Got a Secret?

There’s nothing esoteric about the Christian faith. There is no secret mystery into which you must become initiated in order to be admitted. It’s not like the Gnostic sects where one had to become an initiate for years before he became a full member. Jesus spoke to this issue plainly when He said,

I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, or in the temple court, where all the Jews assemble, and I didn’t teach anything secretly.
John 18:19

Christianity isn’t Masonry, or Mormonism, where you take vows “never to reveal and always to conceal” rituals that you are required to perform in a Lodge meeting or in a “temple” ceremony. It has always been completely aboveboard about its beliefs and practices.

Indeed, as Jesus said, He always spoke “openly.”

If an organization—or pseudo church—has anything worthwhile to offer, let it be open to examination. How can anyone vow to never reveal something before he knows what it is? That is one form of what the Bible calls a rash vow. It is sinful to rake a vow that one doesn’t know whether or not he ought to keep before he knows what it is he is vowing to keep secret. Suppose, after taking a vow, one were to realize that he must expose the error or sinfulness of what he learns—he’d then find himself in an intolerable position. On the one hand, he’d be obligated to expose it; on the other hand he would have vowed not to do so. That is an unacceptable dilemma, one into which one must never allow himself to be inveigled.

One more thought—if a group of any sort has something worthwhile becoming a part of, it has no right to conceal it from anyone; but like our Lord said, it is something that should be proclaimed “openly to the world.” If it’s worthwhile, spread it abroad; why would you selfishly cling to it as private truth? If it’s not something worthwhile, then don’t get into it in the first place.

On every score, then, no Christian should ever become involved in a secret society. A fundamental principle of our faith is to preach the message of salvation to all the world. We have nothing to hide.

Assurance

The book of 1 John was written to give assurance to true believers (1 John 5:33). What does it tell you is the way to know that you are saved?  There are many statements in the book which answer that question. Although each of these may put it differently, 1 John 2:29 is as clear and concise as any of them:

Since you know that He is righteous, you may know also that whoever is doing righteousness has been born of Him.

Assurance comes from a change in one’s life that John says is a birth which God brings about: “whoever is born of Him.”

This new life is the result, John says, of what we call “regeneration” (being given spiritual life that enables one to believe the Gospel). To be born of God also enables him to live differently—to live righteously. Apart from this spiritual birth one is unable to do those righteous things that God approves: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 5:5). To be “in the flesh” means to have only the natural, sinful life with which you were born—to be unregenerate (that is, to be without the newness of life that comes only with being born of God). So, those who do righteousness may know that they have been born from above.

The interesting phrase that is central in the verse is “doing righteousness.” When one sees the fruit of the Holy Spirit (righteousness), Who regenerates, begin to appear in his life, he may know that the change has taken place—that he is a child of God? Notice, it is not when he feels something different, but when he does things differently, that he may have assurance of his salvation.

How can one know what these righteous acts are? By studying the Bible.  There alone is the standard of righteousness.

Friend, do you do righteous things—those that God says please him? If your life has been changed so that more and more it conforms to that standard, you have reason to believe you are saved.

feedback@nouthetic.org

Do You Rob Temples?

In taking on the inconsistencies of Jews who claimed to be God’s people, but who had actually broken covenant with Him, Paul asks this question:

You who find idols an abomination, do you rob temples?   Romans 2:21

“I’ve read that before, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. What is this ‘robbing temples’ all about anyway?”

Good question. Are you sure you don’t understand?

“Absolutely. I know what a temple is and what robbing is, but can’t seem to put the two together.”

Well, Paul is pointing out that those who were so concerned to be religiously correct in one area—if they thought more carefully about themselves—might discover that they weren’t so righteous after all, and needed the saving grace of Jesus Christ to cover their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. In Romans 1 he laid out the reasons why Gentiles were sinful in God’s sight and needed to be saved. Here, he mentions ways in which the same is true of Jews. And, then, in Chapter Three concludes that “all [Jews and Gentiles alike] have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“All very helpful, I’m sure. Thanks for the exposition. But what about robbing temples?”

Oh I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Sorry.

“You did. So ‘mention’ it!”

OK, OK. You see, temples—both those in heathen lands, and also the temple at Jerusalem, in addition to being the center of worship for a people, served additional purposes. In addition . . . “

“In addition, what?—tell me please!”

My, my. Patience, please. As I was saying, in addition, temples were used as banks. To rob a temple is to be a bank robber!

“At last. Thank you.”

Welcome. One can be all fired up about one aspect of what his religion teaches, and scrupulously keep all sorts of regulations appertaining thereto, but at the same time, perform some other heinous sin without compunction. Presumably, Paul had in mind some well-known instances to which he hoped his readers would respond.

“Don’t expect there are any temple robbers around today.”

Possibly are in some of the heathen lands where temples surely still exist, but we’d probably never hear about it. Yet, the principle is still applicable—even to Christians.

“How’s that?”

Well, it’s easy to be quite careful about certain observances while neglecting some (perhaps, even weightier) items.

“Give me a for-instance.”

During the early days of the Reformation, there were Lutherans who zealously contended for the bodily presence of Jesus at the Lord’s table. Over this issue, they followed Luther’s lead when he refused to take Zwingli’s offered hand. So, later, when some persecuted Reformed people fleeing for their lives during severe storms sought a haven for their ships in the ports of the towns held by high Lutherans, they turned them down. Seems a good example of this sort of inconsistency.

“I agree.”

But, now, the thing to do is to bring temple robbery from the days of the apostles, and the Reformation rigidity of some, down to our day. The question is, How do you carry out your biblical beliefs in ways that are consistent with other aspects of your Christian life? The question is important for us all to ask ourselves from time to time.

“Any suggestions? About what to explore?”

No. you’ll have to look after your own temples—I have enough of my own to care for!

Providence

What is providence, and of what importance is it to counselors? That’s the matter before us.

There are few other doctrines which are more important to the work of counseling. A tragic event in a believer’s life occurs. How will you help him handle it? In large measure by explaining the biblical doctrine of providence.

“Could you explicate?”

Certainly. Christians are not Deists. Deists believe that God made the world and then walked away from it to allow it to function on its own. We believe, in contrast, that God had a plan for everything and everyone, and then stayed around to see that the plan is carried out. That is to say, God is at work in His world today.

“But how does that affect counseling, tragic events, and the like?”

This way: God is always up to something in everything that happens. He planned His work, and He is now working His plan. When something takes place that calls attention to itself—one ought to ask, “I wonder what God is up to?”

“Is He up to something only in tragic or otherwise noteworthy events?”

No. God is at work in everything that happens. But it’s often in noteworthy events that people begin to ask questions about where God is and whether or not things are out of His control (take a look at the Psalms, for instance).

“OK. But what should the fact of His providential working mean to us?”

Simply this—God is not only up to something’ He’s up to something good!

“How do you know that?”

He told us so.

All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

That truth is the believer’s warrant for saying that

  1. God is in his problem
  2. God is at work in his problem
  3. God is up to something good in his problem.

It’s great that Christian counselors have such a wonderful promise to bring to the counseling table!

“Is it possible to find out what God’s up to?”

Generally, yes; specifically, not always; comprehensibly, never.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. We know that it’s something to help us grow when we handle the event His way. In Romans 8: 29, He makes it clear that such things are sent to make us more like Christ. We can know that generally. Specifically—exactly how this is so—may or may not be apparent immediately (or perhaps ever—until eternity). Finally, because all that happens in one event affects so many others, we’ll never know comprehensively all God is doing. All things works together to accomplish many things. In God’s providence, what happened to Joseph affected not only him, but the entire nation of Israel (and Egypt, for that matter).

“So, you are able, then, to bring the truth of God’s providence—that He is up to something (working out His infinitely good plan) for good—to reassure believers who are in trouble.”

You’ve got it!

Refreshment

I want to translate more accurately a very important passage of Scripture. It is the verse in Matthew 11:28 which reads, in the original.

Come to Me all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.

The idea is not merely to come to Christ to find rest from our futile efforts to keep the law, although rest does result when one stops striving to be saved by works and, instead, is justified by faith alone. But the idea is not that of settling down, and resting on one’s laurels. Rather, it is enjoying the refreshing peace and joy that enable one to serve Christ in the future.

Jesus goes on to say that “you will receive refreshment for your souls” (v. 29). This refreshment enables one to carry on, unburdened by an impossible weight, so as to serve Him Whose burden is light, and Whose yoke—the symbol of work and service—is easy to wear. It does not rub and injure those who wear it (v. 30).

To take another’s yoke upon one’s self meant to come under his teaching (that’s why Jesus says, “learn from Me.”). The passage is, therefore, a call, not to leisure, but to discipleship. The call is strong. The interesting word “Come” in v. 28 was normally accompanied by a gesture. One moved his finger when speaking it so as to indicate that he wanted another to come over to him.

Christ’s service is a pleasure to those who truly “learn from Him. That is the secret of joyous discipleship. Too often, fatigued disciples have been learning from every other source than their Lord. The answer to exhausted efforts in the Lord’s field is to return to, and imbibe the refreshing words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, service will be “easy” and “light.”

Well Why Not?

That’s the attitude of many (even believing Christian) persons today.

The answer is simple: God says “no.”

But that’s exactly the point—the answer (and that one in particular) IS too simple to suit the thinking of many. They want something more intricate: perhaps a complex logical rationale spelled out in $1500 terms.  Or a psychological mesh woven into their particular background and style of living. It’s not enough for God to forbid something. “That’s beneath me!” they say.

But the Word of the Word, though profound, is simple. It had to be so that the uneducated child living in squalor, filth and corruption in a back alley could understand, believe, and be saved just as the over-educated scholar with a post-doctoral degree could.

Christian, you are living in an era in which the culture (though it’s hard to use the word in this respect) has dropped to the lowest level available in our time as it has adopted the ways, speech, values and mores of those alleys.

It’s interesting that those who tout their superiority in learning, etc, are the very ones who promote lascivious behavior and language. One cannot use the computer or cell phone without  a measure of embarrassment. So -called celebs seem to revel in such corruption.

How strange the answer to the question is: the same people who believe themselves to be high class seem to revel in lowering themselves! They are too “sophisticated” to listen to and reject God’s simple directions and warnings, but not so when it comes to wallowing in ethical and sexual dirt and slime!

The answer to the question in the heading is “No.”  Yes! Can we endure a simple “nos” any longer? We’d better learn to do so or we will soon learn what God’s response to failure to do so means.

Equivocation

I’d like to say a little more about equivocal language. It was interesting when in graduate school, I had to read some of Tillich’s writings. As you know, Tillich was nothing more than an atheist hiding under an ecclesiastical garb. His definition of God: “the ground of our being.”

In one class I was forced to read his massive two-volume theology. It was torture wading through pages of intricately convoluted thinking, paradox, and reams of equivocal language. It was written in a style that was nothing short of planned obfuscation. By many, therefore, it was thought profound! Their unspoken (also unthought-of?) presupposition being that whatever is obtuse is, therefore, profound.

Coincidentally during the same semester, in a preaching class, I was required to study Tillich’s sermons. So, I was able to compare and contrast the one with the other. I found the sermons lucid, as clear as the water on which you ride in a glass-bottomed boat in Florida. It is so clear that you can see fish swimming many feet below, who look as though they were close enough to grasp with your hand. There wasn’t anything in the sermons that I found difficult to understand (That’s one reason why I can confidently assert he was an atheist).

Now, I have one question to ask: Why did he write so differently in one place from the way he did in the other? He was capable of doing both.

I cannot read his heart, of course. But I may venture a thought or two about why a person might do such a thing. In one context he might want to be understood; in the other he might not want to be. Why would a person not want to be understood? Because he might not want people to know what he really believes. Also, because obscurity is often kin to supposed profundity. And, because an academic atmosphere in which obfuscation and equivocation is the style of the day almost demands such writing.

Christians ought not give in to such pressures that prohibit clarity and simplicity of writing on the basis that people maintain if plain, it must be puerile. We ought to write clearly, but trenchantly, since we have something to say that is authentically profound. It is, therefore, incumbent upon Christians to set a new standard for writing that is consistent with the simple, inspired writings of the apostles. In doing so, we may not always be considered worth reading by those academics who live and write by the standards of the time, but the common people will hear us gladly.

The Issue and the Relationship

Most counseling cases involve more than one person. There are exceptions, of course. But they are few and far between. Even when it appears that but one individual is involved, upon further investigation, you will frequently discover that there is a mother or father, a relative or friend—or someone else—who plays an important role in the counseling problem you are considering. Because of this, it is important to understand the basic dynamic that underlies many of the interpersonal difficulties that you will encounter.

I have titled this posting “The Issue and the Relationship” because it sets forth the two essential factors that you will always have to consider when counseling more than one person. More often than not you will find that the husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and neighbor, church member and church member, will present the principal problem in terms of the issue: “He wants to buy a boat when he knows that we simply can’t afford it!,” “He cheated me in a business deal,” This kid is incorrigible—she drinks, does drugs and plays around with any stud who comes along.”

The issue is always intriguing and tempts a counselor to focus on it at the outset. Usually, it is clearer than the relationship, so it protrudes in the initial description of things. And yet, you will learn that until you have dealt satisfactorily with the relationship, you will not be able to help counselees solve issue problems. In addition to the tempting nature of issue problems, counselees will often pressure you to handle them, sometimes protesting if you turn first to the relationship. In such circumstances, it will be necessary to explain why you are doing so (“You two are in no shape to consider the issue”). I want to suggest, therefore, that in most instances it is fatal to attempt to solve issue problems until relationship problems have been satisfactorily cleared up.

“How is that? I’m not sure that I fully get your point. If the husband and wife mentioned above would only come to a conclusion about the boat, the matter would be ended, wouldn’t it?”

Probably not. You see, one or the other—or possibly both—would go away from dealing with the issue with sore feelings toward his spouse. That is, if they could even discuss the issue civilly! Their problem has grown to the point that they have come for counseling—evidentially, they failed to solve it on their own. Here is the fundamental problem: most of the time until you have dealt with the relationship, no matter how simple the solution to the problem may be, the parties involved will not handle the issue sensibly (let alone biblically). Once I counseled a couple who, among other things, were fighting over the way each left the toothpaste tube after using it. One squeezed it in the middle (I think that was the husband) and the other left the cap off (I think that was the wife). Now, you would suspect that so simple a problem could be easily dispensed with. But, Oh no! Not on your life!

“Wait a minute, that’s an easy one to figure out. All they had to do is buy two tubes, and after the first use you’d know whose tube is whose.”

Very astute! Indeed, in the end, that’s exactly the way that we solved it. But it didn’t happen as readily as you might suppose. You see, they were in no mood to think rationally. Whenever she went into the bathroom and saw the squashed tube, she said to herself, “That man’s been at it again!” Whenever, he saw the cap removed and found toothpaste hardened at the end of the tube, he thought “Ugh! She doesn’t even care enough for me to put the cap back on. She knows I can’t stand it that way!”

Now, surely, you will notice that the problem wasn’t the tube. Both husband and wife were sharp enough to figure out the very solution that you suggested on their own. But if they did so, they probably wouldn’t have needed counseling. The problem wasn’t the toothpaste tube—as I said—it was a marriage so badly on the rocks that the tube had become a symbol of the other interpersonal problems that they had. And, until I was able to bring them into a proper biblical relationship with one another, they wouldn’t even try to seriously deal with the toothpaste tube issue. Having done so, at length, toothpaste tubes were no longer a symbol of larger problems between them, but symbols of those problems—solved.

So, don’t be misled into thinking that if you deal with the issue you will have helped your counselee. Ordinarily, you will soon discover that you can only deal with it after the relationship has been righted biblically, by repentance before God and reconciliation with one another. Always ask yourself, “What in the relationship has become a complicating factor?” What is keeping them from solving the issue? In response, you will find yourself confronting sinful attitudes that need changing, instructing counselees in ways of speaking to one another that honor God, unearthing long-standing grudges, clearing up misunderstandings that have led to bitterness, and so on. When these have been eliminated and proper biblical ways of relating have been learned (usually over a number of weeks), then all sorts of issues will dissolve as if they had never existed. That is not to say that some may not remain. But when they do, it will be two persons bent on pleasing God who will be resolving them; not two who are hostile, and who, in their self-centeredness, have been ignoring God. So, I urge you to think of each situation in terms of issues and relationships, and you will rarely go wrong.

feedback@nouthetic.org

Choosing Friends

Here is a word of wisdom for you:

Stay away from a foolish man; you will gain no knowledge from his speech.     Proverbs 14:7  (CSB)

One of the issues you should consider in choosing friends is what sort of truth you will gain from the choice. It may seem wise to befriend a foolish person for various other reasons (his wealth, his notoriety, etc., etc.) but here is one of the most important criteria to consider in making the choice: what will be his influence upon you?

His speech, the proverb infers, will influence you—but if he is a fool (by God’s standards) what you learn from him will not be “knowledge.”  That is to say, knowledge of what it is important, good and uplifting.  He will not be a source that you can trust to enhance your love and knowledge of God!

Check out your friends, and evaluate them according to this biblical injunction.  How do they fare? What are you learning from your associations with them?

“I’m not being influenced wrongly by them,” you say. Wrong!

All associations are influential: You either influence another or are influenced by him. If you are unaware of his influence—either positive or negative—it is probably of the latter sort.  Do some checking: has your friend led you closer to God’s holiness or away from it?  Are you more enlightened about His will because of his friendship—or not? It may be one of the most important questions you have to consider.  Failure to do so almost surely will end up badly.

 

For Whom Was It Written

Andrew W. Blackwood told us in class that, in his day, Calvin was known as much (if not more) for his sermons as for his theological writings.  His sermons were translated and sent all over the world. Unfortunately, most of them are lost. But from those that have survived a later generation that failed to appreciate him, we can learn one striking fact: Calvin preached contemporary sermons.

No, I don’t mean that he took up subjects of his day—surely he did so, as he exposed the errors of Romanism—but that isn’t what I mean. Rather, as you can see, from the very first sermon on Galatians where he declares his views on the subject, he intended to preach the Bible as though it were written for his congregation. I say written for, not written to. Of course, he was perfectly aware of the fact that it was an epistle to the Galatians, not to St. Peter’s church in Switzerland!

Well, then, what did he mean?  He meant that it was the Spirit’s intention from the outset to write through human authors to the church in all ages. Therefore, he argued, it should so be preached. That he believed enough to practice what he set forth is clearly seen in all of his extant sermons. He constantly spoke to his people as if the text were written to them. To hear him say, “Paul says to you . . .” gives you the idea.

This emphasis would go a long way toward combating the austere, cold, formalism of those who have learned to “academicize” preaching to three abstract points and a poem! How much richer, when the congregation hears the Scriptures preached as letters and books written for their edification!  Think about this. Read Calvin’s sermons and see for yourself what I am talking about. I am purposely not quoting a line or two from them, though originally that had been my intention.  Instead, I want you to enjoy the rich, contemporaneity of the sermons for yourself. You won’t be sorry.