Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Is Freewill?

Freewill is a description of volitional power which God, alone, has perfectly. He does as he pleases without disability or mitigation. He can do a thing or not do it.

When God created the heavens and earth and all that lives therein, he made a freewill choice to have that creation reflect himself, and in particular for man to resemble himself. To that end, he gave mankind a physical body made of the stuff that everything else was made of, including everything else living, and infused it with a spiritual animus that made mankind uniquely, specially in his image. Whatever a soul is (and I'm certain we really don't know what that is), it is something that came into being when the breath (spirit) of God was infused into the corpus of man.

It is that ethereal thing, the soul, which expresses itself through a physical being made for it, which makes a healthy human being a reflector of God's freewill and an expresser of it in its own accord. While an individual is in a body, that individual is beholden to that body for its expression of its soulish being. If a brain is damaged, malformed, underdeveloped, diseased or afflicted, the soulish power of freewill will be affected in its expression. God has created man as a discrete singularity made of body, soul and spirit, so that as the body goes, so goes the expression of soulish personhood.

A soul without a properly functioning brain will not express in the physical world the freewill it otherwise has the innate ability to. Without a body a soul is not a complete human, which is reflected, I think, in the crying out under the altar of those martyred souls in Revelation (and the fact that we get new bodies for eternity). When a person is intact and healthy, the existence of his or her soul, is what gives that person the capacity to express freewill. There are limits, of course, the most obvious being the physical laws of the universe, and what is more important in my opinion, the law of Spirit.

The Law of the Spirit determines the ability of the soul to express itself in harmony with God. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, spiritual death, or separation between man and the Spirit of God, was imposed upon mankind. Whatever sort of resting place the soul had been made to be for the breath of God, its connection to the breath of God was broken at that time and so freewill in mankind was incapable of willing in harmony with God. After Jesus rose from the dead and made the Spirit available to those who follow him, the born again have by that rebirth a renewed ability to will freely in harmony with God (though the not perfectly so long as they are in dying bodies).

So what is freewill? It is the volitional power human beings possess, which, among other things, allows them to be the expression of the image of God who possesses freewill in its ultimate sense. Though a soulish quality, it is communicated in the physical world through the auspices of the physical being (particularly, the brain). Natural human beings have no ability to express that capacity in line with God, supernatural human beings (the regenerated) have some capacity to, eternal human beings will be able to perfectly.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Existence of Freewill

Having invoked its creation, God governs the universe by sustaining its existence and allowing it to operate on principles of action he infused in it upon creating it. He guides its operations in time to an end he's fashioned and foreseen. He is absolutely sovereign over all that he has made, but his will is not the only one operational, nor the only one influential in the unfolding of things. At least some angels and virtually all humans also exert their wills in the mix of things unfolding, with their ability to will autonomously being the very will of God.

If determinism is actually how God expresses his sovereignty, then God engineered the plan for history before the beginning of time, wound up the spring at the beginning, and then sat back and let it unwind. To some extent this has to be true, because the effort made to establish energy and mass along with the principles of action that governs their interaction were finished by the end the sixth day of the creation week. Since then, things have generally proceeded on the basis of what was initiated and infused back then. Determinism is accurately descriptive of such governance.

Life, however, throws a wrench into the works, particularly conscious life. Mankind, and at least some of the angels, have the conscious power of choice (will) which, when exerted, affects the details of what happens to stuff in the universe. Life may not be able to change the the spinning of galaxies, but it can affect where the molecules that make up a loaf of bread (or even a mountain) end up today, and whether or not a life continues today. God, of course, can always intervene and interdict such choices, but they are real choices nonetheless, made by sentient beings by allowance under God's sovereignty.

The God who created all things is not under necessity, not determined in his action, but free to do as he pleases, whether this or that. Freewill is not an illusion, then, but the very substance of divine power and attributes which are, in turn, reflected in creation. Freewill exists in nature because God, nature's maker, has freewill and nature reflects his attributes. For freewill to not actually exist in nature would be for nature to fail to reflect a defining attribute of the Sovereign God who created it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hypergrace

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?"  (Luke 6:46 NASB)

Hypergrace is an approach to God's favor in which acceptance and love are extended from God to the believer without any expectation or demand. Under such a view, Christ's work on the cross, which secured salvation, ended any need for such from the one trusting in Christ. It sounds absolutely heavenly to those who've labored under a regimen of works-righteousness, and is a deal too good to pass up on for those who just don't want any urgency or intensity to be required in responding to God. No one wants to go to hell, after all, but is grace of this sort actually available?

If it is taught in the scripture, then it certainly is. So, is it taught there? Not in the least!  Hypergrace is a doctrine which cannot float in light of scripture.

It springs a leak in the Sermon on the Mount.

It takes on water in Romans 12.

It searches frantically for life jackets in Ephesians.

It gurgles the death throes of the drowning in the book of James.

It sinks to the bottom in the Letters to the Churches in Revelation.

[Not to mention how this, this and this crush it's sunken corpse into nothingness]

Hypergrace is for the lazy at heart and the blind of mind. It is for those lost in the childishness of sin--wanting their cake and to eat it too--rather than those surrendered in a child-like faith to following Christ. I've heard its proponents protest that they've never "felt closer" to God than when they've embraced this teaching. But the Gospel is never said to be efficacious through the auspices of what one feels, but only through faith in who Jesus is and what he's done.

Grace describes the attitude of God's heart, a kindness there that breaks the sinner free from the bondage of death and releases him or her into the freedom of new life in Christ Jesus. This grace is never an excuse for sin, nor does it forgive sin as if it did not truly matter after all. Grace forgives sin through an expiating sacrifice of sinless blood that it moved God to provide. God's grace is more than sufficient to deliver the broken and dying sinner through a stumbling journey in life to eternity with him, but is never a substitute for following him as Lord.

If hypergrace actually represents the way God looks on man, and the way man should look on God, then I submit that there was actually no need for the cross and there is no present need for faith.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How Long Can It Be?

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.  Matthew 25:13 NASB

But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.   Luke 21:28 NASB

For nearly two thousand years, Christians have been proclaiming that Christ will return. For about two hundred years, a notable segment has been expecting the Church to be removed to heaven (the Rapture) just prior to Christ's physical return and for the world to fall into the hands of the Antichrist for a short span of time (the Tribulation) thereafter. Some Christians expect a golden age of Christian dominion to precede Christ's return. As for me, I am expecting Christ to catch away the ready very soon, literally at any moment, so let me share some reasons that make that expectancy relevant today.

1) Adolf Hitler (d. April 30, 1945) is beginning to fade into history. I believe Hitler was the seventh king in the string of eight that represent the Antichrist Scheme (Revelation 17:9-11). The Beast, the last antichrist, the Antichrist, must follow the seventh, and I see the force of Revelation 17 as implying that it will be soon afterward. A long period of time passed from the first to the eighth, and in some cases between the successors of the seven (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greek Syria, Rome, Germany). I don't believe a long period can pass between the seventh and eighth and still do the prophecy justice; therefore, the eighth must come upon us soon, very soon!

2) Israel is reconstituted in the Promised Land, and thereby is most definitely an eschatological sign in itself. The Apocalypse, relevant portions of Daniel, and the Olivet Discourse assume the existence of Israel in the Promised Land and the existence of the Temple in the time of the Antichrist. The Temple need only be erect in the last three and half years of the Antichrist's reign to fulfill that prophecy, but that is likely to be part of the covenant that the Antichrist signs with Israel just before the end of the age. May 15, 1948 should have set off everyone's prophetic alarm clock, regardless.

3) The nations that make up the Ten Horns, the kingdoms that form an alliance which comes together to give the Antichrist power (Revelation 17:12-13), have recently synchronized in political upheaval. The fall of communist regimes in the Balkans, and instability in Greece, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan make this an opportunistic time for the rise of the Ten Horns. Those nations must have a relatively brief moment of synchronized chaos which results in new "kings", which resolves quickly thereafter in the confederacy of ten in order to fulfill the prophecy. We are there right now.

Nothing about these signs requires a long lead-in time or much in the way of change in circumstances to be fulfilled at this moment in time. In fact, the Rapture of the Church might very well precipitate whatever is not in place at this very instant. Jesus is truly coming back soon! Look up, my friends, the signs say that our redemption is drawing near. I hope you have oil for your lamps. Given the state of things right now, how long can it be?

Friday, September 13, 2013

God's Foreknowledge

How does God foreknow the future? The question involves looking at things from God's perspective, which is impossible for us, apart from what bits and pieces he reveals to us and we're able to understand. We see through a glass darkly. There are several theories on the subject, but I will focus on my own permutation of Simple Foreknowledge, Omnitemporal Observation, in this article.

At its most basic, Simple Foreknowledge suggests that God knows the future by watching time unfold from his timeless perspective of observation. In other words, God, unhampered by time, knows the future because he's seen the future. Though this would seem to cast God in the role of merely observing, it actually does not preclude him from making whatever interventions he would like to make. He can observe and he can influence (shepherd) whatsoever comes to pass in time.

Time itself is merely an aspect of creation. From the standpoint of that creation, God is both omnipresent and omnitemporal; whereas from God's standpoint, he just is. God is neither in time nor dependent upon it, anymore than God is in creation or dependent upon it (aseity). It seems to me, therefore, that his knowledge of creation cannot be dependent upon time, even though if there was no creation (nor the time that is an aspect of it), he would not then know it. Given that he did create, God knows his creation entirely (from stem to stern, from beginning to end) without being bound by the progression of time, which is something only that creation is subject to.

Now exactly what time is, is hard to say. We can measure it even though we cannot contain it. It's stamped into the warp and woof of everything, but doesn't seem to be anything at all. It is possible to see it as nothing but an arbitrary way to relate the sequential, but since everything is always in motion, sequence is fundamental to everything in creation.

As a consequence, our knowing of anything we have knowledge of is completely wrapped up in sequence and time. Line upon line, precept upon precept, evolving one concept from those derived before--this is the way we think and know. To project this creation-bound, time-bound construct upon God, however, would be a mistake. God knows differently than we know, he thinks differently than we think.

For God, knowing is neither time-bound nor time-dependent--if anything can be known, he simply knows it. He isn't waiting for prior steps to unfold, nor building line upon line, precept upon precept. He neither had to formulate a plan (though he has a plan) nor iterate various possibilities before he acted (is it even appropriate to speak of "before" with God?). There is nothing about God's knowing, within himself, that is a process at all.

It is beyond doubt that our template for knowing cannot be laid upon God in order to understand his knowing within himself. Even though God's interactions with our realm have a sequential quality to them (see Genesis 1 and God in the Moment ), they only do so from a perspective within creation, not God's perspective "outside." Past, present, and future only have meaning where they matter (i.e., in time), not where they form no barriers whatsoever. Though the effects of his acting and the experience of his knowing while in interaction with the time-bound has a sequential quality to it, God, in himself, knows in timelessness.

Foreknowledge is a different animal than mere knowledge, however, because the fore puts that kind of information in the realm of time. So foreknowledge, by necessity, would have to be what God knows according to the sequential convention of this realm before that sequence unfolds in this realm. That is not to say that God's knowledge of the future is dependent upon nor bound by the sequential reality of this realm, but only to say that God is capable of expressing the knowledge he does have of this realm in the terms of this realm. God knows from his "omni-pool" of knowledge, what for us in our realm is the future.

What this means is that God's knowledge of what is the future for us is not shackled to sequence. It's not the future for him, it just is. Therefore, any notion of our future being locked in, or determined for us if it is known by God is unfounded: any argument based upon that supposition a non-starter. We can act freely, and God can interact, even iteratively so, within time and not have to "adjust" his knowledge of all things, including the future, for that being so. He can cause a miracle, or answer a prayer within time, without having that action alter in the least his knowledge of all things.

He sees all at once, as it were, only we have to wait for time. As I perceive God's foreknowledge, Omnitemporal Observation (Simple Foreknowledge) adequately describes the nature of such from a biblical perspective.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grace and Obedience

When I was a kid, the sage advice I often received from my elders was to do what I was told. That may have been the role I was saddled with for that period in my life, but I didn't like it. It chafed against my willfulness and felt oppressive. No doubt, as an adult I have passed on that counsel to others (namely the five that share my surname and grew up in my house) many times over.

I was 20 when Christ became my Lord: too young to be completely past teen rebellion, too old to be treated like a kid. Yet, the scriptures clearly taught me, in regard to my newly found faith, I had to become as a child. Humility, submissiveness and obedience were to be the watchwords of my new existence. Let me tell you: it is no easier to accept such things from God all grown up than it was to accept them from earthly elders when I was a kid.

Americans, maybe humans in general, don't like those words when they're focused on them. We can see the need for someone else to abide by them, perhaps, but not so much ourselves. We want to make our own decisions, pursue our desires, and control our destiny. Meanwhile, the idealized image of the heavenly "Father" we have fabricated in our minds sits sensitively on the sidelines, cheerleading our drive and affirming our ambitions. Isn't that what it means that "God is for us" in the modern vernacular?

Christians, at least those who catch big air surfing the hypergrace wave, go into gag reflex when someone says that God should be obeyed and is not pleased when he isn't. I've seen the claim that God is just as pleased with a Christian who is not obeying him as he is with one who is! A cursory reading of the Letters to the Churches in the Apocalypse is sufficient to put that notion to rest! Whereas that metric could be applied to the concept of acceptance or salvation, it cannot be applied to the experience of relationship.

Obeying God, treating Jesus as if he actually is the Lord, is essential to a vital and productive relationship with him. That is the approach Jesus modeled for us as humans. He loved his Father and obeyed him, and that is why they had such a close relationship. Jesus asks us, "why do you call me Lord, and do not do the things I say?" When it comes to a dynamic experience of God's presence and fellowship in our lives, when it comes to revival, there's no avoiding the fact that we're just going to have to learn to do what we're told.

Anything less is not grace, it's garbage. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Foreknowledge and the Fixity of the Future

The Bible presents God as knowing the future exhaustively. The scriptures also record God making pronouncements about the future, which in turn cause people who hear them to respond to those announcements in such a way that God changes that pronounced future. Incidents of this sort drove Jonah nuts and led Moses to an altruistic intercession that came back to haunt him. Whereas these cases do nothing to contradict the tenet that God controls the future, they completely undermine any sense that just because God has had something said about the future, that future is fixed thereby.

A little confusing, to say the least.

We are told to "ask whatever we will" (emphasis mine) in prayer and that God will answer those prayers. In a putting-the-cart-before-the-horse scenario, the concept of answered prayer twists virtually every way theologians and philosophers look at time and foreknowledge. A future-effecting intervention from God outside of time in response to definite, self-intiated actions by agents (i.e. free choice) within time certainly puts a question mark over the concept of a fixed future. How can it be fixed if it is responsive to freely chosen actions in time?

There are instances in the Bible where God tells people they have done what they have done because he determined that they would. God has delivered quite detailed descriptions of what people, who don't even exist yet, will do in circumstances and events that were not even hinted at by circumstances and events at the time of the announcement. He often clearly states that such actions are at his beckon as well. Clearly, some things are predetermined by God. 

Hmmm, chalk one up for Determinism!

It is obvious that God is more than a mere observer and that he is not merely a determiner. God has told us some things about himself, in his timelessness, that can help us understand the mystery. For instance: he will never lie, he is not tempted by evil and will never tempt anyone else with it, he cannot be thwarted in the accomplishment of his will, even though mankind has the capacity to disappoint him and to cause him to reconsider (evidently, he is not impassible). He does know the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning (all things will conclude on his agenda), but there seems to be some wiggle room in all this.

It is obvious that people have real choices that matter. There is a quality to at least some of those choices in which God must "wait" to see what man actually does (despite God's analytical skills) for God to say that it is what man would actually do (e.g., see Genesis 18, and 22). Yet, those same analytical skills do allow God to see where alternate choice could have led. God always does as he wants, of course, but what he wants with us is interactivity with man's choice

It seems that God simultaneously sees exactly how man's choice and his own choice unfold through time to the end.

The only workable solution I see to all the complexity of timeless omniscience and the clarity of biblical revelation is simple foreknowledge. Nonetheless, I understand the difficulty many (e.g. determinists and Molinists) have in seeing it as a sufficient view. What I think is more of a problem in comprehending all of this, more than even our own time-bound limits of imagination and understanding, is our conception of a fixed future. God, who is outside of time, sees all of time at once; thereby, he can know the future both exhaustively and fluidly.

For us, the present is where we live unaware of temporal effects that occur outside our moment. Our choices in the here and now are real, our past is fixed and our futures are open, despite the completeness of God's timeless foreknowledge. God, outside of time, can do as he wants in time to shepherd time to a end stated before its time in time. That the future is what God has seen it outside of time to be does not necessitate that future is thereby fixed for those of us who must wait to see it inside of time.

Since God's exhaustive knowledge of the future is not time-bound, it does not require fixity in order to be exhaustive and accurate.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Communicating the Gospel

What does it take to communicate the Gospel? The message is rather simple: God came to earth in the form of a man named Jesus, lived sinlessly as that man, willingly accepted the weight of every other man's sins upon his own shoulders, died the death that was due that sin, and then rose from the dead on the third day thereby demonstrating that he'd overcome that sin and the death due it. To everyone that believes that good news and thereby embraces Jesus as Lord (and follows him), the victory over sin and death he achieved is shared with them.

Now a lot of effort has been and is made to analyse, criticize, synthesize and publicize what makes communication successful. That is particularly true in regard to the Gospel, because it accomplishes nothing if it's not shared. As would be expected in a venture that is so reliant on communication, the church world is up to its eyes in books, conferences, magazines, blogs, and courses on effective, relevant communication. Are those efforts misplaced? 

I find it remarkable that Jesus, our prime example, at the critical moment in extending his ministry, did not commission communicators to help him fulfill his vision. He neither relied on the instruction of experts in the field, nor enlisted those so instructed to do his bidding. Instead, gasp, he chose friends to help him, and not even well-spoken ones at that! That is counterintuitive at best, not at all what a wise leader should do--so why did Jesus do it?


Obviously, the quality of communication is not what converts sinners. Could it be that a church's true evangelistic success (that is on people actually becoming born again) depends more on whether or not Jesus has friends in that congregation than on how well that church markets its message? Is this not a Spirit thing after all? If his friends are not capable of communicating the gospel message with effect, and the onus seems to be on their bad technique, it may well be that it's not the gospel they are actually trying to communicate.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Two Witnesses of the Apocalypse

"Who are those guys?" students of prophecy wonder in regard to the two witnesses of the 11th chapter of the Revelation. We are given only a few details concerning these cryptic figures: they prophesy for three and a half years at the end of time; they fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah; they are powerfully anointed as attested by signs and wonders; their ministry and death will occur in Jerusalem; they are hated and feared by the world; and they are raptured by God, publicly, after being dead for three and a half days. There have been interesting guesses about who they might be offered through the ages, but I know who they are with certainty!

How? You might ask. Well, I Corinthians 15 gives us all the information we need to figure it out! We are told there that Christ is the first one who defeated death and received an imperishable body. Furthermore, we are told that no one can go into eternity in perishable flesh and blood inherited from Adam. All born of Adam must die and/or be transformed into a new body following after the model of Christ in order to enter eternity with God. The old cannot inherit the new.

That produces a problem with the biblical record when one remembers the stories of Enoch and Elijah. They were taken by God to be with him while they were still alive in Adamic flesh, before Christ arose. Therefore, according to I Corinthians 15, they are not prepared for, nor can they enter into eternity until they put off their old bodies and rise in new ones untainted by Adam's fall. Somehow, either by an transformation akin to the Rapture of the Church (which not revealed in the Word), or by returning to earth and going through "normal" processes, Enoch and Elijah have got to be transformed. 

We have known that Elijah is in the mix forever, but the identity of the other witness has caused incredible speculation in the church. It really did not need to, for the Apostle Paul told us what we needed to know in order to identify both of them conclusively. Enoch and Elijah may have been enjoying the last few thousand years in the presence of God well enough, but they can't go into eternity the way they are. For their own good, and for the good of the Jews alive during Daniel's 70th week, those guys need to come back to earth, and then, they need to die!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Wealth Lie

Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack, go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”    Mark 10:21 NASB

Why do preachers in the modern church tell the rich, young rulers of our day something other than what Jesus told them in the days he walked on earth? For that matter, why do preachers in the modern church tell the poor to aspire to be rich, young rulers? The rich of our day are told that their wealth, and the self-indulgence and self-concern it breeds, is a blessing from God. They are told that God would like all his children to be thus, even that there are fool-proof ways of getting there (like tithing)--really, to be anything less than rich evidences a break-down in faith.

They are told lies!

From a biblically informed point of view, the only good thing to do with wealth is to give it away. Not to accumulate it; not to "seed" the ministry of a televangelist or mega-church pastor, but to give it away to the benefit and blessing of others. The televangelist and the big church guru (generally) seek only to build their own Taj Mahals or to pad their own notoriety and and influence. Either, more often than not, solicits the givings of the giver with the promise of multiplied returns from God (primarily, just so they can enrich themselves).

Jesus never asked for that kind of response to the Gospel, and won't open the windows of heaven for some self-seeking manipulator just because he or she "gives" along those lines. Give, oh yes, but to one who is in real need, without seeking blowback. Give actually trying to help someone else. To anyone to whom you do give, be like God and be generous. Don't let your left hand know what your right is doing. Give of your wealth and follow Jesus in service.

To the one who can't see, bring a healing salve that can give sight. To the one that has sight, teach him to read so he can read God's word, and then, give him God's word. To the one that can't hear, bring a means of hearing. To the one who can hear, speak God's word to him so he may truly hear. To the one who is thirsty or hungry give sustenance so he may live another day and come to know God's care.

It is absolutely true that there is no greater gift to give than the Gospel, and that giving toward the support of Gospel ministry is as important to give to as anything. But let's be clear and honest, the Gospel was not given by God as a source of wealth acquisition for its supposed promulgators, NOR FOR THOSE WHO EMBRACE ITS TEACHING. The church is talking a lot about wealth these day, but it's mostly telling lies!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Image of God in Mankind

I have established, minimally, that the image of God in mankind is reflected in mankind's freewill. Furthermore, I implied that since God is more than his will, his image in mankind must include more than freewill. Love, creativity, reasoning, communicability, and dominion are part of the picture as well. To take it a step further, I think a very good case can be made that it was through the instrumentality of God's breath that the image of God was communicated to man (i.e. Spirit became spirit). He is spirit and so is man (in some respect) which is why man can be like him.

Of all the creatures God made in the physical world, mankind alone was said to be made in his image and given dominion. Angels are not mentioned at all in the creation account, but appear suddenly, without explanation or specifications, at the Fall of Man. Only much later in the record of revelation are we told they were made to be ministering (sacredly serving) spirits by God. Yet, even though salvation and redemption hold a fascination for them, they have no ability to be redeemed through faith.

Though they are spiritual beings, as is God, many of them fell into rebellion with Satan. Those, at least, had to have had some kind of freewill capacity (see this as to why), although we can only guess as to its nature. We don't know why unfallen angels did not fall, nor indeed, if they even had the capacity to do so in the first place. Regardless, we can be thankful they, at least, are faithful to God and serve the heirs of salvation amongst mankind to this day.

Mankind is a strange word to generically refer to all human beings with, but it is a biblical way of looking at things. Today's feminists may be bothered by designations that seem better suited to males than females, but believers in the Bible recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong with such. Men are made in the image of God and are tasked with dominion--some are male, some are female. There is absolutely no distinction in the image of God that either gender bears nor in the mandate of dominion they were given.

Only sin, followed by the curse and death has affected the relative status of both types of men. Enmity between the sexes exists, because under the curse, females were placed beneath males in the dominion mandate. In the perfection of God's created order before the Fall, male and female had no more significance than reproductive utility. In Christ, post-redemption, after the curse is no more, there is neither male nor female to any spiritual consequence, which will be particularly evident after the Resurrection.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Is the Image of God in Mankind?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.   Genesis 1:26-27 NASB

What does it mean that mankind was made in the Image of God? At its most basic, "image" as used in Genesis 1 refers to a rendering, something cut out like a sculpture or carving. Verse 26 uses "likeness" to describe the nature of that "image", which captures quite well the thought of resemblance. Therefore, the image of God in mankind is a representation in the created world that resembles God--an optical counterpart, if you will, which is not of the same stuff as the original but looks the same nonetheless.

However, God is not corporeal so the likeness in question cannot refer to the physical or tangible realm--it must refer to something metaphysical, something spiritual. Our physical being certainly says something about the attributes of its Creator, but our physical being is not what reflects the image of God. So what do we know about God that isn't physical or visible? He is spirit. He does as he pleases. He is creative. He is love. He reasons. He communicates. He has a will. And in the fullness of all that he is, he rules.

Now, it would be a mistake, in concentrating on that last characteristic, to assign the image of God primarily to the mere exercise of sovereignty or dominion. God's nature is not circumscribed by the attribute of sovereignty, and so being in the image of God cannot be solely about dominion. Besides, ruling, as commissioned in mankind, was concomitant upon them being made in God's image rather than being a reiteration of what it meant that they were made that way (i.e v. 26 is an expression of synthetic rather than synonymous parallelism).

But even if one were to insist on making this error, dominion, or ruling, is still founded upon the ability to do what one wants with what is dominated. The more limited a being's degree of freedom to act is, the less that being can be said to be exercising dominion. You see, sovereignty is really, at its most fundamental, about doing as one pleases with what one is sovereign over. Therefore, it is really no stretch at all to see that doing as one pleases, whether it is this or that (i.e. freewill), is essential to the nature of God, to the concept of sovereignty, and by implication, to the image of God in man.

In fact, a being cannot be said to be in the image of God without having freewill.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Letter to the Protestant Church, Part II

Continuing with our look at the Letter to the Church at Sardis...

Jesus' command to the Sardisians to remember is similar to his command to the Twelve concerning the Lord's Supper. In that case the subject of recall was Christ himself, in this case it is what the Sardisians had embraced (received) and understood (heard) as believers. This is not the first time a NT writer used recalling that which had been experienced by believers as a means of correction. It seems that Christians forget what they've seen and heard, and which elicited and strengthened their faith in Christ at their own peril.

Instead, the Sardisians were told to guard (keep, watch over) what they had embraced and heard. Finishing one's work certainly progresses toward that end, but it also means revisiting, checking up on, remembering the things by which we stood and continue to stand in faith. The celebration of Communion can help with this, so long as it isn't seen as making the bread and wine instill some spiritual benefit of themselves, rather than being a means of remembering the Lord and what he's done to save us.

The Christians of Sardis needed to change their minds about and attitudes toward (repent) what they had already heard and known. It is my sense that human nature has a ready appetite for the fresh, that we are more intrigued by the new rather than what we have already been exposed to. We can be dismissive and even disdainful toward what was once fresh but is no longer on the cutting edge. Disregard for the foundational and worthy of continued attention can not only lead to works going astray but also faith going dry.

"Wake up!" Jesus commanded the Sardisians. Really, watchfulness is the practical outcome of wakefulness which seems to be the point Christ was making--pay attention to your ongoing faith walk with Jesus. The mention of his surprise appearance catching them unaware is reminiscent of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Whereas there, sleeping per se was not cast in an irredeemable light (as it is here), the force there and here is the faithless lack of attention and concern some have toward what they have and are expecting in Christ.

As in any church, not everyone part of the congregation is truly part of the Church of the First-born. Some walk unsoiled (in this case, that is equivalent to unsleeping) and will be at the banquet when the Son of Man returns, some will not. Regardless, the action, one way or the other, is not attributed to Christ but to the one wearing the garment. If one keeps his garment unsoiled (perhaps that is the only proper garment for the occasion), he will thus have white garments, akin to Christ's and appropriate for eternity.

Take special notice to the typical use of white here. This treatment is consistent with the other symbolic uses of "white" throughout the scripture, but especially that in the Apocalypse. White is always associated with the good and right, never with the evil and unrighteous. Which, incidentally, is the reason the White Horse cannot be interpreted as evil (i.e. as representative of the Antichrist), but only as good (e.g. the Church turned loose on the Great Commission).

That one can have one's name "unwritten" or erased is a slam-dunk destruction of the Once-Saved-Always-Saved doctrine. As is clear from this letter, one whose name was written in the Book of Life can have that name erased from the Book of Life. Since that book is the instrumentality of final judgment later in the Apocalypse, the message is all too clear. There is a possibility that those who would have been saved eternally at one time in their lives, can at a subsequent time lose that status: the saved can become the unsaved.

Since we are saved by grace through faith, the consideration above would seem to indicate that the faith in question is something in the purview of the believer rather than God. There is in the believer that responsibility in regards to faith which is his or hers and dependent upon him or her to execute and maintain. God will not believe for the believer, the believer, ultimately, must do that for his or her self (despite their need for God's enabling assistance). For those that make the good confession of faith before men, Christ will confess them as his at the end before God and the angels.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Letter to the Protestant Church, Part I

Zombies seem to be popular these days with just about everyone, but they don't hold much fascination with Jesus, at least as far as we can tell from his Letter to the Church at Sardis. There, Jesus excoriates the believers in that town for having the appearance of life but the reality of deadness. In other words, they were zombie Christians. Before their condition leads to their full and final expiration, he calls on the zombie Christians of Sardis to wake up, shake off the slumber of their hypnotic trance, and save what can be saved before all is lost.

Jesus' beef with the zombie Christians of Sardis is not founded upon mere conjecture. He's seen them in action, he's witnessed what they have done. They had a name, or reputation, for being a vibrant community of Christians, alive in God, but their actions did not measure up to their hype. It's not that they did nothing, they at least made a feint in following through with the works of God, but they stopped short and took a nap before they had pressed through to true fruitfulness (completeness) in God.

What the actual nature of their shortcomings was Jesus did not say. Conjecture and personal application is left to us; in my case, it reminds me of the Parable of the Sower. Rocky soil or weedy soil has the start of something good in reaction to the gospel, an appearance of life, but whatever the initially promising impact may have been, it is not followed through on with dedication and focus. What began to grow withers or remains fruitless (incomplete) as a result.

I look at this and wonder if Jesus could have been writing to the Protestant Church. The promise of a return to the Word and the reformation of what had become mere superstition, idolatry  and commercialism certainly gave the name of life to the Protestant Church. However, given her history and current state of affairs, what would Jesus say of her works? Protestants have fallen asleep in the light while whatever spiritual life and light they may have had has ebbed away. The promise of greatness for that body is all but past, now it would be sufficient if she just woke up, came to her senses, and bolstered what remained.

The Protestant Church is struck, in my opinion, with an overreactive fear of works. I am firmly in the sola camp, so I have no issue with the Reformation's protestation against depending on works for status, position, or merit with God. Works certainly cannot save us nor can they keep us saved. That is not the same, however, as acknowledging that what we do does matter to God, as the Old and New Testaments readily attest! The Protestant Church has, since the Reformation, offered a confusing, befuddled notion of what in the scriptures is the clearly communicated expectation of godly works.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus himself said that final judgment is correlated to works. James did in fact say (notwithstanding Luther's opinion of his epistle's canonicity) that faith without works is dead. That Christ reiterates the concept in the Apocalypse by relating deadness to unfinished or incomplete works should surprise no one. The truth is that there is a consistent emphasis in the New Testament on the works Christians do, and even the need for those to comport with the confession that Christ is the Lord.

Let there be no misunderstanding, we are saved by grace through faith; however, saving faith must be actual faith in order to save. Actual faith that Christ is the Lord motivates change in a person and inspires the one believing to do the works that God has prepared for them. It's not that anyone can be perfect in the sense that their works are nothing but good or that they are above being tempted to walk in their former works. Yet, if anyone has true faith, and any time at all to live in such, his or her life will evidence God-inspired works which demonstrate the reality of his or her faith in Christ.

Being a Protestant should never entail protesting that one is alive despite the lack of any recent works which demonstrate it. To have the name of life but the reality of death is a sham seen through entirely by Jesus Christ. If we are able, that is not incapacitated, it is perfectly fine for a Christian to look at his or her actions and wonder to themselves if they truly believe that Jesus is Lord (God certainly does). A person who truly believes is never undone by such an examination, even if they realize they have works to repent of and sins to confess.

Christ's works may be finished, but ours go on--not to gain salvation, but merely because we are truly saved. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Shroud of Turin

Earlier this year, just in time for Easter, the news came out that the Shroud of Turin may be authentic after all. It has been claimed to be a forgery by knowledgeable people since it's been in the West (~1390 CE). And it's been claimed to be authentic by relic apologists and the faithful just as long. In 1998 what was apparently a slam-dunk scientific examination proved it was a forgery.

But now, supposedly better testing techniques, better controlled for contamination have yielded results that make the Shroud possibly contemporaneous with Christ. Different dating technique, no fibrous contamination, and viola, what was not so, now may be so. To tell you the truth, I could care less. Nothing about my belief in Christ rests on the Shroud. I do admit, however, that it would be cool if it did turn out to be possibly authentic...

Jesus burial clothes were part of the Gospel account of the resurrection story. I can't imagine Mary, Mary, Peter or John leaving the empty cloth in the empty tomb.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is There A Person God Cannot Save?

Is there a person that God cannot save? I suppose it depends on what one means by "save".  In any given perilous situation (e.g. my car going off a cliff) the answer would have to be "no", God could save anyone in any situation. If what is meant by use of the term is to be preserved alive after the final judgment of sin, then the answer is "yes", and resoundingly so. That being said, I still must confess that scripture convinces me that if God could save everyone from judgment, he would.

"‘...As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked..."     Ezekiel 33:11 NASB

It is quite clear from scripture that there is a place of eternal judgment and that it will be populated with unsaved sinners as well as the demon horde. Eternal confinement to a lake that burns with fire seems harsh, minimally--not at all the kind of thing one might anticipate someone styled "Savior" doing. I think it would be natural to think that God would have done something about that, if he could have.

He did.

"...I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all..."      1 Timothy 2:1-6 NASB

It seems to me, what God could do to save all humanity from judgment he did do. If all humanity does not end up saved, the fault will not lie with God, but with man. He has provided a substitutionary sacrifice for sin that effectively meets the demand that both man and God see for justice, and effectively reconciles the broken relationship between God and man the sinner. All that is left is for man to no longer want to be a sinner.

Now that is not something that can be imposed. It can be coaxed, an invitation can be made, and a supernatural effort to convince the sinner of his perilous status can be undertaken. But to write over the will of the person in order to make it happen would only serve to cause the sinner to cease being a man. The result could not be said to be a man being saved, but would represent a man being transformed into something other than a man, something less than the image of God.

Man was made in the image of God, to do as he pleased. A man could not be said to be a man on those terms if someone else's pleasure were substituted (especially unwillingly) for his own. To be a man is to have independent will. Unfortunately, it is also to have the possibility of withstanding every effort of God to turn that will to the obedience of faith.

Is there a person God cannot save? Yes, the one who won't repent and believe the gospel.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Is Sin?

A good definition of sin is helpful in dealing with just about any issue involving God and man. Unfortunately, the Bible is not as straightforward as one might think in providing one. At one point, sin is described as breaking the law; at anothersin is said to have been in the world even when there was no law. If nothing else, that certainly tells us sin is more than breaking a rule.

Therefore, the mere concept of lawbreaking is insufficient for defining sin, since sin does not need to reference a command in order to exist or be described. In light of that, let me suggest, as I have before, that sin is nothing more than the exertion of will contrary to the will of God. A command from God would certainly invoke such a definition, but then too would any awareness of what God's will was, whether it came through conscience, conviction or comprehension. Really, will exerted presumptiously, without regard to God, could invoke a charge of sin, even if done in complete ignorance of God's will


Now, the Bible does say that sin is not imputed, or reckoned against one's record, where there is no law. There must be some distinction that God maintains between knowingly transgressing and ignorantly transgressing his will. Yet, as is clearly stated in the Word, death has spread to all humankind because all humans sin, even though many have had not so much as an inkling of the law. So, even if sin is not reckoned to one's account apart from the law, it still leads without exception to the penalty for sin which is death.


A child reaching for a flame, may have had no reason to believe mom or dad did not want her to do such a thing, but may nonetheless be greeted with a quick smack on the fingers as she tries to do so. She won't be punished further as she might have been had she known better, but she did receive a penalty regardless! Discovering that something is against God's will after the fact doesn't alter that it was against his will before. In other words, sin does not require the offense to be an overtly realized transgression on the part of the offender in order to be sin. 


If one knows God's will, or if one merely suspects what may be God's will, or if one is completely oblivious to God's will concerning any willful exertion, that one sins by taking a course contrary to God's whether in word, deed, or thought. Of course, if all occurs according to God's will (as in determinism), it follows that there is and could be no sin. Since it is scripturally clear that sin does exist, it is also quite clear that stuff happens that God did not will. Sin is stuff that is not "his"


Therefore, sin is an unfortunate consequence of freewill. Without freewill sin would not and could not occur, but then neither would love nor the image of God exist.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is Evil Necessary for Good to Exist?

I have said that only God can handle being God-like. What I meant by that was that only God can act freely (i.e. God-like) while acting in agreement with his own will in every instance. If that was not the case he would be a contradiction, and that can never be the case. It's not that he actually has to weigh his choices before acting, his very acts are the expression of his will, it's just that God is neither conflicted nor tempted in acting.

Any other agent acting freely, autonomously, is bound to transgress God's will at some point. Though that agent is made in God's likeness, since that agent is not God, that agent cannot independently replicate God's will. God did not, indeed could not, make himself in creating such agents, he merely created something that had a power of will analogous to his own (i.e. they do as they please). To be able to replicate God's will precisely an agent would have to be God.

If that is so, it means that given the decision to create independent, freewill creatures, sin (or evil) would be inevitable. Generally, if something is inevitable it can be said to have the quality of being necessary. If sin (or evil) is necessary to the creation of God's image, that would be sufficient to establish that evil was necessary, at least for the particular good of making creatures in the image of God. Furthermore, if that is the case, sin and evil would have been authored, knowingly, purposely, by God upon the decision to create.

That is not case, however, because the inevitability in question is not the result of a decree from God concerning the agent's will (as in determinism). Instead, the inevitability arises from the agent's distinction from God in identity. The agent sins because he can will like God but isn't God. Therefore, God is not the author of such sin, the free agent is--even though God could foresee such sin and did author the freewill that made it possible.

I have already established that the freedom of will entailed in the image of God was good per se. So, if inevitability does not translate into necessity and the authorship of sin (evil), it cannot lead to the conclusion that evil was necessary for that good to exist. If, in fact, there was a way to unite the identity of God with the identity of the agent, freewill would not necessitate transgression at all, as is ultimately demonstrated by Jesus, the Son of Man.

However, I am forced to conclude that if such unity was not possible, indeed, if it was not God's purpose in creating man in God's image, freewill with it's inevitable failure to sin would have been immoral, even though God was not the author of the sin. If that unity were not possible, the only conceivable end in creating free agents would be to destroy them in judgment. That may be judiciously righteous, but there is no way it could be beneficial to the creature. Redemption had to be baked into the cake at creation, or the cake was baked with evil intent.

Hopefully, it is becoming clear to you, dear reader, that this is all resolved in faith, that is in trusting submission to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus, himself God in the flesh, learned obedience, while in his earthly frame, by the things he suffered. It may not be possible to learn submission in any other way. Even Adam and Eve had their opportunity to learn obedience via this route as they fell to sin, although their test of suffering (self-denial) was meager at best.

It takes freewill in order to express this faith. Paradoxically, that same freewill inevitably leads to sin (and evil). Faith, it seems, is the counterweight to willfulness within the human soul. I think it's safe to say that if faith could have beaten willfulness to the punch, evil would never have existed (at least theoretically).

When a free agent, coaxed by the Spirit of God, voluntarily yields, or submits, to the place of God (Lord) and to the will of God, that one becomes open for God to share his Spirit (person) with. When God's Spirit is fully engaged in such an agent, God's identity is united with the identity of that agent, and the exercise of freewill becomes harmonized with the will of God. That will be the joy of eternity for God and redeemed man.

For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.         Hebrews 12:2

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Problem of Physical Evil

Why does an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God allow evil such latitude in our age? That God will judge such in a time to come, and cause it to cease thereafter forever is an answer, but it seems a marginal one at best to those living through this age. And to be honest, eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire for the evil done temporally seems only to exacerbate the problem, fighting evil with evil for all intents and purposes. Natural evil--catastrophes, pestilence, genetic abnormalities--seems capricious and only adds to the miserable mystery.

Physical evil certainly is a vexing problem. It rains (too much or too little) on the just and the unjust, earthquakes do not shake merely the morally shaky, tornadoes have been known to sweep through Bible-believing churches while the congregation was in the midst of worship and prayer, and pestilence, mutations and snakes strike apart from any discernment protocol. God may have pulled the plug on this creation because of sin, and let it slowly spiral down the drain, but on the surface, for those twisting in the vortex, it doesn't seem very just or loving. Who can make sense of it?

What needs to remembered in such considerations is that, according to God's standard, it's not the other guy who is evil, it's us--all of us, every single one that has ever come into existence. By God's reckoning, any opposition to his will is evil, even merely eating a piece of fruit he did not want us to. We think we are innocent (so long as we have not overtly harmed another creature), but that is just not the way God sees it. The truth is that humans do as they please, they do without regard to God, they do in opposition to God, and thus they demonstrate that they are, in fact, evil.

That humans have what opportunity they do have to live in a dying world is an accommodation of the magnanimous grace of God. "Wait just a minute," you might be thinking, "we didn't ask to be born at all, let alone the way we are where we are." How is allowing some of us to be particularly evil, while letting all of us live in an environment consistently evil, grace? Well, I think that it demonstrates that God has not written off the human race.

Everything could have ended with the failure of the prototype (Adam and Eve). God could have wiped out everything at The Fall, and been justifiably done with it. Starting over again would not have been an option, because in granting a creature freewill, the same evil to which the prototype succumbed would have been in play for any built like them (in the image of God, that is). The truth is, only God can handle being like God: those that are merely like God, but not God, must live submitted to God in love and faith.

So, though God cannot allow evil to stand and so pulled the plug on this universe, in his love for what was made good, he patiently continues what seems to us the slow, inexorable unfolding of judgment, which is physical evil, because there is a possibility of redemption. Evil creatures, which rebelled in the darkness of ignorance, can be illumined and change their mind and heart about going their own way. If they can truly take to heart the necessity of submission to and agreement with God, he can recast and reset them in a new universe untainted by the fall of the originals.

So there really isn't a problem with physical evil, but there's still a bit more I'd like to talk about...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Evil and Freewill, Concurrence & Moral Sufficiency

There could be no evil whatsoever apart from the capacity of something in creation to oppose God. That opposition would have to be something initiated independently of God; that is, it could not be decreed or impelled by God. Something nominally opposed to God but actually decreed by him could only have the appearance of evil--in actuality, it would be the very will of God. There can be no evil, therefore, apart from freewill, and since there is evil in this world, this world is one which free will exists.

Yet, even though freewill is expressed in a way that is not determined by God (or it wouldn't be free), it is allowed by him and it's exercise sustained by him. It reflects his will for the way things should be, and without such concurrence, it wouldn't be. If that is so, how can the same difficulties which determinism suffers from in regard to the problem of evil not ultimately be true for freewill as well? If God, the omniscient and omnipotent, proceeds despite evil he could foresee or does not stop what is proceeding against his will, there would seem to be a problem with evil after all.

I don't think that is so two reasons. First, God is good, and making something in his image just could not be evil by any stretch of the imagination. Even among human beings, we consider it good to have a son or daughter, even though we know they will do things that are bad. The beauty of being made in God's image is an amazing thing, human beings are amazing creatures. That God would want to make us in his image, able to will as he does and love as he does, is a remarkable demonstration of benevolent grace and something that properly could only be said to be very good.

Second, evil isn't being allowed. It's only the perspective of the current regimen of time that makes it seems so. Death and entropy themselves are arguments against evil being allowed, revealing that God has pulled the plug on this fallen realm of fallen beings. Within our bubble of time we may think evil is allowed and that it's been going on forever, but from God's timeless perspective evil is being dealt with virtually immediately. In this realm's wake, after it's been flash-burned in a cosmic reboot, evil will be something not likely to be even vaguely remembered.

So evil exists because God made creatures in his image which had the power to will, freely, as he does. That was not an evil thing to do, only good, because God is only good, and so too would be those creatures made like him at the time of their creation. Only creatures made with this god-like capacity would be able to experience the full spectrum of God's goodness relationally. God is inherently good, and inherently relational (e.g. the Trinity), and so creating creatures who will as God wills, and love as God loves could be nothing but good.

Since evil can be so evil, however, one has to wonder if doing the good of creating such creatures was a sufficient moral cause for the omniscient God to create them. I think that it was, but that it will not demonstrate itself to be so in time, where those creatures continue in evil even as God does the good he can in regard to them. Only in eternity when freewill creatures have embraced that they have been made in his image, have submitted themselves to be in that image, and choose to abide in it in agreement with God, will those creatures be like Christ and live eternally free but in perfect harmony with God. That situation will be as good as good can possibly get!

That will result in unspeakable joy for God and those creatures so abiding in it, and I think it is more than a sufficient moral cause for allowing the potential of evil in making those creatures in the first place. Does that provide a sufficient moral cause for allowing evil in the meantime, or for having to contain it endlessly, idly, incapably in the age to come? Since God is good and omnipotent, could he not have accomplished his aims some other way without allowing evil? Probably not, but since God is good, I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt regardless.

Of course that won't stop me from saying a bit more on the subject...