Friday, March 13, 2009

The Devil Made You Do What?

This Sunday, I have the privilege of teaching from James 1:13-18. The title that was assigned to my lesson is "The Devil Made You Do What?" Although culturally iconic, I'm not sure it accurately represents the dilemma represented in the text. To anyone who has ever noodled on the topic of God's sovereignty, the issue that James addresses here could be more aptly stated as, "God made you do what?"

Having just introduced in the previous verses a counter-intuitive approach to trials in which the suffering reader should rejoice that God is producing character in such a way, James now moves on to a very strongly related matter. It's no accident, in fact, that the same word translated as "trial" in verse 2 is also translated "temptation" in verse 13.

In the many character-building experiences we endure through life, we have two options: follow Christ or follow our sinful nature. To react to any situation in a way unworthy of Christ is to sin. So, naturally, if God sends trials, is it God who tempts us to sin? James addresses this misconception head-on: NO!

As many of us logical creatures might desire a well-developed explanation of how this can be so, James instead appeals to a different argument: the character of God. He does not delve into dangerous re-definition of terms or create slithery distinctions of the permissive vs. active will. To James, there is no need. God's character alone answers the question, all that's left is our faith to accept it. Faith, that is, in who God has revealed Himself to be, not in how God has (or hasn't) revealed Himself to perform.

Once we accept God's character as the under-girding principle that answers our question, we're left with one shameful realization: who we are in contrast to His revealed character. The very next verse draws the damning conclusion that temptation does not, in fact, come from God but from our own sinful natures. We men, the ones created pure and yet determined to spoil it, stand inquiring of God, "why did you put me in the situation where I could sin?" when all along the ONLY one in the entire universe that is totally undeserving of any allegations is God Himself.

The fact is, we can't even face good times, let alone trials, without burning with sinful desires. We don't need God's help to find excuses to sin. It's not as though the trials that He brings us in any way deepen the effect of the fall in our lives. No, in all situations we are damned to sin. Praise be to God, the Father of the heavenly lights, who gives us a good and perfect gift in His Son.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love the Sinner by Hating the Sin

This article comes in response to a question posted by anonymous on my open question forum, askscripture.com. Anonymous writes:
"As a born again christian mother, how do I respond to my 24 year old daughter who has announced that she is in a relationship with another female, who is 18 years old? What do I say, what limits if any, do I set? Do I accept this other female into our home and family celebrations? I am overwhelmed with heartache and don't do much but cry. Just before she announced this, she had a boyfriend for 6 1/2 years."

This is indeed a difficult situation to be in for any parent, or any friend of a dearly loved fellow sinner. People do horrible things. We call them mistakes, judgment lapses, learning experiences, etc. God, however, calls it by an altogether less popular word: sin.

Whenever we talk about dealing with the sin of another within the body, and especially within our own nuclear families, it's an important first step to confess and realize that we ourselves are also sinners. That said, the distinguishing factor between our anonymous mother and her daughter is that (presumably) that the mother confesses her sin and is not embracing a lifestyle of sin. Meanwhile the daughter shares no such humility and repentance.

The oft quoted verse by liberals and relativists who despise the concept that one human can rebuke another is Matthew 7:3, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" But remember that I've already mentioned we are looking to the plank in our own. What do confessed sinners do to deal with the specks in their brother's eye. To continue the metaphor: once you finally did remove the plank from your eye, would you then go on pretending as though your brother or sister had no speck in theirs? No. Jesus warned against hypocritical judgment, but He by no means disallowed accountability within the body.

For the dilemma that anonymous finds herself in here I believe the most applicable passage is 1 Corinthians 5:11, which reads, "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral.... With such a man do not even eat."

Oh, but there must be some other way. Surely there must be some more kind, gentle, unoffensive way to deal with a daughter, of all people. We long to see the cuddly image we've developed of our "grandpa in the sky" type of god simply dismissing the sin and saying, "I love you anyway."

The discomfort we feel, however great or little, with this proposed scenario arises within us for one simple reason: far too mild of an attitude toward sin. If we saw sin for what it really is, what God sees it as, then we would revile the thought of sharing a meal even with a child, sibling, or parent who marked themselves proudly and unashamedly with such a repulsive spirit. Sin is death. It should be to us the stench of rotting flesh. Would you dine and be merry with a ripe corpse in the room?

The purpose, of course, of taking on such an attitude and carrying forth the action prescribed is not to elevate ourselves in some manner of self-righteousness. That is the abuse and misuse of such teaching that has led our modern culture to reject the rebuke and even the mere concept that there exists such a thing as sin. But God is not fooled. The purpose and heart behind this course of this action is to love the sinner—as we no doubt realize anonymous loves her daughter—by hating the sin.

I prefer to rephrase the old adage, "Love the sinner but hate the sin," into a more Biblical application of the concept: "Love the sinner by hating the sin." If we do not show our neighbor the speck in his/her eye, how is that loving? If we spare one's potential angst over realizing sin in their life by allowing them to persist believing they are ok, that will prove to be most unloving on the day our Lord returns. As difficult as this action seems in our worldly wisdom, the most loving thing a mother could do for this daughter would be to love her by hating her sin. As a believer, we should hate such outward rebellion to God so much that "with such a man [we would] not even eat."

As an encouraging conclusion to this thought, jump to Paul's second letter to Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 we see the result of this course of action. The sinner repents and Paul instructs the church to forgive him, welcome him home, and celebrate with them. "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him," Paul writes in verse 8. We have here a real example of the church discipline having the desired effect and we are witness to the joy it brings to all involved, not only the sinner but the entire church.

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