How Much Devil Should You Study?

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil

Romans 16:17-19

The above passage is one of many that deals with the topic of biblical separation. The doctrine of separation is unpopular enough as it is, but the verses of Romans 16:17-19 should be more unpopular still, because they take the doctrine a step further than places like 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, the Bible only applies the doctrine of separation to fellowship, but Romans 16:17-19 extends it to all the way to knowledge, so that we are instructed to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” In an age driven by information, it may seem foolish and even offensive to suggest that sometimes ignorance really can be bliss, yet this appears to be what the Apostle is saying here. However, the title of this post, “How Much Devil Should You Study?”, is also not completely rhetorical. While Paul is admonishing us to avoid familiarizing ourselves with error to some degree, we will see that this prohibition is not so sweeping that it forbids knowledge of any kind concerning false worldviews. But this concession in no way vindicates those who rush headlong into the other pit; this text indeed rebukes those who make an idol out of learning. To discern the narrow path between the two pits, we will examine this passage in more depth and then compare Scripture with Scripture to uncover the full meaning behind the Apostle’s words.

The Text

The most pertinent part of this passage for our purposes is verse 19b, which reads, “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” We must discuss this verse in a little depth, because its rendering by several popular translations obscures its meaning. What the KJV, NKJV, Geneva, and others translate as “simple,” many others translate as “innocent.” This doesn’t necessarily change the meaning of the text (which can be thoroughly established by the context in either case) but it makes it somewhat less clear, and opens the door for people to try to interpret it like the NLT’s paraphrase of a “translation” does, which renders 19b as, “I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong.” That is not what the text says, which reads identically in the Greek regardless of what underlying Greek text you use. The Greek word in question is “akeraious” (ακεραιους). The “a” in akeraious serves the same function as the “a” in ahistorical or atheist (both words have Greek origins) – i.e., the “a” is a negative prefix, and would be like placing a “not-” before the word. Keraious is believed to be a derivative of kerannymi, which means “mix” or “mingled.” According to its etymology, then, the literal meaning of akeraious would be “not-mixed,” which is indeed its primary definition given by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. In secular works, it was often used to describe things such as pure metals – things that were not mixed with other substances. But beyond this primary meaning, however, it also has a strong moral connotation. The word behaves in precisely the same way as the English words “pure” and “simple” do, both of which – in their literal sense – suggest something that’s “undiluted,” “uncompounded,” or “unmixed.” But, just like akeraious, they have moral connotations that often extend beyond their literal meanings, so that something can be described as “pure” that may in other respects be quite complex.

Given this information, is “innocent” an inaccurate translation of akeraious? Well, it’s not so much inaccurate as it is incomplete, or – at the very least – somewhat presumptuous. There may be contexts where it’s clear that only the moral connotation of the word is in view (Matthew 10:16 would be an example), but that’s not the case in Romans 16:19. On the contrary, the preceding verses are precisely about avoiding evil deceivers (i.e., not mixing with them), and as a consequence we are unmixed concerning evil. No doubt the moral connotation is also there, but it’s there on account of – not at the expense of – the literal, primary meaning. In other words, Paul indeed is saying that he wants the Romans to be innocent concerning evil, but they would be innocent by virtue of being simple concerning evil. Since “simple” already possesses both an analogous literal meaning and an analogous moral connotation to akeraious, it’s a perfect translation of the word in this context. This understanding is further supported by the fact that Paul is clearly juxtaposing akeraious with the word translated as “wise” (sophous [σοφους]) for the purpose of contrasting them and advising a contrary course of action. Rather than having the Romans to be wise concerning the evil (as he would have them be concerning the good), Paul wants them to be the opposite of that, because the opposite of good demands an opposite approach. But “simple” – and not “innocent” – is the opposite of wise, and so the contrast Paul makes would make little sense if we understood akeraious to only mean innocent.

The context might be even more decisive than the meaning of akeraious. In the 21st Century, it may be easy to imagine how we could mark and avoid those who cause divisions, and yet remain well-educated concerning their doctrine. However, in Paul’s immediate context (and the context of the vast majority of Church history for that matter), this would be an impossibility for nearly all of the Church. Most people in Paul’s days were illiterate, and couldn’t exactly Google the arguments of nearby heretics if they avoided them. In those days, to avoid a group of people would be to virtually guarantee that you would never hear their perspective except as reframed by those on your side. With this in mind, it almost doesn’t matter how one tries to bend verse 19, because the logical result of Paul’s instruction to avoid the Church’s enemies is that the people of God would be simple concerning false doctrine.

What he’s NOT saying

Paul is not saying that we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore the evil around us. He is not saying that we should be so intent on avoiding a confrontation with error that we retreat to our own bubbles that never interact with the world we sojourn in. On the contrary, Paul expressly denounces such hermit-like behavior in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, where he says, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” As far as physical separation goes, Paul only instructs us to practice this when it comes to “any man that is called a brother” who is engaged in the above behavior (v. 11), but he does not encourage us to practice this in regards to those not numbered among us. We would need to leave the world altogether to do that. Accordingly, Romans 16:17-19 is likewise primarily directed at avoiding those who are falsely called brothers as well as their perversions of the Scriptures, even if the admonition to be simple concerning evil doesn’t seem to be entirely limited to that.

Paul is most definitely not advocating a total ignorance of the errors of this world. In regards to the Devil, the Apostle says plainly that “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). There are many sections of Scripture that refer broadly to the pagan practices around the people of God, as well as to the workings of the enemy himself. God, in His wisdom, has seen it fit that His people should be aware of these things, so that we might be able to anticipate the operations of the one who opposes us. We are warned expressly about certain heresies which beset the early Church, such as the proto-gnostics that denied Jesus’ humanity (2 John 7, 1 John 4:2, etc.). We also see the Apostle Paul himself quoting a pagan philosopher to prove a point in Acts 17:28. All this would be impossible if we were forbidden to know anything about the systems of unbelief around us. How could we even avoid those like the proto-gnostics if we refuse to investigate them enough to know that they deny Jesus’ humanity? The same could be said of all other groups that deny the central tenets of the Christian faith. We can’t know that they’re in opposition to us without learning something about what they believe.

What he IS saying

He IS saying that we should be “simple concerning evil.” To be simple about something doesn’t mean that you know nothing, but it does mean that you don’t overly familiarize yourself with it. You should have a general sense of what people around you believe, and you should understand where the unbelievers diverge from the Faith and why what they believe is damnable error. You should understand the risk they pose to you, especially if there is any chance that their deceptions might creep into believing circles. But you can do all this and still be simple concerning their errors, because none of this should necessitate a deep dive into their teachings. Concerning the intricacies of their doctrine, you have learned enough when you have learned that they do not preach Christ crucified, and that they deny the simple Gospel that salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, according to the merits of Christ Alone. You have learned enough when you learn that they deny the central truths about who God is, who Jesus is, and what the biblical way of salvation is. You have learned enough when it becomes clear that people in this group need the Good News of Jesus Christ preached to them, and at that point this is what you should be concerting your efforts to do. If this is your approach, you can very easily learn what the Bible tells us is necessary to learn about systems of unbelief while also following the apostolic admonition to be simple.

The best way to learn what it means to be biblically simple is to look at the examples the Bible gives us to follow. If we confess that Scripture is indeed sufficient, and that it is capable of making us “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:17), and also confess that apologetics is a good work, then we can expect to find the principles directing us how to engage in it within the Word of God. And find it we do, with confrontations between believers and unbelievers appearing throughout the Scriptures. Yet, in none of these cases do we find evidence of the saints doing intense research into the positions of the children of darkness. When Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal, there is no hint of him studying the details of Baalic worship, their preferred “sacred” texts, or their favorite festival days. On the contrary, he lets the power of God speak for itself (1 Kings 18:36-38). In the New Testament, whenever we see Christians give an answer for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15), the reason they give is always through the authority of God’s Word and grounded in the reality of the Lord’s Resurrection. The closest we see to familiarity of unbelieving thought is the already alluded to verse of Acts 17:28, but this doesn’t fall into the primary category that Paul is concerned with in Romans 16:19; Paul, in Acts, is referencing a nugget of truth contained in the pagan poet’s writings, and not to the heretical distortions of Scripture that would be made by those he is instructing us to avoid. Chiefly, it is the depths of those Satanic distortions that Paul wants us to be simple of – he is not telling us to be simple concerning anything that just isn’t explicitly Christian.

The biblical precedent is clear; the best defense is a good offense. Rather than exhorting us to study evil, Scripture exhorts us to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We are told that the way “to stand against the wiles of the devil” is to “Put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11), which is composed of the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17). All of these things – which the Bible proclaims are effective against the Devil – are obtained from God through studying, applying, and receiving His truth into our lives. None of them stem from the study of evil.

Potential Objections

I anticipate that the greatest source of pushback against this post would stem from practical concerns. Perhaps one might ask, “How can we effectively persuade others to leave their errors without thorough research?” Or else they might say, “Will we not lose intellectual respectability with unbelievers? How will we be taken seriously if we timidly avoid those who disagree with us?” Neither of these objections are well-founded. The first one fails to understand the true means of converting sinners, which is the supernatural, self-authenticating authority of the Word of God, and not an exchange of ideas. To be sure, God often uses other means in the process and some of those means are legitimate. However, not all the means that God may work through in saving sinners are authorized for us to practice. As the saying goes, God is perfectly able to draw a straight line using a crooked stick, and sometimes those crooked sticks include seeker-sensitive worship services, charismatic revivals, and even “Christian” tarot cards in some bizarre cases. None of those are the least bit justifiable from Scripture. If you’re convinced that it “works” to thoroughly study evil when witnessing to the lost, you must show why this conviction legitimizes the practice anymore than Andy Stanley’s conviction would legitimize his unhitching of the Old Testament when he evangelizes, when both approaches are unauthorized. We must preach the Gospel after the pattern given us in the New Testament, which assures us that it is itself the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

The second hypothetical objection fails partly by misunderstanding the position advocated here, and also by striving for something the Bible repudiates as sinful. We do not avoid those who disagree with us, nor does the Apostle’s instruction demand that we run and duck for cover anytime we find ourselves in a situation where we begin to hear more about an aberrant view. Far from being timid, this position requires great boldness. It requires us to be confident that any detailed knowledge of the evil we face is unnecessary to overcome it, because our sword – God’s Word – is guaranteed to be more than sufficient to deal with any obstacle in our path. We are to be so confident in our General that there is no need to scout out the land of our enemies, for the battle is already ours. Whatever nuance, novelty, or sophistry the devil throws at us, we know that none of his adherents have an answer to one of the most simple questions: How will you stand before a Thrice-Holy God when you lie dead in your sins? The righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross for our sins remains the only means of abiding in the presence of the God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

However, the objector would be right in saying that – if you follow this example – you will be looked down on by the world and lose intellectual respectability. But this is guaranteed for any man who simply believes the Gospel, let alone any other biblical doctrines: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). You can never obtain intellectual respectability with the world, and we are never instructed to pursue it. If we were to neglect the commands of the Bible for the sake of appearing intelligent, we would ultimately have to abandon the core truths of Scripture altogether. We should be more concerned with what God thinks of us than what man thinks of us.

Practical Motivations for the Doctrine

Why does the Apostle want us to be simple? As someone who has spent much of my time in the past absorbed in false worldviews, it isn’t difficult for me to understand potential motivations for the doctrine. Ultimately, I believe we shouldn’t fill our heads with too much error for the same reason we shouldn’t fill our heads with too much crass TV; it pollutes the mind. Even when you know the content you’re absorbing is wicked and false, that doesn’t stop it from seeping into your mind and popping up over and over again without your permission. The more you expose yourself to heretical perspectives, the more you ingrain them as permanent “voices” in your head, accompanying you as you read every passage, enter into every argument, and face every trial in your life, hoping to prey on your weaknesses. Sure, all error can be refuted and shown to not be built on the foundation of Truth, but that doesn’t stop it from sticking with you and constantly reasserting itself, even when you’re trying to do nothing else but reflect on the Truth you seek to defend. Little can be so corrosive to personal piety than when you are ceaselessly engaged in combating error at the very moment you are seeking peace and respite – in the regular reading of God’s sacred Word. Yet, this is precisely what the obsession with error can lead to, and it can seriously impede your ability to rest in the peace of Christ on this side of glory.

My purpose in writing this is not to encourage intellectual laziness, but to encourage intellectual rigor in the area that is much more profitable – in the study of the Truth. Who reading this will say that they have mastered the faith and are now ready to move on to mastering unbelief? The Bible is a well without a bottom and its depths can never be sounded out. We find more than enough armory to withstand whatever the devil may throw at us in it, and unlike the evils that beset us, we are always spiritually edified by anything we learn from Scripture. Why not seek to be wise unto the good?

I’m Not Simple Minded!

The book of Proverbs is full of pithy sayings that apply to the everyday, practical life of man. There are verses on taking bribes (Proverbs 15:27) or on being lazy (Proverbs 13:4). The book is meant to show its readers what it means to truly be wise in the sight of God. Being wise doesn’t mean that you have multiple college degrees or that you are able to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but rather it is concerned with our relationship to God. It has to do with our moral disposition rather than an intellectual one. We see this in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs:

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;

Proverbs 1:32 (NIV)

In this section of Proverbs, we see the foundation being laid for the purpose of the book. Everything that comes after this is based on these principles. Here Wisdom is calling for those to turn from their ways of foolishness in repentance that they may live. However, those who reject the way of Wisdom will die. Essentially, the contrast is being made between the believer and unbeliever. The believer follows Wisdom, while the unbeliever continues in their foolishness and perishes. This is the hermeneutical context we find ourselves in as we progress through the book of Proverbs.

Lacking Discernment

The book of Proverbs has sayings for aspects of our lives that we probably would not think would be included in God’s Word. One of those is in relation to critical thinking. We see this in Proverbs 14:

The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

Here we see Solomon addressing how we use our minds. There are two people that are mentioned here: the one who is simple and the one who is prudent or wise. Charles Bridges notes on this passage:

To believe every word of God is faith. To believe every word of man is credulity. Faith is a principle of infinite moment. Eternal life and death hang upon it…But it must be grounded upon evidence, and it can only be exercised according to the character and measure of the evidence. An indiscriminate faith is therefore fraught with mischief…Cautious consideration should mark our general conduct; trying before we trust; never trusting an uncertain profession.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs Geneva Series of Commentaries

This seems straight forward, right? Why would we not use critical thinking in our lives? Why would we trust everything we hear? The truth is, we are prone to do so. In our immaturity, there can be times where our minds wander to things that just are not true. This can be in the political arena where people fall into the traps of having an overconfidence is certain political leaders while ignoring clear problems that arise in their worldviews and lives. More importantly, this can happen in the church. There are those who lack discernment and are led by different doctrines without stopping to think about the implications of the teaching they are following after. This is where false teachers thrive. They prey on those who lack discernment. They feast on the simplicity of others. This mindset is dangerous. It is not only dangerous because of what it can lead to, but the very act of lacking discernment is sin. Remember, to be “simple” or “foolish” in the book of Proverbs is not an IQ assessment. It is a moral disposition. This means that to fall into the category of a fool or a simpleton is to live in sin and therefore like an unbeliever. God gave us our minds to use them, not throw them to the wind for some teaching, worldview, or political candidate we might fancy. We are to carefully think about how we live, ultimately doing so in light of the Word of God. And how can we do that? By doing what the Psalmist does:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.

Psalm 119:9-10 (NIV)

Abortion: An Illogical and Unethical Conclusion

STOP! Before you read any further, please understand this post will be very different from most of my others. In fact, for being a Christian blog, you won’t find any mention of Christ whatsoever. However, I felt this was important enough of a topic to be worth sharing. The following is a thesis paper I wrote several years ago for a college class. The reason for the lack of Scripture references is because I believe, as writers, we need to write to our target audience. Unfortunately, mine was a secular audience. Though you won’t find direct biblical references, I’d also like you to understand that all logic comes from God. He is the one who has bestowed us with reasoning. Even more so, apart from God, there is no logic. As you read on, I challenge each and every one of you to see the Christian worldview lurking beneath the surface.

Abortion. It’s one of the few subjects that stir up controversy just by name alone. Rarely does a discussion on the matter end peacefully. Emotions run high and, before long, the discussion morphs into a debate which devolves into a heated argument. While unfortunate, it’s to be expected on some level. In fact, many refuse to entertain such discussions in an attempt to avoid the inevitable argument. Is this a reasonable solution? Should we just ignore the cases being presented and pretend nothing is wrong? Do we agree to disagree and let bygones be bygones? Is there really a way to settle a debate that has been going on for decades?

Before one can truly form an educated opinion on the topic, I believe a proper understanding of the history and background is essential. Regardless of personal belief or conviction, where there is a lack of understanding, foolishness is almost certain to ensue. This is the birthplace of ill-informed decisions and misconstrued opinions based on faulty knowledge. Out of respect for the issue, I would like to take a few moments to review some of the history. Though I wish we could journey through the intricacies of the past together, due to space restrictions, we’ll have to settle for a brief yet intriguing summary.

To begin, we first need to travel back in time to March 1970. There, we will meet a young woman who appears to be a relatively normal person upon first glace. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. However, what we don’t know is that she is a single pregnant woman who is seeking to terminate her pregnancy in a state that has strict abortion laws. This “ordinary” woman, Norma McCorvey, is about to be known across the nation as Jane Roe (Rose, 2008, p. 93).

Roe had just filed a lawsuit against the District Attorney of Dallas County, Texas “on behalf of herself and all other women” claiming that her right to privacy was violated when held against the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution (Rose, 2008, p. 93) and that the existing abortion laws were preventing women from receiving adequate medical advice (Hitchcock, 2007, p.49). After an arduous three year battle, on January 22, 1973 (Davis, 2004, p. 141), the court ruled that, “For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.” and “For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.” (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 163, 1973). Thus, abortion was now a private matter between the physician and the patient. Unless the patient was beyond the first trimester, there was little to nothing the state could do about it. Though the decision to terminate pregnancy ultimately rested within the hands of the physician, the power to choose was, for all intents and purposes, placed within the hands of the mother. Indeed, the future was about the change and, depending on your stance on abortion, it was either for the better or the worse.

So, here we stand today. It’s been forty-one years since the court’s decision and women have been free to obtain abortion-on-demand ever since. Likewise, the abortion debate has been waging equally as long, if not longer. As with all controversial topics, over the years, each opposing side has rallied with their peers to make their points, defend their positions, and stand their ground. In the beginning, I asked if this was a debate that could ever be solved. I dare say there is a plethora of ways to make the case that abortion is simply an illogical and inconsistent practice for anyone of sound mind. All we have to do is have the courage to peel back the curtain.

The reason it’s such a heated topic isn’t because of the nature of those discussing it. It’s because of the nature of the discussion itself. It’s more than trying to agree on fashion or debating which cereal tastes the best. Indeed, far more is at stake in this debate. We’re dealing with human life. Whether or not one wants to admit it, regardless of the outcome, the very basis of the discussion is the topic of human life and all that goes with it. Even further, it is a discussion on the sanctity of human life. The focus may drift from time to time but, in the end, it always comes back to this point. While I admit this may be a bold assertion, I also truly believe objective logic and reasoning will show it to be both the central and essential point of the debate. Interestingly enough, of all the “friendly” discussions I’ve had over the years, the topic of doctor/patient confidentiality has yet to come up. It seems privacy was just the force required to get the snowball rolling downhill. For the sake of moving forward, I feel it’s high time we review some of the arguments put forth by the pro-choice movement.

One common argument is that our country is already filled with neglected children and that we, as responsible adults, shouldn’t be contributing to the problem. Part of the support for this stance is the claim that children born of unwanted pregnancies are prone to social and interpersonal difficulties (Faúndes & Barzelatto, 2006, p. 39). This is just absurd when you really think about it. What do acceptance and ease have to do with life? Should we now be authorized to execute those whom we deem undesirable? Many have said it isn’t fair for a child to be brought into the world only to be rejected. Life isn’t fair but that doesn’t mean it ceases to be life. It is indeed a sad scenario when there is a young child who is neglected. We see countless stories of small children being taken away from their parents due to deplorable living conditions. Many of them even have disorders from years of psychological scarring. If one were to suggest we execute each one of these children as they’re discovered, he would be viewed as an even worse monster than the deadbeat parents. Why, then, do we see this as such an honorable option? How can one possibly suggest it’s nobler to destroy an unborn infant in an effort to prevent him from being born into an atrocious situation than it is to destroy a five year old who has been suffering in it for years? Why not end the misery of one and prevent the misery of the other? Where do we draw the line? Can it even be drawn clearly and distinctly? Of course, this may be a moot point if you aren’t of the persuasion that the fetus is a human life. Thankfully, this will be addressed shortly so I ask you to patiently read on.

Second, many have taken the stance that abortion is an adequate, though controversial, solution to overpopulation in our society (McKinney & Schoch, 1998, p. 133). Some have even gone so far as to take this approach and claim, much like hunting is the answer to overpopulation of a given species in the wilderness, abortion is the answer to overpopulation in society. Are we now comparing ourselves to animal control? Are we once again choosing who needs to go? Are we now playing judge, jury, and executioner based solely off our own personal and private desires? The opinion of mankind changes with every breeze. Some may say gang wars should be a legal form of murder so long as no innocent bystanders get injured. Is it possible others may feel we should allow people older than a certain cutoff age to be murdered? After all, they’ve lived their prime and are of limited usefulness in most cases so far as a productive standpoint is concerned. Of course, I don’t actually believe either of these and am only using them to make the point that killing other human beings isn’t the answer. That being said, I’ve heard some claim support of the latter option and that, in my personal opinion, is no better than the pro-choice camp as both are suggesting a certain group is less deserving of life than another particular group of people. Even Margaret Sanger, who was instrumental in the founding of Planned Parenthood of America, believed birth control, a term she coined, was instrumental in controlling the birth rate of those whom she deemed inferior (Axelrod, 1999, p. 128). Is this where we stand today?

Third, and perhaps one of the most common arguments, we’ve undoubtedly all heard the claim that a woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body. While this sounds like a very solid point, it’s full of many holes. First and foremost, it isn’t her body we’re discussing. It’s the body of the child inside her womb. Nobody is trying to tell her how she is to cut her hair. Nobody is trying to tell her she can’t get a tattoo, sleep with as many partners as she pleases, or reserve herself for only one person. No, all of these are her rights and nobody can strip her of them. The pro-life camp isn’t oppressing her in any of these ways. She isn’t limited in the slightest when it comes to her rights. Yet, despite all this, she continually claims she is being oppressed. I suppose this all depends on how one defines oppression. If you define it as someone limiting your free actions in any way whatsoever, I would agree in full. Police officers are oppressing her. Lawmakers are oppressing her. In this case, any removal of choice without consequence would be defined as oppression. However, most would agree this is a necessary oppression to prevent us, as a society, from slipping into chaos and anarchy. Because of this differentiation, we must limit the definition of oppression to simply the limiting of one’s rights. Does one have the right to take the life of another? Countless court verdicts shout a resounding no. How can a woman possibly imply her rights are being violated if the only limitation is her ability to destroy the unborn child within her womb? This is not a violation of rights. This is not oppression. If anything, each person is guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence (US 1776). A similar assertion can be found in the Bill of Rights (U.S. Const. amend. V). Notice the key word: life. Before continuing, it’s only fair to point out that developing fetuses are not currently protected under the aforementioned constitutional amendment simply because they are not deemed to be people until the point of viability. This is the direct result of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (Sproul, 2010, p. 41). However, while the court may have ruled that the fetus isn’t protected, does this ruling mean it shouldn’t be? Rights are imbued to us all as human beings regardless of our age. As for the right to life, there is zero justification for taking it away without due process in a court of law. Since the infant has committed no crime, any charges against it should be instantly dismissed. There simply is no case. In the end, it isn’t about a woman’s ability to do as she pleases with her own body. It’s about a woman’s inability to do as she pleases to the body of another. Once she becomes pregnant, it’s no longer about her body. This is just one of many red herrings meant to draw the attention away from the actual issue. Though, under our current laws, she may have the right to an abortion, we must always ask ourselves if simply having a right is synonymous with doing what is right. Furthermore, do we have the moral right to do that which is morally wrong (Sproul, 2010, p. 115)?

Fourth, there are those who simply do not believe the fetus to be a human life. Does this undo the pro-life stance? Is there any ground to stand on if the opposing side simply doesn’t believe the same? After all, we can’t force religion upon anybody. Is an atheist wrong if he doesn’t believe in God and, as a result, chooses to not implement certain practices into his life? This appears to be the case many within this mindset are making. Thankfully, it is just another hollow argument. The evidence is mounted against them as are their inconsistencies. I’ve heard the fetus compared to cancer. They say it’s nothing more than a clump of cells that are replicating into a mass. Since we have no problem removing these living cells during chemotherapy or surgery, it shouldn’t matter if one chooses to have an abortion early on while the cells are still developing and replicating. It doesn’t take much more than a glance to see the flaw in this logic. Cancer, while indeed growing, will always remain cancer. A surgeon will never remove cancerous cells only to find them crying on the surgical table and desiring to be comforted. Those particular cells, while being from a human, will never become a human. The same cannot be said of a fetus. By two weeks, the fetus has a discernable heartbeat. It has a unique blood type that is separate from the mother’s. By six weeks the child has fingers at the end of each delicate hand, brain waves pulsing through a mind that is full of potential, and movement within the womb. By nine weeks, gender can be distinguished, a unique set of fingerprints have been created, and the baby has a fully functioning set of kidneys (Bosgra, 1987, p. 7-8). A heartbeat and brainwaves alone demonstrate life within an adult. Why is there such hesitation to apply the same determination to a developing embryo? Would this not simply be prenatal life (Sproul, 2010, p. 55)? Every last adult on earth began as this cluster of replicating cells and look at what we’ve become! From this perspective, the fetus is only at another stage of development in its life. A fetus is not an infant. An infant is not a toddler. A toddler is not a teenager. A teenager is not a middle-aged adult. A middle-aged adult is not a senior citizen. However, just because a toddler is not a senior citizen does not mean the toddler is not a human life. The same can be said of the fetus. It’s a human being that is simply at an earlier stage of development in the life cycle. Despite this, many will say this isn’t enough to prove anything. This has only opened the door for early term abortions vs. late term abortions using terms such as “point of viability” to justify it. Because of this, we must resort to logic and consistency. While I may not be able to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt, though all signs point to the affirmative, that the fetus is a human life, the pro-choice crowd is also unable to prove otherwise. Therefore, it boils down to responsibility. At the risk of overusing an analogy, I’d like us to once again refer to the hunters mentioned earlier. Imagine two hunters in the woods that are hunting for deer. Hunter A sees movement behind a shrub but isn’t certain what’s behind it. He’s fairly certain it’s a deer and the law states that he’s able to shoot it. Hunter B says he thinks it’s another hunter but he can’t be sure either. It moves like a person and seems to be exhibiting human tendencies but, due to limited vision, neither one is absolutely certain. Now, imagine Hunter A says he doesn’t agree with Hunter B and wants to take the shot. Hunter B says he’s fairly certain it’s another person and that Hunter A shouldn’t do it. Does Hunter A have the right to take the shot? Absolutely! However, it may not be without severe consequences. If it does turn out to be a human, he is now facing murder charges as well as recklessness with a deadly weapon. Ignorance won’t be enough to overturn the guilty sentence. Furthermore, he wouldn’t even be able to claim ignorance as he was warned numerous times by Hunter B. Sure, there is always a chance the “Hunter B’s” of the world could be wrong wrong but is the gamble really worth it when it comes to human life? Would you be willing to take the shot if you weren’t absolutely certain whether or not it was a person you were taking out? Basic human responsibility should answer that one.

Finally, we can lay aside all the arguments and take a look at the emotional inconsistencies. There tend to be several categories of emotions. There are those who don’t believe it to be human life and don’t even feel the slightest tinge of guilt or remorse when they have an abortion performed. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who do believe it to be human life and they feel extreme guilt and remorse post-abortion. These, I’m convinced, are the only two consistent categories. The inconsistent categories would be those who do not believe it to be human life yet deliberate based on emotion as well as those who do believe it to be human life yet feel nothing. With the latter, this is simply no different than any other murderers out there as their own consciences have been seared. They fully believe the fetus to be life yet have justified the removal of life (killing) for reasons unknown. In the end, there is no justification for such a person as he would openly admit to “legal” murder. As for the former group, why do they feel emotionally torn if it isn’t a human life? If they truly believe the fetus is just a clump of cells, there should be no remorse. There should be no deliberation. It should be a decision as simple as taking out the trash or mowing the lawn. Deciding whether or not to discard your beloved pair of pants should be more painstaking than whether or not to have an abortion. After all, you spent time breaking those pants in just right and you’ve had them for years. The fetus just got into your body recently. Either get rid of it and move on or decide to keep it, water it, and see what it grows into. Your emotions should only enter the picture after the baby is born for, prior to this, it’s not a life so there is no reason to be emotionally attached. To be honest, this emotional turmoil in the life of one who is pondering an abortion is a sign that she truly does believe the fetus to be a human life regardless what she may claim when asked in public. Her conscience has already betrayed her. At this point, we once again enter the realm of moral and ethical responsibility as made in the previous point.

So, where do we go from here? Do we continue to stand by idly as we hear of neglected children having no place in this world? Do we declare open season on those we deem inferior? Do we continue to allow the right to privacy to trample a child’s basic right to life? Is it time to hold people accountable for their irresponsible and reckless actions? Sadly, these are questions each of you must answer for yourself. As I stated in the beginning, abortion is a highly emotional topic. Perhaps you’ve gone through with an abortion of your own. If you felt no remorse, my hope is this commentary has given you something to chew on. However, if you felt even the smallest tinge of guilt, my hope is that you will be convinced, now more than ever, that a fetus is an intricately crafted human being that is fighting against all odds for survival. Let us be a voice for the voiceless and stand against abortion. Any other option just doesn’t make sense.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Discerning the Discerners

There are certain things in life most people enjoy. Within the church, those things tend to revolve around gospel preaching, friendly fellowship, and spiritual growth. On the flip side of the coin, there are things most people tend to dislike such as needless contention, unnecessary quarreling, and prideful know-it-all antagonists. On the internet, a person possessing these attributes is commonly referred to as a keyboard warrior and I think it’s safe to say most of us wish they’d just sit on their hands instead of typing.

As of recent, I’ve been paying more and more attention to an online polemical website called Pulpit & Pen. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Truth be told, to a certain degree, this site has been on my radar for years. I used to view it as a valuable resource when it came to researching false teachers. Their no-holds-barred mentality was refreshing to see in the fight against doctrinal error and the stand for truth. After all, when war is constantly being waged on the truth, can we really sit by idly and watch it get pummeled with no recourse or consequence? However, I was also very different at that time. I was in the latter days of my Calvinistic “cage stage” and was beginning to see the ramifications of my over-the-top, no nonsense attitude. I began to see how I had caused many to become irritated with my rants and had begun to see me as divisive, however sincere I was in my efforts to show the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Simply put: a dangerous chapter in my life was coming to a close. No, it wasn’t a danger of spreading false teaching. It was a danger of causing harmful division by being so ready to label everybody a false teacher.

Looking back on this time in my life, while being ashamed, I also have a certain sense of appreciation for it. Having experienced such a mentality in my own life has given me a strong desire to stand for truth while also possessing a more mature mindset and method of execution. As I look upon solid teachers such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and James White (to name only but a few), I see what standing for biblical truth should look like. It’s not about calling out error at all costs. It’s about standing for truth while being gracious to brothers and sisters in the Lord. Sometimes, a harsh rebuke is needed against blatant false teachers or heretics. There’s absolutely no denying that. After all, if one comes preaching another gospel, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:8). However, there are many times where the situation isn’t quite as dire and gentle correction or even respectful discussion is more fruitful.

Sadly, this is a lesson certain writers of Pulpit & Pen have yet to learn. While still having many important things to say, it’s almost as if they’re in a perpetual “cage stage”. Instead of standing for truth, it appears as if they stand more for polemics and entering combat like a well-trained soldier. Whereas it used to be about warning others of real wolves in sheep’s clothing, it’s slowly morphed into an opportunity to find even the slightest bit of error (even if only perceived) and drop a nuke on it no matter the cost to unity in the

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body (Ephesians 4:2-3). Instead of waiting things out, giving brothers in the faith the benefit of the doubt, and seeing how things play out, we see harsh attacks that even go so far as saying such a brother has forsaken the gospel. In reality, it’s not much different than the tactics of mainstream media who are, oftentimes, too quick to release a story without having all (or any) of the facts and, in the end, they produce a retraction and apology for the misreporting. However, in the case of P&P, such retractions and apologies tend to be non-existent because their writers feel they have done no wrong. About a year ago, I had a personal interaction with one of the writers and I ended up having to walk away from it because it just wasn’t going to produce any fruit. Instead, I felt as if I were being trolled and antagonized while the other person clearly felt vindicated, justified, and “winning” the war on terror. It’s this sense of pride that underscores the writings of P&P. Instead of being gracious truth-seekers, they’re instead laced with pride, assaults, accusations, and defamation. Ultimately, it lacks Christ-like love and seeks to destroy anything in its sights. Heaven forbid I end up in their crosshairs for speaking against what feels like God’s anointed ambassador of discernment and eradicator of error. I may never see the end of it!

All this to say, I highly encourage everyone to go and read their articles. Don’t just take what I’m saying at face value (NOTE: Perhaps a good place to start would be THIS POST and THIS POST). I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that they have called out many heretics over the years. This isn’t the problem. The problem resides in where they fail to draw the line between heretics and brothers who may err on a particular topic. Sadly, this has become more and more commonplace. While there are some diamonds in the rough, much of it is just the rough without the diamond. In my previously referenced discussion, I was asked for specific examples of where I felt P&P had erred. To be honest, there’s just too much to list. On top of this fact, there are multitudes who have already dedicated too much time in providing requested examples. Hence, this article isn’t meant to change the mind of P&P as much as it is meant to encourage you, the reader, to discern the discerners. Everybody needs to be held in check, including those who deem themselves to be at the tip of the spear in calling out error. The spear just isn’t always necessary. We don’t always need to be waiting in the shadows, ready to strike at the first moment that someone says the wrong thing, uses the wrong verbiage, or takes a contrary position on a secondary issue just so you can know you reported on it before anybody else. This isn’t a spirit of discernment. It’s a spirit of strife laced with the poison of pride and arrogance. As for the specifics I mentioned earlier, it’s like being asked for specific examples of why a landfill stinks. Sometimes, it’s just the overall smell of garbage.

~Travis W. Rogers

How do I know I am saved?

 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-11 (NIV)

This passage may seem like a strange one to quote as it relates for assurance of salvation. But Peter wants his readers to ensure that they confirm that they are really the elect of God. This leads us to questions like, “How can I know that I am saved?” “What if I have doubts of my salvation in light of my sin?” These are questions that all Christians have probably struggled with at one point or another and is not an abnormal feeling to have. But the Scriptures give us standards by which to judge our lives against as it relates to what the Christian lifestyle is to resemble. While there are multiple places in the Bible for what a Christian is to look like, no other book exemplifies this more than 1 John.

Background of 1 John

This book was written by the apostle John to combat false teachers in the church at the time. One of the charactaristics of false teachers was the lack of love that they had for the people of God.

A lack of love for fellow believers characterizes false teachers, especially as they react against anyone rejecting their new way of thinking…

John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary

John wanted those in the church to be aware of those who did not love God. False teachers would not love God’s people, they would not obey the commandments of God, and they would deny that Jesus is the Christ. These are the primary ways that distinguishes heathens from Christians.

The Importance of Gaining Assurance

Going back to the passage noted at the beginning of the article in 1 Peter, we are called to gain assurance of salvation. This is an imperative and is not optional for the Christian as they move along in their walk. Why would this be an important aspect of our pilgrimage? Peter provides the answer. Right before he commands believers to make their calling and election sure, he gave the imperative that Christians are to make every effort to gain characteristics of Godly behavior. And because of this, they were to make their calling and election sure. Peter then concludes that gaining assurance, along with the other characteristics mentioned, will prevent Christians from stumbling. In other words, a lack of assurance will hinder you from obeying God. If we are constantly struggling with assurance, there will not be growth in our walk with the Lord.

Evidences of Salvation

What are evidences of salvation found in 1 John that would help us to gain the assurance Peter is commanding the church to obtain? We see this in three key areas:

  1. Habitual obedience to God’s commands
  2. Love for God’s people
  3. Faith in Jesus as the Christ

First, John lays out in no uncertain terms what a Christian life is to look like. He begins his argument in 1 John 1:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

John doesn’t simply go to how we are to live specifically. He begins with who God is and then notes how we should live in light of that. Since God is light we are to walk in the light. The Greek word here for “live” is περιπατῶμεν which means to walk or to tread around. In this context it has to do with how one lives their life. John compares the one who lives their life according to darkness and one according to the light. And since light is what God is, to live according to darkness contradicts what it is to be a Christian. John is laying out the simple yet important truth of the two worlds that the human race is a part of: of the devil or of God’s grace.

John then moves onto the specifics of what it means to be a Christian. In chapter 2 there is explicit teaching on what a Christian does:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6 (NIV)

This is one of the most simple evidences of what the life of a true Christian looks like. A Christian will obey the Lord. There will be a lifestyle of habitual obedience to the commandments He has laid out in His Word. This does not mean that every commandment is always obeyed, but the lifestyle of obedience will be there. If you claim to know God, but show not life of obedience you have no reason to think you are saved. You, in fact, are a liar. Jesus discussed the principle of obedience as well in John 14:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

There is an equivocation between love for Jesus and obedience to His commandments. Love for God is not a feeling or an experience. It is deliberate, continuous obedience to what Scripture commands. The converse is obvious. Lack of obedience to God is to not love Him. That would make you a liar if you claimed to know Him and yet lived a sinful lifestyle.

Second, a true Christian will love God’s people. John makes this very clear:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:10 (NIV)

There is a special love that will be exhibited to God’s people (this is noted by Paul in Galatians 6:10). This love, as with the love for God, isn’t an emotional or experiential love but a love shown in action. This means that self-sacrifice is involved. There is concern for your brothers’ and sisters’ welfare which leads to action (this is seen in verses 16-18 of 1 John 3). The primary way that we do this is by ministering to one another in the local church. Joyfully giving the church of our talents and services displays that we love one another as Christ loved us. This love that the people of God have is such an integral part of being a Christian that this is how the world will know that we are true disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).

Finally, a true Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ.

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:22-23 (NIV)

False teachers (i.e. false converts) will not truly embrace Jesus as the Son of God. If they did, they would exhibit it by their actions. Now this may seem like a strange qualification for a Christian. After all, those who are in modern evangelicalism generally believe in the deity of Christ. However, the doctrine of God is key to understanding the rest of the Faith, since it rests on God Himself. In this case, the Gospel is at stake. The deity of Christ goes to the heart of the Christian message of salvation. It wasn’t simply a man that came and died for our sins, but the God Man that took on the wrath of God. If we deny the deity of Christ, there is no consistent Gospel to give. There is no real atonement for sin, as a mere man cannot bear the eternal wrath of God. To deny the Son is to reject the Father, as Jesus is the Word that reveals who the Father is. You cannot have one without the other. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?

What About Remaining Sin?

We have established three key evidences of salvation. But how does this relate to remaining sin in the life of the Christian? If a Christian is one that habitually obeys God’s law, what does that mean for the sin I continue to do? We know from 1 John 1:8 that we as Christians still have sin in them and to claim that we do not would be speaking a falsehood. We also know from Romans chapter 7 that the SAVED apostle Paul (how anyone can somehow read the present tense language in this chapter given the context and consistently say it is referring to a “pre-saved” Paul is beyond me) discusses his struggle with sin.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

Romans 7:14-19 (NIV)

Clearly, we see an on going struggle with sin. Paul doesn’t say that he did sin at one time and stopped, but that it is something that he keeps on doing. How do we hold to what is explicitly taught here with what is explicitly taught in 1 John?

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:4-6 (NIV)

Paul says that he keeps doing the thing that he doesn’t want to do (that is, sin) and yet it says in no uncertain terms in the above passage that the one keeps doing that “thing” is not a Christian. What gives? The issue here is not so much the specific frequency of the sinning as it is the nature of the act itself. Is the sinning a practice? Is it defining who you are? Are you bent toward sin? Is your lifestyle mostly marked by sin? These are ways that we reconcile these two passages. And this is informed by other places in Scripture that describe what the life of a lost person looks like. Take the book of Ephesians for instance in the second chapter:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

We see here a bent toward that which is evil for those who are unsaved. There is a natural inclination toward sin. It comes easy to the heathen. There is no godly sorrow for sin. There is no repentance or a desire for righteousness. Their desire is to live in gratification of their sinful lusts without a thought given to truly living according to Scripture. This is the difference that we see between the cry of the true believer in Romans 7 where he loves God’s law, sees the sinful condition in his very being, and is repentant of it and the person who swims in his lusts day after day. This is the “practicing” of sin that is being referred to the the apostle John. This does not, however, take away from the seriousness of sin in the Christian’s life. It is incompatible with their new nature in Christ. We must be repenting of sin on a regular basis and putting to death our old man.

Sounds Good, But How Can I Know I’m Saved?

Scripture gives us standards by which to test ourselves to see if we are really believers. As Christians, we must be vigilant to do this and it will not necessarily be easy. But in light of what we have discussed, ask yourself these questions to gain assurance: do you love God’s law and obey it habitually? Do you love God’s people and give yourself for them? Do you believe in the Christ that is revealed in Scripture? If so, then you can be assured that you are the Lord’s. If you do not meet these standards for what a Christian looks like, then you need to repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus and in Him alone for your salvation with no confidence in your own works, but trusting in the work that He did in His perfect obedience to God’s law and His wrath-bearing sacrifice on the cross. Only in Christ can you have true assurance of salvation.

“Love Your Enemy” in Exodus and Leviticus

We’ve all heard someone espouse the idea that somehow “the God of the Old Testament” is different than “the God of the New Testament.” This is claimed because they say that in the New Testament God is so loving and caring while in the Old Testament God is wrathful and mean. This is extremely frustrating because it’s obviously not true to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the Gospels. Jesus talks about coming judgement and how terrible it will be (Matthew 25:31-46, for example). However, while I think it’s easy to demonstrate from the New Testament that God’s wrath is indeed still present, I’d like to do the converse today. I’d like to show that God, in the Old Testament, was commanding the exact same things that Jesus was in the New. There is no disharmony in the teachings at all.

One of the supposedly more radical teachings of Jesus is that we should love and do good to our enemies. Surely, this idea was never taught before! I think this short passage from Exodus will put that to rest:

4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.  5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ex 23:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Here God is commanding the Israelites to do good to their enemy, even the “one who hates you.” Is this not the exact same sentiment that Jesus taught in the Gospels? God commands good to our enemies, regardless of what they’ve done to us. It is only out of ignorance that people can claim Jesus diverges from Old Testament moral teaching.

Another thing Jesus said was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39). Surely, that teaching can’t be found in the Old Testament? Except, when Jesus says this, He is literally quoting from Leviticus 19:18

17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Le 19:17–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is an Old Testament teaching. There should have been nothing radical in Jesus teaching to His Jewish hearers. They should have already been exposed to the idea. Even in this passage the Israelites are commanded to not take vengeance, once again showing they were to love their enemies and not persecute them. In God’s law, wrongs were to be overlooked and people were not to be treated in accordance with their wicked deeds against you. It’s time to lay the slander against God to rest.

Application

Before closing out this article, I want to make some application for the Christian. We’ve heard the teachings of Jesus so many times we’re liable to not remember just how radical (from a worldly perspective) His statements are. Hopefully, looking at the same idea presented in the Old Testament has encouraged you to remember how we should live in this world. We should love our enemies and do good to them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve cheated, stolen from, oppressed, slandered, microaggressed, or even done actual violence to us. We are still to love them and do good to them. If you don’t want to do this, can you say you truly believe in Christ? If you don’t believe in Him, then you will see His wrathful side on the Day of Judgement. Repent and believe in Him, and you will find Him to be just as merciful as the New Testament portrays Him.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: How Shall We Worship?

WORSHIP. What a beautiful term! It’s literally proclaiming the worthiness of God alone. This is done in a variety of ways such as prayer, meditating on the Word, and in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, one of the most common forms of worship is undeniably through the singing of praises. Growing up in a Baptist church, it was common to see the morning’s

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songs pre-selected with the matching hymn number being displayed on the wall for all to follow along. When I was in Japan, instead of hymnals, we had an overhead projector and sang more contemporary worship songs. I never questioned it, nor did I feel the need to. It wasn’t until much later in life that I was confronted with the concept of psalter-only worship (i.e. psalm-only worship). It was being presented as the only biblical form of singing in worship. I was told it was the only way to be in line with the Regulative Principle of Worship, meaning worship in accordance with revealed methods found in Scripture, and all other methods are unacceptable. Was there anything to this position? Had I been worshiping incorrectly my whole life? Was psalm-only worship the only acceptable means of singing before God in a state of worship?

After much study, I have to admit I’m not convinced at all. In fact, I’m actually convinced of the contrary: that it’s highly biblical to sing other songs so long as they’re sound in doctrine. For those who may be either skeptical, or simply intrigued, please follow along with my reasoning:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19, NASB)

The words used are psalmos (G5568), hymnos (G5215), and ode pneumatikos (G5603/G4652), in the phrase psalmos kai hymnos kai ode pneumatikos.

Psalmos, while being a composed musical piece, is used exclusively in the New Testament to refer to the Old Testament psalms.

Hymnos is a song of praise to gods, heroes, and conquerors. Though, we can rest assured Scripture is speaking of songs about God. He alone is the true conqueror and hero over death and life. The only other use of this word is in Colossians 3:16, where they use the exact same phrasing as Ephesians 5:19.

Ode pneumatikos simply refers to a song of praise in general. Not only do we hear of these being sung by believers in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, we also see John speaking of a new song being sung in Revelation 5:9 (w/ lyrics included).

I think that gives more than enough evidence to show that a corporate body of believers sang Old Testament psalms, hymns of a conquering God, and spiritual songs of praise to God. Yet, some may still be unconvinced. The common challenge is that each of those meanings are found in the totality of the 150 psalms of Scripture. This claim is typically accompanied by the assertion that Paul is simply using three different descriptors and uses for the psalms. Aside from the very definitions of the words used, we can’t ignore the fact that there is a new song that has yet to be learned (as per Revelation 5:9). Those lyrics aren’t in the psalms, though the idea of there being a new song is alluded to in Isaiah. I just don’t see how the meanings of the Greek words, combined with the fact that there is still another new song yet to be learned (as per Revelation 5:9), possibly leaves room for the interpretation of it as being psalms, psalms, and psalms, all of the Old Testament variety. For those who feel this “new song” is merely referring to the change of one’s nature, we also see Isaiah 42:10 speaking of singing a new song here on earth. It’s clearly a direction to sing of His praises. Yet, it’s a new song of praise coming from our regenerated nature, and not an existing psalm. As stated earlier, Revelation 5:9 even gives the reader the lyrics. If one were to take those lyrics and create a song, it would be fully in accordance with Scriptures, though it’s found in not one Old Testament psalm.

Expounding upon what has already been stated above, ode pneumitakos is spiritual songs of praise while “ode” (by itself) is just a song in general. Hymnos is also used in pagan Greek music when referring to their gods, heroes, and conquerors. Realistically, much of what we refer to as modern hymns would likely fall under ode pneumatikos more than hymnos. While some (not all) psalms may have characteristics of hymnos and ode pneumatikos, they’re also clearly differentiated as being their own category. It’s not merely a matter of three descriptors of one word, but three different categories of song-based worship.

The only way to go psalm-only is to have an idea ahead of time, spiritualize the meaning of words by ignoring their actual meaning, and throw out the normal reading of the text. Simply put, psalm-only is a man-made idea that can’t even be executed properly (in accordance with the Regulative Principle of Worship) because it’ll always be merged with uninspired music and be outside of the original composition and intention.

To say psalm-only singing is the only thing in accordance with the Regulative Principle of Worship is actually inconsistent with the very nature of it. The psalms are structured and composed pieces of music. They had a specific tune and music written for them. Considering that music is lost, we’re left with only the lyrics. Thus, the only way to sing them is to either apply the lyrics over an existing well-known tune (ironically, usually a hymn) or create our own. Considering this wouldn’t have been the way they would’ve done it when they were written, it’s a manipulation of music and a justification of inspired/uninspired hodgepodge in the name of abiding by the Regulative Principle of Worship. The only way to avoid this inconsistency would be to strictly read them or, perhaps, do it in the manner of a Gregorian chant. But that then violates Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 where we’re told to sing them.

The alternative is that we don’t try to shoehorn uber-spirituality into it and, instead, understand that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs were three different things, with three different meanings, though some psalms incorporated elements of the other two in its structured musical composition.

Aside from a proper understanding of psalmos kai hymnos kai ode pneumatikos, I feel the argument I’ve presented (which is also a historic argument in line with the Chapter 22.5 of the 2LBCF) is far more sound than the counter-arguments. Ultimately, if you still feel your convictions are telling you to stick with the psalms, I’d urge you to follow your conscience in faith (Romans 14:22-23). For all others, take comfort in the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as you sing praises to the Lord!

The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord…are all parts of religious worship to God, to be performed in obedience to Him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; (Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 22, para. 5)

~Travis W. Rogers

Chasing Our Tails

Fame. Money. Popularity. Comfort. Peace. Tranquility. Recognition. Awards. All of these have something in common. They are some of the many different things people have a tendency to chase after. We live in a world where we’re told to chase our dreams. From our mothers telling us we can be anything we want to modern prosperity teachers touting the “name it, claim it” gospel, we’re constantly being indoctrinated into a world where we are chasing after something. Unfortunately, unless we have the right focus, all we wind up doing is chasing our tails.

dog-chasing-tail

Ecclesiastes 1:14
I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.

Solomon was intimately familiar with the concept of striving after futile things. He had everything he could ever want. He was the richest man in the world. Yet, amidst every worldly pleasure one could ever ask for, he was saddened. There was no joy to be found. It was all in vain. He was striving after the fleeting things of the world. He was chasing his own tail and going nowhere fast.

Scripture clearly guides us on what we are to pursue. We are to pursue peace and sanctification (Hebrews 12:14). We’re to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11). Indeed, the Christian has a calling to pursue a great many things but they can really all be wrapped up into two words: pursue Christ! While being extremely simple, it is anything but easy. Even Paul recognized the fact that he continued doing the things he hated (Romans 7:15). His nature had been changed but the spiritual warfare was very real. Though he knew he was not yet made perfect, he had a duty to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-13).

Will we struggle in this life? Of course! However, we can take great hope in the fact that the Spirit of God dwells within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). He has not left us alone! God has a plan for our lives and he will see it through. The responsibility of each and every one of us is to know what that will is and it can be found in the pages of Scripture and through prayer. Meditate upon the truth of God which has been set before you. Study the Word so that you can be made adequate, equipped for every good work (1 Timothy 3:17). Diligently work to be obedient children in the presence of the Father. Flee from what the world calls earnest desire and begin earnestly contending for the truth! Stop chasing your tails and start pursuing Christ!

~ Travis W. Rogers

A Disease Called Silence

There exists a world where disease is spreading rampantly. Daily, it claims its victims and ravages them from the inside out. Neighbors and friends fall prey to the devastating effects of this war while the vast majority does nothing to stop it. It’s slowly taking over loved ones and won’t stop until it overtakes the children. There is a form of resistance but, when compared to the general population, they are in the minority. Will the battle ever end, or will the denizens of this world ultimately be destroyed? Sadly, this world being described isn’t hypothetical or imaginary. Nor is it a distant land yet to be discovered. No, it’s the very world we live in and, as it stands, we are slowly destroying ourselves. Thankfully, there’s  hope in the form of a cure. All we have to do is stand up.

You may be scratching your heads right about now, wondering what I’m talking about. Please read on and allow me to clarify. The world I’m referring to is called the church. It’s filled with people who call themselves Christians. The purpose of this post isn’t to differentiate between false converts and genuine Christians. Instead, I’d like us to focus on what I feel to be an even more pressing issue. After all, it’s to be expected that local church attendance will spike around Christmas and Easter. It’s even expected that some of the people in the pews may not really know the Lord regardless how long they’ve been going to church. What isn’t expected is that those who truly know Christ would sit down and forget to stand up. We’re called to teach all nations of Christ (Matthew 28:19). In a world that hates us (John 15:18) and is at war with God (Romans 8:7), we’re called to be the resistance (1 Corinthians 1:23). As for the final outcome, we know that not all will believe and that there will be an ultimate, eternal darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth for all who don’t know Christ.

Ask yourself when the last time was you were presented with an opportunity to preach Christ crucified. Did you take advantage of the opportunity or did you remain quiet? Did you stand up for Christ or did you sit down? What about the time before that? In fact, when was the last time you stood up at all? There are a number of reasons why we may remain quiet when opportunity presents itself. Some may get nervous. Others may have a fear of public speaking (See THIS POST for related thoughts). While both of these are valid concerns, where do they stack up in the grand scheme of things?

Life isn’t lived inside a bubble in complete isolation from the outside world. For every action taken, not only does one need to accept the consequence for his life, but he also needs to accept responsibility for the impact it has on the lives of those around him. What will it take for you to see the importance of this subject matter? How many people will miss hearing the gospel unnecessarily? How many will die of the disease called silence? How widespread will the pandemic have to be before you become aware? If you are already aware, who will have to die before you care? Our nation has gone into lockdown over the deaths caused by COVID-19. Why, then, is the threat of eternal death not even on the radar of most?

Sadly, evangelism has steadily been reduced to the other guy’s job. It’s taken a back seat to the struggles of daily life and the already tight time constraints. As the bride of Christ, my fear is that we’ve simply lost our evangelistic fervor. How can this be when Scripture tells us the very souls of men are at stake? I love the way Charles Spurgeon had a zeal for evangelism. He understood God’s sovereignty, yet he also understood God’s natural method for bringing new saints to Himself. Spurgeon said,

“We believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved,’ but believe not on him and ye be damned.”

There will come a day when the unsaved will hear of their inability to save themselves. Would you rather they hear it from you first or from God Himself on the day of judgment? Evangelism is a joyful privilege that encompasses our entire lives. It’s an opportunity to preach Christ crucified and extend the offer of eternal life to all who will believe. Is there no sweeter encouragement?

~ Travis W. Rogers

Theonomy No More

THEONOMY. Perhaps there is no word more beautifully deceptive than this. Literally meaning God’s Law (theos: God, nomos: law), it sets forth the proposition that our civil magistrates must adhere to God’s standard and that our earthly laws should reflect His moral law. Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to see how the Christian might be inclined to follow it. For instance, Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church is a strong advocate for the system where he has affirmed his position that the only two options are theonomy or tyranny. With such well known Christians proclaiming the belief, does this give credence to it? There seems to be a growing number of people, particularly post-millennials, who are advocating for it and are using the Bible and etymology of the word to justify their position. However, as set forth, I believe to do so is to fall victim to highly deceptive terminology rooted in error. Before we begin, I want to outright state I’m certainly not advocating for antinomianism (i.e. lawlessness) with this post. I’d be foolish to ignore the fact that God has written His moral law on the hearts of believers (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 10:16) and that we have an obligation to be obedient to the One who bought us with His blood (Galatians 3:13). However, what does that obedience look like and how far does it extend? If God truly reigns over all the earth (and He does), is theonomy a view that aligns with Scripture? I argue that it does not.

Personally, I think theonomy becomes a dangerous position when taken to its fullest extent because it becomes inconsistent, mandates a theocracy, merges Church and State, Religious Liberty and Legislating God’s Lawand reintroduces what Christ has abrogated. I think it’s a wonderful and necessary thing in the Church, but it has no place in the government as a formal requirement or system. I’ll give a very brief summary and then expound upon each point throughout the remainder of this post. If enacting a theocracy, it necessitates the reinstatement of Civil Mosaic Law or else it’s no longer grounded in biblical principles. After all, if we’re going to mandate civil government follow the biblical structure as found in the Old Testament theocratic systems, we must also resurrect the biblical pattern for judicial consequences. Any other structure results in “cherry picking” and fails the test of consistency. However, our nation follows a system of Separation of Church and State, which means a theocracy can never be as that makes the two a joint union. While I pray for leaders to be Bible-believing Christians (for obvious reasons), I don’t see it as a requirement for office that they be. The only two offices I feel necessitate that are elder and deacon.

Aside from feeling theonomy within government can’t be done properly, we’ve also never seen a single instance of it actually work, even in all of Scripture. Ultimately, sin gets in the way and leads to a perversion of God’s Law, oftentimes leading to legalism, which is just as bad as antinomianism. It’s impossible for us to live in a pure society that is fully governed by God. The only time we’ll ever see a functioning theonomy is in Heaven, and the only way to truly be a consistent theonomist is to conflate the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. As Christians, we adhere to God’s Moral Law as found in the Ten Commandments. Yet, even these are for His people, of which most of the world is not. Those not in Christ are expected to live like the world. Those in Christ are expected to adhere to the Moral Law. The Civil (and Ceremonial) Law has since been abrogated and, I argue, to adhere to theonomy is to minimize the completed work of Christ. Furthermore, a theocratic government, if implementing theonomy to its fullest extent, would have to punish people for not being Christian, having a different sexual preference, etc. God will indeed judge spiritual rebellion and sexual immorality in His time, but our government shouldn’t assume that role.

When speaking with a theonomist, you’ll undoubtedly be given Scriptural examples of God being over governing rulers. However, what does this actually imply? Does it imply we’re to advocate for a theocracy, or does it simply tell us that God is sovereign? I dare say it’s the latter. Because He has sovereignly placed them in positions of power, we’re to submit to this governing power as unto God. Despite this, it in no way advocates for a theocratic form of government. As stated earlier, every such form of implementation has failed, and there is a good reason for it. Let’s break down a number of examples.
At Creation, we see Adam and Eve before the Lord. They were in direct communion with Him and He was over them. He gave the command and their responsibility was to obey. That’s a prime example of a theocracy how it was meant to be. However, we both know Adam and Eve failed miserably and paid the price that, ultimately, spread to all men in the form of physical and spiritual death. This wasn’t a failure on part of the theocracy but of humanity. Yet, it still failed.

Throughout Scripture, we see more examples. For instance, the Hebrews followed Moses and submitted to the governing structure that was in place. This was another theocracy, as it was leadership appointed by God to lead His people. All moral, ceremonial, and judicial matters were handled by this body. While it was in effect for a time, Scripture reveals that Christ abrogated the Ceremonial and Civil Law, leaving only the Moral Law that is written on the hearts of His own. Thus, we shouldn’t desire to go back to that construct as it’s no longer functional.

When we see kings come on the scene, it was something that immediately angered God. Yet, they wanted one just like the pagan lands. While we see times of prosperity when those kings feared the Lord and used discernment, we also see how they abused the position. Countless forms of sin crept in due to a sinful nature. This was a horribly perverted form of a theocracy that even God Himself warned against. Surely, this shouldn’t be advocated for if even God is against it (1 Samuel 8:7).

Now, let’s skip ahead to the time of Christ and the early Church. While we see examples telling us to submit to the governing rulers because they were placed there by God, nowhere do we see a requirement that they be Christian in order to be legitimate. In fact, we even see evil rulers being regarded as legitimate. While they were indeed placed there by God, in no way was it a theocracy. Nor do we see Christ trying to implement a theocracy. What we do see is Christ setting the foundation for His Church and other New Testament passages telling us how we’re citizens of Heaven (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). If a theocracy was the structure in view here, Christ took zero time to speak of it and actually seemingly spoke contrary to it.

It’s been argued that Jesus was a theonomist, and that He advocated for the system in Matthew 5:17. Does this undo everything I’ve just said and annul anything I’m about to say, or are we just not thinking critically enough yet? First, think about the time period in which Jesus lived. The threefold division of the Law was still in effect. He was still performing His active obedience to the Law. With this in mind, we’d be remiss to ignore the preceding verse where he says he, “did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Again, we can’t “cherry pick” the parts we want just to validate a belief. Keeping in line with the extent of Christ’s vicarious atonement also comes the extent to which, as our federal head, His active obedience fulfilled the Civil and Ceremonial Law. I’ll elaborate on this in a bit.

Where we once again see a theocracy try to rear its ugly head is in the Catholic Church. Within the first few centuries after Christ’s death, the Church was the State and it handled all matters of governing ordinance. It was a true theocracy in every sense of the word. However, it, too, failed miserably due to human nature. It quickly became corrupt, lost sight of God, and sought absolute power, all while claiming the name of Christ. Perhaps even more frightening than the prospect of religion ruling over the people of the State is the thought of the State ruling over the people of the Church. Think it can’t happen? I highly suggest reviewing the history of Theodosius, c.391 A.D. When one conflates Church and State, man’s sinful nature knows no bounds.

Yet again, it was an example of why a theocracy will never work this side of Heaven. The only example of a pure theocracy was in the Garden with God as the direct ruler and even that failed on the part of man. Every other instance was nothing more than a perversion of the theocracy we will see in eternity. And, as I stated above, to implement one on this earth necessitates a restoration of Mosaic Civil Law in order to properly punish the wicked who violate God’s Moral Law.

The greater question becomes one of whether we are to hold the unbeliever accountable for violating God’s Law. Clearly, we have violations and punishments in place for things such as murder, rape, theft, etc. But is it in place because they violate God’s Law or is it in place because they violate the law of the land? I’d argue it’s the latter, because punishment for violating God’s Law will come from God Himself on the Day of Judgment. We still submit to it because we know the rulers are only there by God’s divine appointment, but just as Pharaoh met his demise at the hand of God, so, too, will our ungodly earthly rulers. Again, no instance of a theocracy is necessary nor is it prescribed. We live in a pagan land with pagan rulers. While I would prefer a Christian be in office in order to possibly implement laws that honor God, I also recognize they aren’t obligated to do this. Similarly, if we had a Christian in office, I wouldn’t want the law of the land to be conflated with the standard of the Church. This would only open the door to punishing people simply for not being Christian or for worshiping a false god. Our civil government is not to be conflated with the moral law written on the hearts of those in the Christ.

Chapter 19, Of the Law of God, in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 gives a very concise, yet highly biblical, description of what Christ accomplished in His death, burial, and resurrection in regards to the Law. I highly suggest reading it for yourself. In it, paragraph 1 speaks of a law of universal obedience being written on Adam’s heart. Paragraph 2 goes on to say how this same law, “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments and written on two tables, the first four containing our duty to God and the other six, our duty to man.” Paragraph 3 speaks of the implementation of ceremonial laws and how Christ abrogated these laws (Ephesians 2:15). Paragraph 4 goes on to speak of judiciary (i.e. Civil) laws , “which expired together with the state of the people,” (Acts 6:14) and tells how, though they have a certain practical application in the modern use, we’re under no obligation to follow them. Take note that all of this is written for the Church and not for our civil government. Look no further than 1 Corinthians 5 for an example of how this should play our biblically. Though this man was to be excommunicated, at no point was the recommendation to put him to death (Leviticus 20:10). Such Law that would require it had been fulfilled. In the sense of civil government, it held no role in what would happen to the man. It was a Church matter only.

In conclusion, I hope you can see why, though a beautiful term from the etymological position, theonomy is incredibly dangerous when implemented with an earthly system of government. We have many freedoms in this great nation and I value all of them, even the ones that give people the legal right to worship idols. While sounding liberating, due to its very nature, when taken to its logical and consistent end, it will always result in bondage to man and threatening of liberty. God indeed reigns over the earth and His righteous judgment will one day be executed in the day He withholds His grace and mercy. That day belongs to Him alone and not to any civil magistrates. There will come a day when Christ shall return and we’ll finally see theonomy as God intended. However, unless Christ comes back before sundown, today is not that day.

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