Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Godly Torments His Soul Over Ungodliness

“For as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard…” (2 Peter 2:8, ESV)

The verse above is actually just a side comment of Peter in establishing his point that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (v. 9), Lot being an example who is under trial because he “was greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” (v.7) The whole story of deliverance is found in Genesis 19. We shall first review it briefly.

Lot was Abraham’s nephew. Together with his uncle (and his aunt Sarah) they obeyed God when Abraham was commanded to depart from Haran to Canaan (Gen.  12). There came a point when Abraham and Lot’s herdsmen were quarrelling so they decided to separate from each other (Gen. 13). Abraham settled in Canaan and Lot dwelt at Sodom (13:12). Few chapters after that we see what kind of people the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were. In the 18th chapter God announced to Abraham his plan to confirm and destroy their wickedness, saying, “…the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave…” (18:20) In the next chapter we see God’s two angels in human form visiting at Lot’s house (19:1-3). Then all the men (“both young and old, all the people to the last man”, v.4) surrounded the house, wanting to rape the angels so determinedly (v.5ff). So God through the two angels saved Lot and his two daughters (vv. 15-23), then, destroyed the whole Sodom and Gomorrah with “sulfur and fire… out of heaven.” (v.24)

Now, Lot’s situation before the punitive destruction was revealed by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Lot, while dwelling among the Sodomites and Gomorrah, was said to be “tormenting his righteous soul day after day over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Pet.2:8). And this is where he got his great distress (v.7). The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are satisfying their lustful passions daily. Day after day Lot was seeing and hearing his neighbors talking about and doing sexual immorality and perversity without any human authority’s restraint. It was the normal practice of the society. And their immorality is probably worse than other pagan nations.

Every Christian will agree that being put in the same circumstance was indeed so grief-striking, and even so appalling. But why did Peter mention about it in his epistle? Were there homosexual maniacs by his time too? The context says no. What was there and what will be there were “false prophets” and “false teachers” from among the church herself (v.1) who will “follow their sensuality” (v.2), against whom he warned them not to be “carried away with the error of lawless people and lose [their] own stability.” (3:17) Peter drew out the story of Lot’s deliverance as an example of why the church should trust that God will rescue them from these false teachers’ schemes. He even seems to push the similarity of their grievous situation in 2:20. That is, just as Lot among the Sodomites was so also Christians live among false teachers day after day, tormenting their righteous soul over the false teachers’ lawless deeds that they see and hear. In both cases, the same principle applies: godly persons feel great distress over all forms of ungodliness: heresies or unrighteous deeds. And they feel that day after day, as long as the sin stays. This is not a new concept. Isaac felt it towards Esau’s wives. David testified of it many times. (Psa. 6:7; 31:9ff, etc.) Jeremiah, who is known as the weeping prophet, is perhaps the greatest example (Jer. 8:18). The apostles, Paul and Christ Himself will likewise confirm the same principle. (Lk. 21:12; Jn. 15:20; 1 Pet. 4:13; Rom. 8:36; etc.) And this principle must be applied in many scenarios of Christians’ lives today.

In democratic countries like the Philippines, where religious freedom is exercised, Christian denominations – Catholic, Evangelical, or cultic - are too numerous. And although Evangelicals do not (and ought not to) force anyone to believe the gospel, many have become so indifferently tolerant of the present diversity as if we are not in a spiritual warfare. On the other hand, some intellectuals just make fun of the cults, having neither sincere sorrow over their error nor desire to win them to Christ. I have observed this in campus ministries and in online Christian forums.

Likewise, among evangelical churches, members (even clergies) are becoming more interested and conversant about each other’s opinions and experiences than what the Bible teaches. And in Bible studies, the context is less cherished than one’s personal interpretation. You can quickly see that in their small groups’ topics, in the books they read and in the songs they sing. One can rightly observe that churches are following the trend of postmodernism. Opinions and experiences are valued over truth and doctrines. Toleration is preferred over faithfulness.

As I write this I can’t help myself from thinking of my own church. Few hours from now it will be conducting a concert where secular songs will be sung, aiming for the construction of a new church building. I can boldly say they are destroying the church for the sake of a mere church building! But you might be thinking that I’m just being too dogmatic. And that our church council maybe had carefully evaluated the message of the secular songs as to whether it could be adapted for spirituality without betrayal to the soundness of any doctrine. Well, nobody dared to do so. It saddens me even more that they are willing to tolerate the gospel-offensive message of the song “Greatest Love of All”! Compromise - which they don’t recognize that it is - is being welcomed so long as the building will be finished. O may reformation come indeed upon this pitiful church! I do long and labor to see that day.

Now, since all these ungodliness, unrighteousness and immaturity exist for several years, should Christians get used to them? Should we be indifferent toward them? Applying the aforementioned principle, we should say NO. True believers can never get used to sin! They won’t tolerate it in others just as they won’t tolerate it in themselves. No close eyes, no deaf ears. They, like watchdogs, will be guarding, barking and biting day after day for the glory of their holy, holy, holy God.

Having zeal against ungodliness, should we burn then the cultic churches? Destroy forcibly all idols in all houses of Roman Catholics? Never mingle with homosexuals? Legalize Christianity as the sole religion accepted in our country? Compel others to live according to our standards? I believe the answer is “no” to all those questions but I have to admit that they require serious explanation which is beyond the scope of this post. I shall however provide some biblical guidelines for the cultivation and application of godly grief or sorrow over ungodliness.

1.  Do not neglect ungodliness but do expect it.  As a kind of trial, Christians should not be surprised with the rising of many evils while we live in this world. That is true. (1 Pet.  4:12 cf. 2 Pet. 2:9) They also should not neglect its evilness to the point of becoming indifferent. If they don’t expect people’s ungodliness as trials, they may be having a wrong view of Christianity. If they do neglect it, they are not practicing Christianity. Christianity is a war. Christians are Christ’s soldiers. And we should expect but never neglect the attacks of the enemies. In addition, we should not only expect trials in the form ungodly persons but also to rejoice in it. (1 Peter 4:12-14) I’m not saying that we should rejoice in the ungodliness (that would contradict what I previously said) but that we should rejoice in the trial in view of sharing “Christ’s sufferings”. Nonetheless, our joy in spite of ungodly people is found in God just as our grief over ungodly people is from God. Therefore, while we joyfully entrust God our distress over expected ungodliness, we should not grow weary in fighting it.


2. Fight it in God’s way. If we ever desire to promote godliness and, out of godly distress, fight against ungodliness we should fight according to God’s rules (even according to God’s intention, 2 Cor. 10:31). So we should make sure that our reproof or correction is based on the word of God. (2 Tim. 3:16) Zeal must always be guided by knowledge. (see Rom. 10:2) So we should make sure that both our convictions and our actions are scripture-based. God’s word is powerful. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12) If we truthfully stand to defend the truth of God by the truth, we shall later find the truth of God defending itself by us. It is important to note that all the questions I have raised before should be answered through the word of God. It is only through this that we can rightly claim that our fight is for godliness and against ungodliness. And not only will it be our weapon in the fight, it shall also be our source of strength. (Psa. 119:28)


3. Do not exclude your flesh in the fight. Paul indeed talked about “distress” primarily from unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:26; Rom. 8:35) but he also noted that we have an enemy within us (see Rom. 7; Gal. 5:16-17) so we should discipline ourselves too lest we be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:27) Even Jesus taught the need for self-examination before judging others. (Mt. 7:3) To exclude ourselves in our fight against ungodliness is Pharisaic hypocrisy. (see Mt. 23:23-28)


4. Do not love pain itself. Enjoy the things God provided for you to enjoy. (1 Tim. 4:4) To keep oneself from legitimates joy (like intentional fasting) out of godly convictions is one thing and to keep oneself from these joy out of belief that they’re unlawful is another. God has provided foods, marriage and other enjoyable, lawful blessings for us to enjoy. I don’t think God became angry at Lot when he continues to eat his daily bread and enjoy the company of his wife while being surrounded by ungodly neighbors. The point I’m making is not to prefer sorrow over happiness. God is not sadistic. We are not commanded to be masochist. The point is that God is the only all-satisfying Treasure. So we glorify Him whether in joy or in pain.

5. Do not lose heart. (2 Cor. 4:16 cf. vv. 4-12) Finally, we should not be discouraged when ungodly people surround us – in the society or in the church. Grieve. Mourn. Be distressed. Torment your righteous soul. But never be disheartened to the point of giving up the fight or giving in to their ungodly passions. Hope in God and call upon His name. (see 2 Sam. 22:7) Remember His past mercies. Delight in His present blessings. Hope in His promises. Never forget that "for those who love God all things work together for good." (Rom. 8:28)

With these five points, and others which I may have failed to include, Christians can glorify God with their distress over ungodliness. May we indeed never grow weary in tormenting our souls over ungodly thoughts, words or actions day after day until Christ appears to make all things perfect, vindicate all godly persons and punish all ungodly ones. And may we have the desire to be grieved when the “Blessed forever” is offended by any sin proceeding from anything.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why 'Watchdog of God'?

Despite the fact that the Bible makes no mention about a Christian being a dog (in fact, in 2 Peter 2:22 it refers to false teachers!), there are certain characteristics of a watchdog that I would like myself to be associated with.

My Shepherd’s Advocate
 
I am simultaneously a sheep and a watchdog. I am a sheep because I also once wandered astray and was sought by Christ my Shepherd, because He laid down His life for me, because I don’t follow strangers, and because He leads me with His loving rod.1 On the other hand, I am a watchdog because I am my Shepherd’s advocate, seeking nothing but intimacy with him, desiring nothing but his pleasure, wanting nothing but to bravely defend my Triune God and His cause from anyone who belittles Him or anything that diminishes his perfect glory. I am His servant, His advocate, His watchdog. I love borrowing these words of the great reformer and theologian John Calvin, “A dog barks when it sees that its master is being attacked. I would be a real coward if I saw God’s truth being attacked and remained quiet without making a sound.”2

As Dumb as a Dog

As a watchdog I am intimate with my Shepherd but never will I be arrogant to say that I completely know my Master. In view of God’s transcendence3, I am as dumb as a dog! I do pursue knowing Him deeper. I promote communion with Him in His Word, prayer and assiduous meditation. Yet I am just a finite, sinful (but redeemed) being trying to understand the infinite, sovereign, self-sufficient Being who created the whole cosmic universe with all its immensity and complexity. Therefore, after every theological pursuit, I can only exclaim with Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”4 and like the disabled Mephibosheth to king David, I can also say to God: "What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”5

A Guardian of the Sheep

Nevertheless, this transcendent God has given me a new heart and has made me like a docile canine. That’s why I love the church of God!6 I do my best to be a guardian of the sheep, keeping them from going astray and from being touched by the enemies7. And I will do it as long as I live. Semper Reformanda8 is the principle, always promoting reformation by the word because Christian life and church life are constant conformity to the image of the Son9. Let me clarify that I am not alone here. All genuine sheep are watchdogs. And all true woollies bark just all spiritual watchdogs bleat. They have great zeal for the purity of the church because they know that she is the Bride of the Holy One10. Hence, they are watchful and courageous. And, if they should, they are ready to bark even if they would be chased away.

Barking at Wolves and the Roaring Lion

Admittedly, I may not only be barking at sheep wandering off. I may also be barking at wolves (false teachers) and the roaring lion that is ready to devour (Satan)11. They are stronger than I in craftiness and power. So to bark is to risk. But my Shepherd makes no risk because He is Omniscient. Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.12 Therefore, I am unafraid to bark. For nothing can separate a lover of Christ from the love of Christ. In fact, all things work together for his good.13 So to bark at all costs because of my love for this great God is a joyful privilege14, not a burden.


To Guard, Bark, Bite for the Glory of God


And, actually, this blog is designed specifically for that. One may call this just a religious jargon. I call this my spiritual warcry! That means that I believe there’s no middle ground. It’s only either you’re a pro-Shepherd or an anti-Shepherd. Either you’re in the pasture or not. Either you’re a watchdog like me or a non-watchdog (that is, a goat or a wolf). And please make no mistake of my intention in saying that I am a watchdog of God. I am a mere watchdog! The one deserving of any praise in this blog is the very Treasure I desire to guard, the One who is supreme in all things – God alone. My single desire is to guard, bark, bite and even crunch for the glory of God. May my barks indeed please him, not dishonor him. And may every woolly watchdog like me never be silent!

***ROARING***

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Notes:
1. See Psalm 23 and John 10:7-18.
2. As cited by Herman Selderhuis in his biographical book John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, p.31.
3. God’s transcendence refers to His being uniquely above and beyond the being of the world. (see Isaiah 40:25; 55:8,9)
4. Romans 11:33-34.
5. 2 Samuel 9:8.
6. I refer to the universal church throughout the world, composed of all authentic believers.
7. As all elders are instructed to guard the flock (1 Peter 5:2) and all Christians to be watchful (1 Peter 5:8; 1 Corinthians 16:13).
8. Latin for “always reforming”, used by some Protestant Reformers.
9. See Romans 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18.
10. See Ephesians 5:23-27; Revelation 19:7, 8.
11. Matthew 7:15 and 1 Peter 5:8.
12. Revelation 5:5; 1 Tim. 6:15.
13. See Rom. 8:28, 38-39.
14. Paul even described it as “gain” in Philippians 1:21.