Let’s Talk Politics and Religion!

Aren’t those the two things we are told never to discuss at dinner?  What is it about these areas of human life that cause so much tension and anxiety? Probably you can recall an uncomfortable conversation with a political zealot or someone who has been religiously dogmatic. Perhaps you frequently find yourself at the center of heated debates. As parents wanting to equip and teach our children to love God and love others it is critically important that we don’t avoid these topics. Why? Because for Christians religion boils down to loving God and politics is how we publicly love our neighbor as ourselves. What does God’s word say about the relation of these two most important spheres of life? How can we equip our children to thoughtfully, biblically, and graciously engage their religious and political culture?

THE RELIGION
The apostle Paul gives a cosmic, “behind-the-scenes” depiction of the gospel in his letter to Titus (Titus 3:3-7). This is the engine of our new life. It is based on our need (v.3), God the Father’s grace (v.4), God the Holy Spirit’s active power in our lives (v.5), God the Son’s willing sacrifice (v.6), and our present and continue position as co-heirs with Jesus and our future hope (v.7).

This “good news” proclamation sounds like real good news! The “religion” that results is first of all humble, since we are no different from anyone else in our great need and our inability to save ourselves (vv.3, 5b). We do not need to convict people, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). Our job is to 1) always be ready to give a reason for our Christian hope (1 Peter 3:15), 2) teach others to follow Jesus the Risen King (Matthew 28:18-20), and 3) . . .

THE POLITICS
We are commanded to “adorn the good news” (Titus 2:10b) by living as what we are: children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of the Beloved Son. Elsewhere Paul calls us ‘ambassadors”, official representatives of what a foreign country is like. (2 Corinthians 5:20).  In Ephesians 5 he describes personal holiness and how Christian households show love and serve each other in this new life. In Titus 2:2-10 he describes how a local church—as a family of families—is to love and serve each other in a visible, unmistakably beautiful and attractive way in their local community.

Finally, Paul addresses what we primarily think of when we talk about politics. Notice that Paul does not talk about voting (that wasn’t really a thing in the Empire), he doesn’t share what bills to vote for and which companies to boycott. His assumption is that the Gospel is world-transforming because it transforms the human heart from the inside. To him, it is obviously better than anything else in producing a virtuous citizenry:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

Since this is the case, Paul continues (Titus 3:1-2) by commanding true lovers of the Savior who gave himself for us, to give ourselves for the good of our community by:

  1. cooperating with the governing authorities
  2. quickly engaging in good works that benefit the polis (city)
  3. refraining from gossip, slander, and verbal abuse toward government officials… or anyone
  4. avoiding pointless quarrels, preferring harmonious living— like you might find on social media (my way is better”, I’m right you’re wrong”, “God is on my side”).
  5. being reasonable—I have in mind James’ admonishment to be quick to listen, slow to speak.
  6. Showing conspicuous deference toward everyone (Philippians 2:3).

There you have it: a clear description of the public life of every citizen of heaven “living in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope.” There is nothing controversial there. Only things that at best will “adorn the good news” and at worst “cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Make these 6 points your main primer for teaching your children about living a life in whatever polis you live in, city, county, state, nation. Let them be the filter for how you think about the news, how you speak with guests and family and how your family acts locally for the good of your community.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT…”
Okay, I get it, Paul doesn’t live in the time and place we do. There must be some things that he’s going to miss, right? I’m not so sure.

  • Paul lived in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, pluralistic empire that was the peak of western civilization at that time. Box checked.
  • Paul was part of a subculture that was often at odds, occasionally fatally, with the surrounding culture. Box checked.
  • Paul was a citizen who exercised his rights when it benefited the Kingdom of God. Box (hopefully) checked.

POLITICAL REALITIES 
For those of you who still have “yeah, but” hanging in the back of your head, here are a few other pieces of the puzzle:

  • Persecution is an authentication of faithfulness. Christians have a foundationally unique worldview: our focus changes, our desires change, our values change (Romans 12:2). This new reality controls every aspect of our lives and, sooner or later, will bring us into conflict with any culture or society that has a different worldview. Jesus and the the New Testament writers assumed that persecution would be the natural result of following Jesus and was even a sign of faithfulness (Acts 5:41). If you are upset because of political pressures, check yourself to be sure that you are gospel-minded rather than comfort-conscious.
  • Civil authorities are empowered by God. (Romans 13:4) Just as in the church, God has empowered civil authorities to maintain order and to punish wrongdoing in this world
    .
  • Taxes are biblical. (Romans 13:6-7) You heard me. According to Paul (and Jesus who didn’t begrudge Caesar what was his), taxes facilitate order and peace in society for the general provision and protection of the population. Are governments perfect? No. Corruption? Yes. However, a quick romp through history will demonstrate that bad government is generally preferable to anarchy. “In those days there was no king. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
  • Systems change, God’s principles don’t. Citizens of republics or democratic societies have both rights and responsibilities. Much of the inner turmoil we experience in  politics is the result of how we should use our rights and what our responsibilities are as Christians AND Citizens. In a dictatorship, we would have other concerns, but which laws will or will not pass are not among them.
  • Paul’s main point is to adorn the gospel so that others may find God’s grace. Lowering vs. raising taxes, limited immigration vs. open border, any given topic should be addressed with this key understanding. I believe that Paul has local government in mind in Titus 3:1-2. There is an assumption that the “good works” are conspicuous and local (plus Crete is an island). Local political involvement (serving the city) produces a great return and we can individually adorn the gospel and silence our detractors much more effectively. However, it is notable that Christians in the early centuries did develop a general reputation for being law-abiding, model citizens.
  • The government can never legitimately compel sinful behavior. The New Testament writers assume the general legitimacy of government. However, they also recognized that at times one may be punished for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:20-22). You may recall that Daniel and his three friends ran afoul of a pagan king’s command of idol-worship. Yet notice that in all cases, malicious resistance was never employed. Instead they entrusted themselves to God’s justice.
  • Spiritual transformation can never come from human political ideas or institutions. If getting the right president or law into place would have transformed the human heart, Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross (Romans 3:20) Living in a republic we have the right and responsibility to elect representatives and vote for laws. To the degree we are able, we should want to promote candidates and legislation that we think will benefit others in our community and serve the purposes of advancing the gospel. Ultimately however, we will have more influence in our local communities and local politics. It is in our personal relationships that we will most clearly adorn the gospel with our character. Don’t get anxious or upset over what is beyond your control or your responsibility. As in everything, submit your requests to God on behalf of your community, city and nation.
  • Our political opposition is spiritual in origin. Humans are enslaved to sin and the governing spiritual rulers of the present age (Ephesians 6:12). Whenever we find ourselves thinking in a “them versus us” context, we are operating out of a false perception of reality. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures“. We do the work of our Father when we love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. (Romans 5:8)
  • We must emulate Jesus by being willing to bear personal cost for the good of others, even our enemies. There may be financial costs to voting for a measure that will benefit others but impact our own finances negatively. There may be a personal cost to standing up to defend the weak and neglected. We await a glorious Savior and a certain Eternal hope. We have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ. That must change how we live. Remember, Paul focuses on the manner in which we live. Can we disagree but with concern for our political opponent? Can we stand for an unpopular position without becoming self-righteous? Can we suffer a legislative defeat or a disappointing court ruling without slandering or maligning public officials? Can we jump in to help our local communities even if we disagree with policy issues in order to adorn the gospel? Can we graciously receive condemnation for our gospel-informed stance without retaliation? Can we remember that we are in a battle against spiritual entities and that the people around us are not our true enemies?
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THE EXAMINED LIFE

Socrates is quoted saying “the unexamined life is not worth living”. The Greek philosopher was doggedly committed to understanding and living a life of virtue. As parents we might try our own variety of Socratic questioning with our children: “What were you thinking?!”.  Admittedly, when asking those kind of questions, I am usually asking from a self-understanding of superiority, of having “arrived”. More often than not, I am less concerned with my beloved child’s thought process than with the violation of my “perfected” preferences and standards. In God’s kindness, the gospel gives us power to address the unexamined assumption of our own moral superiority.

We first encounter the gospel through a revelation of the self. In John 16, Jesus promised that when he returned to the Father, he would send the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, specifically of our unbelief in Jesus as the Father’s rescuing provision. (vv. 8-9) Right out of the gate we are shown that it is not moral failure that keeps us in sin, but the unwillingness to recognize our need and God’s kindness in the Cross.

The examining continues. Once we are brought into the Family of God, we continue to gravitate toward our old self-defining, self-centered patterns. This is why the Holy Spirit continues to bring to our attention our sinful actions and attitudes so that:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

It is even possible for us to be deceived into thinking that our way of living is perfectly consistent with that of Jesus. So Paul urged the Corinthian church:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5

The gospel tells us that we are recipients of the Father’s unearned love which He has proved in the life, death and resurrection of the Son applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit. It tells us that we have a present, permanent status: children of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17)  But it also says that we are in a process of transformation and have not yet arrived at the end of that process. (1 John 1:8, Romans 12:2) This gives us gospel power to stand in confidence because of what God has accomplished yet at the same time with great humility because of our continual and unending need for grace. We will best point our children to the “Magnificent Three” when first , we accept them as God has accepted us — by grace, not on merit, and when we come alongside them as fellow participants of that grace.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. Jesus said to take out the log in your own eye so you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye. (Matthew 7:4-5). Do you ever consider this passage before acting to discipline your children?
  2. How might inviting the Holy Spirit to examine your heart transform your relationship with your spouse and children?
  3. Some attitudes and behaviors require varying degrees of disciplinary action. How is your heavenly Father kind to you when you are in need of correction? How might remembering that your acceptance by God comes not from your own merit but because of Jesus’ perfect life and the realization that you (and your children) constantly need that grace affect how you approach discipline?
  4. Do you often pray for God to examine you and for God’s counsel before disciplining your children? How could you start a pattern that you can implement even in the heat of the moment?
  5. In Romans 12:2 Paul writes:
    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
    In what ways have you grown in your understanding and application of God’s will in the area of training your children?

 

Treasuring Good News Amidst the Bad

America’s changing moral, cultural and societal trajectory is disturbing to many Christians. These changes are particularly worrying when they impact our children. Among other things, we are forced to have conversations about sexuality, pornography, and identity in a manner and on a timetable that we would not have chosen. News headlines once reflecting realities “out there” are now openly discussed in elementary school classroms. In the midst of anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, its good to reflect on what is true. When we treasure the Gods’ Word, the definite proclamation about reality, we can be at peace in the storm and give our children the gift of an unshakable and certain hope.

To begin, here are five pieces of Good News:

  1. John 10:14-15 The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and they recognize his voice. They will come when he calls. Lost family members, friends, even those who seem hostile to the kingdom of God may find themselves listening to the call of love; a strong, kind voice above the din of lies and deception that permeate our modern lives.
  2. Hebrews 7:23-24 Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who come to him. As John Wesley wrote, “all the guilt, power, root, and consequence of sin” are destroyed by the work of Jesus. He is in the business of transforming lives.
  3. John 3:8, John 16:8-11 Nothing can prevent the Spirit’s ongoing role in calling people to trust in the Wounded Son of God who rescues the lost sons and daughters of Adam & Eve.
  4. 2 Timothy 3:12-15 Jesus told us in advance how this world’s pattern plays out and what we are to do in the meantime as we wait for the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior.
  5. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 Resting in the love of Christ, he always leads us in triumphant procession and the aroma of our lives is breathed in by those who will respond to God’s gift of life.

AVOIDING THE TRAP OF A BLURRY GOSPEL
Without being immersed in the renewing Gospel of Peace, we fall into fear and anxiety and end up sharing a blurry gospel, obscured with side issues.

In a recent conversation regarding morality in America,  I found I had accidentally drifted into a political “fencing match”. Undoubtedly, there are important political, cultural, and social implications of the Gospel. Loving your neighbor as yourself in a multi-cultural, global economy must have public expression. But without the initial gift of grace, any external shift is a surface change.

SPIRITUAL TRAINING: GROWING IN GRACE
The best training we can commit to, for ourselves and our children, is to uncover the depths of the riches of the God’s love so that we who have been forgiven much can love much. Just as Paul, set aside the lofty speech and human wisdom of the Greek philosophers of his day (1 Corinthians 2:1-2), we should “resolve to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified”.

Training our minds with the knowledge of God informs our actions in the world. Remembering  we are a people in possession of a certain, living and unshakable hope, we don’t lose heart or give in to despair. Acknowledging we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, we endure evil without bitterness and personal indignation. Recalling Christ came for sinners of whom we are the worst, we have great love and grace toward each other and the lost:  the calling card of those who follow Jesus (John 13:35).

SHARING THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
My house is often disorderly and cluttered; “creative chaos” is how I like to think of it. The point is, the state of my house would like raise the eyebrows of the immaculately neat. If we are honest, sometimes we wish others in our society would simply conform to our personal moral standards instead of making our lives more challenging and our television-watching options more narrow. We might not particularly care if they were still dead in their sin as long as it didn’t splash on us. This is not the gospel. The gospel targets something much deeper than individual sins: righteousness.

When we think of the Good News about Jesus the King, repentance from sin is right out in front. A Kingdom mindset requires us to understand the morally perfect nature of  God, a standard of righteousness required for all who would live with Him in His Kingdom. John the Baptist proclaimed that the reason for repentance from rebellion to God was because “the Kingdom of God is at hand”. John’s was a general call based on the general reality of the rebellious treason against God’s rule at the center of the human heart that had existed since the Fall in Genesis 3. But was this a call to “clean up your act” in order to merit a place in God’s Kingdom? That seems like a works righteousness. What about “through grace alone by faith alone”?

After describing the ineffectiveness of the Law to generate inner righteousness. Paul gives a shout of joy:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  — Romans 3:20-26

To stand in God’s righteous presence, in God’s righteous Kingdom, we are GIVEN God’s righteousness through trust in the saving work of Jesus who died on the cross to rescue us from sin and death and lives to give us life.

Here’s where repentance comes in. Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” who have their hunger completely satisfied. Those who hunger for the righteousness only God can give, cast away all rebellion and self-righteousness, eagerly anticipating the appearing of the “bread of heaven” that alone gives life and, when He appears, put their trust in Him alone, the only Way to Truly know the Life-giver.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
To bring this airplane in for a landing, here’s what we can “teach” ourselves and pass on to our children:

  1. We ourselves were once prevented, by our own inadequate self-righteousness, from enjoying the life-giving presence of God, the author and source of all that is good, beautiful and enjoyable. (Titus 3:3).
  2. Because of His great love, God temporarily overlooked our sins (Romans 3:26) until He provided us with His own righteousness through His beloved Son by means of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-6) and not because of any good thing we could do.
  3. As a result, we now have the righteousness of God, an equal inheritance of eternal life and are being renewed so that we now live and think like our Father in Heaven (Titus 3:7, Romans 12:2). Everyone who has put on the righteousness of God, is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  4.  As a result of this new creation reality, we find ourselves increasingly in conflict with the righteous standards of imperfect, humanity (John 3:20). In fact, we are guaranteed two things: 1) if we want to live in this new, righteous life of our adoptive Father, we will face persecution, and 2) people who reject Jesus will continue down a slope of unrighteous living ( 2 Timothy 3:12-13). But we don’t let those things bother us or stop us from sharing this live-saving Good News, because Jesus, God in the Flesh, willingly suffered rejection so we could have his righteousness (Hebrews 12:1-3).
  5. Now, we are ambassadors of reconciliation—we can meet God’s demands of perfect righteousness offered in Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:20). Since our future is assured and we have fellowship with God that can’t be taken away (Romans 8:38-39), we aren’t silent in sharing that God’s Kingdom has drawn near and is open to all who turn from their own self-righteousness and receive the perfect righteousness of the Risen Son. No sin is too ugly, no sinner too distasteful for Jesus, who came to our rescue in full agreement with the Father’s love (1 Timothy 1:15) .
  6. Everyone who hears and trusts in the righteousness of Jesus is a full participant in the story (2 Peter 1:1) and receives the full, rich, quality of life and unshakable future hope that Jesus came to give (John 10:10).

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Imagine a conversation with someone who holds onto their own righteousness (e.g. “My lifestyle is OK.” “I can do what I want with my body/money/time” “I can define myself anyway I choose” “As long as I don’t hurt anyone else…”. “The government agrees with me”, “I’m basically a good person, I never killed anyone.” etc.) 

  1. How would you share the good news about the Kingdom of God and the way through Christ to enter into friendship with God?
    • What potential pitfalls would you need to be aware of to prevent slipping into a political or sociological discussion?
  2. Do news headlines cause anxiety and fear? Does it help to know that we are promised a degree of suffering? Does it help to remember what Christ endured to rescue you?
  3. Is it helpful to think about self-righteousness vs. God’s righteousness rather than the sins of others vs. Christian morality?
    • How can you communicate this in a discussion with someone who has not turned from their self-righteousness to receive God’s righteousness?
  4. How will this understanding change your conversations with your children about the issues they face in the media, in school, and with their peers?
    • How might you differentiate between good moral behavior and the righteousness of God?
    • How do you differentiate between the good works that grow out of the new life in Christ and the morality that is common to most people from every nation and culture?

DOUBT IS NOT THE ENEMY OF FAITH

In popular imagination, faith and doubt are pitted against each other, especially in the realm of religion. Were you to ask the average person what ‘faith’ and ‘doubt’ bring to mind, you’d probably get a religion-centric response; not scientific progress, marriage, political concerns, or their own economic future although all those things also involve faith and doubt. Doubt is no stranger in the life of a Christian, often generating deep internal conflict. Having a clearer, Bible-informed understanding of doubt and its relationship to our Christian hope can ease our internal conflict and help us to navigate through times of doubt.

WHAT IS DOUBT, ANYWAY?
Like faith, doubt is not a tangible thing but is a state of being. Doubt is part of our reasoning faculties and is necessary due to the limits of human knowledge. Doubt indicates that what you know about reality has come into conflict with information that seems to contradict that knowledge. Your mental picture of what you ‘know’ to be true has to be updated to include or account for the confusion.

CONFLICT OF THE KNOWN AND UNKNOWN
For example, if you had to swing across a rocky pit on an old rope hanging from an old tree limb, your limited knowledge of the rope’s ability to hold you and the sturdiness of the branch stand in opposition to the sure knowledge that a plunge into a rocky pit will likely inflict bodily harm results in doubt regarding your survival. Until you were in that specific situation, you never had the opportunity to doubt: it is conflict of known and unknown that produce doubt.

DOUBT IN THE BIBLE
As discussed in a previous post, YHWH highly values trusting, relational cooperation: faith. Contrary to  claims by skeptics, this relational trust is reasonable. In the Old Testament faith is never required without sufficient evidence given of YHWH’s identity, character, nature, and power. This is as true of Jesus, (God with us) in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament.

John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me

 

John 10:38even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

 

John 14:11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

Jesus repeatedly states that ample evidence has been provided to support his claims; trust at this point is more than reasonable.

To return to the analogy of the rope and rocky pit, if you took time to test the rope and branch and determined that it would hold you, or if you saw a larger person swing over first, the unknown factors causing your doubts would be sufficiently addressed to make the rope swing option reasonable. In the same way, the God of the Bible has provided ample evidence throughout history to support his claims of faithfulness, kindness, goodness, and love toward His people, notably in Christ’s death on the cross (Rom. 5:8).

DOUBTING THOMAS
The Christian life is a life of interpersonal faith: reasonable, trusting cooperation in YHWH, the three-in-one God of scripture, what He has done and what He has promised. Repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus explains his nature and purpose, provides signs to authenticate his claims, then calls people into a trusting relationship with the Father through himself, the Son. Having been Jesus’ constant companion for three years would have given Thomas adequate proof to trust that Jesus had risen from the dead. But in light of our understanding of doubt as conflict of known and unknown, I think Thomas’s response was completely reasonable.

Thomas knew about the brutality and professionalism of Roman soldiers regarding crucified prisoners. Besides Jesus, no one he knew could raise the dead back to life, and now Jesus was certainly dead. This new knowledge came in direct conflict with his previous ‘knowledge’ about Jesus. In his understanding, death was the ultimate unknown, the unsolvable, untestable end of all trust. Yet Thomas offered a criteria for overcoming his doubt, a way to “test the rope” and solve the doubt conflict: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). Jesus did not disappoint:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)

Jesus respected Thomas’s need without judgement, offering him the very evidence he required to overcome his doubt. Only after supplying the necessary proof does he call Thomas to renewed trust: Do not disbelieve, but believe.

DOUBT AS AN OPPORTUNITY
The nature of loving relationship requires active trust (faith). Inter-relational trust is dynamic, not static. Episodes of doubt can serve to increase trust, love and enjoyment in another person. Doubt is therefore not an enemy of faith (or love) but an opportunity to reaffirm the inter-relational connection with the Personal God of history.

AN ILLUSTRATION FROM MARRIAGE
A couple considering marriage provides an excellent example of how doubt is opportunity. One or both parties in an engagement can have ‘cold feet’; doubt about whether or not to go ahead with the marriage. Most often nothing has changed with the other person: the doubts are not (usually) due to a complete misunderstanding of the future spouse’s character or intentions. Instead, the unknown future of a married life, its challenges, demands and dependence on another person, creates a conflict. Reviewing the proven qualities and character of one’s spouse-to-be and considering the wise counsel and example of older married couples can overcome the future doubts, not by guaranteeing certainty, but by providing reasonable grounds to step forward into the adventure of marriage.

BAD DOUBT
In closing, I should note that there is a wicked kind of doubt. Doubting someone who has always been faithful to you, or who has provided ample evidence of  their trustworthiness or ability without cause is unjust. When the one being doubted is the Triune God of Everything, this kind of doubt is literally inexcusable.

In the garden of Eden, Eve was deceived by the serpent who slandered YHWH’s credibility. Taking the word of a lesser being over the word of God, Eve’s previous knowledge of God’s goodness was tarnished by alternate ‘facts’ resulting in tragedy for all of humanity.

In the New Testament, Paul animatedly denounces the Judaizers who had added circumcision to the gospel:

Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:1-5)

Paul indicates that the Galatians had ample evidence of the truth of the gospel through the Miracle-producing presence of the holy Spirit. Doubt in the face of overwhelming proof can not be rationally explained; it is either the result of deceptive “bewitchment” or will-full ingratitude and rejection (Romans 1:18-23).

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. Have you viewed doubt as something to be avoided and feared?
  2. Do you avoid books, speeches, films, etc. because you think they will shake your faith?
  3. Does your working definition of doubt see it as an opportunity to know and trust the Savior more?
  4. Can you think of anytime in the Bible in which God provided no proof of his power or authority prior to asking for an exercise of relational trust?
  5. Is absolute certainty a requirement for the relationships you have? Does absolute certainty or reasonable certain better characterize human activity?
  6. How can the definitions of Faith and Doubt in this article give you greater confidence in how you live and share your Christian hope?

Love The Lord With All Your Mind

Assumptions are like leeches: they easily attach themselves to you and can severely impact your health. As Christians who live in a particular culture and time, we wade through a constant flood of messages that contain hidden assumptions, many of which are false. Left unchallenged, these “belief-lets” can deeply affect our lives and diminish the freedom, joy and confidence we have in the New Life Christ has purchased for us.

Currently, a prevailing assumption in our cultural conversation concerns the definition of faith. Of course those who reject God and religion view faith as “belief  despite lack of evidence”. Even among people who identify as spiritual along with members of religious groups (including many Christians), faith is articulated in mystical terms not unlike the Force in Star Wars: it does something for you but it’s terribly mysterious. Some even agree with Obi Wan Kenobi that the best way to understand faith is to “use your feelings”. Left unchallenged, this assumption about faith, (subjective, mystical, unverifiable), has real and negative effects:

  • Gospel conversation with unbelievers becomes difficult because subjective feeling isn’t transferable.
  • The Christian life becomes a more passive endeavor rather than a victorious one.
  • Faith is viewed as a commodity that some have more of and some have less. Guilt over not having “enough faith” can become oppressive.
  • It becomes a challenge to strengthen young people in the Christian life because the “concrete” answers they receive from other corners of their life are matched with a hazy inarticulation when it comes to faith.
  • Even historical evidence that supports our faith seems more relevant to moment of initial faith and less than useful in day to day living. How does the empty tomb help me with my skeptic in-laws or co-workers.
  • We might become attempted to chase after feelings to verify our New Life.

How does the Bible depict faith?

Even a quick examination shows that faith is closely, even inseparably,  connected with knowledge. The  the mind, not feelings is the primary domain of faith.

A Biblical Pattern of Evidence-founded Trust
There is no instance I am aware of in either the Old or New Testament in which God requires trusting obedience without evidence. In every circumstance, God provides evidence of himself and/or his trust-worthiness prior to asking for obedient cooperation (Deuteronomy 29:2-9). From Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses and beyond, God provides ample proof of His unique credentials and that trust in Him is a reasonable. The authentication God provides is exhaustively extensive and included:

  • person encounters (Genesis 7, Genesis 12:1, Genesis 16, Genesis 18, 26:2, Genesis 32:22, Exodus 3, to name a very few.)
  • group encounters (pillar of cloud/ fire, Moses’s glowing face)
  • legally binding covenants (Genesis 9:9-11,17, Genesis 12:1, Genesis 15, Exodus 24, Jeremiah 31:31/ Hebrews 8:8)
  • displays of power (miraculous birth of Isaac, burning bush, 12 plagues, parting the Red Sea)
  • miraculous provision (manna from heaven, quail, water from rock)
  • miraculous victories ( defeat of the Egyptian army, the outward collapse of Jericho’s walls, Gideon defeating thousands of Midianites with a couple hundred soldiers)
  • future telling (captivity and release of Israel by Egypt, division of Isreal and the Babylonian captivity, the fall of Babylon and the rise of 4 other great kingdoms, the return to Jerusalem and rebuilding of the temple, the appearance, rejection, suffering, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Messiah, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the inclusion of non-Jews into God’s family, destruction of Jerusalem and the 2nd Temple).
  • the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.

Outside of the Bible:

  • the unlikely persistence, expansion and longevity of the Christian church.
  • countless personal stories of people throughout history who have been transformed through a personal encounter with the living Christ. (for spirit-enriching binge-watching, view the testimonial accounts on the “Sacred Groves” and “One For Israel” YouTube channels.)

Knowledge of the Real
In addition to the pre-trust authentication God gave,  the terminology of trusting-loyalty used in scripture is the language of ‘knowing’ and the mind, rather than feeling. The consistent assumption ( a rational assumption given the evidence), is that people in God’s family can really know things about Him and about reality. This comes as a shock in our era of subjective, experiential, my-truth-your-truth relativism. Here are just a few examples of this kind of language:

Old Testament

  • Genesis 15:3  Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.
  • Exodus 6:7  I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
  • Exodus 14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (Notice even for defeated enemies, certain knowledge of who defeated them is the point, not a vague belief)
  • Deuteronomy 4:39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
  • Deuteronomy 18:21-22 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

New Testament

  • Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures
  • Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Romans 14:5 Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind
  • 1 Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:15,19 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also… Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
  • Ephesians 4:23 … be renewed in the spirit of your minds
  • Colossians 3:9-10  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
  • 1 Peter 3:15 in your hearts [center of your being, not feelings] honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
  • 1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

Hopefully the picture is clear: the righteous, God-honoring faith depicted and commended in scripture is a trust that involves the entire person, including our reasoning faculties. As Jesus said in Mark 12:30 (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5)  “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Any faith that denies or ignores the importance of the mind is not the faith of Christianity.


PERSONAL  APPLICATION:

  1. Can you think of a time when the assumption of “faith as a feeling” or “faith as irrational belief” was communicated to you by another person or through a form of media?
  2. What words would you use to describe Christian faith?
  3. When you think about the Christian life do you strongly associate the mind with faith?
  4. In John 8:31-32 Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In the Christian life, freedom comes from an encounter with, and personal assimilation of, God’s revealed truth, especially in the person of Jesus. Where in scripture do you recognize the relationship between ‘truth’, knowing/knowledge/wisdom/certainty/conviction on the one hand and faith/trust/belief/obedience on the other?
  5. Do you value facts and data or  relational knowledge more? Which have been more helpful or powerful in your life? Do you draw a distinction between “knowing facts” and “knowing a person”? Could this distinction in modern minds explain why Biblical faith is so misdefined and misunderstood?
  6. Practice explaining the biblical understanding of faith as if to a young child. What questions might come up? How would you address them from scripture?

 

Can Small Children be Christians?

How do you answer this question? Ever given it thought or looked to scripture to form a bible-based understanding? Whether explicitly stated or not, your answer to the above question determine a whole list of attitudes and actions. Your answer also reveal your fundamental thoughts on what the gospel is and what it means to be a Christian. Without hyperbole, your answer to this question has far-reaching consequences for every child you interact with.

Various Christian traditions hold views relating to children on a host of topics ranging from infant baptism to the mysterious “age of accountability”. These various ideas shape doctrine and practice of devout believers. Rather than addressing any of these ideas however, I devote this article to accomplishing three tasks: [1] note the likely outcomes for answering the questions positively or negatively,  [2] identify a theological issue that shapes how we think about this question in the first place, and [3] use this understanding to define an answer formed by God’s word.

Jesus said that “where your treasure is , there will your heart be also”. We spend time, energy and money on the things we value. Congregations or individuals who do not believe children can be Christians will not devote resources to making disciples of children. At best, people with this mindset will want to surround children with gospel-tinged songs, activities, and content so that they have a Christian foundation in hopes that these children will some day come to faith when they are older, perhaps in Middle or High school. Any overtures to faith expressed by children may only be imitation of adults without complete knowledge of Christian doctrine; cute and endearing, but ultimately of little value. It is difficult to feel enthusiasm or feel impelled to participate in an activity where no immediate fruit is expected or believed to be possible.

At the center of the discussion is a confusion over the nature of salvation. This confusion shows up generally in how we evangelize, but it creates a interesting problem where children are concerned. Often times, we cannot escape the idea that becoming a Christian boils down to intellectually grasping a list of theological doctrines. We know from experience that children think largely in concrete terms. Since a five year old may not be able to grasp the doctrines of the Trinity or Salvation or Biblical Inspiration, we can’t feel sure they really know enough to be saved. This train of thought is a big mistake.

Jesus is crystal clear: a life-giving connection with the Father is only possible through personal trust in Jesus himself. In chapter 6 of John’s gospel, Jesus says that eternal life comes from doing the “works of God” which he identifies as “believing in the one he has sent.”(v.29)

Just a few verses later Jesus states:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me… For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (vv. 37-40)

Are children capable of having trusting relationships with others? Clearly. Children don’t need to intellectually understand their parents thought process, history or agenda in order to trust and obey them. It is the same thing for trusting in Jesus.

Apart from the ability of children to know and trust apart, another reality makes the saving faith of children credible; unlike a list of doctrines the Persons of the Trinity are active not passive. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. As noted above, Verse 37 states that the Father acts to give people to the Son. This is also true of the Holy Spirit (John 15:26, 16:8-11) who roams the world testifying about Jesus and convicting of truth.

At the heart of Christianity is Jesus Christ, the God-Man who came to save sinners by taking our place on the cross and bringing us to the Father as co-heirs of eternal life. Anyone can relate to him by trust, person to person. Of course continued discipleship is needed with children, just as with adults. Children too need to bask in the amazing story of what God has done through Christ. They need to know about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them and to empower them to live holy lives. But any child, woman or man can enter into a trusting relationship with the Savior and once begun we can have confidence “in this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you believe children can become legitimate followers of Christ, obtaining “a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”? (2 Peter 1:1)
  2. Do your attitudes towards children reflect this conviction?
  3. What are concrete ways you can encourage the children in our church family in their discipleship?
  4. If you assume that particular children’s personal connection with Jesus is genuine, how will that change your conversations with them?

The Economics of Eternity

In only four short years our son will turn 18; I will be the father of my first adult child. Early parenthood is largely occupied with keeping our kids alive and healthy. We switch gears in the school years, focusing on preparing our children with knowledge, skills and experiences to help ensure future prosperity. Jesus posed a provocative business-minded question: What’s the profit in gaining everything the world offers only to lose your soul? How confident can we be that we are imparting “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” to our children? 

As people of the Kingdom of God, we live in the present confidence of what Jesus has accomplished in the past (1 Corinthians 6:11), yet with the expectation of a future renewal of all things(2 Timothy 4:1). It is in this in-between time that we are nurturing and training our children. And times are tough. I will resist the urge to delineate the issues that we, let alone our children, face on a daily basis. The pressure is strong to be silent, to conform, to approve evil, to be “private” in our beliefs. Without constant power to live transformed lives we (and our children) will slowly coast to a stop.

At the same time, times have always been tough and we have an opportunity in our place and time in history to reveal the beauty in the face of Christ by our commitment to living, speaking, and thinking in partnership with the rescuing love of God in Christ Jesus.

Attempting to shield our children from the temptations and dangers of a world pattern contrary to God’s kingdom and is continually mutating (1 John 2:15-17) are naive and impossible. Be we can be wise. We can continually impart spiritual power to help our children have a dynamic understanding of the grand story of the God of Everything who entered into human history to rescue his rebellious creatures at great cost. We can daily demonstrate that this rescuing King has won our total allegiance; he is more important than a job, a 401K, retirement, a doctorate or public acclaim.

We can do these things, but not on our own power. We can do these things, but only when, with the help of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we humbly let God evaluate our value system and accept his gentle correction. There is no more powerful evidence of the truth of the gospel than a transformed life.

Action Step: Evaluation
Self evaluation is an important component of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5). Empowered by God’s word our heart can be laid bare, our true intentions revealed (Hebrews 4:12). Below are some areas that you and your spouse may want to pray through and discuss together.  Whether you feel encouragement or conviction from your responses, thank God for revealing this to you and ask for grace in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

  • Time Compare personal and family bible study, prayer, gospel conversation and service to time spent on school, work, sports, and entertainment.
  • Heart Based on your expenditure of time and money, what things do you and your family value? How do these square with the values of Jesus’ Kingdom?
  • Community Do you value caring for the church family as a family?
  • Hospitality As a family do you welcome others into your life, seeking to serve them with all the gifts your family has been equipped to share?
  • Joy Are you and your spouse joyful people? Do you enjoy one another and invite your children and others into that joy?
  • Future plans When you think about your desires for your children’s future and your own future do your plans sound like things Jesus would smile on? Do you have expectations of your children that are not gospel issues?
  • Maturity Are you and your spouse maturing in faith? Do you see more spiritual fruit today than last year? Do you feel competent to teach the truths of God’s word?(Galatians 5:22-23, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 2 Peter 1:5-8, Hebrews 5:11-12).