dealing with humans.

They shouldn’t be in ours either.

 

Believe

There is a wonderful Hebrew word called אָמֵן‘ʾāmēn’ from which we get our word “amen“. According to Strong’s Concordance it means “Be established, firm”. But it can also mean “Believe” and shows the connection between stability and faith that James talks about in James 1:6-8:

“6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

There is a place for being absolutely dogged and firm when it comes to doing and thinking what we believe is right. Faith, in a deep sense, means to stand firm (cf. Ephesians 6).

No Law!

Paul has said this a few times now:  When there is no law there is no sin:

For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Romans 5:13

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Colossians 3:13-15

This morning I woke and spent time with God. Wonderful time with God. This is always a good thing.

This morning I realised that any law anyone might have written or spoken against what I am is null and void. I’m accepted in all my complexities and peculiarities.

I am consoled though that I am not alone in this. We all need levels of acceptance and freedom from sin that only the cross can bring. I’ve died with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The law doesn’t apply to me any more. Go and take a run and jump accuser.

Faith

“If we emphasize faith does that mean we can forget about the law?”  Paul asks at the end of Romans 3. And then he answers himself:  “Of course not!  In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.”

It seems to me that the first 4 chapters of Romans are primarily about sin, law and faith and the relationship between all three. And up to now we have learned that we all sin, that the law doesn’t help but instead just makes the sin more obvious and that faith is somehow the answer to it all. Paul has also introduced the concept of grace/ undeserved favour. In chapter 4 Paul tries to explain faith using Abraham as an example.

First of all it is as well to establish that Abraham was a sinner. He mistrusted God on at least two occasions we know of and put Sarah in a compromised position, he had a child by his wife’s servant – as well as several other liaisons. He also committed murder on several occasions – or at least he was involved in war – and would have killed his own son if God hadn’t stopped him (Genesis 22). By the way, it looks like Sarah had had enough after that incident since we don’t see her with him again until she is dead. You wouldn’t blame her for not wanting to stay with a man who said God told him to kill their son.

But the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Romans 4:3). Abraham, just like us, needed a saviour – a God who forgives sinners. And it was the trusting relationship with God that enabled God to pass on that forgiveness to him. There was no way he could be with God, believing God, and not be forgiven since he couldn’t stand before God’s holiness except in a place of forgiveness.

“Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin!”  as David says (Psalm 32: 1-2 quoted in Romans 4:7.8).  Another man who needed a saviour.

The death of Jesus looks back as well as forward in its effects.

Judgement?

Some years ago, some people came up to Jesus and asked him about cause and effect. They were wondering if the people who had died in a recent building collapse were worse sinners than those who died a natural death.

Jesus’ response played down the manner of the physical death and drew attention to the state of the questioner’s hearts. If you don’t repent, he said, then you also will die in like manner. 

13 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5

In another incident Jesus’ disciples ask him about a man that had been born blind. Again they were wondering about cause and effect. Was this man the sinner or his parents that he was born blind? In this case Jesus said neither but that he had been born that way to glorify God. He then healed him.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

John 9:1-7

In both cases Jesus repudiates the idea that there is a direct link between a man’s (or woman’s) circumstances and his (or her) sin. This is one of the main reasons Jesus also tells us not to judge.

Sometimes there is a link between a person’s lifestyle and an early death or a sickness or condition. Man’s heart so easily judges in those circumstances. One of the main reasons Jesus confounded the religious people of his day was because he was happy to be in the company of such people, sinners. He saw a bigger picture and knew that the hearts of the ones who had fallen into various immoral or harmful lifestyles were more humble than the ones who prided themselves in not having lived that way.

Very often the only difference between a self-righteous, judgmental person and someone who regularly sins in some other more publicly obvious way is that the latter knows he needs a saviour whereas the former doesn’t.

Very often that was the only difference that needed addressing as far as Jesus was concerned.

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”

40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”

41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

John 9:39-41

He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion

C.S. Lewis describes Aslan in those terms to Lucy in one of his Narnia chronicles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The concept of a three personal God is very precious to me.  I love the idea that He is not depending on us before He works miracles, not even on our faith.

Of course, without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 6:11).  Anyone that comes to Him must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those that seek Him.

But when it comes to doing miracles, God isn’t limited by our faith.  He is quite capable of doing His own thing.

John wrote his gospel after the others.  And one of the things he does in his gospel account is write about miracles that have nothing to do with anyone’s faith except that of Jesus Himself.

  • In Chapter 5 he heals a man that was 38 years beside a pool waiting to try and get in when it was stirred up.  All he asks is whether he wants to be healed or not.  To this the man replies in a manner that shows that he only believed that the stirred up pool could save him, not Jesus.  Nevertheless Jesus heals him.  Later the same man betrays Him to the Pharisees.
  • In Chapter 6 Jesus feeds the five thousand when the only response of anyone present to his command to feed the people  was “What are these among so many?”.
  • In Chapter 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  We know Lazarus was incapable at the time of exercising faith(!).  But Martha who was capable showed significant unbelief despite earlier promising statements.  There is no sign anyone else had any faith that He would do this. (Go and read it).

There are times when people do exercise faith in John’s gospel.  In these cases Jesus says a very specific word, the person concerned obeys and the miracle occurs:

  • In Chapter 4 the royal official sees his son healed after doing what he was told.  But it was probable that Jesus healed his son before that anyway.
  • In Chapter 9 he heals a man born blind after he does what Jesus says.  Here is an example of a man hearing the Word of God in a specific way, being obedient to what he heard and then seeing – literally – the miracle occur.

If you want to see miracles the key is to be where Jesus is (John 12:26) which means definite and continuing obedience to what He says.  Now all I need to do is put this into practice a bit more myself!

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Part 2)

I was sharing my last blog with my family the other night and my eldest daughter (14) challenged me to sum it up in one sentence.  So here goes:

Faith comes by hearing Jesus Christ speaking by the Holy Spirit the Word of God into your heart and mind and not just by seeing words on a page or hearing them from someone else.

So here are a few first hand examples:

I know a man (as Paul might have said in 2 Cor 12:2) who was in a middle eastern country some years ago living in a rented accommodation with his wife.  The landlady lived on the top floor of the same apartment with her brother and sister. When the man went up to pay his rent for the first time he was asked about why he and his wife were there.  So he explained that they were there primarily to help Christians in the country.  At her sister’s prompting the landlady then asked if the man could pray for her since she had a continuous head ache/ migraine that she could not get rid of by any medicine or doctors.  So the man prayed and God showed him clearly the reason she had the headache.  She had the headache because there was someone who had done something in the past to her that she had never forgiven him for (a word of knowledge 1 Cor. 12:8).  After the man had got up the courage to say this to the landlady, her sister immediately piped up and said, “Yes, you know so-and-so that did such-and-such to you 13 years ago!”  So the landlady prayed forgiveness for the person and was healed of her headache.  A few weeks later she was still thanking God for the healing and telling others.  That could have been the start of a series of healings except that the man through whom the healing had come said to the first of the cousins that came with sick children that they could pray themselves, they didn’t need him to pray for them.  However the problem was that these people didn’t know how to hear God speak to them.  He often wondered what would have happened if the selfishness and false humility hadn’t kicked in just then, over 25 years ago now.

The above is an example of where the word of God in response to a prayer was “yes”.  Not long after that we were involved in another situation where the answer to many prayers that looked for the answer “please heal” was “no”.

In the mission organisation we were involved in, one of the wives of a missionary in North Africa was seriously ill.  The leaders of the movement and many others started praying and fasting for her.  At that time the idea that “if you have enough faith you can see her healed” was prevalent among them.  So they tried to work up the faith, quoting the usual Scriptures and speaking forth healing in Jesus name as many do.  Thankfully there were others who were also trying to find out what God wanted.  After a few weeks, there was no sign of the woman improving, she was in fact getting worse.  Everyone then met at a leader’s meeting to seek the Lord further and we were invited along to wash the dishes and generally serve the leaders (something we were delighted to do since we would also be able to attend the prayer times which, with that group, were always powerful and exciting).  The Lord’s presence was palpable and we all knew He was with us.  One of the main leaders then got up and explained how he and his wife had believed for weeks that Ann* was going to be healed but that still it hadn’t happened.  He now thought that actually God wanted them to let her go (he heard the Word of God).  After waiting on the Lord we then all felt as if her spirit had gone to be with the Lord.  We later found out that she had indeed passed on at about the same time.

*Not her real name.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Part 1)

A couple of blogs back I wrote about the conflation there is in our terminology when referring to the Word of God.  Jesus Christ is the Spirit behind the words, the Power in them and the Way, the Truth and the Life of them.  The words on the pages of the Bible without His presence in them are like a dead body – instead of giving life they produce death (John 6:63, 2 Cor. 3:6).

So we have to hear His Spirit speaking to us when we read His words.  And when we do what wonders can follow!

“For nothing is impossible with God” – Luke 1:37

“All things are possible to those who believe.” – Mark 9:23

“Everything that you ask, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21:22

“Is there anything too hard for God?” – Genesis 18:14

“If you ask anything in My name, I will give it to you.” – John 14:14

are just a few of the things that He says to us.

But what about something specific?  Is it possible to hear about that?  Well I believe it is and that it is essential we do hear specifically.

When David was going to fight against the Philistines, he clearly heard the tactics he was to use straight from the mouth of God (2 Sam 5:17-25):

17 Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. 18 The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. 19 So David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?”

And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim. 21 And they left their images there, and David and his men carried them away.

22 Then the Philistines went up once again and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. 23 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. 24 And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” 25 And David did so, as the Lord commanded him; and he drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer.

On two occasions he heard Him and the tactics were different in both cases (he went directly against them the first time and circled around them the second – v. 19, 23,24).

David was an example of someone depending on God on a daily basis and not just someone using a past method that succeeded to do something very similar again the same way.  Had David done the same thing twice, without waiting on God the second time, the results would have no doubt been different.  The first time He heard God, the second time he would have been presumptuous.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  He is not limited to using the same formula time and again.  There is no relationship with God involved in taking a phrase like “By His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24) and using it again and again like a mantra.  I’ve seen people do this and I don’t know of any situation where it achieved the results that they were expecting.  Unless someone hears Jesus say that word specifically in relation to a specific situation then no faith will come, just a kind of stubborn, desperate act of the will and flesh.

There is a school of doctrine that emerges in various places in the Christian churches from time to time. It says something along the line of “If you have enough faith then you can always see someone healed.”  I’d ask the question “Faith in what?”  If it is faith in a sentence plucked from the Scripture, even those I’ve quoted above, then I would ask “Did you hear the Holy Spirit say that to you about this situation or did you just take the words without the power in them?”  The truth is that if you have enough faith you will see someone healed or raised from the dead or whatever.  But faith only comes through hearing the Word of God.  We have to hear Him speak the words to us not just read them and think we can apply them like some kind of lotion.

However, I am still learning, there is much to learn about this area.  If I experienced more miracles of healing on a level that a disciple of Jesus should experience according to the gospels, I could speak with more authority.  I could be wrong.

For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.

Galatians 6:3-5

In my next blog we’ll explore this topic further with some real life examples.