According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Category: Theology

Stop Blaming God; Start Blaming the Devil

When bad things happen, people are really quick to point a finger to the sky and scream, “Why did you let this happen?!” But is this the correct posture?

Let’s establish something to begin. Jesus is the exact image of God. (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3) Therefore, whatever we accuse God of has to be able to be seen in Jesus. Everything that God is can be seen in Jesus (however, not everything that Jesus does is something God does. Jesus gets exhausted. He takes naps.)

With this in mind, let’s visit the accusations brought against God. When something bad happens like a school shooting, a terrorist attack, a loved one comes down with cancer, or any number of other things, is God responsible?

Let’s first say that God is sovereign. While some would say that God being sovereign means that he causes everything that ever happens, I would define it as he either causes something to happen OR allows it to happen. Nothing happens outside of God’s knowledge. So when bad things happen, God certainly knows that it happens. But does he cause it?

If everything about God can be seen in Jesus, let’s look at what Jesus did when he was on earth. Did Jesus cause bad things to happen? I would have to say no. There certainly are times that Jesus causes things that could be seen as negative. He flips over tables in the temple and runs people out with a whip. (John 2) This wasn’t negative, but certainly wasn’t peaceful. He also curses the fig tree and it dies. (Mark 11)

But we never see Jesus causing harm to people. Certainly, he does cast judgment upon people as God does. God is patient with people for a really long time and then he passes judgment on them if they don’t repent.

But the bad things we are speaking of are not judgments, but rather, injustice and evil. When a gunman walks into a mall starts shooting people, that is not a judgment. It is evil. And we never see this kind of evil done by Jesus. He never hands a rifle to Peter and tells him to go kill people in the market. He never causes people in Judea to have cancer. He never causes drunk drivers to kill people in Galilee.

No, it’s the opposite. Jesus comes on to the scene to heal. He comes to change people’s lives. He comes to befriend the drunk driver and lead him out of drunkenness. He comes to heal the cancer. He comes to make the gunman into a missionary.

The majority of the miracles that Jesus performs are miracles of healing and blessing. If all of who God is can be seen in Jesus, what does it look like God does? He doesn’t inflict evil on people just to do it. He comes to heal the brokenness.

We always seek to cast blame on somebody for evil. If we can’t do it with God, then who do we blame? It’s really simple. We blame the devil. He is the one who causes evil in the world. He’s been doing it since the first sin. It was not the Lamb that tempted Adam and Eve to sin. It was the serpent. It was the devil. God did not cause sin to happen. (though he gave man the freedom to make that choice) The devil is the one who gave that temptation. He is the tempter and accuser.

Jesus said it best. “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Cancer, terrorism, and everything else bad in the world are the result of sin. That doesn’t mean that if someone gets cancer, they are being punished for a sin. Rather, all of creation is damaged by sin (Rom 8:20), therefore, all of our bodies are prone to get cancer because we are damaged.

Anywhere that we see stealing, killing, or destruction, that is the work of the devil. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

God certainly allows evil to exist in the world, at the time being. And when evil things like cancer or a shooting happens, he finds a way to use it for good in the lives of those who love him. (Rom 8:28) However, God wants to bring healing to the world, not harm.

Maybe you ask, “Why doesn’t he just get rid of all evil? He is all-powerful, after all.” One day, he will get rid of all evil. He will give evil men a very long time of patience, in order for them to have the chance to repent, before he finally returns and destroys them. However, if he were to do away with evil right this second, there would be a lot of unnecessary death. A lot more people would go to hell than what God wants. Frankly, everyone who is not a follower of Jesus would go to hell. And that is the majority of the world.

God is waiting for more people to receive forgiveness of their sins through following Jesus before he obliterates evil from the world. And when that day comes, there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. (Rev 21:4) Evil will be gone.

Maybe you have one final question. “It seems that when Jesus was here on earth, he healed everyone. So if God can fully be seen in Jesus, why doesn’t he heal everyone? Why do some continue to die of cancer?”

Jesus healed everyone that a story in the Gospels says he healed. However, I don’t know if he healed everyone in the known world at that time. Frankly, he probably didn’t.

I don’t know why God doesn’t heal everyone. He has all knowledge, so he probably knows better than any of us why some still die of cancer despite God’s nature of seeking to bring healing. All I know is that God doesn’t cause cancer or terrorism. The devil does.

So when bad things happen, we need to stop looking at God and accusing him of being responsible.

Stop blaming God; start blaming the devil.

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When Theology Becomes Worthless

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All the disciples were at the table. Jesus was speaking of how he was going to be betrayed by one of them and that the rest were going to fall away. Peter stood up and said, “Even if they all fall away, I never will!” Jesus told him the horrible news. “Before the rooster crows at dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter was taken back. It was even worse when he finally did what Jesus said he would do and flat out denied him three times. Peter was heartbroken and distraught. The Gospels don’t even record that he was at the crucifixion. He was so ashamed. Why? Because he loved Jesus. He really did love him; he had just screwed up.

After Jesus has resurrected, he appears to the disciples while they are fishing. (John 21) They haven’t caught anything the whole night and a stranger on the beach tells them to throw their net on the other side of the boat and they will catch some. They do so and they catch 153 fish. John realizes that it is Jesus on the beach and Peter has a jolt in his stomach. His mind has flashed back to when he began following Jesus (Luke 5) and Jesus did the same thing with catching fish. Surely this means Jesus has forgiven Peter! Like Forrest Gump seeing Lieutenant Dan on the dock, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims the length of a football field all the way to shore.

When he gets there, Jesus has breakfast with the disciples. Following breakfast, Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks him this three times. After the third time, Peter breaks down in tears. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Peter loved Jesus. Peter so quickly said that he would never deny Jesus because he loved him.

Notice something here.

It is more than for a theological truth that Peter is willing to die. He is willing to die because he loves Jesus the person.

But how often is it that a Christian is more adamant about theology than Jesus? That might sound weird, but it is absolutely possible to make theology an idol. It is as possible to love knowledge about God more than God himself as it is for a husband to love his wife’s wealth or body more than her. Each is a part of the person instead of the person as a whole.

Some Christians, in a completely honest and good desire to know God more, become puffed up in their knowledge and lose track of gaining the knowledge to love God. Rather, they begin seeking just to become smarter about him. This becomes very apparent when Christians talk more about their identity as a particular theology instead of as a follower of Jesus. I am a lover and follower of Jesus 10 million times before I am any theological identity.

If we are not overflowing with love for our Savior, it doesn’t matter if we are Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, or No-Trib. It doesn’t matter if we believe in a creation that took 6 days or 600 billion years. It doesn’t matter if we are an Arminian, a Calvinist, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if we believe in 7 dispensations or 6 covenants. It doesn’t matter if we use the King James Version or the Message. If we lack love, our theology is worthless.

This also becomes apparent when we aren’t overflowing with sacrificial love that goes to any means to serve people everyday. Simply talking about that kind of love doesn’t count. We are supposed to walk in love as Christ loved us. (Ephesians 5:2). Theology must fuel our love, service, and mission, but it is certainly possible to have theology without being filled with love.

Theology is awesome and it is a very good thing. But let us not get so caught up in knowledge that we lose our passion. This has been a major struggle for me in seminary. I haven’t necessarily been obsessed with theology, but I have been studying it so much that I have struggled keeping my awe of Jesus. But if I have perfect theology, if I have memorized every verse of the Bible, if I can preach every topic perfectly, if I have read every book of a 50,000 book library, but I lose my love for the Savior, I am worthless. I am nothing more than a hard drive of information.

Knowledge puffs up and makes one arrogant. Love humbles us under the beauty of Christ and makes us in awe of what he has done.

When Christ meets me on the beach and says, “Aaron, son of Ronnie, do you love me?”, I don’t want to start quoting a theology textbook to answer him. I want to look at him with tears in my eyes and say, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Many Have Already Been “Left Behind”

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Today, the new Left Behind film released to theaters. You should check out Christianity Today’s review of the film before you go see it.

Let me tell you my story with Left Behind. I used to be obsessed with the series. I read the 12 books in high school for several book projects and made corny little short films for the projects set in the Left Behind world featuring me and some of my classmates (in which I played the main guy left behind, Jesus, and the Antichrist all in the same film).

In fact, had it not been for the Left Behind series, I wouldn’t be a Christian. The first films connected me to Kirk Cameron’s evangelism ministry in which I watched and became a Christian from his presentation of the Gospel. So I am thankful for the series.

Theologically, I don’t really agree with the sort of eschatology that the series presents anymore, but that’s not what this post is about. Frankly, very little, if any, of the ministry I do on a daily basis has anything to do with the rapture, a 7 year tribulation, the antichrist, or the number 666.

My worry is that many Christians have already been left behind whether Jesus has returned or not. The reason I say this is because of a major misunderstanding of all of this.

The message of the New Testament is constantly this: Jesus could return at any time, so make sure you are faithfully working for him while you wait.

Think of it this way. A manager has been gone for lunch from a business and the employees decide that they will slack off while he is gone and just pretend to be working hard when they see him coming back into the building. But he doesn’t come in the front door that day; he comes in the back. They didn’t see him. He comes up to the front and sees all the employees slacking off.

Those employees who were slacking off are going to be in trouble. They might get fired.

This is why I worry that many Christians have already been left behind. Because American Christianity has reduced being ready for the return of Jesus to watching the news and connecting the news stories with what the Bible says.

But let’s take a look at those signs:

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you,  for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)

What do you see there? It’s not wars and persecution in Syria that signals the end of the world. It’s not the outbreak of Ebola or earthquakes in Myanmar.

It’s actually not until the end of this passage that Jesus says that the end will come. And what is the sign of that? When the Gospel has reached all the nations.

Later in Matthew, Jesus gives the Great Commission where he says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

Nations is used the same way in both of these passages. In the Greek, it is rendered “ethnos” which means people groups. A people group is any group of people living in an area. They can be based on language, culture, religion, or many other things. Multiple nations (people groups) exist in every country of the world.

Statistically, there are over 16,000 known people groups in the world. Of those, over 7,000 are classified as “unreached”, meaning there aren’t enough Christians, if any, in the area to evangelize the people group.

What does all of this mean? It means that there are still over 7,000 nations that have not heard the good news of the Kingdom as Jesus said would happen before the end. I have no idea when Jesus will return. But I think there is still a lot of work to be done.

So, Christians, don’t get left behind. Jesus said reach all nations with the Gospel, so go do it. Maybe you should go to another country for it (as people often think when talking about missions) but maybe you should go to your next door neighbors.

Our primary job is not to connect the news stories on CNN to verses in the Bible. Our job is to share the Gospel with people, that we are all really bad sinners and Christ has bore all the sins of the world on himself and taken the punishment for them. Now, all who receive him will receive forgiveness and eternal life. We are to call people to believe that and then walk beside them as they follow Jesus. That’s what making disciples is.

So don’t be the employee that is slacking off when the manager returns. Be the one who is joyfully doing his job in faithfulness. Don’t get left behind.

The King is coming. When the clouds roll back and he descends, we will see his face and all will be right in the world. Until then, it’s not and there is a job to do. Go and make disciples of all the nations.

Sanctification in Construction Work

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I wake up in the morning. The sun is shining through the window, but that isn’t what wakes me up. It’s not even my alarm that wakes me. It’s the sound of construction on the floor below me. My dorm was probably built about the same time as the Roman Colosseum, so it’s pretty old. And they decide the year that I come to seminary to update it. So, every day it sounds like a jackhammer is trying to pelt through my floor.

Before I started seminary, I was a groomsman in one of my best friend’s weddings. The wedding was about an hour from my seminary city, so I left at the reasonable time to get there for the rehearsal dinner. That was a mistake, because I ran into road work….that spanned for what seemed like the entire country of Russia. I moved about 2 miles in an hour. I listened to an entire CD and could still see some of the same things that were around me when it started. They had already rehearsed once without me by the time I got there.

When I was in college, they decided my junior year to remodel the main building on campus, which caused my tuition to increase, but they told us that the building wouldn’t be finished until after we graduated. So, I funded a project that I never saw.

What do all these stories have in common? Construction work. I hate seeing unfinished work. I hate getting stuck in traffic in a construction zone.

But I think about construction work and I actually learn a great spiritual lesson from it. There will always be construction work in the world. Things are always going to be needing repair or updating. Things are like that because of sin.

And I am a construction project. When God created the universe, it was good. Then Adam and Eve sinned and that damaged God’s creation. Death and destruction entered the world and now everything goes bad. But then Jesus came into the world. Sin entered the world when man disobeyed God at a tree. In a reverse effect, Jesus took the sins of the world on himself and allowed himself to be nailed to a tree. He died on that tree, rose from the dead, and now new creation has begun. All who believe this story begin a journey in which God is remaking them. He is in the process of restoring all things to what they once were, one person at a time.

We call this sanctification in the church. The process in which God remakes a Christian out of their sin into the image of Jesus. This will all finish when Jesus returns and Christians are resurrected into the form that Jesus was when he walked out of the tomb. Now, if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Now, Jesus stands over the creation saying, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

So, as much as I hate the inconvenience of construction work, it reminds me of the work that is going on in me and in the world as God recreates the world back into what it was originally.

My Current Theology Struggle

For a little over a year, I have leaned toward reformed theology. If you don’t know what reformed theology is, it is what Calvinism falls under, however, I would say that much more is included in it than just Calvinism. If you don’t know what Calvinism is, it deals heavily with the idea of predestination. It hovers around the idea that God chose (or elected) people for salvation before the creation of the world. It includes so much more than that issue, but most people camp out on that issue and never discuss anything else in the theology.

It’s not something I have talked about much because what often happens with this theology is that the theology itself becomes more central to someone’s faith than Jesus and I am not interested in that happening in any way.

I have leaned heavily toward this theology for two reasons:

1. I have admired it’s glorious view of Christ.

2. Most of the preachers I follow today are reformed. (Matt Chandler, David Platt, John Piper, Louie Giglio, etc.)

I am going to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall to pursue education for pastoral ministry. If you know anything about Southern, you probably know that it is famous (or infamous) for being very reformed.

Recently, I went on a pastoral care visit with my pastor, who is not reformed. We had to drive an hour both ways, so we were able to talk a lot. In discussing Southern, we got on the reformed topic. I didn’t voice any beliefs I had. I just listened.

Since, I have not been sure where I stand on a lot of theological views I’ve had for a while. I don’t know how much of reformed theology I still believe. I am on a quest right now to figure that out. There are a lot of questions I have that I can’t find an answer for. It’s not that there isn’t answers that have been put forth for them, but my seeking of an answer is not satisfied by these answers.

Some of my struggles

-Some reformed preachers, like John Piper, teach that God’s greatest goal is to glorify himself. God is completely worthy of all glory and honor forever, however, does the notion that he is self-seeking of his glory fully match the Bible? There are two sides of this, which is what is causing my struggle. In one sense, the image of God’s glory and nature is Jesus (Hebrews 1:3), who did not come in glorious power, but emptied himself of his glory in order to save us, which ultimately made him glorious forever. (Philippians 2:5-11). So, we see this picture of God emptying himself of his glory for our sake, however, Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before him. What is that joy? Is it him being glorified or something else? God says in Isaiah 42:8 that he will give his glory to no other. He seems to hold on to it there, but he empties himself of it in Jesus.

-It is completely clear in Scripture that God is in sovereign control of his creation and his people. So, if that is the case, to what extent is God in charge of every action that we undergo? My pastor made an interesting point that God is sovereign over his own sovereignty, so he can therefore grant that humans have free will. However, does that mean that he loses all sovereignty willingly? To what extent did God plan out the events of what would happen beforehand? The Bible seems to suggest that he did plan things out in advance. John Piper has actually made the argument that God can predestine that sin happen and not be sinful himself. I don’t agree with that. I don’t see how God can be just for condemning sinners in their sins if he planned for them to sin.

-The Bible does say that God chose Christians for salvation. Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-6 both say that he predestined us. Ephesians say that he chose to make us blameless before the foundation of the world and predestined us in love for adoption. However, what about the other side of that? Did God then choose who would go to hell? Or do the non-Christians simply go to hell because God did not choose them? What do we do with the reprobate who never believes the Gospel?

These are just some of what is going on in my head.

I may not get the answers I am looking for this side of eternity. If in the end, the questions above are answered in the ways that I don’t seem to understand as good, I will understand them then in the presence of Jesus. He is the one who knows all things. I won’t know all things here on earth. If I am wrong or don’t understand something, I can’t get mad at God. I didn’t create the universe. I haven’t set the order of how things are to be.

However, there is one thing we do know for sure in the reformed debate: God know everything. So there had to have been some kind of election before the foundation of the world. If God knows everything, he created the world fully knowing that Adam and Eve were going to sin, so Christ was always the plan to save the world. Revelation calls him the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. If God knows everything, he knows every person in the world who will believe the Gospel and be saved from their sins. Whether he planned to save them before hand is a different debate. But he knows all of his blood-bought children.

So it’s our job to continue preaching the Gospel until all the children of God believe and Christ returns.