Goofy Stuff Christians Say: Vol 1: “Deeds not Creeds!”

This week I’m starting the “Goofy Stuff Christians Say” series.  These are goofy sayings that have snuck into the church while our minds were occupied by the fireworks show/pizza party/relevant sermon series based on The Jersey Shore.  While most of them are well meaning, they are either imprecise in their language, or just theologically goofy.  With that.. my pick for the week, a personal “favorite”….

“DEEDS NOT CREEDS!” 

I get it. I understand where it’s coming from. In fact, I appreciate the zeal; “Let’s not just talk about Jesus, let’s DO SOMETHING!”

The problem? The statement is an epic fail on many levels:

1. “Deeds not Creeds!” is in itself a creed; A creed to choose deeds instead of creeds.  Silly. Comical. True.

2. “Deeds not Creeds!” is a false dilemma. It’s not Deeds or Creeds. It’s Deeds AND Creeds, or more precisely Creed-driven-Deeds.

3. This is yet another example of category confusion; indicative and imperative.  We are certainly called to DO (deeds), but only in light of what has been DONE (creeds).

4. It is absolutely impossible to do “Deeds not Creeds”  There will be a motivation for your deed.  What that motivation is will be your creed.

I think, at it’s heart, this is both a call to action and a rebellion against “head knowledge/stuffy theology” in which nobody every actually DOES anything. And I dig that, I truly do.  The problem is that in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you end up with a hodgepodge of inconsistent, goofy theology.  A creed is simply a statement of what you believe, and everyone believes something!  Remember, you’ll ALWAYS have a creed/theology, even if it’s something you just make up as you go along… let’s do Deeds AND Creeds.  Let’s understand that our motivation, our commanded calling, and our only source of hope is a creed.. the creed of the Gospel, the Good News (indicative).  Here is probably the most famous of all creeds. It’s lasted the centuries, the history of the church, because it doesn’t get much better than this when describing what it is we as Christians believe.

The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN. So, the next time you hear, “Deeds not Creeds!” ask the person if that’s their creed. 😉   Then work with them to do Creed-driven Deeds. Marc

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

If you haven’t ever asked yourself this question, or had someone ask you this question, it’s coming.  Trust me on that.

To  do what the Lord commanded in 1 Peter 3 (” Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”) you’d better be ready to face this question..and to be able to give the hope that is within you to someone going through tragedy.

How would you answer that question, right now, to someone who has lost a loved one? A child? Facing a life-changing accident? How would you answer “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why did he allow this to happen to me?” if it were asked right now? Today?

Stop reading and think for a moment.  How would you answer that question if someone walked into the room with their world falling apart, and asked you that question?

The problem:

If you believe, as the bible clearly states, that God is both good and all-powerful (omnipotent) you’re facing a dilemma here:

1. Either God caused/allowed it. (In which case He’s not good).

2. He couldn’t stop it. (In which case He’s not omnipotent.)

I’ve heard every possible subtlety to work around this. Here’s the most common: “God doesn’t want those things to happen, but the world is fallen, so bad things happen due to sin.”

While it is clear from scripture that the world is fallen, and that bad things do happen due to sin, it still doesn’t answer the question because either;

a. God knew it was going to happen, and allowed it to happen by creating the world in which it DID happen.  (He’s not good.)

b. He didn’t know it would happen, or placed it outside of His control (He’s not omniscient/omnipotent.)

c. Bad things then happen outside of God’s control, due to sin.. randomly and without purpose.

Is that really what the bible teaches? Let’s work through this with 3 of the most well-known examples of bad things happening to good people in scripture: Joseph, Job, and Jesus.

Joseph:  In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and he is taken captive into Egypt.  We know how the epic story of Joseph continues, with God using him, ultimately, to save his people from famine.  Who did Joseph believe caused this?  Gen 45 records:  “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5–8). The view here is clear. This isn’t “bad things happen randomly outside of God’s control due to a fallen world.” God SENT Joseph. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory actions? Gen 50:  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20).  Men meant it for evil. God meant it for good.

Job:  The book of Job opens up in the very first verse with: “There was a man in Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1).  The rest of the book is documented with Job’s calamity.  Does scripture record how/why this bad thing happened?  Yes.  The remainder of Job 1 tells us that God permits Satan to strike Job.  Is this figurative speech? Let’s go to the end of Job (Job 42): “They comforted and consoled him [Job] over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him”  Who brought him the trouble? The Lord.  Satan meant it for evil. God meant it for good. 

Jesus:  We know from all 4 gospels that Jesus was handed over to the crowd demanding His crucifixion (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19).  And we, as believers, know why He was crucified. What does scripture state? “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)  Isaiah 53:10 tells us that, although the spotless lamb was being murdered in the greatest act of evil men ever committed, “It pleased the Father to crush Him”. There’s no way around it; God’s SET PURPOSE, FOREKNOWING what would happen, was to hand Him over to wicked men who would put Him to death.  God knew before the foundation of the world what would take place. The men acted of their own will in fulfilling this act.

How do we reconcile the creaturely will of men (“they meant it for evil”) with the sovereignty/omniscience/omnipotence/goodness of God (“He meant it for good.”)?

God isn’t making lemonade out of lemons here. He’s not being reactive. As Acts 2:23 clearly shows, He is actively using the willful actions of men to accomplish His set and foreknown purpose.  To believe that he’s “looking down the corridor of time” and seeing what will happen and reacting accordingly puts God at the mercy of man and places events outside of His control. (and also contradicts Acts 2).  Scripture (as shown above) is clear in stating that God intended (active verb) these things.

Some really brilliant guys worked through this question a long time ago and came up with the following in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646):
Chapter III – Of God’s Eternal Decree.
i. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain
whatsoever comes to pass:(1) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(2) nor is violence offered to
the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather
established.(3)
(1) Eph 1:11; Ro 11:33; Heb 6:17; Ro 9:15,18
(2) Jas 1:13,17; 1Jn 1:5
(3) Ac 2:23; Mt 17:12; Ac 4:27,28; Jn 19:11; Pr 16:33
ii. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,(1) yet hath He not
decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such
conditions.(2)
(1) Ac 15:18; 1Sa 23:11,12; Mt 11:21,23
(2) Ro 9:11,13,16,18

So, why did these things happen?  Why DO bad things happen? What is your answer to “be ready to give a defense fo the hope that is in you?”

It’s this, that God works ALL things to the council of His will, for His glory. He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I talked to a friend recently who has a loved one who is suffering a debilitating illness. Each time this man is wracked with pain he cries out “Jesus!” To see this man’s reaction, or to watch Matt Chandler battle cancer with no fear of death.. to see a Bethany Hamilton or a David Ring continue to serve with joy in the face of “evil”, shows Jesus as being glorious to the world.  And that is to the council of his glory.. ultimately to the good, truly good, of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

So why do bad things happen to good people? Simply put:  To the council of His will, for His glory, and for our good.  It makes as much sense to us as it did to Joseph when he was in the well, or Job in his affliction. However, we have a greater hope than our momentary afflictions, and a greater purpose than our lives or our comfort.  And THAT makes Jesus look beautiful. The alternative? A world in which random, evil things happen for no greater purpose, and in which God is either unable, or unwilling to intercede.  I choose the former. I choose the one which makes God glorious. I choose the message of scripture.  I’ve seen where the latter leads; God doesn’t act, and well-meaning believers “claim healing”, believing that God wants our healing and comfort over His ultimate glory… and people die. Promises made on His behalf are broken, and the family is left to hate the church and the God who didn’t heal. To say that I hate it would be an understatement.  Why? Because it makes either God, or the deceased loved one impotent. Sell that nonsense to the apostles, nearly all of which were executed brutally. Sell that nonsense to the early church, where believers were fed to lions or burned alive.  To put it in Texan, “that don’t pass the smell test”.

Be prepared. Be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you. Be prepared to comfort those in need. Be prepared to make Jesus glorious.

Marc

I’ll close with the greatest act of human evil which was simultaneously the act of God’s greatest good:

Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53 ESV)

Additional Reading:

I am including the following from Randy Alcorn. This is not online in article form, so I’ll post it in full:

We’ve had over 100 heartfelt comments and more coming in on my response this morning to someone’s post affirming it is always God’s will to heal his children. I appreciate all the interesting and touching comments, including of those who disagree with me or each other.

Though it flows out of the previous discussion, I am starting a new post, and likely a new group of comments, because if I put it at the bottom of those other comments some who would be interested will not see it. But I am picking up with that previous post and responding to a number of the comments.

Someone wondered if I was reading into the post I was responding to, by referring to “tidy little theological answers,” etc. Good question, but note what I said to preface my response: “In my response below I allude to and take into consideration previous comments made by the same person.” There have been multiple emails followed by multiple Facebook posts, sometimes several in the same day, and it was to these I was referring. My response wasn’t just to this single comment, but to the many things said in the whole stream of them. Some have seen those comments, some haven’t, so what I said would seem like an overreaction if you didn’t. He was restating the same argument repeatedly made earlier so I felt I knew his intent.

Someone mentioned that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was “a messenger of Satan.” Yes, but the part of 2 Cor. 12:7 left out of that quote is critical. Look at the context: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”

What was the central purpose of the thorn in the flesh? Why was it given to Paul? To keep him from becoming conceited. But surely it is not the devil who tried to keep Paul from becoming conceited! It was God. So yes, Satan sent the thorn in the flesh as his messenger. Yet God is shown to use that same thorn in the flesh to accomplish his sovereign purpose, to cultivate Christlikeness and humility in Paul. Satan had one purpose in the illness, God had another. But whose purpose prevailed? God’s did.

Several people commented that because diseases are the work of the devil God should not be seen as ever “sending” them into the lives of his children. I respectfully disagree, since Scripture itself uses the language of permission, e.g. “God allowed” but also the language of giving or sending. “Was given me a thorn in the flesh.” Who did the giving? God. It is a false dichotomy to assume that because Satan does something, therefore God can have nothing to do with it. That might be true if dualism were true, if God and Satan were equal opposites battling in a great war where the end is in question. But God is the sovereign Creator. Satan is but a created being. He is not the opposite of God, he is the opposite of Michael, the archangel. Satan brings many things he intends to harm us, but God makes clear He can and will use those things for good in the lives of his children (Romans 8:28-29).

I also disagree with a few commenters and an article someone linked to expressing discomfort with the idea that God is sovereign. This is a clear and emphatic teaching of Scripture, and also one that is of great comfort when we realize that the one who loves us is also in control of the universe, and no evil person or accident or the devil himself can thwart God’s purposes, which He can and does accomplish even in this world that is under sin and the curse. (Sometimes I see people go on about God’s love while minimizing his sovereign power, and I feel like we are left with a God who wants the very best for us but just can’t make it happen because demons and bad people tie his hands. What can He do? He loves us and means well, but he just can’t control the world and take care of us. In that respect he is more like our grandmothers than the God of the Bible.)

Read Job carefully. Who sent the diseases and disasters on Job? Satan did. But note that from chapter one on the writer makes clear this was never Satan exercising power apart from what God purposefully permitted. God is very much involved in the book of Job, and he is accomplishing His sovereign purpose. This is not speculation. Note what the inspired author says in the final chapter of Job, after the suffering is over: “They comforted and consoled him [Job] over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11).

Hence, I must respectfully disagree with those who insisted in the comments that God never gives to or sends to or brings suffering on his children. 2 Cor. 12:7 and Job 42:11 clearly prove otherwise. Yes, Satan brings on Job’s suffering, and the illness or disability of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a messenger of Satan. But in both cases Satan’s malevolent actions are used by God (who is loving, not malevolent) to accomplish his purposes and actually THWART Satan’s! Satan is shortsighted. He brings harm, but God can use it for good.

There are many other passages that demonstrate this, but I will include just one more. And here I’ll copy and paste from my book If God is Good:

Joseph recognized God’s sovereignty when he said to his brothers, who betrayed and sold him into slavery, “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5–8). God didn’t only permit Joseph’s journey to Egypt, he SENT him there through his brothers’ evil deeds.

Later Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV).

“God meant it for good” communicates something far stronger than God being handed lemons and making lemonade. God did not merely make the best of a bad situation; on the contrary, fully aware of what Joseph’s brothers would do, and fully permitting their sin, God INTENDED that the bad situation—which he could have prevented, but didn’t—be used for good. He did so in accordance with his plan from eternity past.

We see two wills at work in Genesis 50:20. The brothers successfully did evil, and God successfully brought about good from their evil—but his good dramatically eclipsed their evil. While God did not force them to do evil, he sovereignly worked so that the moral evil they committed, and the consequential evils that came from it, accomplished his ultimately good purposes. These purposes extended not only to Israel, but to Joseph and even to Joseph’s brothers, the evildoers.


“Stuff Christians Should Know” Part 2

This week, we’ll continue with the series I’m calling “Stuff Christians Should Know”.  These are categories that were preached from the pulpit and taught via catechism for much of church history.  What used to be “common knowledge” isn’t very common these days. In the last few years I’ve spoken to believers who have been raised in church (and some who held various leadership positions) who missed the mark wildly on these basic categories. I think we as mature believers are failing here. We aren’t studying them, we aren’t discipling new believers in them, and frankly we aren’t really even concerned about them. While they may be listed somewhere on the “What we Believe” statement of faith, they’re rarely discussed in “community” or delivered from the pulpit.

Speaking with several Christian brothers recently, I was made keenly aware of the problems caused by not understanding basic categories of our faith.  There are many reasons for this, but I believe that the main reasons are that it’s not taught from many pulpits, and most Christians don’t read the Bible.  Ouch. I know, but stick with me over the next few posts and see if I’m missing the mark on this.

Categories are important. REALLY important.  Much of scripture deals with understanding of major categories, some of which I’ll cover over the next several posts; law and grace, justification and sanctification, indicative and imperative, already and not-yet.  If you don’t understand these categories, you’re building on a bad foundation.  I’ve seen where this leads, and it leads to a performance treadmill, “Do better, try harder”. It leads to focusing on your works instead of His grace. It leads to legalism. Ultimately it leads to focusing on you and your self-improvement program and not on God.

This week, we’ll continue with “Indicative and Imperative”

Indicative:  of, relating to, or constituting a verb form or set of verb forms that represents the denoted act or state as an objective fact (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)

Imperative: expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)

The gospel always, always, ALWAYS (you get that it’s always?) begins with indicative, which drives imperative.  So what. So why throw out this theological terms. “Deeds not Creeds!” right?

Wrong. So wrong.  If you lead with the imperative, you end up with legalism. You end up on the  performance treadmill.  Don’t believe me? Find your favorite “do this” and I’ll show you the more important “because of”.  How about the Paul’s manifest… the book of Romans? Lots of imperative, right?  

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:1-2). (Read forward from Chapter 12 and you continue with more well known imperatives.)

How about the great imperatives:

The Great Comission? (Mt 28)  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? (Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”?(Eph 5), “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”? (Rom 12).

All of them depend on the indicative. Every. Single. One.  If you glaze over the indicative, the gospel, the grace, the WHY, you will land squarely on the WHAT.  And then you climb on the performance treadmill and either feel self-righteous that you’re doing it, or despair that you aren’t.  Does that sound anything remotely like the grace of the gospel?

We, as fallen human beings, will always look for the imperative (the law).  It’s our nature. It puts us back in control.

How about looking at the imperatives above with their indicatives?

The Great Comission? (Mt 28)  “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.“”Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? just as in Christ God forgave you.(Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”? Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her(Eph 5), and finally, nearly everything after chapter 12 of Romans.

If you want to see great examples of how Christ designed us to live and rest in His finished work, read Romans 1-11. See how the indicative is beautifully laid out.. then, and only then, are the imperatives rolled out.  Paul often uses “therefore”, “in light of this”, “just as”, “since”, etc.

Read Paul as he deals with problems in the church. Does he give the disaster of a church in Corinth more rules? A remediation plan? 5-steps to a more successful church seminar?  Read it yourself, he gives them… the gospel. Indicative. Think they already knew the gospel? Of course they did! But they lost focus. The next time you hear “Deeds not Creeds!”.. run. It’s all law. There aren’t enough deeds to make up for the creed.

I challenge you to do this for the next week.  Think of the the things you’ve been called to do… now think of the indicative behind them. Go from indicative, to doxology (praise), to imperative.

“For every look at self, take 10 looks at Christ!” – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Rest in the grace of our Lord, praise him for that grace, and live out of that grace into love-driven imperative.

Marc

Additional articles:

Quick Read: http://theresurgence.com/2010/12/04/be-who-you-are-indicative-imperative

Deep Dive:   http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=26&var3=main

And a pertinent quote from A.W. Pink:

“There is a continual need to return to the great fundamental of the faith. As long as the age lasts the Gospel of God’s grace must be preached. The need arises out of the natural state of the human heart, which is essentially legalistic. The cardinal error against which the Gospel has to contend is the inveterate tendency of men to rely on their own performances. The great antagonist to the truth is the pride of man, which causes him to imagine that he can be, in part at least, his own savior. This error is the prolific mother of a multitude of heresies. It is by this falsehood that the pure stream of God’s truth, passing through human channels, has been polluted. Now the Gospel of God’s grace is epitomized in Ephesians 2:8-9,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”

All genuine reforms or revivals in the churches of God must have as their basis a plain declaration of this doctrine. The tendency of Christians is like that of the world, to shy away from this truth which is the very sum and substance of the Gospel.”