As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. – Psalm 17:15
While listening to Philip de Courcy on his radio program yesterday, I listened to him talk about the resurrection of man. He briefly mentioned cremation and it reminded me of something that I’ve thought of many times throughout my life. Can a Christian get cremated? And by “can” I mean does Christian doctrine teach against it? And since I don’t want to commit the argumentum ex silentio fallacy, I don’t seek to argue that if scripture is silent on it then it is permissible.
So let’s start by asking if scripture does in fact explicitly permit or condemn cremation. The answer to that is no. Nowhere in the Bible is cremation prohibited or permitted. The only instance where cremation seems to be mentioned is in 1 Samuel 31: All the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(verses 12-13) However, in modern forms of cremation the body is burned and the bones are ground into powder. This powder is what we call the “ashes”. So King Saul and his sons weren’t really cremated, per se.
Growing up, I always thought cremation was a bit of a taboo or just flat out wrong in Christianity. I’m not sure if it actually was taboo or if it was just my own perception. Especially as a child, the idea seemed a bit “hellish”. But, with the many articles on Christianity and cremation circling around the internet, I don’t suppose I was the only one thinking this.
One reason I thought it was wrong is because of the resurrection of the saints during the end times. I thought that good Christians should be buried as long as it is feasible to do so. But as I grew and learned in knowledge a few things came to mind.
1. If God can create man from dust then He can resurrect man from dust. He did say in Genesis that we would return to dust.
2. Many Christians haven’t had the opportunity to be buried. Some have been persecuted and torn apart by lions. Some have been lost at sea decaying in water and the marine life eating their remains. Some have been burned at the stake for their beliefs. John Huss, a Czech theologian, was burned at the stake and his ashes scattered in the Rhine river to prevent his followers from burying him. John Wycliffe (whose early English translation of the New Testament paved way for William Tyndale’s first full English Bible) had his remains exhumed from his grave, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the river all because his writings were considered heretical. What about these people at the resurrection? The particles that made up their bodies are now so far separated that it would seem impossible that they could get pulled back together. But we must remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:26,”…with God nothing is impossible.”
3. There’s also the fact that the Bible doesn’t just say that the saved will be resurrected. Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” And even that the seas themselves will give up their dead (Revelation 20:13).
Therefore, my reasoning was false as to why I thought Christians shouldn’t be cremated. A God that spoke the world into existence can easily form new resurrected bodies. No matter what state the remains of the believer (and nonbeliever) are in, God will assemble.
Does this mean that cremation is a viable option for believers? Well, where scripture is silent, we let the Holy Spirit guide our conscience. Sometimes it would be a better financial choice since the average cremation can be around 90% cheaper than the average funeral. It’s something that should be discussed with loved ones and prayed about earnestly.
the·od·i·cy (thē-ˈä-də-sē ) noun – An explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil
Habakkuk 1:2-3(ESV) O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
In a world full of such beauty and love and happiness, we also find sadness, pain, and disaster. There are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, school shootings, holocausts, wars, rapes, all manner of diseases, death… The Christian view of God is that He is good. That God is in control. That God cares and loves His creation. If this is true, then why is there so much suffering? This is perhaps one of the biggest if not the biggest stumbling block to many people when it comes to understanding God. And not just understanding God, but a lot of people just reject the notion of an omnipotent and omniscient God because of what’s known as the “problem of evil.”
Why does a good God allow evil?
Ancient skeptic and philosopher, Epicurus, said of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Are God and evil mutually exclusive? Does the existence of evil negate the existence of God? Some would say that to have both in the same universe would be a contradiction.
First let’s start with definitions. Let’s define “God” and “evil.” Merriam-Webster online defines God as “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe.” They define evil as, “arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. The “archaic” form is “causing discomfort or repulsion.” So, for its use in this blog “evil” consists of both natural and man-made trouble.
So God is defined as “perfect in power.” This means He can do absolutely whatever He chooses to do. As the Psalmist said, “He does whatever He pleases.” Being perfect in power He can stop all evil.
“Perfect in wisdom” means that He will never make a mistake and everything He does is absolutely wise. And being perfect in goodness means that all goodness dwells in Him and in Him there is no evil.
So if this all powerful, all wise, all good God exists and sees the evil in the world, why doesn’t He stop it?
Well we must ask ourselves what exactly is it we want stopped. Do we want God to stop all evil? If so and you’ve ever had an evil thought then you would want God to control your thoughts. If you’ve ever uttered an evil word, you would want God to control your speech. If you’ve ever done an evil deed or even made a mistake that caused harm, you would want God to control your actions. Therefore, we are asking for one of two things if we want God to stop all evil: 1. That God take all free will from mankind, or 2. God kill us upon our first evil thought, word, or deed.¹ And we can’t ask that justice be done to others and not to ourselves.
Now let’s break down Epicurus’ argument:
Is God willing to prevent evil? Well if He is good we would have to say yes. We also know from the Bible that He is willing to prevent evil. He Himself heals. And He sends people out to heal the sick, warn people of judgement, and free slaves.
Is God able? A perfectly powerful God is definitely able to prevent evil. But ability doesn’t mean necessity. A good God may allow things that we deem bad for other purposes. He doesn’t have to stop evil.
Whence then is evil? Or from where does evil come? This is an important question to consider when pondering the existence of a good God when evil is so prevalent in the world.
Is evil “bad” just because it causes discomfort and repulsion? If so, the act of a parent correcting a child is “evil.” But of course a parent correcting a child is doing a good thing. But it feels bad. It causes discomfort and no child- nor any adult for that matter – likes correction. And, of course we can say that a parent, or teacher, or friend that corrects is doing it for the other person’s good. Therefore, we would rarely call it evil because we know there is love behind it. So we can logically say there are some things which feel bad that actually aren’t. We can also look at childbirth, growing pangs, the pain we get in our muscles from exercise that facilitates gaining strength: not all pain and discomfort are bad.
But of course there are those things caused by wrongdoing. People with malicious intent doing bad things for a bad purpose. What are we to make of that? And if God can stop them and if it’s in God’s good will to end evil then why doesn’t He stop them? Well as I mentioned earlier, where then would free will be? God can do whatever He pleases, but to stop all evil men from doing evil deeds He would have to stop all evil hearts. As Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This would mean at best we would all be “robots” with no will of our own, or at worst destroyed at the first bad thought.
What about “natural evil?” Stopping that wouldn’t inhibit human free will, right? Why doesn’t God stop natural disasters? Well, it would seem that most people “accept” natural evil as “nature being nature.” Not that they like all that happens in nature, per se, but that those things that happen naturally are more acceptable than “moral evil” caused by man. But for the atheist, the discomfort “natural evil” may cause has no good or bad to it. Actually, it should be seen more so as a good thing if it is just nature doing what nature does. It would be just the earth or universe replenishing itself or going through its phases. If plagues happen, it’s just nature. So why seek to cure disease? Also, what about nature would the inquirer want God to stop? Many aspects of nature that can harm us are also things that we need to survive on this planet. Would God need to make water less dangerous to prevent drownings? He would need to make the composition different, but then it would cease to be water. Lightning is another example. Lightning strikes kill many people every year. But, we need lightning. All life requires nitrogen-compounds and “the enormous energy of lightning breaks nitrogen molecules and enables their atoms to combine with oxygen in the air forming nitrogen oxides. These dissolve in rain, forming nitrates, that are carried to the earth.” (http://www.biology-pages.info/N/NitrogenCycle.html) Basically, we need lightning for healthy air and fertile soil.
Well, you might say “that’s all well and good but an all-powerful God could prevent lightning from striking people.” And you would be right. But, once again, that would involve preventing me from being in a certain place at a certain time so that I am not struck by lightning. “Well doesn’t Christianity claim that God does, in fact, intervene sometimes to prevent such occasions?” Yes, whenever God intervenes to prevent what would otherwise have happened, that is called a miracle. As Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis writes, “That God can and does, on occasion, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is a part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.” Have you or someone close to you said after some natural or otherwise unfortunate event, “I was supposed to be there at that moment but ________ happened and I’m alive because of it.”?
Now back to God’s wisdom. When we are children, our parents often tell us that we can’t do something we want to do. We think we are smart enough and mature enough to do whatever it is, but our parents spoil the fun with a “No!” or “Stop!” and sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we get an explanation of why. Sometimes. Those other times we don’t get the reason because we wouldn’t understand it even if they told us. And we definitely wouldn’t agree with the explanation because we don’t understand it. Our parent’s life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences have given them a better understanding of the world around us than we have as children. So, their no’s to us may seem cruel at times but it is often for our benefit.
God created the world around us and the universe beyond us. God sees the past, present, and future all at once. God, therefore, is more knowledgeable than our parents (and, of course, us) could ever have dreamed of being. Our knowledge is finite and therefore our wisdom and perception are finite. God is infinite and therefore His wisdom is infinite. So while we can’t always know the reasons of the pain and suffering we experience here on earth, we can know that God does. So, because of our ignorance the words of Job ring true, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3
Evil proves God exists. Why do we hate “evil”? Why would someone question why bad things happen? It is because we know that there is a standard of good and of rightness and therefore whatever is “evil” doesn’t seem to meet the standard. We know a line is crooked because we know of straightness. Anything that goes against the “transcendentals” (truth, beauty, and goodness) is evil, bad, or wrong. Since God is defined as perfect in goodness, He is the standard against which one judges evil. If God does not exist, whence then is evil? What standard does anyone have to judge evil? Evil and goodness would only exist as opinions.
If naturalism is true, the best hope we have is that we will return to the nothing from which naturalists say we came. That not only does pain end when we die but so does any amount of pleasure and joy. Nothing created us for no purpose and back to the void of nothingness we will return. All of our pleasures and pain on earth were for naught. No truth, beauty, or goodness awaits in exchange for all the suffering in the world.
However, the Bible tells us there is a reason that pain and suffering are in the world. Man’s sin is so potent that it affects the world. Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused death to come into the world. Before sin, there was no hard work, pain in child labor, shame, disaster, or death. The Bible also promises us that all will be made right again. That God is a God of justice. That one day man will be free from pain and suffering. That one day even nature will experience this freedom. This freedom is not just an absence of pain. Ceasing to exist could do that. No, this freedom from pain will be because of unconquerable and unending joy. This freedom comes to those who place their faith in God. This promise is for those of us that believe He has this gift awaiting us and that it is only available through His only begotten Son, Jesus. God has promised us that the pain on earth has been used to make a way possible to live eternally. The death that Jesus died on the cross was the death that brings us life. What was meant for evil, God is using for good.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:4-5(ESV)
¹I present to you that this might be a false dichotomy. And it actually answers the question of “How can evil exist if a good God exists.” The third option is that God uses people to change things. He sometimes uses people to show the world His love and goodness. He uses people to spread His good news, administer justice and benevolence. Anytime God’s people do God’s will, we see God in action.
Today one of the most brilliant scientific minds has died. Stephen Hawking, a world renowned physist, was perhaps best known for his work studying black holes. His contribution to science will be remembered for generations to come.
Mr. Hawking was also an athiest. He said, “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said.“What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
My purpose in writing this is not to stress the eternal fate of Mr. Hawking. My purpose in this writing is to stress to believers the importance of being salt and light to a dying world. My purpose in this writing is to stress the importance of evangelizing. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who may die not believing.
There is a video that was released a few years back with Penn Jilette, performer and prominent atheist, in which he says, “If you believe there is a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell and not eternal life, or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it could make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize. How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
The death of a nonbeliever is nothing for believers to make snide comments about. Comments like “I bet he believes now,” are more prideful than helpful. There should be no rejoicing but rather prayers for his family.
Death should remind us all that our time on this earth is short. Everyone old enough to read this will most likely face God within the next 100 years. That’s not a long time. No one is promised tomorrow. Therefore, there should be an expediency for believers to spread Christ’s Gospel.
Penn Jilette continues in the video that if you see someone standing in the way of an oncoming truck how much would you have to hate them to not push them out of the way “This [hell] is more important.”
In conclusion, we should pray for Stephen Hawking’s family and that any family members who do not know Jesus would come to accept Him as their Lord and Savior. That they have peace during this difficult time in their lives. We pray they are surrounded with people who will comfort them.
Where your treasure is that’s where your heart will be also. -Jesus
There are often debates surrounding this question. Some say that tithing was only for Old Testament Israel. Some say that the mandate is still in effect for the New Testament Church.
So, which is it? Well, I’m not going to answer that question. You should prayerfully study the scriptures and be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
But I am going to ask you, the reader, to reflect on a few questions.
1. What is the heart of the person asking this question? In Proverbs we read, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (16:2 and 21:2). Are we asking to find a loophole to be disobedient? Perhaps they are asking because they don’t want to give 10%. But the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. So maybe we should ask not what we are commanded to do, but be joyful of what we get to do.
2. Isn’t everything you have God’s? He provides us our money, our food, our time, our talents, our gifts. Therefore, whatever we give back to God, He only allowed us to have in the first place. It’s not 10% of what we’ve earned, it’s 10% of what God made us stewards of. Everything was created by God, so everything that exists is His. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters,” Psalm 24:1-2. And Paul reminded Timothy that we brought nothing into this world and we can’t take anything out (1 Timothy 6:7).
3. What would give God more glory, more or less of your earnings? Whatever gives God the glory also blesses the believer. Wouldn’t God get more glory with more of your time and possessions? If the Christian isn’t mandated to give 10%, God would still bless those that gave more of what they have. Scripture tells us that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). David Guzik states, “A farmer sowing seed may feel he loses seed as it falls from his hand to the ground, and we may feel we are losing when we give. But just as the farmer gives the seed in anticipation of a future harvest, we should give with the same heart.” In the New Testament, Jesus said of the widow who gave only a couple coins into the temple treasury, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” This principle of giving is an echo of the widow in the Old Testament who gave her last bit of food to Elijah. Both widows gave all they had and were blessed as the result.
Are you willing to give 10% if God has commanded it? Are you willing to give it all to Him if He asks of it?
Like I stated, the purpose of this blog was not to be another arguing point for the tithing debate. But it’s purpose is for us to take a look at ourselves and our hearts behind our giving and not to be so black and white on the amount that we give. So, while I’ll leave the tithe debate up to others, I do believe these points I brought up are worth considering. All things considered, the Kingdom of God advances when the people of God give of their resources and time. What has God placed in your care that could be used? How are you making yourself available?
Further reading on giving: Deuteronomy 15:10-11, 16:17; 1 Kings 17:7-23, 1 Chronicles 29:6-17, Proverbs 3:9-10, 11:24-25, 21:26; Malachi 3:10, Luke 3:11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, James 2:15-16
Often in our lives we come upon difficult situations. We pray that God will handle these issues. We have faith that He will. We hope that He will. We wait on Him. But He seems to take His time. In the meantime we’re left waiting on progress or healing. We’re left waiting on a word from God or a display of His power and love. Often that is the plight of the believer. To wait on God.
It can get frustrating. We pray and pray and wait and wait. Sometimes it seems as though He is not there. Yet, we know in our minds and hearts that He is. We have seen Him work in our lives before. We have seen Him deliver us. We have seen Him heal us. We have seen His wonder working power in our lives and in the lives of others around us. But, when God seems silent we get impatient and faith can seem to dwindle. However, every new obstacle comes with a new lesson to learn.
Such was the case with the Israelites after they were freed from Egypt. Their leader Moses went before the LORD on Mount Sinai to receive instruction for the newly liberated Hebrews. They had just seen God’s power through 10 different plagues against the Egyptians. They had just seen God’s power as He parted the waters and they walked through the Red Sea. Afterwards they were waiting on Moses to come back with a word from God so they could make their way to the land promised them by God. They waited. And they continued to wait. I believe knowing that the promised land lay before them made them anxious and impatient. Their impatience with God caused them to commit a heinous sin, idolatry. They created a golden calf and began to revel and party. Why would they do this? Didn’t they know that a golden calf had no power? I think they knew this but since they didn’t hear from God when they wanted to they chose to make a god that they could see. They couldn’t see what they wanted to see when they wanted to see it so they created something they could see. So when they felt abandoned by God they turned to the ways of the land they had just come from. The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years. They saw the idols of the Egyptians, some may have even dabbled in the Egyptian idolatry. But when they were freed from Egypt they still had some of Egypt left in them.
We can be guilty of the same thing. In God’s “silence” we turn to those things that we remember satisfied our flesh before we were delivered. But the Bible says it’s like a dog returning to its vomit. God delivers us from sins because only He can truly and wholly satisfy us. His provisions are more than anything we can ever imagine.
The same was true for Abraham and Sarah. God had promised that they would have a child. But the years went by and God had not moved yet. So they created their own answer by committing another heinous sin, adultery. They couldn’t see the child promised to them by God so they took the wrong path to make one they could see. 25 years went by between the time of the promise to the fulfullment of the promise.
Before the Israelites went into Egypt, Joseph was a picture of what to do when God seems distant. His brothers sold him into slavery when he was 17. As he worked as a slave he was falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison. But the Bible tells us four times (Genesis 39:2,3,21,23) that all this time “the LORD was with Joseph”. Knowing that, Joseph remained faithful in whatever he did. He was ultimately taken from prison and made an official to the Pharaoh…13 years after being sold by his brothers. Joseph endured a lot but he continued to patiently wait on God. How many of us would have given up way before then?
In our human experience, we have only a limited finite grasp of eternity. We can’t see what God sees. God sees the beginning and the end of all situations. Someone has said they were are like characters in a very extravagant painting. We can only see the spot that we are in but God sees the entire painting all at once. As scripture says “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
God is always working while we are waiting. The Hebrews were waiting on Moses because he was talking to God. Neither he nor God had abandoned his people. God was doing a work and His people should have been patiently waiting on what He was doing. It’s the same with us. While it may seem God has not moved in whatever situation we are in, we can be confident that He is working all things together for our good. The worst thing we can do is try to get ahead of God and make things happen that He hasn’t condoned or that He just plain hates. We then take our faith away from God and put it on ourselves. And anyone who has ever made one mistake (that’s all of us) knows that we cannot compare anywhere close to a perfect God.
Webster’s online dictionary defines good grief as an idiom that’s “used to express surprise or annoyance.” Those of us who remember Charlie Brown can recall that this was one of his popular expressions when he would become annoyed with a friend or situation. In scripture, however, there is a grief that brings about positive change in a person’s life.
One role of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sins. To be conviction there has to be a certain level of sorrow, or grief, over sin.
The apostle Paul mentions two types of grief; worldly grief and godly grief. Godly grief, as you may expect, is the good grief. He writes to the Corinthians, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
Godly grief has several effects. We see that it produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret. The Christian life is to be a life of repentance. For one, we repent of our old nature when we turn our hearts to Jesus. Afterwards, while being sanctified, we see more of ourselves that may not be pleasing to God and the repentance leads us to more holy lives. Godly grief is our sorrow over our sin because sin grieves God. This grief is good. It leads to salvation.
“Without regret” is important to mention because worldly grief causes regret. Worldly grief constantly reminds you of the sins and failures in your life. You can’t move forward because regret keeps you stuck in the past. This grief leads to death, so, Satan loves to bring worldly grief. The Bible calls him the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). If we let him, he’s constantly in our ears reminding us of how much we’ve failed and how unworthy we are of love, grace, and mercy. But Paul reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
The Corinthians’ godly grief also brought earnestness and an eagerness to clear themselves of their guilt. The Corinthian church had some horrendous sin within their ranks. It troubled Paul that they were not sorrowful or grievous over this sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). So when he received news of their repentance, was comforted.
So when we feel the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin in our lives, our response should not be to ignore it. He is not convicting for the sake of making us feel bad about something. That’s the devil’s job. No, the Holy Spirit’s conviction is an alarm going off telling us that something is wrong. That there is something we need to correct. The subsequent “grief” we feel is meant to be for our good and God’s glory; to correct our wrongs and lead us into the paths of righteousness.
Further reading: Isaiah 30:15, Jeremiah 31:19, Matthew 3:8, Acts 3:19, Romans 6:1-2, Ephesians 4:30
With so many people in the world and so many different worldviews and conflicting religions, it’s hard for many people to grasp the idea that only a small portion of the population could be “right” about what many would say really matters, the purpose of life and what happens when we die. Nineteeth century poet John Godfrey Saxe wrote a poem titled Blind Men and the Elephant:
It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach’d the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: “God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, -“Ho! what have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear, This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”
The Third approach’d the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee: “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,- “‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said- “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Then, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant Is very like a rope!” And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!
MORAL, So, oft in theologic wars The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean; And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
All the men in this poem are blind men making the best guess they can with the information they are given. Are we like these men? Are the different religions of the world basically men grabbing at different parts of the “Elephant” which they cannot see? All the men in the poem were essentially wrong. But is all of mankind wrong? For those who are sincere seekers of truth yet end up with the wrong answer based solely on the limited information they are given, does eternal damnation await them?
This is an important question for the Christian and the non-Christian. For the Christian because it will effect his evangelism. If he believes he has the only right answer and those who don’t will perish for eternity, then he will be driven to share his faith with others. If he believes we are all just doing the best we can and that his faith may be as valid as other faiths, then he is likely to have a laissez-faire approach when it comes to matters of faith. He probably will not put much stock in Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all men. Both Christian and non-Christian will have an attitude that says “You believe whatever you want. As long as you are truly seeking the truth and have a sincere heart, God will not punish.”
Does God hold us accountable if we seek the truth but come to a wrong conclusion? Is there a wrong conclusion? The answer matters. In school we learn at a very young age that there are right and wrong answers. On an assignment, getting one wrong answer will get points taken off. Getting too many wrong answers will get a failing grade. On some tests, some answers could be worth more points than others (like essay questions verses multiple choice questions). The important thing we learn, however, is that THERE IS A RIGHT ANSWER AND THERE IS A WRONG ANSWER. In the realm of belief systems some questions have more value than others. For example, in Christianity some believe that speaking in tongues is one proof of salvation today, while others believe that speaking in tongues is one gift of many that a believer may or may not have, and yet others believe that speaking in tongues was only for the New Testament church. This is what we consider nonessentials. Nonessentials are things we may disagree on but will not get anyone to heaven or condemn anyone to hell. Things of “minor points”.
In the Bible, Jesus tells us in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, the life. No man comes to me unless the Father draws him.” This is a pretty exclusive claim. For someone to believe in the claims of Christ they must believe that Jesus is the one door. The one right answer. Jesus didn’t say He was A way, but THE way. And that no one comes to the Father except through him. He also says that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” in John 6:44. He repeated this sentiment in John 6:65 “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus also says “I am the door (gate). If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.” John 10:9
It is to be noted that although many disciples rejected Jesus’ claims immediately after he made them (John 6:66) His disciples took them to be the words of life (John 6:68-69). In the book of Acts 4, Peter said with boldness “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Paul tells Timothy that “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus the Messiah.” 1 Timothy 2:5
So with all the claims of Christ to have the sole key to salvation, any other religion that claims otherwise is saying Jesus’ claims are false. That being said, anyone who claims all faiths are basically the same and equally valid fail to see that Jesus is not and cannot be just one valid choice among many. In the multiple choice world of religions, there is only one right answer and it is Jesus the Christ. Jesus didnt just make these claims, He backed them up. In my next blog I will dive into the reasons His claims are valid.
More exclusive claims of Christ: 1 John 2:23, 1 John 5:11-12, Luke 10:16, Luke 12:8-9 , John 3:18, John 3:36, John 8:24, and John 10:7-8b.
Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.- John Owen
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if BY THE SPIRIT you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.- Romans 8:13
Jesus said that sin begins in our minds. He said that if we hate our brother then we have committed murder. If we look with lust at a woman then we have committed adultery. While these things are sins in and of themselves, it would behoove us to understand that Jesus is also saying that these thoughts will ultimately manifest themselves physically if we do not check them.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we should take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When we don’t check our thought patterns and examine the worldviews that shape them, we are in danger of our thoughts leading to sin.
Every action first begins with our thoughts. Many times we say that we slipped into sin and often times it is true. But what of those times when one thought led to an unwise action (not particularly sin), that led to another unwise action, and so forth until… lo and behold we’re committing sin. Ashamed and with Satan accusing and laughing at us.
…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.- Genesis 4:7
Where I’m from there is a criminal charge called ‘malice murder’. In some jurisdictions it can be called premeditated murder. It means that the suspect actually had the intention of committing the crime and made plans to carry it out. It wasn’t a ‘crime of passion’ where a person’s overwhelming emotions clouded their thoughts and in a moment lashed out. Instead it was premeditated which literally means to think out or plan beforehand.
If we are honest and think about our actions throughout the day and some of the “sins that so easily beset us”, how much of our sins are totally premeditated?
But, we may think that we don’t plan on sinning throughout the day, right? Well, say for instance that I have a drinking problem and the Holy Spirit has dealing with me to stop. But, instead, I go through a series of unwise steps that get me to the sin my flesh loves but my spirit hates.
Step 1. Go to the store.
Step 2. Pick out an alcoholic beverage.
Step 3. Pay at the cash register.
Step 4. Take the alcoholic drink home.
Step 5. Open the drink.
Step 6. Take a sip.
These steps and every sip afterward is a conscious action made. Therefore I drank because of my premeditated actions.
As far as step 1 goes, before I went to the store I first had to have the desire to drink. BEFORE step 1 is when it is vitally crucial to take that desire and crucify the flesh. Before step 1 is when it is vitally crucial to take the thought and make it captive to obedience to Christ.
Remember that one mark of a Christian is a life of repentance. A Christian can do all things through Christ who strengthens him or her. Christians are mandated to live to soberly and holy lives. We are to not be enslaved by anything and to walk according to the Spirit. We who are children of God are to walk in the light where darkness cannot hide and we are not to continue in sin. And, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.- Jesus
Philippians 4:13, Titus 2:12, 1 Corinthians 6:12, Galatians 5:16, Romans 8:17, John 1:5, 8:12; Romans 6:1, 1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1, John 16:33, Matthew 5:30, Colossians 3:1-17, Proverbs 24:16
These sayings are often thrown around in our culture. They seem to be used more often than not to say that no one has the right to say that anyone else is wrong for what they do or believe. What’s ironic is that the person saying that you’re wrong for judging is at the same time judging you.
“Judge not” comes from Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you be not judged.” But, people usually leave off or have never read the next few verses. Verses 1 through 5 specifically speaks of not judging hypocritically. It speaks of having a beam in your own eye while trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye. Jesus tells us in this chapter to FIRST take the beam out of your own eye then you can help take the speck out of someone else’s eye. To do so, requires an amount of judging. First to judge yourself so you can receive correction, then your judgement will be clear enough to help others.
Now judging is often translated or contextualized as the word “condemn”. In the sense of salvation, we are right to “judge not”. Since only God knows the intentions, thoughts, and heart of a man. (1 Kings 8:39)
However we are told both directly and by example to judge the actions and teachings of others. By judging I mean saying what someone said or did is wrong.
Another definition of judging is to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. One popular example in scripture is when Paul opposed how Peter was acting towards Jewish verses Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-14). Also the Bereans in Acts 17 verse 11 judged Paul’s teachings according to the rest of scripture.
Scripture also gives us criteria on how to judge whether a prophet is of God. Jesus said you will know a false prophet by his fruit (Matthew 17:15). Deuteronomy 13 says we will know a false prophet of he comes with signs and wonders but tells you to follow other gods. In Galatians 1:8-9 Paul tells is judging people who are teaching a contrary gospel.
So it is clear that in some instances we are right to judge. There is a such a thing as right and wrong, falsehood and truth. But, people shouldn’t throw stones when living in a glass house. In other words, don’t criticize others when you have a similar weakness. Remember we ALL deserve or have deserved condemnation from God. If He has saved you from a life of sin, then don’t look down on others who haven’t received God’s gift of salvation. You were once in their shoes (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Some other scripture concerning judging:
Matthew 18:15-20 (on church discipline) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
John 7:24 Judge not according to appearance but judge with righteous judgement.
Romans 2:21-24 You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
1 Corinthians 5:3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
1 Corinthians 15:12-13 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
One of the most commonly heard yet commonly misunderstood words in the Christian community is the word “gospel”. When people hear gospel they may think of a kind of music. Some who hear it think “truth”. Some hear it and equate it to the Bible but aren’t sure exactly what it means.
Then there are those that know that the word gospel means good news. They are correct. But what is it the good news of? Is it a promise of financial prosperity? Is it a promise of physical health? Is it a promise of perpetual happiness? That you’ll never experience pain or sorrow, financial trouble, or sickness? No, that’s not the Gospel of Christ.
To understand the Christian gospel, we must start way back in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve live in perfect harmony and communion with God. It is also implied that life would be everlasting in this paradise. They witness no shame. They suffer no pain. They experience no death. God in His sovereignty gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey and live forever in perfect communion with Him or to follow their own path. The instructions were clear: Enjoy everything in the garden you desire except for the fruit of that one tree. Of the day you eat of it you will surely die.
Why was the tree put there in the first place? The Bible doesn’t say specifically but I believe it was to give man the choice to obey God or disobey. God chose not to create humans as “robots” or “slaves” that had no will. But He created us as creatures that could choose Him or choose otherwise. However, since only God is good and goodness and life are only found in Him, to choose otherwise, by default, is to choose death.
This was the sin of Adam and Eve. They chose otherwise. The Adversary in the form of a serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Eve offered it to her husband Adam who then ate. At that moment sin and death entered the world. Their unveiled communication with God was now wrought with shame and hiddenness.¹ The land that had once freely offered its bounty to them was now cut off from their access. By sweat and hard work was Adam to work the ground and by pain was Eve to bear children. But worst of all was the chasm that was now created between God and man. Man had been kicked out of God’s first temple (the Garden of Eden) because he failed to guard it.
Because Adam is the representation for all of man, and because all of man comes from Adam, this bad news doesn’t just apply to Adam and Eve. We all share in the curse of their disobedience. Now we have a sin nature.
Because of our sin nature, we are prone to sin. We are susceptible to sins enticement and we are slaves to sins power. This is evident because to do wrong is usually easier than to do right. Therefore, all of us sin. And because we all sin we all die. Not only is this death physical, it is spiritual. Since, our spirits are eternal then the death they experience is eternal. The death our spirits experience is unlike the death of our bodies. When our bodies die they can no longer experience what goes on around them. Spiritual death, on the other hand, is an eternity apart from God in a place the Bible calls hell; where no joy, happiness, love, or peace is found. Jesus calls it a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth and where the worm does not die (Mark 9:44).
This is the bad news that must be understood and accepted before we get to the good news.
“You cannot possibly understand what the Bible says about salvation unless you understand what the Bible says about the thing from which we are saved.”- J. Gresham Machen
The good news is first told in Genesis 3:15. This protoevangelium (or first gospel) says that the serpent will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman but the Seed will triumph by crushing the serpent’s head. However, the fulfillment of this promise would take some time.
Let’s go back to what happened in the Garden. After man and woman ate the fruit they saw they were naked. So in shame, they covered themselves with fig leaves. However, God sacrificed the first animal to cover man’s shame. In other words man’s works weren’t sufficient to cover his shame. God had to shed blood to do it.
From that moment on, sacrifices of animals without blemish were the only suitable sacrifices for sin (Lev. 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). But even these sacrifices only covered sin for a time. The sacrifice of atonement had to be done once every year by the high priest for all the people of Israel.
These sacrifices were to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. The everlasting sacrifice. Jesus lived a sinless life and was therefore without blemish. He became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross freed us from sin’s power, saved us from sin’s penalty, and rescued us from sin’s presence. He fulfilled the promise God gave to Adam and Eve. Satan bruised the Seed’s heel when Jesus was crucified on the cross. But when Jesus rose from the dead, He defeated the Enemy’s power over man and death was defeated.
By placing our faith in the work of Christ we no longer have to be separated from our Heavenly Father. We now have direct access to talk to the Father as we once did. And we have an advocate to go to God on our behalf (1 John 2:1-2).
We are also given the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth to help us discern right from wrong (John 16:7-11). He will also be our Comforter in times of trouble (John 14:16).
The Gospel also promises us that when we die we will spend an eternity with the Father. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). Not that we will not die a physical death but that in the end we will live in the presence of the King (John 11:25) where we will no longer have to worry about sin, pain, suffering, or death (Revelation 21:4).
None of this can be done on our own. Like Adam and Eve, our works do not cover our sins. They’re insufficient. Only by what God has done as the person of the Son through His sacrifice on the cross can man be reconciled, redeemed, and restored. God, by His grace and mercy, has provided a way out of the trouble we have placed ourselves in. He could have left us up to our own devises but He knew we could not save ourselves. He could choose to wipe us all out at the first sinful thought or the first sinful act we commit. An infinitely righteous and holy God would have every right to.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”- Isaiah 52:7
The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels. In them they tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. After Jesus was born wise men came from the east looking for Him. They asked “where is He who is born king of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2)
During the last few days of Jesus’ life, He gives us pictures of Him presented as this king: His triumphant entry riding on a donkey, His being presented a robe and crown of thorns, and His being lifted up on the cross. Although the robe, crown, and cross were used to mock and kill our Lord, they were still symbols of who He came to be.
Upon His return, Christ will establish His kingdom upon the earth and restore ALL things as it had been before Adam and Eve sinned.
Therefore, the Gospel does not just declare freedom for man. The Gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God. Kingdoms of men come and go but the kingdom Jesus sets up will be an everlasting one (Daniel 2:44).
So how can we be sure that we enter into His kingdom? John the Baptist made it clear, “REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). Also, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; REPENT and BELIEVE in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). When we repent we turn from our sins. We change from the path of death in which we were going, to life in Jesus Christ.
Further reading: Matthew 4:17, Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Ephesians 1:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:15-17
¹This is pictured in the temple when there was a curtain that separated the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God was, from the rest of the temple and the people. Only the High Priest could enter on the Day of Atonement. But the veil was torn the moment Christ died on the cross (Matthew 27:51)