Tag Archives: Romans

Reality, Utopia, and Christ

Well, in my last post I mentioned an email that a friend of mine sent out to several people mentioning an article he came across on the movie “Avatar” actually resulting in depression for several viewers.  He asked some good questions: What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?

Well, I have given everyone who comes by to visit my site a few days to respond, and since neither of you did, I’ll go ahead and post my own response to these questions my friend asked…

I have not seen the movie, but I think it is a sad indictment that culturally we have moved so far away from the REALITY of God’s Word that a movie about a virtual world and the possibilities within *that* place, stir us to greater heights and depths of emotion than what is taking place not just here in the *real* world, but also in the heavenly realm which is our real home.  We were not made to be permanent residents of this world, but rather we are warned not to fall in love with this world, not to be dragged away by passions that can only be satisfied by it, and to live here as aliens… as *sojourners*.  This brings us into a conflict that affects all of us–believers and unbelievers alike.  We cannot find our satisfaction here.

I think it is important, though, to remember who we ARE as a result of the Fall.  In the book of Romans, Paul lays it out pretty clearly and we can see this image of man reflected back through everything we see on television and in the movies.  Collectively speaking, this is who we are:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

It is little wonder that someone who is confronting this *reality* (whether it is a result of seeing a movie, reading their Bible, or dealing with the recognition of their own depravity) would become depressed.  It is depressing news.  Any time we begin to really see the impact of man’s fallen nature and the effects of our sin on God’s creation (whether it is our own personal corruption or the collective corruption of mankind), it is overwhelmingly depressing.

For the believer, though, we have a blessed hope.  We are the “called-out” ones.  But paradoxically, we are not called *out* of this world when we hear His voice.  We are called *into* it.  We are given a savage mission: to live IN this world as aliens and strangers, to *suffer*, and to work as unto the Lord.  And He has given us a task: to glorify Him, to be a witness for Him to the ends of the earth.  He has promised us joy in this, but He has also promised us suffering on His behalf.  We will toil, we will suffer, but we will not lose heart.  We have a blessed hope, a Rock, a Refuge, and an eternal home.

For the one without hope in Christ and who wants even a temporary escape, nothing provides like technology.  In fact, I think it is this desire to “escape reality” that has driven most of the major advances in technology over the last hundred or so years, and truth be told it isn’t just unbelievers who are guilty of falling victim to it.  It throws an appealing lure, and it is natural for us to take the bait.

“Real life” is hard.  It demands sacrifice and serving others.  “Real life” does not always work out the way we would like it to.  We are not in control of it.  It includes wayward children, strained marriages, death and disease, addictions and abuse.  It places demands on us we do not always want to meet, requires more from us than we often want to give, and also tends to grant us far less than we would like to have.  It can be painful, difficult, and full of trial.  No wonder, people want to check out and look for some way—ANY way—of escape.  If you look with eyes that can see, most of the way people use technology in their daily life is “escape”… a way of staying distracted (i.e. “entertained”) so that they can forget about “real life” for a while.

Some find their escape in sports, others in movies… or some other visual form of entertainment (TV, game systems, computer games, pornography, etc.). For some, it is cell phones, texting, Facebook, shopping, collecting, or whatever else brings some pleasure for a time.  But it is always and only for a time.  That’s because for the believer and unbeliever alike, there is no real and lasting satisfaction to be had in this world.  The grass withers, and the flower falls… moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.  We were not created to be satisfied in a fallen world tainted by the corruption of sin and death.  For the one who has no real, eternal hope in Christ, they find their “best life now”–finding some small joy in trinkets and distractions, though only for a little while.  BUT GOD

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Don’t run past that last sentence too quickly.  We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (we are a NEW creation in Him) for good works.  We are not saved by good works, but for them.  Now, if this is true, then as I said earlier we are not saved OUT of this world, but INTO it.  We are called to be salt and light, and instruments for His glory.  We are not our own, but have been bought with a price and are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).

And we can find our encouragement and our greatest example in Christ, who did not look for any way of escape, and who would not be distracted from His eternal purpose, but for the JOY set before Him endured the suffering…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

BE OF GOOD COURAGE! Listen one more time to the words of the Apostle Paul.  Do not be depressed or discouraged—be it by a movie or by a man.  The Apostle who suffered countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and death itself for His love of Christ could experience all those things with JOY because His eyes were right.  He wrote to encourage the church in Corinth:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

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Quotes from Coates: Favour and Freedom

I don’t know much about this fellow (C. A. Coates), but I read some of this reflection on Romans and thought this was a good thought worth sharing, especially in light of some of my meditations lately on providence and contentment, worldiness and godliness.  I thought his remarks on a Christian “flavouring” to the contemporary culture we live in (i.e., “the world”, as it is called in the Scriptures) were just as applicable to our American culture today as his own British culture when he wrote this (probably 75 or more years ago).

From C. A. Coates’ “Favour and Freedom”:

If our bodies are to be a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,” it is clear that there must be no working of the will of the flesh. The body must be held as dead towards sin, if it is to be a “living sacrifice” towards God. It must be held now as a holy vessel sanctified by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and dedicated to God absolutely. A sacrifice once presented could not be recalled. It became a “holy” thing which could no more be diverted to common uses. If a man regarded it as common he was cut off from his people. I have no doubt there is a moment when the Christian presents his body as a living sacrifice, and then he is responsible ever to regard it as being devoted to God. It is never more to be animated by the will and lusts of the flesh. It is never to be for self-gratification or vain-glory. It is to be for God.

And this is not to be a mere sentiment awakened by reading a book, or the passing impulse of religious fervour roused by a stirring address; it is the “intelligent service” of the Christian. It is the sober and deliberate action of spiritual intelligence energized by the Holy Spirit.

“And be not conformed to this world.” Let us dwell a moment upon this! This world [age] is in many respects more seductive now than in the days of the apostles. The whole course of things in Christendom, has to some extent, become coloured by Christianity. Certain ideas of propriety affect most people, more or less. This makes it very easy for believers to drop down to the level of things here without coming in contact with any gross form of evil which might affect their consciences. For example, people give a Christian flavouring to politics, or try to do so. But politics certainly belong to this age, and form perhaps one of its most prominent characteristics. There will be no politics, as we understand the term to-day, in the age to come, or in heaven.

Then again, think of religion. We live in a country where Christianity has a public and recognized place as forming part of what is right and proper in this age. No great state ceremonial would be complete apart from the presence of those who are supposed to represent Christianity, and to give its sanction to the proceedings. So that Christianity, instead of being quite apart from the course of this age, is looked upon as its crowning glory. But the Christian is not to be conformed to this age.

Take the ordinary social life of the world. It has its pleasing amiabilities, its many devices to pass smoothly the hours of leisure, its entertaining intelligence of everything that is done under the sun, and, it may be, a pinch of religious flavouring thrown in. But it all belongs to “this world,” to which the Christian is not to be conformed.

“But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The renewing of the mind is that gracious operation of God whereby saints become capable of entering intelligently into the apprehension of things which lie altogether outside this age. The Christian has a new kind of intelligent faculty by which he apprehends things that are outside the sphere of sight and the range of the senses. He becomes intelligent in the actings and ways of God, and familiar with that resurrection world which is the scene of “the wonderful works of God.”

The effect of apprehending these things is that the Christian is transformed; he comes out here in a new way, with new traits and characteristics. He thinks soberly of himself (v 3); he does not mind high things, but goes along with the lowly; he is not wise in his own conceit (v 16); he does not avenge himself, but overcomes evil with good (vv 19-21); he is subject to the powers that be (Rom 13:1-7); he puts on the Lord Jesus Christ, and makes no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof (Rom 13:14); he bears the infirmities of the weak, and does not please himself (Rom 15:1). If we think of what we are naturally, this is indeed a wondrous transformation.

– C. A. Coates

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Cross-eyed the right way

As so often happens, what I intended to be a short reply turned into a rather lengthy ramble and there really wasn’t much I could do to stop it. I read the following review on Amazon by a reviewer who posted a review of John MacArthur’s “Faith Works” (or “The Gospel According to the Apostles”), a companion volume to his excellent “The Gospel According to Jesus”.

This is the review that sparked my lengthy diatribe:

Faith AND Works

May 1, 1998
By A Customer

Welcome back to the times of Jesus and the rulership of the Pharisees! MacArthur continues his marriage of faith and works that he began in “The Gospel According to Jesus.” Legalism is in, Grace is out. This book flies in the face of Romans 11:6, and totally obliterates the Pauline dichotomy between faith and works. How many “Faith Works” must be shown to Pharisee MacArthur before he will judge one’s conversion as true? If you are looking for that answer, it is not found here.

And this is my lengthy diatribe

The one-star reviewer below could not be more mistaken. John MacArthur does not add legalism to grace as a requirement for salvation. He does, however, combat the popular notion that one simply has to say a “sinner’s prayer” to be saved. If all you do is say a sinner’s prayer and attend a church that has a “practical” message every week, you may well think that you are saved simply because one time you said, “Lord, Lord” but you can say “Lord, Lord” all the way to Hell and that IS in the Bible. (Read Matthew 7).

The sad and simple truth is that in our selfish society with our microwave mentality (I want it fresh, I want it hot, I want it now, and I don’t want to wait or work for it), easy-believism is the great apostasy of the modern church. Oh, sure, there are plenty of other heresies and apostasies running rampant, but the wide gate that is ushering the most people into the pit in our day and age is the one whose sign reads “cheap grace”. An unrepentant and unregenerate soul may “claim the Name”, but the truth of the matter is that if the old man does not die, there is no “new creation”. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The Apostle Paul never said that mere obedience to the law could ever say anyone. He argued irrefutably that any who sought their salvation in the law were damned. (See Romans 1-16. And the rest of his epistles). However, I can not find in any epistle the Apostle Paul ever wrote that gives any indication that someone who continues in sin after being called by Christ is destined for salvation. Nor in Peter’s, nor in John’s or James’, and certainly not in Jesus own words. And the evidence of grace in those great mens’ lives were the works that were accomplished through “bondservice” to THE LORD.

If you really read the four gospels and compare what Jesus actually said and taught about Himself, you would see that John MacArthur does not twist or distort anything. In fact, I don’t think that someone coming to the gospels for the first time and actually reading them for themselves–without any preconceptions or preconditioned ideas–would find anything there that seems to suggest that all one has to do is call on the Name of Jesus to be saved. True believers experience a changed life.

Jesus said that by their fruit you would know them, and that a bad tree does not produce good fruit; nor a good tree, bad fruit. James, the Lord’s brother said that faith without works was dead, just the same as works without faith is dead. The problem is that some modern teachers want to separate works and faith (and grace) as if they could be approached independent of one another. However, I dare say that those three things are no more separable than the three persons of The Trinity! While it would seem absolutely ludicrous for most Christians to invalidate any one or combination of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there are yet many who seem to think that faith, works, and grace can be separated and dealt with distinctly as concerns salvation. THIS IS ERROR. In the same way, trying to make two distinct offices out of our High Priest (that is, that He can be your Savior without being Lord of your life) is just as preposterous. THAT is unbiblical, and it is good that there are expositors who love the Word of God enough to teach the truth. Though many of today’s shepherds may blindly lead the blind down the wide road to destruction, John MacArthur is not one of them.

Think of the parable of the seed, and of the wheat and tares from Matthew 13. Or even the prodigal son. In that story, the son repents and turns away from the old self. Would the father in that story have held his prodigal son in such high regard had he only come back home for more money to carry on drinking, gambling, and pursuing a sinful, selfish life? Some will probably argue yes, but that is not the parable that Jesus told. The son in the story Jesus spoke of was truly repentant, and that was the key to the forgiveness of the father.

However, the best suggestion that I have is not to just read this book by John MacArthur to see whether or not you want to believe the things it says, but rather read THE BOOK, that is the Word of God. Read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and see what Jesus Himself says. Read the epistles to the early churches, and contemplate the exhortations therein. Was anyone told to stop doing good because it threatened their salvation? Ridiculous! But time and time again, we see the exhortation to stop doing evil, to put sin and the power of the devil behind, to worship God, and to die to oneself daily. And those who taught incorrect doctrine, or who lived sinful lives, they were PUT OUT of the church because they were harmful to her. Oh, that more congregations were willing to purge the cancerous members of the body in this day and age, but for far too many “shepherds” what matter is not the health of their stock, but the size of the flock.

In any event, if you care to truly follow Christ and you call Him Lord and desire Him to be the one in control of your sinful, meaningless life, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book as well as The Gospel According to Jesus (and anything by James Boice) to start building the walls of your faith on a solid foundation.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, lest you be thrown into the fire. Romans 10:16-17 says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ”

Peace & Blessings

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