What Christians Can Learn From Game of Thrones (Shorter Version)

Many years ago, being a fan of fantasy, I saw Game of Thrones grow popular, and its advertisement drew my interest. I decided to give the show a try, when one of its seasons promoted itself by offering the first episode free to watch. It was an excellent promotion strategy that I’m sure worked on most. It didn’t work for me for the simple reason that I cannot stomach the amount of pornographic imagery rampant in the show, let alone the seemingly senseless violence throughout. As a result, I had to turn down watching the show, despite it nevertheless being very interesting.

However, I did keep what I call a “distant interest” in the show. For some reason, YouTube would constantly recommend me clips of the show as it progressed through its seasons, and I watched some of them. I’m one of those kinds of people who can take some information over here, some information over there, and begin to fill in the gaps myself, and that’s what I did. I essentially reconstructed the basic plot line while avoiding some of the most twisted scenes of the show.

Make no mistake, despite the graphic nature of the show, it is very well-written. You don’t have to like the way the show unravels to appreciate the complexity of the story and the characters themselves. There is much to learn in writing good dialogue on many of the scenes in the show, as well as plot progression elements.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is this big problem that I would sum up in a single question: Is there a point to all of this? By ‘this’ I mean, the pornography, the seemingly senseless violence, the disgusting love affair between a brother and his sister (who have violent sex in the show), consistent, sexual-based cruelty throughout, and down-right debauchery.

An Epic With No Resolution

Even with the antagonists of the show, like Ramsey Bolton, who was a complete nutcase, the writers put so much time into telling the audience that he was a psychopath that at some point, any rational person ought to begin to wonder why keep showing us this? Sure, the audience needs to hate Ramsey, to want him dead, and to do that, perhaps we need to suffer through maybe one or two scenes of him being a sadistic maniac. But why keeping hitting home his insane cruelty over and over and over again? There is a strange and honestly disturbing fascination with the sadism portrayed in the show.

No one in this show seems to have tremendous virtues about them, even Daenerys, who progressively becomes more evil and power-hungry as the show runs. But that’s not entirely wrong. After all, good story has flawed characters; people who demonstrate virtue in one area, and incredible inconsistency and weakness in others. But especially when the show ends, what does each character ultimately learn and what great problems are resolved? Think about that for a moment as you go back to the very end and watch Arya sail the seas, as you watch Daenerys’ body be flown away, Tyrion gathering with special interests to begin rebuilding King’s Landing, and Jon Snow setting off to God-knows-where. What did each character ultimately learn that changed them in the end, and for the good of the show?

The takeaway that I get is that this show offered next to nothing for a resolution in the end. What it offered was literally in the title, a game of thrones, where to get that Iron Throne, which represents absolute power over the realm, you had to fight for it, you had to kill for it, you had to murder, slander, cheat, steal, and prostitute yourself or anyone else into getting it–which make no mistake, is and was a reality. In the monarchical periods of Europe, there was indeed a great game of thrones that was far more complex that Game of Thrones made it, and even today in the United States, there is a kind of game of thrones for power and control of the most influential country in the world.

Fallen Man and Nihilism

The problem is that while this show may depict with, sometimes unnecessary graphic novelty, the reality of what fighting for absolute power does to people, it doesn’t offer you any resolution for what we all would agree is twisted human nature. And the reason it doesn’t is because it can’t. The worldview behind Game of Thrones has nothing to offer you to solve what it so well demonstrates as the human condition of corruption that goes deep into the heart, which then causes that twisted human to lust, and to covet, and to hate.

Ned Stark was obviously the most virtuous of everyone who sat on the Throne, and that’s exactly why they had to kill him in the very beginning. You can’t have a hero in a world like this, because in the worldview of creators of this show, there are no heroes. There’s just cruel mankind. Ultimately, the show is pagan in its roots, closes you off from any ultimate redemption, and pits you in an endless cycle of nihilism.

That’s why the best example of true leadership after Ned Stark, Jon Snow, has to leave (we can’t really have an honest man on the Throne), and the entire band of good guys simply splinters off, or in Tyrion’s case, helps rebuild the same institution that led to this entire twisted drama. No one’s asking questions about the condition of mankind. No one ultimately learns anything about even the Mad Queen, Daenerys; someone so innocent, so gentle, yet still having fallen in the end.

What do we learn then? What we learn from Game of Thrones is that man can be virtuous, but man has an inherent darkness within himself that desires power. The Iron Throne represents absolute power and dominance, just like the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings does. The power of the Throne is too great for any mortal man to hold. Let’s presume for a moment that there was a mortal even better than Ned Stark, who what full of virtue and justice and fairness. One day, he will die, and who knows who will take his place? Obviously then, it is not simply good virtue that man needs, but man needs to be immortal.

The Christian Answer: King of Righteousness

Could we find such a man? What if there was a man who was incorruptible, untainted by the sin that infests the rest of mankind? What if this man was also immortal? Could not be killed, and could reign upon the throne forever? He was incorruptible and could bear the power of the throne; he was immortal and so could reign forever. Can we have such a man?

In the Old Testament, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.‘”

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh.

In Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made, where Yahweh again speaks to David’s Lord, saying He will make him a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. He will be a priest, forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus our Savior was made sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. The idea here is a transaction. When I trust in Christ, all of my sin he bears, and I get in exchange all of his righteousness imputed to my account. Not to my present body, but my account, much like an actual bank account. God justifies me on the basis of what Christ did, not on the basis of what I have done. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

This is not a late, nor early devotion to the American tradition of Thanksgiving, rather something I was inspired to write while I was listening/reading the Bible on the way to work yesterday morning. Sometimes I don’t have the time to sit and read my Bible, so I have my Bible app audibly read it to me while I do my morning commute. This morning, something struck me as I was in Psalm 50 and 51 that I wanted to take time this morning to unpack and deliver in an article that I hope and pray is helpful to you, whether you are already a believer in Christ, or are struggling with understanding the core Christian faith, or something of both.

The question I want to ask to set this up is, what is it that God wants from us? What was the purpose of God setting up the entire Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial system? These are questions any seasoned Christian ought to know the answer to, but ask yourself, how do you know the answer? Can you show me in Scripture that these were types and shadows of what God was going to do in Christ? I don’t think many Christians can, and because of that, I think that is why so many of us struggle between grace and law.

Lots of commentaries out there give some good explanations for the tough passages that seem to be God telling us to abide in law to remain in His grace, but often times it’s with Christianese, which doesn’t really explain anything. It doesn’t solve my struggle with why on the one hand I am saved by grace alone and on the other hand, why God demands a sacrifice from me. I will use one commentary from the ESV Study Bible to demonstrate this here, as well as one other from another place.

The Dilemma of Sacrifices

In Psalm 50, the Lord is rebuking Israel for its unfaithfulness to Him (Psalm 50:7). Once again, see the dilemma here. On the one hand, we’re supposed to be seeing God as being gracious to us in spite of our failings, and yet are we not seeing here God turning away from people because of their failings? To solve this, you must read on to verse 8-13. Here God tells Israel that there is nothing they can offer God that would aid Him in anything, since everything is already His. The sacrifices offered to God are therefore worthless.

But this then presents us with another dilemma: Why, then God, do you give us the ordinances of the sacrifices if they are ultimately fruitless? Why have us give you something you don’t really need? The answer to this question requires us to once again, read further into verse 14-15. The sacrifices are to be offered as thanksgiving, not as something that actually propitiates God’s wrath against sin.

This is a truth that is sprinkled all over the Old Testament, hidden in plain sight, often right in the midst of a passage on the importance of sacrifices to God (such as right here). For example, we go on right into the next Psalm, Psalm 51:16 where David, confessing his sin with Bathsheba, picks up on the exact same theme. Psalm 40:6 also mentions this; in Micah 6:6-8, once more, we have a reference to this. In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet Samuel rebukes Saul for his abuse of the sacrificial system. Notice what Saul is doing, he is treating the sacrificial system as some kind of bribery of God, as if the sacrifices fuel God’s engine for His power with Israel, like steam to a steam engine and so on.

This is utterly pagan to its core; it is pagan idolatry that demands human beings offer sacrifices to provoke the gods to act on their behalf. Pagans in ancient Israel times, as well as pagans to this very day still do these kinds of things (in our modern context, in less bloody manner). Even in subset of Christianity, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church, or any legalistic church, what do they all have in common? To provoke God to move, you must first do these things; you must first set yourself right with God. This is the paganism that Saul fell for, and that frankly anyone who thinks like this has fallen for.

Christianese That Complicates the Matter

There are many places in the Old Testament where this is expressed, but I hope that the few that we have provided suffices to demonstrate that there is a paradox of some kind here. On the one hand, God ordains and commands the sacrifices. On the other hand, He seems to despise them. How then do we understand what is happening here? If we are thinking Christians, we are going to be honest and see that we have a dilemma. Let me quote some commentaries from my study material that helps expose some of the “Christianese” that we are susceptible to:

The Psalmist does not specify what God delights in, but OT passages demonstrate God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion (e.g., 1 Sam 15:22). The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice and other outward expressions of religion (Isa 1:11-17; Mic 6:6-8). Wisdom literature likewise emphasizes the importance of righteousness, justice, and obedience over sacrifice (Prov 15:8; 21:3; Eccl 5:1).

Logos, Faithlife Study Bible; Commentary on Psalm 40:6

I’ve underlined some of the parts I want to emphasize I think express a kind of Christianese (unintentionally, I do not disparage the writers of this, I enjoy these commentaries very much!). God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion, correct–but how do we know we’re not doing that in a New Testament church context? How do I know I’m not given over to empty religion to satisfy a vengeful God?

The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice, but doesn’t that mean any pagan who is an idolater can still do justice and perform mercy and therefore legalistically work his way into heaven?

Righteousness, justice and obedience are greater than sacrifice as Samuel said, but once again, can not pagans perform righteous and just acts? And isn’t obedience to God’s command performing sacrifices? How then can God demand obedience, ergo do the sacrifices, and then on the other side of His mouth say sacrifices are not necessary?

Now again, I am not asking questions to criticize Revelation, God forbid! What I am trying to expose here is what I think is often glossing over what Scripture is actually telling us. And let me please emphasize that I am not saying the people who put these commentaries together did a disservice to God, I am certainly not. But I know I struggled with these for quite some time, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Let me give one more example below from the ESV Study Bible on this subject:

The oracle then turns to the right use of sacrifices (cf. note on 40:6-8), focusing on the sacrifice of thanksgiving and vows (50:14). These were both kinds of peace offerings (Lev. 7:11-12, 16), which was the only kind of sacrifice in which the worshiper ate some of the sacrificial animal; its primary function was to eat a meal, in company with the sacrificer’s family and the needy, with God as the host. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18 shows that this is the basic meaning of the Christian Lord’s Supper.) Membership in God’s people is about being welcome in his presence (Ps. 50:14), depending on him (v. 15), and dealing justly with others (vv.19-20, 23); thus it engages the heart.

ESV Study Bible, Commentary on Psalm 50:7-15.

Now again, let me emphasize that I think this is extraordinarily helpful to anyone using this, most notably myself. I love my ESV Study Bible. But, did this really hit at the dilemma we have set forth? Most assuredly, it stresses that the Christian faith must be more than outward religion, it must deal with the heart. But again, if we are serious Christians, do we not ask: how do I know that my heart is in this? How do I know that I am not deceiving myself in religion to satisfy God’s wrath against me, rather than Christ’s offering for me?

The Covenants of God as Clues

With that set forth, I want to offer what I think is the solution, and to do this, we must go all the way back to the Fall itself. What does God do when Adam and Eve fall? Firstly, let’s discuss what happens when they disobey. Plainly stated, their grace with God is broken, severed and killed. Doesn’t this mean disobedience means death? Doesn’t this imply that we must do things to remain in God’s blessings? That may have been so before the Fall, but we are in post-Fall now. Look what God says in Genesis 3:14-15, before He turns to Adam and Eve. The Lord Himself is going to destroy what the Serpent did. He didn’t tell Adam nor Eve they had to do this.

Now follow the great covenants God made with Israel and see what the common theme with all of them is. Look at the covenant God makes with Abram in Genesis 15. Who is the one doing the actions necessary to uphold the covenant? Who is making the grand promises? God is. He is the one who is Abram’s shield, He is the one who is going to give Abram the offspring by which the covenant lives. Abram is a recipient of it. This does not mean Abram is not required to commit to rituals on his part, but we will get to that at the right time.

Furthermore, in Genesis 15:12-21, after Abraham had done what the Lord commanded, which was to setup a pagan-like covenant ritual for Abraham’s benefit; using Abraham’s own cultural familiarities to show Abraham what God was doing, who passes through the pieces to enact the covenant? God does through the “smoking fire pot” (the theophany of fire). So who is holding who accountable to this covenant God was making with Abraham? God was. God held Himself to fulfill the covenant, not Abraham. And when you read onward, God is the one who is going to do everything needed to keep the covenant. Obviously thousands of years later, with the advent of Christ, Paul reveals to us the fullest fulfillment of that covenant God made with Abraham, which was redemption and restoration to the promise land through Christ (Romans 4, Galatians 3:14, 3:29).

When Abraham is going to offer Isaac to the altar, as we all believe, he uttered divine-originated prophecy in Genesis 22:8 when he said that God Himself was going to provide the lamb. See how God is the one doing these things? And who ultimately fulfills this? Christ does of course. Christ was the true sacrifice, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, Revelation 5:6, Hebrews 10:12).

What about the Mosaic Covenant we ask? There seems to be a clear-cut example of God doing the opposite of what He did with Abraham and what we will soon see is David. The Mosaic Covenant is somewhat different, yet still related to our subject. How so? It’s important to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant takes place within a preexisting covenantal context, the covenants God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (in each case, you see the same theme that God was going to fulfill the covenant).

Sinai exists in light of that, having fulfilled that. So what we see, therefore, is God calling Israel to do because of what? Because of what God has already done. In fact, when you see Moses give the Ten Commandments, what does God preface them with? Declaring to Israel what God has done. Furthermore, when God is giving the ordinances of the covenant, He continually reminds Israel who is giving it, “I am the Lord” (the Tetragrammaton for YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), meaning, because of who He is and what He has done, therefore this. This will be important to remember later on, but ultimately, let’s not forget what we read all of this in light of, the sprinkled passages that we discussed before about how God ultimately does not want Israel to view the sacrifices as if they actually propitiate His wrath against sin. There is another reason for why Israel is to be doing this.

Lastly, in the Davidic Covenant, when God establishes David’s throne forever, once more, who was the one who was going to accomplish this? God was. David was a recipient.

What God Promised He Would Do

With this brief overview of the covenants God made throughout the Old Testament, we have the context to go into the New Testament and see how all of this fits. Let us first, once more, ask the questions in the opening of the article (as we have raced across so many texts of Scripture to scramble our brains somewhat, and lose sight of the purpose of the article) to remind us of our dilemma so as to solve it: What is it that God wants from us? Why the sacrifices if God condemns us for doing them? How do we do them in a right manner?

As we have seen, notice how in each of the great covenants God made with His elect, while He ordains particular practices for His people to perform in light of them, He never told any of them (nor us by extension) that they were to fulfill the covenant ultimately. Never did God say to anyone that it was upon their shoulders to return to the Promise Land. The opposite is stated; God is the one who is going to do it, He is the one who will bring Israel back to the Promised Land, out of the land of death, through shadow and despair.

For the sake of time and brevity I cannot dive into this extensively, but what I hope I have done at least is help setup for us the way to go into the New Testament and see how God has kept each of these promises in Christ. We see how Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Romans 4, when Paul brings up how Abraham was justified before God. It was not by what Abraham did, but by what he believed God was going to do (and then you see that Abraham circumcises himself as a sign of that covenant, not in fulfillment of it). The implication here is that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 and in 22 extended far beyond what Abraham had imagined, yet nevertheless, it was Abraham’s looking forward to that promise that gave him the strength to push on.

Hopefully by now you are anticipating where I am going with all of this, the passage I like to call The Grand Hall of Faith, where we see the history of the great men of faith in Scripture, Hebrews 11. After the author of the Hebrews gives his great and remarkable argument of how Christ fulfills all things, all the types and shadows, how he embodies God’s actions to fulfill every covenant, himself being God (Hebrews 1:8-12), the author now exhorts his audience to grab hold of that one man, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promises through the ages, and in that press forward to the kingdom of God.

You see then, with Hebrews as our lens to understand what motivated the great men of God in the Old Testament, they were not moved by a need to keep their end of the bargain. Abraham was not moved by the requirements to maintain God’s grace; Paul rebukes that in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3. It was because Abraham looked forward to what God was going to do (Hebrews 11:8-10) that he circumcised himself, that he offered sacrifices to God and so forth. This is the faith that carried them all, and that is the kind of mindset by which God commanded His people of the Old Testament to perform the sacrifices. It was not to actually satisfy God’s wrath, it was to give thanks and glory, looking forward to when God Himself was going to end this.

And now, as the church, we do not look ahead to the promise as God gave to the Israelites of old, we look back to what God has done for us in Christ, and in doing so, we push forward, struggling with our sin, conquering it with Christ as our Light, as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12 (which of course follows 11), after he had proclaimed the entire patriarchy had been moved by faith in God, not work towards God, he tells us to now, having these promises, put off all sin that inhibits our ability to grab hold of the promise.

This is exactly the same kind of thing we see God telling Israel at Sinai. Because God has brought them out of slavery, now do this, do this in thanks to God. Now we of course know today that that was not the end; the ultimate fulfillment is Christ. What God is really saying then in the Mosaic Covenant, and indeed through Moses himself (Deuteronomy 18:15) was that God was going to guide Israel through all of this. What He asks of Israel is to obey in a spirit of thanksgiving for what God was going to do, not in a spirit of needing to keep God’s favor.

For what are we really saying when we believe our works keep God’s favor towards us? We are proclaiming we do not believe God when He says that He Himself is going to redeem us, and that lack of faith is damnable to the soul, for it is not faith in God that drives the individual, but faith in their own ability to act in God’s place in the covenant.

A Sacrifice Then of Thanksgiving

This is the thanksgiving we have being discussed in Psalm 50, this is what the psalmist means by sacrifices of thanksgiving. What is the mindset that we are to have in our offerings to God? It is not the mindset that we are the ones to uphold the covenant with God, it is the mindset rather of thanksgiving to God that He will do it, He is our shield, our Protector, our Shepherd, our King who will not let us be lost. So when we have well-minded Christians say what we have expressed is that God desires us to be just and merciful, we say amen, but what is simply stated is that God wants us to see the sacrificial system of the Old Testament as a shadow of what God was going to do, and just like Abraham, eagerly await when He is going to do it.

This is why Jesus says in John 6:29 that the work of God for us is to believe in him whom God has sent, Christ Jesus, and furthermore, in verse 40 that “all who look on the Son and believe in him shall have eternal life”. This, the apostle in Hebrews 11 says is what all the men of old were doing, from Abraham to the Apostles themselves, and this is how we can know we have eternal life. Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it to keep God’s wrath at bay just a little longer and longer and longer? Or are you doing it, knowing you have boldly approached the throne of grace with Christ as your advocate–not propitiating your sins with your own works, but by looking to him and trusting he has done it all, and thereby not being a just and merciful person to prove to God that you are a good person, but knowing that it is God who works such tenderness in you by His Spirit in you? By this we know that we are His.

This is why as Christians we proclaim the gospel, the wonderful good news to the world around us, to tell them to give up the pagan practices of trying to return to the Promised Land lost on their own strength, and instead, realize that God has done it for you, you need only to see the Christ in whom He has done it! And when you grab hold of that, it is there, and only there, that your life changes, not from the outside in, but from the inside out, to the praise and honor of His glorious grace, and His steadfast faith to do all that He said He was going to do.

Francis Chan, Church History and Why it's Important

I originally intended this to be a short Facebook post, but how foolish it was for me to assume that something like this could be expressed in few words. For that reason, I’ve chosen to use my blog site to write about it. I’m not going to talk too much about Chan’s recent comments on the nature of communion and the Eucharist as I am about what his comments demonstrate is so important for us today.

What I will say, to the critics of those who have rightly criticized Chan, saying that Chan was simply saying we needed to just stop the division, and that Jesus didn’t start 30,000 denominations, and we need to just come together at the Lord’s Supper, and that’s more important than even preaching God’s word in a pulpit, to those saying this, I would simply defer you to a number of Roman Catholics on the internet right now who are saying amens to Chan’s comments and praying that he “come home to Rome”. The fact that there are Roman Catholics saying this should be compelling reason that, whether he intended it or not, Chan’s comments are swimming in the Tiber River.

Protestants, Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy

I want to talk about what seems to be a thing these days about Protestants finding an appeal towards Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I have had friends in the past, and most recent past begin to drift closer and closer to these two institutions, people I once thought were solid in the faith. Surely, a reformed Protestant would be most immune to the lures of EO and the RCC. I was wrong, and being wrong, I’ve had to sit back and honestly reflect myself on whether I could be drawn to that.

If you haven’t listened to one of the most recent Dividing Lines (January 6th) I would highly recommend it. It’s lengthy, and I know I’ve said this before, but if there is one Dividing Line that, right now, you need to listen to, it’s now this one. I get it, you’re busy, you got family and kids and stuff. But I pray you make time to listen to this one. I haven’t gotten through the Leighton Flowers stuff as I write this, and I’m sure that’s important, but for the first hour, Dr. White discusses this issue of the current attraction towards EO and the RCC and I think his analysis is spot-on, right on the money. Almost everything he said was what I have been trying to say for some time now.

I don’t attend a reformed church, so I have the “non-denominational” believers mostly in my circle. It is because they are my primary personal encounters that I am very concermed about this. These people have children about to enter the high school and college years, and so I want to address them primarily in this article. For those people, I know that a lot of you guys will see this and think it’s just a waste of time, that all of this talk gets in the way of the Christian life. Why do we need to study church history? The only church history we need is what’s in the Bible, right? Where’s the value in learning about what is “basically just Roman Catholicism for over a thousand years”? is the general idea.

Well first, it actually isn’t that simple. Secondly, something Dr. White pointed out that I have been thinking greatly on is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are losing people today and that is because of the internet. That is, there was a time when they could control their people, because they could restrict what information they got. Now that’s not the case. Your kids can access the internet easily these days and when they do, they will almost certainly discover that the world is much bigger than they thought it was. Christendom’s history involves a greater span than just America and Palestine/Israel. Dispensationalism is not the only eschatology out there. The subject of the nature of baptism is not so simple as we were told by our leaders.

The Youth Going to Rome and the East

Parents, your children are smart. They are not stupid, they are connecting dots that you may not even see. I’ve had kids ask me some questions that frankly blindsided me, and made me have to sit down and think through certain issues. One of these days, some (perhaps many) of those kids that you try to keep from knowing about the history of their faith in the world from the first century on to today, they’re not going to settle for the “no creed but Christ” idea. I’m already seeing it happening.

The reason I think that so many young people are attracted to EO and the RCC is having grown out of simplistic, independent Baptist circles (or circles like it) that taught shallow-level concepts drudge through the youth services and they come out doing one of two things: Either throwing the whole thing out, or realizing there are places they can go to get way more interesting “Christianity” than what they were raised in, such as Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s far more magisterial, it’s got rich history and philosophy. Because young people are starving for real, substantial things, such as a real, meaningful Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) not simply a memorial service. It is far more than that.

When they realize that there were people in the ancient past that spoke far more real about the Eucharist than their own elders ever said, there is a great chance they are enamored by it, and all they need is one guy from the EO or from Rome to give them a few quotes from Ignatius or Tertullian on the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, out of its context and meaning, and *finger snap* that kid’s hooked. It’s only a matter of time from there.

Something that could have been avoided if we, A: taught them church history, and B: gave them the biblical foundations to see the problem with the citation, and also with recognizing that even if Ignatius or Tertullian were speaking about “transubstantiation” it would have been in error because neither man was infallible.

The superficial Christianity that tries to separate itself from the history of Christianity is not going to work anymore. Young people are rebelling against their traditions. Let me put it in simple terms: One of these days, your kids are going to learn about smoking. It’s going to happen. What would you rather have? Would you rather have introduced them to it yourself, and have given them the proper foundations to resist it, along with all the other problems of the world? Or would you rather have not, and inculcate them in the walls of your world in the hopes that if they ever do step outside those walls, won’t be attracted to that stuff?

I don’t know about you, but the ladder option rarely turns out well. Suddenly they learn there’s more stuff out there, stuff they didn’t know much about, and they begin to wonder why you not only didn’t make them aware of this, but that you didn’t give them sufficient reasons for why this is bad.

What Lies Outside the Walls

In a novel I am writing, one of my main characters, whose name is Bella, comes to learn that there is a whole world outside of the congested urban city she is raised in. But she’s an orphan with no money to go anywhere. She is found by another of my main characters, a half-elvish character named Annastaria, who saves Bella from her own low-life family (what family she has left). As a consequence, Bella comes with Anna on her own quest across the land, and now Bella embarks on her own journey to see just how big the world is.

This will be illustrated at an important point in the book, and I made that point very specifically for this purpose. She knows the world is far bigger than she ever dreamed it was. But with that also comes great danger. Bella has to learn that with that great wonder comes a world full of dragons, strange and dark creatures, as well as evil men and women who would seek to do her harm.

Hence I am aware of how dangerous it can be to open yourself up to that, which leads me to my final point. When I began to study church history, I had several people (some of which may read this) come to me and were concerned about me. They were concerned that I was going to be distracted by this stuff and end up going down a road that would take me off the road to Christ. They were right to be concerned, and I greatly appreciate that concern.

But it’s one thing to ask someone to be careful and be grounded first, it’s another to try and tell someone that because the “risk” of going off the road is there, don’t ever take the risk. That I cannot do. Why? Because I’m one of those young people who suddenly learned the world of Christendom was much, much, much bigger than I was ever told it was. Indeed, I have opened a Pandora’s Box that won’t close anymore. I’ve opened that door and gone to where there is no return.

Folks, you don’t simply open that door, walk past the walls and just go back to the simple life behind the walls. For someone like Bella (and even like Anna) there is no going back. Now you know there’s a whole world out there. Young people, who may be your kids, will do the same thing as Bella has embarked on. This is just the beginning of her journey. What would you rather them have if and when they do? The awareness of the world and to thus prepare for it when they open that door to go out? Or to blunder into that world with a poor foundation, subject to all the heresy that’s out there? Neither outcome is wonderful, I understand that. But if there was ever a good time for “the lesser of two evils is the best option” this is it, the way I see it.

Why did I not go off into Eastern Orthodoxy? Or swim through the Tiber River into Rome? Ultimately, the only conclusion I can give is by the grace of God. All I knew was that I was committed to Sola Scriptura, because that was the only safe place to be. It was my conviction of Sola Scriptura that carried me and continues to carry me through all the zanniness and weirdness and all the heresy in the world.

I know that we would rather the massive complexity of the history of the world simply not be an issue. Maybe in the next life it won’t be anymore, but where we are now, it is an issue, and my friends, though I don’t have kids of my own, I care about the youth. I know from personal experience, being one of these young people, what can happen when I have to find out for myself that the world is bigger than I was ever told it was. I know teaching church history is a huge risk, as Dr. White said in his latest Dividing Line, but I would rather they know about it from me than from learning about it themselves, without the guidance, without the foundation to confront it.

Why We Should Remember the Reformation

It is the beginning of October 2019, and we know what this means, do we not? No, I’m not talking about Halloween, a questionable practice amongst Americans. Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, it is a tragic thing that this tradition in America has overshadowed one of the most important anniversaries of October 31st. For myself, the greatest tragedy is that I spent my entire youth without ever being told about it (even though I was raised in a Christian home). It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I learned of this historic event, and even then, I only learned about it through self-education, not as a tradition among my Christian brethren.

What I’m speaking about, of course is the Reformation. 502 years ago from this October 31st, the famous 95 Theses that Martin Luther is said to have hammered to a Wittenberg church door, as was custom for the scholars of the day to do when they made propositions such as these, became the iconic moment that started it all. It was the posting of these theses on October 31st, 1517 that began the spark of the Reformation, which would change western civilization forever. But of course, we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here. I want to discuss in this article why the Reformation still matters today, and why every Protestant Christian should celebrate it, and if I can speak personally, I prefer we celebrate this day over Halloween. While I find dark themes interesting, the sheer fact and weight of the Reformation is far too important to pass over, especially for a relatively meaningless holiday.

Remembering The Reformation

There are many factors that lead to an ignorance of the Reformation; some of them are unintentional, others are intentional, while still more others have a bit of both. For the unintentional ignorance, I will save for a later section. For now, I want to discuss the group that decidedly rejects any kind of allusion to the Reformation of 1517.

I once spoke briefly to a brother at church about the Reformation and church history, and he did not want to go there. He didn’t like church history, and his reasoning was because the men of church history were bad, filled with so much error and sin, and did terrible things. I smiled at him and had to say what I hope you the reader is thinking, “Strange. Sounds like you’re describing sinners!” Which is of course correct. They were sinners, just like we. I suppose we’ll stop reading about David, because after all, David was an adulterer, and a murderer.

Of course we read about David, and we read about him for two reasons (three, technically, it being divine revelation): One, he is central to the biblical story, and two, because from reading about David’s mistakes, we learn how to not do those things, and from his great successes, how we can glorify God in our own lives. In other words, it is to learn from the past of the men who walked the faith before us. To read about how their humanity limited and conflicted with them, and then how God in spite of such, used such a man (or woman) for His glory.

And that’s exactly why we should read and know church history. They were connected to the biblical story (how God works through His church, even in the darkness of pre and post-Renaissance), and two, because they did great things for God, and they did terrible things in His name. If we claim to be part of the body and church of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and King of all, we should desire to know about the body that came before us. There is a rich history in studying the church throughout the ages.

Truly, if you are not a Roman Catholic or of Eastern Orthodox, you owe your roots in some way to the Protestant Reformation, especially if you are Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, Charismatic and probably more (aside from the NAR and groups like it). The Five Solas are the basis for essentially all of these groups (in their basic form; whether they are consistent with these is not the point I am making) and those five solas find their origin in the Reformation. It is an inescapable fact.

It would seem to make sense then to want to discover the roots, history and tradition that gave rise to whatever denomination you ascribe to. Please understand, I am not here saying that everyone should become reformed as I am, but I do think that everyone who is connected to these groups in some way should celebrate this day, one of the most memorable moments in the history of humanity.

The Reformation in the West

The importance of the Reformation extends into various different areas. Firstly, let’s consider the Reformation in the west as a whole. What it did was it led to a revolt of a certain kind against the papal authority, which claimed to hold the Church in its hand, and consequentially the whole western world, and ultimately the salvation of anyone who lived in its domain. To be saved, therefore, required loyalty to the Church and its holy sacraments and dogmas.

This ultimately led to a darkness and corruption in the west. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The papal sea truly carried with it tremendous power, and with that centralization of power, history always tells us it never ends well. That kind of power typically always attracts the most ambitious, and most ruthless of men, and sure enough, it did.

This was until 1517, when Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Ironically, Luther had no intention of messing with papal authority at first. His only desire was to discuss the matter of indulgences and the abuse of them in Germany. When he did not receive his audience to discuss this matter, the consequence for the Church was that the people of Wittenberg got a hold of the theses, translated them into the vulgar (common tongue), and distributed the copies across Germany, causing the people to rise up against the papacy and its abuses of them.

While Roman Catholics today can cry foul and make a big issue about the “Revolution” (as they often call it), the fact is that the Roman Church had itself to blame in Luther’s day. Imagine what would have transpired if, instead of ignoring Luther, they responded to the theses immediately. But they opted to ignore it, which allowed the theses to stay up long enough for the people to get wind of it. The rest was history.

With the Reformation underway after Worms in 1521, when Luther was excommunicated, the result would be a split in Christendom that exists unto this day, leading to great wars across Europe, and a battle between the Protestants and the Roman Church over control of the land. While in the end, no one won, one thing the Reformation did achieve was breaking the Roman Catholic Church’s hold on Europe, never to have it again. The result of Protestantism would eventually lead to the Enlightenment (something we may see as a detriment and consequence of the Reformation, but not a direct result), the nation states, and the fall of feudalism and monarchical reign across Europe and further west.

The Reformation in the American Revolution

While the Reformation itself is not to be considered a revolution, it’s impact would lead to an eventual revolution. Two, to be exact. However, one of these—The French Revolution—was a terrible event, the other was a far greater revolution that did not lead to the rivers of blood and gore in the streets from headless, limbless bodies in the Reign of Terror carried out by one Maximilien Robespierre. This revolution would spark the conception of the most remarkable country ever to exist in history. That of course is the United States of America.

Yes, the Reformation was an important role in the American Revolution. In fact, most Americans, even among conservatives, don’t realize just how much they owe to the traditions that came out of the Reformation. These traditions would be extremely influential on the lives and thinking of the Puritans (who were Calvinists) that came to the Americas, seeking refuge from the persecution in Europe.

That unique Puritan tradition would raise generations after it that reach to the founders themselves. The majority of the leading founders were themselves Calvinists, and those that were not, owed their influences in some way to Protestantism, or in other words, the Reformation. Even for Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian by confessional standards, loved Jonathan Edwards’ preaching, and George Whitefield, two major Protestant reformers in America during his time.

As with the five solas, the simple fact of the matter is that every American who loves America, and the history of America owes much credit to the Reformation, and what came out of it in the next three centuries.

The Reformation in Liberty

While Luther and Calvin after him did not intend the Reformation to lead to what the American Revolution envisioned and realized (that is to say, the Reformation was a magisterial one), their work and influence would inevitably lead to these things. As we have shown, in brief, the Reformation led to the breaking of Roman Catholic control over the west, and sub-sequentially, it lead to the United States.

Remember, the five solas were a radical idea during the Reformation. Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, who came before Luther, had a less crystallized view of the concept of the five solas, and one of them ended up martyred over it. Imagine when Luther and Calvin come along, and especially with Calvin’s brilliant systematic thinking, putting these together in ways no one had done before, what that would end in. In other words, it was the most radical form of what Hus and Wycliffe were preaching.

The reality is that the Roman Church realized the danger of the solas. If the solas were true, it completely and utterly shattered Roman Catholic control over all of Europe. It meant that the Church could not control salvation, could not be the mediator between God and man. It had no right to stand in the way, and dictate to any man whether he was a sinner or saint. Only God had that power, and the church’s job therefore was a steward, a faithful servant to God on behalf of those whom God has Himself saved and is saving.

The consequence of this truth, therefore, meant that the church did not have the authority it claimed, and when the Reformation’s ripple effect of those who followed after the Reformers, continued to crystallize what they themselves started, the result was the recognition that no man, no matter how pious and godly he may appear, has a right over any other. The life of every man is squarely in the hand of the Almighty Himself, who owns all peoples by His sovereign right as God of the universe.

The church’s responsibility, therefore, was to be a witness to the world on behalf of her Bridegroom, her Lord and God in heaven. She is never to be seen as He the Judge on earth. Once this concept took shape in the Puritans, which would then influence the founding fathers, the concept of true liberty took form in the United States of the eighteenth century.

The Reformation Today

Now I wish to begin addressing those who are unwittingly ignorant of the Reformation. With this brief overview of the impact of the Reformation, my hope is that we now have the context to understand where we are today, and perhaps a greater insight as to why our society is crumbling around us. Listen to your standard talk show host on either left or right, and you will likely never get to the root of the problem. If you understand what led to the American Revolution and the government it produced, it would make more sense why the government that claims to be the same one of two-hundred years ago is nothing like it.

It is not an increase of God in America that is causing our societal collapse, it is a removal of Him from American society. The fact is that man was made to worship something. When the One to whom proper worship is owed becomes obscured and removed, who do we then go to for hope? Someone has to be our god, and hence, the government must come in to take that place. When man no longer has a God over him that gives him light to see who he is and who the world is, man will be left in darkness and decay, and will rot, taking everything else with him, including his neighbor, and eventually his society.

Hence it requires a recognition of the holiness of God, that He has the right to rule over us, and when we recognize that, and repent of our sins, then true liberty reigns. The Reformation restored that idea to the western world, and the United States adopted the crystallized essence of it, recognizing that true liberty is not when man is freed from all authorities, but freed from all man-made authorities, so that nothing stands in his way of being fulfilled and thus truly free in the God he belongs to.

I hope that this will inspire many of my readers to begin to study the Reformation, and the rich history from it. Not all of its history is great; there are many terrible things that Luther did. And if I can speak frank here, I don’t even think I could stand to be around Luther. In fact, Luther and Calvin both would consider me a heretic. I might not even be safe in Calvin’s Geneva because I am of a baptist persuasion.

Why then do I love Calvin and Luther? Because I look past these things, and see the value in studying what they gave to us. We have to be willing to do the same. I cannot stress to you, my reader, in these written words the deep conviction of my heart when I say this: You who do not study the history of your heritage as a Christian, who denies to your children the history of your heritage as a Christian set them up for disaster in the future. I pray that in that case, God is merciful to them, and will keep them safe despite your failure to show them these things. That is how strongly I believe in this.

I am not saying that you will lose your salvation in the slightest over this. Nor am I saying that you need to learn about the Reformation and be reformed. I believe you can truly celebrate what the Reformation gave us without being uber-reformed. You don’t need to be a Calvinist to believe in the five solas, nor to celebrate the Reformation. To my Calvinist brothers, please understand, I am not talking about consistency here, I am just stating a mere reality, that you and I must realize: Not everyone who holds to the central tenants of the Reformation are themselves reformed. You have to deal with that, just like I have to deal with it. Maybe the best way to do it is to meet your local church family that does not share your reformed convictions, buy them lunch and talk it over in brotherly love and grace.

My simple point is that those who do not learn from history are always doomed to repeat it, and even as Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always one generation from extinction. Franklin also said it is only in the religion of ignorance that man will lose his freedom. A people who know their heritage, know their history cannot be enslaved, and are far greater prepared for the future when they learn from the mistakes of their forefathers, as well as their successes.

The Reformation is, of course, not the gospel, but what it gave to us was a lesson in history that there is hope even in darkness, that God can and does do amazing things, with sinful human beings, and each and every one of us are connected to it in some way. Take some time this month and discover how you are connected to the Protestant Reformation, to the glory of God, Soli Deo Gloria!

What Harris and Sampson Prove About American Evangelicalism

By now most of us have heard the news about Joshua Harris apostatizing from the faith. I never knew about him (though I’ve heard of his book) and his background. The more and more the news came in, the more it became apparent to me why this was a big story. Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a huge success for him, and shot him up in popularity, becoming something of a celebrity minister in evangelicalism. Naturally, then, news about his departure from the faith comes at a great and heavy shock, especially to those who looked to him as a great example of a biblical man.

Not long after this, we hear of more news of apostasy, this time from a Hillsong worship leader and artist, Marty Sampson, who posted an Instagram article on why he was leaving the faith. Once again, I had never heard of this person before, and once again, it seems like in certain circles, he was a well-known and respected minister. Either way, this is two prominent figures in their respective evangelical worlds that have rejected the faith.

There is little doubt that this will, much like the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, cause many people to question things, and begin to wonder how and where things had gone wrong. I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in the faith, especially in reformed circles, to be mindful of the confusion and perhaps even betrayal many evangelicals feel about this. It can never be a kind feeling to discover that someone you once held at such high esteem (regardless of what other people may have thought of them) had betrayed the faith. We should pray for these people, that God would comfort them, and that perhaps these men would realize that they had never truly known Christ, and would hence truly repent and desire to know the true faith that saves.

At the same time, we have to talk about why, what Dr. James White has called, “a tsunami of apostasy”, seems to be happening right now. Granted, it seems that way primarily because we have two individuals who happen to have a significant spotlight that, when it goes out, drastically affects the lighting everywhere else. Nevertheless, more and more will come as our culture continues to deteriorate into God-hating rebellion, and if we do want to comfort those who followed these men all through the years, and help them through this confusing time, we need to discuss why (at least in a human perspective) this kind of thing happens, so that we can better ensure it happens on a far less frequent basis.

These Things Are Talked About, Sampson

I think the best way to diagnose what the problem is is found in Sampson’s Instagram article. There he states numerous “reasons” for why he is leaving the Christian faith. We cannot assume that these are recent developments. I suspect these have been things creeping in the back of his mind for many years, and he tried to push it down until he couldn’t take it anymore. His reasons include the claim that preachers “fall” and no one talks about it, miracles don’t typically happen, and no one talks about that. Finally, that there are “contradictions” in the Bible that no one wants to talk about.

It seems clear to me that these are things he could not find any solution to, and it was enough to destroy his faith. Sadly, if his faith could be destroyed by things like this, it demonstrates his faith was self-produced and self-sustained; not the biblical idea of faith, which is another theological problem that I address here.

Looking at the things Sampson said, and in particular, when he made the claims that the problems he mentioned in the church go with no one talking about them, those were some pretty strong statements. They were blanket, absolute statements; he didn’t say that people don’t often talk about them, but that no one actually does. That is simply untrue, of course, and the fact that he would say that demonstrates that Sampson was in certain circles and probably echo chambers where quite simply, no one did talk about them.

But if he had shared some of his concerns, instead of simply turning away, I can guarantee that someone somewhere, who takes their faith seriously, who knows that this is more than good vibes and being nice to people, has the answer to the alleged contradiction. I know for a fact that fallen pastors is something that is talked about, not swept under the rug. It’s just talked about in circles that will actually hold Christian ministers accountable.

It’s not discussed in the circles that Sampson was hanging around in, where the movement gets so big, that it has to engage in politics on some level to maintain its image and hence its income. This means that morally troubled pastors are not helpful for that, so they are swept under the rug, and most certainly, sound theology that is willing to divide over truth is not helpful to that kind of ministry’s growth.

Finally on this point, the same circles that will talk about fallen pastors will also be the ones willing to answer your difficulties with Scripture. The solution then is to get away from the Hillsong, good-vibes Christianity, and start taking your faith seriously. This is not a roller coaster ride. The God of the Bible is a righteous God, who demands justice–perfect justice, and you are a sinner. That is not something to glibly declare a thing Jesus magically sets aside for everyone, and is not a problem anymore.

The Origin of Good Vibes Christianity

The reality of the matter is that mainstream evangelicalism has forsaken sound, doctrinal teaching for emotional, romantic feelings about Jesus. At work, I was working on a gentleman’s car the other day, and his radio was playing a Christian music station. I don’t listen to Christian mainstream music, so I had no idea who this was, but I could tell so quickly from listening to the brief clips, and considering this sounded like the thousands of other Christian hit songs that comes out each year, all of which sound the same, that this was what I sometimes call “good-vibes Christianity”. It had the feel-good vibe, talked about having struggles but still having faith, and that they always trust and love Jesus. Your standard, dare I say lukewarm Christian who only goes to church on Sundays listens to that and gets their high from it. These are shallow songs that do not truly capture the power of God in Christ.

But songs like these honestly are not the cause of shallow evangelicalism. They are the symptom of it, feeding itself the same lukewarm poison that does not create a disciple of Christ. It just gives someone enough positive vibes wrapped in Christian buzz words to live lives of self-determination, self-interest and self-promotion until they meet their Judge in the afterlife, and may we pray God has abundant mercy, and that they learn truly in that moment what the words “mercy and grace” actually mean that they heard vaguely said in all those songs.

Of course, there are times when such desensitization is not able to keep a person fully inoculated with the good-vibes Christianity that Hillsong sells. Sampson is one such case. The result was that he could not find answers to the genuine questions he had in his mind. No amount of the emotional stimulation was able to sustain this lurking white noise in the back of his mind. He was aware of the alleged contradictions in the Bible (none of which he names in his Instagram post), but apparently, he could not find answers to these.

Which reminds me, Sampson also said in his post that he couldn’t understand how a God who is all loving would send 4-billion people to hell because they did not believe. Again, this is not a problem if Sampson knew what the Christian faith he sung about for so many years actually was. But he was not given any of this. He was pranced around on the stage because he happened to be a good musical artist, and had a way with crowds. That honestly is probably the only reason, and the “ministers” who put him out there like this evidently had no regard to his doctrinal security and personal conviction of the faith.

Joshua Harris was evidently a similar case. Here was a man thrust into a spotlight before he was really ready for it. What happens is he instantly becomes someone that people look to for guidance and help, while he is actually hiding secret, deep problems and cracks in the foundation. How can he come out and honestly express this problem when so many people rely on him? So he continues to take on the pressure of pastoral ministry when he’s not ready for it. Something eventually has to give.

The real problem here is we are dealing with an evangelical culture that does not have the doctrinal soundness, and the mental and spiritual conviction of what those doctrines stand for. As a result, men who once appeared to be great, wonderful, had the outward appearance of being men of God, eventually cave to the growing pressure of the culture around them. The flashes are there, but the conviction within is nowhere present.

If Sampson perhaps was taught right theology, rooted and grounded in solid, biblical faith, this may never have happened. That’s what the real problem here is. If Joshua Harris was given the sober truth about what it takes to be a pastor, to be an elder in a church, maybe he would have saved a lot of people the heartbreak later down the road and said then and there, “This ain’t my thing”. But It appears that there are Christian ministers and leaders out there who perhaps themselves are deceived as they deceive, who are pushing out these people when they don’t have the conviction to be in those positions.

The Importance of Sound Doctrine

We cannot look at what has happened to both of these men and continue to accept the idea that they simply apostatized, and there was no inherent reason for it. Though God always has His decree, that does not take away the fact that there are always internal reasons for why things happen. If we ignore what caused this, we will continue to see more and more people like them drop like flies. Again, I don’t want to discount the fact that God always keeps His elect, but we don’t know who they are, and hence must always be vigilant, must always be doing what God has commanded us to do, and be faithful to it.

If we do not want our children and our youth to be the next Joshua Harris, or Marty Sampson, we must learn from these fallen men, seeing that giving our youth good-vibe Christianity will not save their faith. It will not persevere in college, or in the adult world. We must be teaching our kids what the Christian faith is, and stop treating them like they are children who cannot understand theological truths. They can. I have had kids ask me about eternal security before, and I’ve heard them talk about the mystery of the Trinity. They are smart, so stop treating them like they are not. That kind of attitude towards them is why we lose them.

Look again at Sampson’s Instagram post. Show that to your kid and see if they can see the problems with it. If they can’t, your kid is in danger of apostasy just like him. Teach your children who God is, and that means teaching them sound theology. I’m not asking people to become covenant-theology, raving Calvinist reformers. I’m simply pleading that we desire to raise children to think and ponder upon Scripture.

Paul in Romans 12 calls us to be renewing our minds. Not renewing our feelings, renewing our minds. That involves intellectual exercises, and exegetial exposure to the word of God. Not eisegetical, narcegetical silliness that turns the Bible into something about us. It’s all about God. Knowing God is always first and foremost, and knowing God requires a life of devotion to prayer, worship, service and studying of His word. That sometimes means that college careers are to be sacrificed. But if you must choose between God’s word and a good career, the choice is obvious. God will always supply you with what you need. Simply throw away this life and come after Christ!

In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author rebukes and warns his audience against apostasy, and how does he do it? By telling them to listen to more emotional Christian music? No! By lecturing them on being dull of hearing, of needing milk rather than meat. In other words, not being able to discern deep theological truths that ground them in the faith to protect them against heresies and vain philosophies.

Churchianity will not save your children, nor will it save evangelicalism. Yet also still, neither will doctrine alone. The Spirit of God saves, and keeps His people. But part of that saving is renewing saved sinners in the things of the Spirit. There must be a balance between our heart-felt experience and our theological knowledge that helps us discern our feelings and our experiences. Make no mistake, a theological soundness with no functioning doxology is as worthless as good-vibes Christianity. But the existentialism, so to speak, cannot truly have any meaning unless proper theology is applied.

I can personally testify that growing in my theology deepens my conviction of the faith, emboldens me further in it amidst the pressure of the culture, and false religions around me, and more importantly, brings me into deeper worship of God. The more I know Him, the more holy He is, and hence the more I know myself and how much of a sinner I am, and hence, how much more I need Christ. That is how we sustain a healthy Christianity.

Questions Asked, Christianity Has Answers

Closing this article, I want to return once more to Sampson’s Instagram post for a brief moment. As has been stated before, it seems very clear to me that Sampson’s loss of faith was a result of a shallow, good-vibes Christianity that had a nicely decorated and impressive outer shell with nothing to show for it on the inside. Sampson said further that he wanted “genuine truth” and not simply “I just believe it”. Once again, that is sadly the reality of the Christian circles he was around, which is the mainstream of evangelicalism. He’s right. That is shallow and not worthy of being embraced or defended.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Christianity is. It goes far deeper than that. But Sampson did not get any of it because he drifted on the surface, and was never encouraged nor challenged to go deeper. As linked above, I have an article The Nature of Faith that you can read on the subject of faith and what it is. It shows that this is much more than a simple blind faith scheme.

But I would also like to say to Sampson one of the reasons this really hits home with me is because I was close to where you are. I never gave up my faith, of course, but like you, I had many questions. I was not content with just a faith in faith kind of Christianity. I had difficulties, and they needed answers. But that’s where we’re different. I knew that I needed more than what I was getting, and so I went looking, and I did, in fact, find more. I found answers. I found real answers to the questions I had–answers that did not try to satisfy what I wanted, but answers that I needed.

I do not believe that Sampson ever truly heard the gospel. My hope and prayer is that at least now, knowing he never truly knew the faith, he would actually attempt to understand what it actually is, as I have done. As I said, I’m not content with simply saying, “Jesus died for my sins”. Why did he die? Why did he have to die? Why did he have to be God? Questions like these, I needed to know the answer to, and learning the answers has deepened my faith. Knowing the answers to even the claims that the Bible contradicts itself (yes, Sampson, there are answers) has made my faith stronger, has convinced me more of the truth of the triune God, and hence given me the desire to live after His revealed word even more. I pray that happens for you one day.

For the rest of us, we must reject this empty shell of feel-good Christianity, and teach our people the faith. Yes, that will have consequences. I know it will. But the consequences are far less costly than the consequences that follow if we do not do this. We will lose more people to this culture of death. Unless we are willing to take seriously the phrase “theology matters” we will always be susceptible to this empty shell of feel-good Christianity that, because it has nothing inside of it giving it life, is a dried up shell that will eventually break apart, leaving a person in the situation that Marty Sampson has fallen into, and furthermore, will lead to incompetent Christian ministers who ordain more of themselves, more ill-prepared men like Joshua Harris, for ministry that leads only to collapse and ruin.

The Nature of Faith

In every major religion that, in some form or fashion, arises out of the middle east, which is to say Islam, Judaism and Christianity (along with all of Christianity’s subsets and cults), throughout all their differences has been one thing in common that each have said is necessary to live out their religions, and that is faith. Faith is the buzz word, it is the ingredient that seems to be the bloodstream or the life of each religion.

Truly the word goes with almost all forms of life, religion, or spirituality. It’s a catchy word that has a mystical and romantic essence to it. To simply say “Christianity” or “The Christian religion” as well as “The Islamic religion” sounds almost too academic, or too static in some sense. To instead say, “The Christian faith” or “The Islamic faith” personalizes them. It makes them sound more than a simple exercise in formal living. The use of the word faith almost takes the object being discussed into a realm of transcendence, beyond the physical into the metaphysical.

There is a reason for this, however, which we will discuss soon. But for now, I wish simply to say that what I will be discussing in this article is the very nature of what faith is and ought to be. What is it truly? Does it have any relationship to reason? Does it go deeper than the simple experiential aspect we are prone to think it is as by today’s culture? I will begin by seeing how the secular world defines religious faith, and contrast that to what the Bible teaches that faith really is.

Faith in the Secular World

If you go on YouTube and listen to all the celebrity scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Richard Dawkins, two men well known for their animosity towards religious faith, you will see how they define what faith means. It is described as a “blind faith”. The secular world sees the word faith as a trust in non-reason, in irrationality.

In their view, faith means that where all reason goes out the window, my feelings and wishful thinking take over to formulate what they describe as faith. On the other hand, they say, they have science, which is truth, which is reason–solid grounding. They don’t need to have “faith” (in their definition) to believe in what they believe, they only need to “know” the truth of scientific discovery.

The Birth of Blind Faith

This narrative is borne out of the Enlightenment era, wherein the rising secularists and philosophers against religion began to push forward the rhetoric of separating faith and science, as it once was in a perfect unity. Notice how I said that it was “rhetoric” that was at the forefront of this. That’s because all it really was, was rhetoric, it was never really attempting to meaningfully engage what the biblical idea of faith was.

Fredrick Nietzsche, for example, along with other well-known atheists like Karl Marx, never attempted to contemplate with any meaningful inquiry (to my knowledge, anyway) the validity of the Christian faith that built the societies they lived in. Instead, they simply assumed it was false, unreliable, and needed to be abandoned. It was superstition by virtue of its own existence, nothing more. Hence it required no real, meaningful contemplation upon. It was simply dismissed as archaic and no longer useful as an answer to society’s problems. The western world was entering a new era, and needed new answers as a result. Science had proven that the god of lightning was simply a phenomenon of weather patterns, and so on. The great question of the philosophers of their day was, “If God does not exist, why are people hopelessly religious?”

The question was not an honest inquiry for truth. It was an assertion–God does not exist, yet people cannot help but need Him to exist. Why is that? That was the essence of the question. Neither Nietzsche nor Marx really attempted to discover the truth of this. Instead, the two used rhetoric, which is the art of using articulation and thoughtful speech to gain an audience, rather than actually debating ideas.

The centuries would prove the use of rhetoric a useful tactic; pragmatic and economic, in some degree, as we see that the rhetoric of Nietzsche’s atheistic existentialism and Marx’s classless society of communism make devastating inroads into western civilization. There was also Immanuel Kant in the nineteenth century Enlightenment, whose work also contributed heavily to the separating of reason and faith that would eventually be the catalyst for what we have in society today, which is a rhetoric that faith and reason are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

It is the works of men like these, particularly during the Enlightenment era, that gave rise to secularism’s definition of faith. It was not a matter of, “Are faith and reason compatible? Is there a fundamental and meaningful relationship between the two?” Rather, it was, “Due to the scientific discoveries of our current age, religion is no longer necessary to answer the questions man needs.”

From Faith to Reason

The great sadness in all of this is how the church responded. Rather than meaningfully confronting this rhetoric with the truth of Scripture, the church attempted to adopt the trending philosophies of “rationalism” of the day to try and make a synthesis with Scripture. The result was to allow an epistemology that is fundamentally at odds with the Christian worldview into the church and begin to infect it from within. The key error in this (which the church still utilizes to this day) is to attempt to sell Christianity to the culture, rather than expose them to the God of the Scriptures.

The emphasis was on trying to preserve the church, rather than God’s word, a fundamental error that has led to the Roman Church, and the LDS Church, which are focused primarily on the foundation and structure of their institutions over God’s revealed word. It’s a common confusion of God and His church, one that is easy to fall into, but is nevertheless costly. If we don’t distinguish between God in the revealed Scriptures and the church He has made in Christ on the authority of Scripture, the result is the tendency to defend the church at the cost of God’s revealed truth. This confusion has and continues to lead to a de-emphasis on Scripture, and eventually an abandonment of it as theopneustos (God-breathed) and to instead defend an institution that is nothing more than an empty shell without God’s word to give it life.

In response to the works of Kant and Nietzsche, Hume and others, Soren Kierkegaard developed his philosophy of Christian existentialism, wherein instead of attempting to combat the rationalistic arguments of the Enlightenment thinkers, Kierkegaard capitulated and codified the idea that faith was a blind leap into the dark of irrationality, separated from reason. Few true endeavors were made by Christian thinkers to combat the presuppositions of the titans of the Enlightenment.

Yes, even our soteriology was compromised–the great slogan of the Reformation, that salvation was a work of God the Holy Spirit by a supernatural rebirth of the soul was replaced with believing that the human mind had the ability, in and of itself, to rationally connect the dots and come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Salvation, then, was wrought by “reason” and not God’s sovereign grace. Once this fundamental truth was compromised, it was only a matter of time before the corrosive effects of secular, post-Enlightenment thought would break away at the foundations of the church from within.

Faith in Scripture

Having understood, in a brief sense, what the secular world, out of the Enlightenment, saw faith as, we will begin to contrast that with what the Bible says faith is. As stated before, today’s secular people see faith as a kind of blind, senseless, irrational leap into the dark. And the church’s capitulation to this rhetoric, rather than to confront it head on, only allowed it to persist, and to eventually make inroads into the church itself that has led to all the problems we have today.

Remember as before, the Enlightenment thinkers never really attempted to interact with the Bible’s concept of faith. It was simply dismissed. This is important because if we are going to honestly speak truth, we have to honestly investigate propositions and worldviews. A worldview rises or falls on its presuppositions. Hence to discover this, one must investigate the worldview in question. Simply to dismiss it is to at the same time dismiss one’s own credibility on the subject. You don’t go for a medical checkup with someone who hasn’t honestly understood the medical field and who is not a licensed doctor for the checkup. Why, in the same way, would we rely upon people who are openly, willingly ignorant of biblical theology, for understanding what the terms related to biblical words are?

It is therefore necessary that if we are going to have a proper understanding of what the Bible describes as faith, we must go to the Bible’s understanding. It is a bad form of argumentation to impose upon the Bible a foreign concept of faith and use that as its definition. In the Greek, the word for faith is pronounced “pistis” which means to trust, to believe, to be convinced of something or someone. That is the simple meaning of faith.

Based upon this, can we already declare that the secular idea of “faith” is the same as the Bible’s? No. For the secularist, faith is a blind, irrational and unsupported belief in something that’s not real. Biblical faith is to trust in something. Whether that something is worth trusting in is not even relevant to the subject. But for the secularist, this narrative has to fit, otherwise their argument collapses. We can talk about whether what we have faith in is a reasonable thing to have faith in, but it is simply false to demand that faith means not only trust in something, but trust in something inherently foolish.

Real faith, then, is to trust, to be convinced in the mind of something, or of the words of someone. What then does the Christian–the true Christian, have faith in? Romans 3 and 4 give an in-depth discussion on the nature of faith, and how we are justified by faith, or through faith, apart from the law (Romans 3:28, 4:1-5). Clearly there is something about the nature of “faith” that makes it powerful to save. Exploring Scripture helps us to see what that is.

Faith to Salvation

There are many places to start, but I think one of the best is to begin with what I believe is the citadel passage on the nature of faith as the instrument of salvation, and that is in Romans 4. Of course, in reality, it begins back in Romans 3; in Romans 3:1-20, Paul is laying down humanity’s greatest problem, that we are desperately wicked before a holy God, completely and utterly exposed to His righteous wrath against sin. Our very existence is an abomination in His sight.

It is only after this, beginning in verse 21-26, that Paul finally shows us the Light and that is Christ. Our hope comes apart from the Law, meaning that our hope does not come from obeying God’s commandments, but from beholding the One who has obeyed the commandments. Hence, as verse 21 says, this salvation is “apart from” the Law, but the Law “witnesses” it. This righteousness is the account of Christ, and it is acquired not by the exertion of the human will, which Paul just condemned as utterly unreliable.

It is acquired “through faith”. When rendered from the Greek, it literally reads: righteousness now God dia–through or by; because of–faith-in Jesus Christ. The word for righteousness in verse 22 in the Greek means primarily that this “righteousness” (dikaiosyne) is authored, or brought about by God. It’s not a righteousness that God presents and says that this is the kind of righteousness we need to build to get into heaven. It is a righteousness that He Himself has revealed and brought about in Christ that is acquired by faith.

In Romans 4, Paul explains this doctrine more clearly, using Abraham as his example. The point once again is to show that Abraham was ultimately made righteous before God by a righteousness that God was the author of, not Abraham. Abraham simply believed God’s promise in Genesis 15, and it was counted as righteousness to him (Romans 4:3). It was when Abraham believed God, which is to say when he was convinced by God, that he was declared righteous, or justified before God. It wasn’t his willingness to work for God that did. That very idea Paul rebukes in the following verses.

Faith then is the instrument of salvation, it is through faith that God saves by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But we are not done yet by any stretch. Faith indeed is the instrument whereby we are saved, but so many Christians don’t go any farther than this. In point of fact, the Bible has much more to say about faith. We must go deeper.

Faith to Repentance

From that point, we move on to our next. We could easily combine this section with Faith to Action, but I want to take time here to focus exclusively on repentance. What is repentance? Repentance is often gravely misunderstood by the cults, and by Christians themselves, and no less by unbelievers. Repentance is often viewed as a form of working, of building oneself up. I know that I personally struggled with this confusion for a while, and primarily because as someone who held so strongly by conviction (to this day) in the doctrine of sola fide (faith alone), why was repentance so important, then? Not that it wasn’t, but if my repentance doesn’t earn me anything, why is it nevertheless necessary?

The problem of course was with what I was assuming, and that was that repentance was a form of making oneself worthy before God. It was because I confused repentance with this that I struggled with understanding how it fit into the whole issue.

The word “repentance” in the Greek (metanoias) means to have a change in mind; to turn from one state of mind to another. In this case, to turn from the love and desire of sin to the love and desire of God. You may ask again, how is this not working our way to heaven? It seems that way if you understand, again, repentance to be earning you something. But it’s not.

Remember that in justification, I’m made righteous by a righteousness outside of me, authored and perfected by God. My turning away from sin, therefore, does not merit me anything. It’s not something I do to be righteous, because I already am by legal declaration. It’s something I do firstly out of love for what God has done for me, and because it cleanses me. It doesn’t make me more valuable, more noble, it cleans me from sinful thoughts and desires. There are many places that we can go to demonstrate this, but my favorite is in Isaiah 44:21-22:

“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist;return to me, for I have redeemed you.” -Isaiah 44:21-22 (ESV).

Notice here the order: First God declares that He Himself has removed, or sent away into the sea of forgetfulness the sins of Israel, His people. Who did this? Do the people blot out their own sins and then come to God? No, God Himself does it. I don’t declare myself righteous, I don’t undo my sins–God does. And what comes after this? After this, God now commands Israel to now return to Him. In other words, repent! Thus, our repentance is not something we do to attain forgiveness, it’s something we do because God has already forgiven us.

In John 8:34, Jesus declares that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, so this is everyone, since everyone is born in sin (Psalm 51:5). John 14:6, Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. In John 6:44, Jesus declares that no one can come to him unless the Father first draws him. This means that the precondition for anyone to come to God is squarely in God’s initiative. John 8:36 says that if you have been set free by the Son, you are free indeed.

Put all of this together, and what we have is that a person is born in bondage to sin, in a state of hatred towards God (Romans 3:9-19), and thus by our position, have no capacity, no power to come to God. We are dependent upon God to act first (Ephesians 2:1-10). This is why no one can come, because they don’t want to. God gives it to them to come (Ezekiel 36:26-28), the Father draws. A person comes because they are drawn, and they come to the Son. The coming is synonymous with repentance.

So what do we have? We have God having set free the sinner, and as a result, the sinner comes to God. Do you see then how a contorted view of man’s free will disrupts the ability to see the harmony of Scripture? Man is not autonomous. Man is subject to his creaturely will, and that creaturely will is corrupted with sin that makes man unable to come to God, like a river that has been congested with so much filth and garbage; it cannot flow and give life to the environment. But once the obstructions are removed, it will go, as it was meant to. When God removes the obstructions of sins, the sinner will come to God.

Hence, repentance is the result of what God has done, not the attaining of what God offers. This leads us then to ask, if we persist in sinful habits, what does this prove? It does not prove we are losing faith, but instead that this sin has not really been dealt with. These are the indicators we are given, when we see the crystallized essence of the gospel, we begin to see that remaining sin is sin not yet released from. Then let us pray to God in great fervor, pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 19:4-6, call upon Yahweh to act, as the Psalmist also does in Psalm 107–cry out to God to save you from this sin, and He is faithful to do it!

Faith to Action

As I said above, repentance and this section may almost be one, but I wanted to dedicate some time on repentance in particular. Now I want to move on to faith that leads to action. What does saving faith cause one to do? As we have seen, it causes one to repent. It also causes one to grow in the light of that repentance. John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:8 to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. Meaning that we must repent not merely for the sake of ceasing to do bad things, but repent in order that we, in being cleansed, will in turn grow in faith towards God, and that growth leads to action for Him.

The important thing once again to notice is that faith and repentance is not earning us anything; it is a response on our behalf to what has been done to us. Remember in Ezekiel 36 the ordo salutis (order of salvation): God’s action comes first, and we merely respond. This is absolutely key to understanding the gospel. The gospel is not, nor has it ever been what you can do for God. It is what God has done for you, and you holding onto that with all your heart. It is in the light of this, and understanding this order, that we are disposed to action.

James 2 is often used so poorly as a proof-text for works-based salvation, and that is a terrible tragedy, because we miss what James was talking about. The proof text is often verse 24, where James says that we are not justified by faith alone, but by our works. The problem first is that this interpretation puts James in clear contradiction with Paul who specifically says in Romans 3:28 that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law. So either the Bible contradicts and hence is not God’s word, or there is a proper harmony that makes both speak true to each other.

The reality is that if you read James 2 in its context, James is telling us that faith alone saves, but a mere profession of faith that is not backed up by works is a worthless, false faith. It is not saying that the works are giving life to the faith, anymore than fruit gives life to the tree.

Notice James’ example for a working faith. It is Abraham, just like Paul when Paul is explaining justification by faith alone. So once again, it seems as though the two are using the same character, speaking about the same subject, but yet come to two different conclusions. Not so fast.

Notice that while they use the same patriarch, they use two different events in his life. For Paul, he is going to where Abraham was justified before God, when Abraham believed God (Genesis 15). James uses the event in Abraham’s life when he offered up Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22). This was after Abraham was counted as righteous. What’s the point? The point is that in the former, Abraham was saved, in the ladder, Abraham demonstrated that he was a saved man, under God’s grace by his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son that was promised. Why? Because that’s what faith does! It causes action!

In Hebrews 11, the author is preaching, going through the entire history of the biblical patriarchs and shows that they all were not motivated by any need to make themselves right before God, but that they believed God’s promise to deliver them Himself. It was God they were trusting in, not their performances, not their abilities to do things. They were weak men, who did extraordinary things because they were relying on God and His promises. They were moved to action by faith.

Faith as a Gift

Our next section covers what is often controversial, but absolutely necessary to the subject of faith. We are attempting to present the utmost biblical nature of faith here, and that means we must talk about some things we may otherwise find uncomfortable. Faith, as we have seen, is more than just blind, irrational and empty hope in foolishness. It is an instrumental cause of justification before God.

Now we must recognize faith as going even farther. As we will discuss, faith is a matter of persuasion, but it goes even deeper than this. Remember in Romans 3:20-26, Paul is explaining how we are saved, and he makes these claims in the backdrop of what he said previously, that mankind in his corrupt, fallen state, is utterly hopeless in himself to do anything pleasing to God that would save his soul. No one seeks for God (Romans 3:11). That is, no one in their unsaved state seeks for God.

Later, in Romans 8:5-8, Paul makes the strong statement that those in the flesh cannot please God. They have no capacity to do so. In Ephesians 2:1-3, the same apostle describes our state outside salvation as being “dead in trespasses and sins”, meaning that our state was so desperate, that like zombies that feel no pain when being struck, so to we feel no pain for having violated God’s law. There was no care in us at all–no life anywhere to be found. In verse 4, Paul provides the great words “but God” which indicates that the decisive factor of how such desperately wicked people could believe was because of an act of God.

That’s where in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul tells us that faith is a gift. If indeed the human mind and spirit is so depraved, dead in sins and trespasses, then how can it even ascend to saving faith? It cannot. Therefore the faith that saves is a faith granted by what? It is by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace is an activity performed by God unto a sinner that blesses them. It’s done all in grace, meaning it has absolutely nothing to do with the sinner.

In John 6:39-44, Jesus specifically says that it cannot be that anyone comes to him unless it is granted to him by the Father. In other words, anyone you see coming to Jesus comes because God has given them the gift that grants them to do it, and what is this gift? It is the gift of faith, and that faith is far more than an intellectual exercise. It is a faith that causes one to change, to move, to repent and grow more in their trust in God.

The thing that separates the believer and the unbeliever is an act of grace on the part of God to grant that believer faith. And it is because it is a gift from God that it cannot fail.

Blind Faith in Nature

There is an irony in this discussion. Remember how our secular friends identify faith as a blind, irrational leap into the dark. But once again, how does the Greek define faith? It defines it as to be convinced, or to believe someone. Who in our society is immune to this? No one is. We all, even the most anti-religious, take someone on their word for what they say. Hence, they too have great faith in the people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, or Christopher Hitchens.

But who are these men trusting in? Whose word are they taking on face value? We all adhere in some sense to an appeal to authority. For example, biology, and the nature of the universe. We take that verbatim as being reliable on its face. That is to say, we may be having faith in the laws of nature. But the real problem here for our secular friends is that while both of us may have faith in the laws of nature to be as they are, as a Christian, who believes the essential predication for faith in the laws and uniformity of nature is a God who is Himself eternal, self-existence, absolute and unchanging, I have a strong ground for believing in the laws of nature.

For the secularist, what does he ground his faith in the laws of nature in? The answer must be nothing. He has no reason to believe the laws of nature are of absolute uniformity, and hence, what assurance has he that he will be a coherent chunk of functioning matter today, and tomorrow explode? He has none. He must take the claims of his mere human observance at its word (despite it not being the absolute arbiter one needs to confidently rest that faith in it). We may put this in another way, that the secular atheist, when truly examining his worldview, has to conclude that the definition of “blind faith” that he wishes to ascribe to the Christian is actually true for himself.

Conclusion

As we have explored, the nature of faith in the Bible is far more in depth than our secular friends try to make it appear as. Sadly, it is also far more in depth than many evangelicals see it as. Faith is the instrument that saves us, it is to be convinced in the mind of God’s truth and His promises. Faith is a gift that God grants to His elect that they may be able to hold onto His promises. Faith grants the power to repent. Faith causes one to act.

Earlier in the article we looked at the rising tension between faith and reason in the Enlightenment era, and how eventually these two were on a collision course. But it is not the case that the two are at odds. Faith renews the mind (Romans 12:2), and purifies us more and more. It disposes us more and more to the God of the universe, and in understanding Him more, brings us into greater harmony with His creation. That is to say that true faith does not cancel out reason, but it promotes true, rational, and meaningful inquiry into reality. This is why Christianity can be so exclusive and hold to absolute truths over and against subjective experiences.

Ask an LDS how they know the Book of Mormon is true and they must fundamentally rely on a feeling they get. But God’s world and hence His truth does not operate on this kind of thinking. My thoughts and feelings don’t give rise to reality; God does, and hence the discovery of truth in the world is to, in faith towards God, be subject more and more to a renewing of my mind that allows me to grasp hold of truth more and more.

This is why Christianity is behind the greatest scientific findings in all of history, and it is only when the Creator is taken out of the picture does chaos ensue and mankind deteriorates, and drifts farther into the outer darkness.

To Believe God

What does it mean to believe God? What does it mean to trust Him? How are we ultimately saved? These questions are questions that all of Christendom has asked over the centuries, and it is a question even the cults are obsessed with answering. The LDS gospel claims to hold to Paul’s teachings. But reading it’s own scriptures in the Book of Mormon, and even talking with LDS, you are hard pressed to find them truly confessing the truth of what the Bible had been teaching all along. What does it mean, therefore, to truly believe God?

The doctrine of Sola Fide (Faith Alone) is at the center of the Christian faith. Everyone wants to say they have faith in God, but who truly demonstrates it as Paul defined it in Romans 4? To truly capture the heart of this doctrine, it was no coincidence that Paul went to the Father of the Faithful, Abraham. Paul could not have picked a greater candidate to explain this doctrine.

For several reasons Paul goes to Abraham. One is as I stated above: he is the Father of the Faithful. Another reason is because Paul is dealing in Romans with Judiazers who are trying to teach Gentile Christians that to be truly followers of Christ, they must become members of the old covenant first, and adhere to the laws and statutes of the Jews. This is what Paul is responding to, and he does so by going all the way back to the beginning, before the Jewish nation even existed to prove to Jews and Greeks that his doctrine of faith alone supersedes the Jewish laws and customs. This is exactly what Paul is correcting in the Galatian church as well (Galatians 3:16-18).

A God of Promise

What it tells us is that the doctrine which Paul will be teaching us beginning at the end of Romans 3 and into 4 is not something Paul is inventing here towards the later half of the first century. It means that what he is about to explain to us began all the way back to Abraham himself. Before we can get into Romans 4, therefore, we should revisit exactly what it is Paul is pointing us to in order to understand the context of this chapter, which is the citadel of the doctrine of Sola Fide. Paul is pointing us to Genesis 15:

[After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.]

-Genesis 15:1-6 (ESV)

This is the passage Paul is referring to specifically. However, I think Paul is hoping that you read further in Genesis 15 to see something amazing, which all has to do with trusting God over our own efforts. Abram (as he was known then) fell asleep and saw a vision. We read this in the passage:

[When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land…]

Genesis 15:17-18 (ESV)

The three dots indicate that there is more to the verse cited, but what I want to focus on is in the nature of these two verses. This strange ritual that Abram saw in a dream represented Yahweh passing through the pieces of the dismembered animals as an oven, or a fire. The symbolism represents the reality that Yahweh had bound, not Abram, but Himself to this covenant He makes with Abram. Hence the burden of keeping the promise which God had given to Abram earlier in the chapter (verses 1-6) was not on Abram, but God.

If the promise rested upon God to uphold, how then could it fail? It could not. It was not what Abram was going to do, but what Yahweh Himself was going to do. That promise, as Paul tells us, is fulfilled in Christ.

Romans 4: By Faith Alone

He begins Romans 4 with a rhetorical question, iconic to Romans:

[What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?]

-Romans 4:1 (ESV)

The question is meant to get the reader to think. Paul expands upon his rhetorical question in verse 2 that if indeed Abraham was justified by his works, then he had accomplished something apart from God’s own doing.

What Paul is doing here is contrasting a salvation by works and a salvation by faith. He offers no categories of some form of faith plus works–nor even faith with works. Either you work, in which case it is something owed, which means now God owes you according to your merits, and consequentially, your salvation is based on your merits, or it is by faith alone, in which you believe that God has earned the merits for you.

Paul then quotes Psalm 32:1-2, where David describes “the blessed man” who is the one whose sins are covered and their lawless deeds forgiven. How are they covered? How are they forgiven? Many of the cults love to talk about forgiveness of sins, but when you sit and talk with them, they will typically end up describing to you a gospel of works, of legalism in some fashion, and you can often tell when you cite a passage such as Romans 4:1-5, ask them if they believe it and they typically reply, “Yeah, but…” Once the ‘but’ comes in, then they’ve just removed faith from the equation. Remember, Paul does not provide any such categories here for faith with works. It is either by works, in which case faith is null, or by faith in God’s promise to do it for you, in which case it is a gift.

Hence, the Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Roman Catholics, as much as they might like to cheer on faith in Christ, none of them can follow Paul here without interrupting him in some way, indicating they do not truly believe in Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, and why as Christian as they may sound, they have no gospel of salvation. How then are we saved by what Paul is teaching here?

Imputed Righteousness.

Let’s return to Romans 4:3, where Paul takes us all the way back to Abraham. When Abraham believes God, it is counted as righteousness. What does Abraham believe? He believes what we just went through, God’s promise of salvation by covenant. It was when Abraham believed God that he was counted as righteous. What ‘righteousness’ was counted to him, then? Firstly, let’s consider the Greek word being used as ‘counted’ here. The word means to be accounted as, to be considered to be. It is the equivalent of providing to one’s account, such as their bank account, in our day in age.

Abraham’s faith, then, accounts a righteousness to God, and what righteousness is that? Paul just told us in Romans 3:22–the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, acquired by faith. So it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. How then does this work? When you consider the Old Testament, particularly in Leviticus, when God is going through the nature of the atonement, an animal is killed on behalf of the one being atoned for, by the high priest. The high priest represents this person in the sacrifice, offers the sacrifice as being the ‘sin-bearer’ on behalf of the person being atoned for. This is to appease the righteous wrath of God for that sinner.

Christ becomes the ultimate sin offering on the cross, bearing upon himself the sins of all those who would have faith in him, and in return, his righteousness he had acquired is given to the sinner Christ represents in his atoning sacrifice. This is what we call the doctrine of imputed righteousness. My sins are placed upon the sin-bearer; not some, not most, all of my sins. And in return, I attain his righteousness; not some, not most, all of it. Since Christ’s atonement is infinite in its value, it atones eternally on my behalf. What left is there for me to do? This is essentially the question Paul asks later in Romans 8:31. God has done this. No one can add to it, nor take it away. Not even my own sin.

Now Christ’s righteous account is made mine by grace through faith, and God has dealt with my sins on the cross. And so we return to Romans 4:7-8 and ask again, how are our sins covered? How are our lawless deeds forgiven? By repentance? No. Paul never mentions it here. Our sins are covered by the sin offering, our lawless deeds are forgiven by the atonement of Christ. When I put my trust in Christ, my sins have all been dealt with. There is nothing left for me to do. It is done and finished, and I can therefore say with Paul in Romans 5:1 that I have peace with God because I have been justified, not by my repentance, not by my works, but by faith in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is how Abraham was justified before God. And if Abraham is the Father of the Faithful, this then is how every believer is justified before God. They are not justified by any of their merits, nor their works, and to bring anything of our own to the cross is to blaspheme the cross and the work of God, claiming that Christ’s work was not enough on our behalf.

Paul continues his teaching of his doctrine of salvation in Romans 4:9, again by using Abraham as our model. He moves on to ask another rhetorical question, which is to ask if this justification occurred before or after Abraham began to work and live for God. This is another important point.

Take, for instance, in the Book of Mormon, in Moroni 10:32, where it says that once we deny ourselves of all ungodliness, and love the Lord with all our hearts mind and strength, then is God’s grace sufficient for us. It is after we have done these things do we have forgiveness. Interestingly enough, this contradicts what Enos says in Enos 5-8, where Enos is not forgiven after he has denied himself of all ungodliness, but rather by faith in Christ.

But for Paul, he goes in a completely opposite direction. Instead, Paul declares that Abraham was justified before he circumcised himself. In other words, before any works were performed by Abraham, he was justified and saved from all his sins. This is the significance of Paul’s use of Abraham. If this is how Abraham, who was the father of Israel, was saved, then that means all Israel is saved in this way (Romans 9:6), and that’s exactly what Paul says in the next set of verses.

To Believe God

This is how we are justified before God. Christ himself, when asked what the work of God was, answered that “you believe in him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). That is, to believe in the Son that the Father has sent. To believe with Abraham what God had promised to him thousands of years ago. Remember, when we go back to Genesis 15, it was not Abraham who walked through the parted animals to make an oath with God that he would do his part. It was God Himself passing through the pieces. It was God holding Himself to fulfill the covenant.

This God has done in Jesus Christ, and it is by this promise we are saved. I am not saved by my works, I am not saved by my obedience. Lord knows I cannot do this work. I have no ability to be perfect, as is demanded of me. Christ was perfect on my behalf, and when I trust in him, his life is for me. This does not mean that works are not involved. Indeed, James speaks of this in James 2. But the works flow out of justification, they don’t merit justification.

That is precisely what James was discussing, and indeed Paul’s doctrine, by implication, says what James also said of Abraham; that it was because Abraham was already justified and saved that he began to live in faith towards God. Abraham circumcised himself not to be just before God, but because he was, and he was trusting that God was going to do what He promised to do. It was because Abraham trusted God and His promise that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, the promised and beloved son of Abraham, because his faith carried him through the trial, it made him see that somehow, some way, God was going to get Isaac through this because He promised. That’s what it’s all about.

In Hebrews 11 (which I believe was a written sermon of Paul by Luke), he says this very thing as he goes through all of the patriarchs of Scripture. From Abel, to Abraham, to Moses, to Gideon, David and on to all the elect, that it was faith that drove them, not their works in or towards God. They were not driven by what they were going to do. They were driven by what God promised He would do. That is who our God is, a God of mercy, of grace, a God of promise. That is what it means to believe in God.