Thursday, December 20, 2012

Should Christians Observe Christmas?

I  don't believe that Christ was born on December 25. But I do celebrate Christmas and I don't find anything wrong with that. Don Fotner can answer why:

"Without fail, at this time every year, I receive numerous letters, pamphlets, and tracts denouncing the evils of Christmas as a pagan religious holiday. I fully agree that no believer should ever observe pagan religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. We must never incorporate pagan customs into the worship of our God.

We must not observe any religious holiday. We should attach no spiritual, religious significance to any day. Yet, we do not need to act like super-pious religious idiots over a day that has absolutely no religious significance. I would never teach a child that such a thing as Santa Claus exist, or that Christ was born on Christmas day. But, as Paul said concerning idols, Santa Claus is nothing and Christmas is nothing.

Did you know that every DAY of the week, every PLANET in the universe, and many of the CARS we drive are named after pagan gods? Yet, we still call Sunday Sunday, Mars Mars, and a Saturn a Saturn. No one would ever dream of calling us pagans for doing so. We worship our God on Sunday, and would laugh at anyone who suggested that we observe the pagan Roman holiday called "Sun's Day" in doing so. If your car is a Saturn, use it for the glory of God; and laugh at anyone who thinks that you are worshiping the Roman god of agriculture by driving it.

We must not, and I trust do not, worship Christmas trees and lights, or even attach spiritual significance to Christmas day. However, I do suggest that we seize this opportunity afforded us by Divine providence to tell people who Christ is, why he came into this world, what he did, and how they may obtain his salvation. It is no accident that once every year every human being in the world is confronted with the fact that the Son of God assumed human flesh and came into the world to save men.

Certainly, no one can think that it is wrong for believers, during this season of the year, to express thanks and praise to God for his unspeakable gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is never wrong, but always right to think of him, speak of him, and sing his praise. Rather than not singing Watts' grand old hymn, Joy To The World, we ought to sing it year round.

While I loathe the religiosity of this holiday season, the silly plays, the idolatrous pictures and representations of Christ and the angels of God, and pretense of spirituality by people who have no interest in the glory of God, I am delighted for this season of the year (for any season) that brings families together, encourages kindness and good will, and promotes thoughtfulness of and generosity to others. It is perfectly all right to exchange gifts with and send cards to family and friends. (I cannot imagine a reason for anyone objecting to that!) But I suggest that each of us find a way to acknowledge and do something special for someone from whom we expect nothing, maybe even from someone from whom we expect abuse. "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My First Journal Entry: Cross-centered Love and Sexual Purity

Just reminiscing the past while seeking to restore this long lost discipline of mine...

December 3, 2007
After waking up, I felt like everything’s alright since I sensed the peace I have long lost before. I believed that if I only remain prayerful and mindful of Him, this feeling will not depart from my breast. And its not that this expectation failed but that God has shown me that He wants this heart of mine to be thoroughly pure before Him, as He peels its dirty layers of unrecognized sins.
Though hurrying for my Discrete Math Class at 8 o’clock a.m. and knowing that we’ll be having a quiz, I still managed not to be anxious about it and to 'take it to God in prayer'. After my arrival at school, our Professor postponed the quiz. Providence indeed! Then time quickly fled. I was happy knowing that tomorrow will be our University Meet, which implies that there’ll be no classes!
After that subject class, I was informed that our teacher for our next class was not around. I therefore must again wait for my next class, that is, 1 at the afternoon. I decided to continue reading the book (Boy Meets Girl, by Joshua Harris) which I’ve almost finished for only few days. Books written by this man greatly affect me, and I guess this book is what thrilled me the most! When I was 16, I’ve read his book ‘Not Even a Hint’, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ on my 17, and now that I’m 18, I’m about to finish the book, which my spiritual parents actually discouraged for us to read (it seems untimely for them). In some sense they’re right, but God still used that ‘forbidden’ book for my sanctification.
I was on the third section of the book. That really ‘judged’ me and made me see how earthly still my thoughts are. All throughout my Christian life, my respect for this couple Joshua and Shannon Harris was so high, especially when it comes to romance and relationships. I often relate to Josh’s experiences and I often think that if I were to marry someday, I want to marry a ‘Shannon’ too. But not soon after reading the story of Shannon admitting to Joshua that she is no longer a virgin since fourteen. My initial reaction is actually dismay, NOT because of the essence of sin (lawlessness before a holy God) but my own unjust view of levels of sin. It is self-righteousness that first swallowed me up. I judged her as if I’m God. And now I’ve been thinking what would be my reaction if I were in the position of Josh. Would I be as quick as him to see the reality of sin in view of the cross? I admit, ‘No’. Would my attitude and view of her change? The truth is ‘Yes’. It seemed to me a thing still so unfair though she was still an unbeliever during those times! ‘Why?’ I asked myself. And justified my reaction, ‘Because she has been long dishonest’. ‘Really, that’s the very reason? Why do you want him to be honest about that?’ says my conscience. Then, I came to the point of viewing myself worse than ever before because inside me virginity greatly mattered, especially with women. But I just have made up my own ‘holy laws’ that contradict the very laws of God. ‘The Lord looks at the heart’ says the Bible, but I look at performances [as though virginity's the sole basis of  purity]. I valued the marriage bed so high that I’ve forgotten that even I am not worthy of ANY pleasure, and that I, by myself, am unable to resist sin! My judgment is earthly. Then, I began thinking what if the girl I presently admire and whom I’m seeing as a potential wife became my wife in the future and admitted the same sin the moment we’re about to have our honeymoon. Would I comfort her or despise her? Or, what if it is God’s will for me to marry a plain wife? Would I grieve and rebel? I prayed, therefore, and admitted that I can’t be sure I’ll be as wise as Josh if those instances occur. Yet it made me realize of the necessity of renewing my thoughts, and made me plan things to appropriate His grace both for myself and for others. I started considering who I am NOW in view of the reality of sin and sanctification. I thought about my growth and the unseen hindrances on this particular area. This is the start of this journal. And I hope I would continue writing and find someone who will be accountable to me concerning these struggles. ‘I am earthly’. And I thank my Lord for the cross, which already paid the consequences of my sins, and destroyed their reigning power over my life. And whether or not I’ll find a precious Shannon, I WANT to be content and rejoice with what God will give me… for my good, and CHIEFLY for His glory. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fellow Methodists, Original Sin is Your 'Original' Doctrine, NOT Pelagianism

Theopedia describes Original Sin and Pelagianism this way:
Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind's first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God's command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.
Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

Just recently, a controversy arose among our Southern Baptist brothers, of which a serious issue involves Original Sin. But the same rising danger is not foreign to The United Methodist Church. Just few months ago, I also heard from a lecture of a former bishop of UMC an explicit denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. He even claimed that Methodists do not believe it. It appears to me that some Methodist pastors (and laymen) whose theology is influenced by liberalism trade Original Sin with the old heresy of Pelagianism (or with some modifications of it).

Whether that former bishop was just oblivious, historically ignorant or intentionally lying, I do not know. All I know is that Original Sin is very Methodistic, very Protestant, very historically accepted by the church and very biblical.

I found this from the official website of The United Methodist Church [original source here]:
Does The United Methodist church believe that babies are born in sin?

Yes. We do believe that babies, at birth, are contaminated by sin. The ancient teaching of the church on this is called the doctrine of original sin.
 The Articles of Religion in our Book of Discipline state:
"Article VII - Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of  Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually." 
The point here is that we do not choose ["Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam"] to follow the way of sin; indeed, we cannot help it without the grace of God. 
It means, as Romans 5 puts it (see all of chapter 5 which is about salvation) "as by one man's disobedience [Adam's] the many [meaning all who are born] were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous." This is Paul’s way of spelling out both the doctrine of sin and the doctrine of salvation.  Remember here, we are dealing with Paul's way of setting this up. Christ can redeem all because his faithfulness to God in perfect love and obedience matches and exceeds the disobedience of one man, Adam. 
The notion of original sin does not compute very well with the modern outlook. Most of the 20th century church tried to dance around it and then wondered why Jesus' saving work was hard to get serious about. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” says 1st John, vs. 8. 
The point is that we, from birth, need the grace of God available in Jesus Christ. We cannot hope in some tiny spark of goodness at our core that is always there to get us through. We are without merit or claim upon God on our own. This is a hard pill to swallow in our "enlightened" and modern perspective. On the other hand, what a gracious hope and gospel we proclaim and live if we simply accept the desperate need we are in from the beginning and the washing of water and the word in baptism where God claims us as God's own in union with Christ, dying to sin and living alive to God by the power of the Spirit.
Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship
This conforms with our Methodist fathers George Whitefield and John Wesley:
"[Y]ou must not only be convinced of your actual transgressions against the law of God, but likewise of the foundation of all your transgressions. And what is that? I mean original sin, that original corruption each of us brings into the world with us, which renders us liable to God's wrath and damnation. There are many poor souls that think themselves fine reasoners, yet they pretend to say there is no such thing as original sin; they will charge God with injustice in imputing Adam's sin to us; although we have got the mark of the beast and of the devil upon us, yet they tell us we are not born in sin. Let them look abroad into the world and see the disorders in it, and think, if they can, if this is the paradise in which God did put man. No! everything in the world is out of order. I have often thought, when I was abroad, that if there were no other argument to prove original sin, the rising of wolves and tigers against man, nay, the barking of a dog against us, is a proof of original sin. Tigers and lions durst not rise against us, if it were not for Adam's first sin; for when the creatures rise up against us, it is as much as to say, You have sinned against God, and we take up our Master's quarrel. If we look inwardly, we shall see enough of lusts, and man's temper contrary to the temper of God. There is pride, malice, and revenge, in all our hearts; and this temper cannot come from God; it comes from our first parent, Adam, who, after he fell from God, fell out of God into the devil. However, therefore, some people may deny this, yet when conviction comes, all carnal reasonings are battered down immediately and the poor soul begins to feel and see the fountain from which all the polluted streams do flow." (George Whitefield, on "The Method of Grace", emphasis mine)
"Hence we may...learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, "We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation." But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?" [Gen.6:5] Allow this [original sin], and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still." (John Wesley on "Original Sin", emphasis mine)
So important is Original Sin to Wesley that he labeled anyone who denies it as 'heathen' (i.e., pagan or unChristian)!

Moreover, this teaching was strongly affirmed both by the Reformers and the Church Fathers
"Original Sin, then, may be defined as a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works   of   the   flesh.  This   corruption is repeatedly designated by Paul by the term sin (Gal. 5:19); while the works which proceed from it, such as adultery, fornication, theft, hatred, murder, revellings he terms, in the same way, fruits of sin, though in various passages of scripture, they are also termed sins." (John Calvin)

"The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that   a   man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man lives, such growth of hair and beard does not stop. But when the shovel slaps the ground on his grave, it stops. In just this way, original sin remains in us and exercises itself as long as we live, but we must resist it and always be cutting off its hair." (Martin Luther)

"The so-called innocence of children is more a matter of weakness of limb, than purity of heart." (Augustine of Hippo)

"Adam, the first man, altered his course, and through sin death came into the world....When Adam transgressed, sin reached out to all men." (Athanasius)

The heresy of Pelagianism refuses to die but the Church should be careful not to buy it, lest we be apostasized. May this post serve as a warning to my fellow Methodists as well as my fellow Protestant-Evangelicals. And may those Methodists who have been swayed by Pelagianism see that Original Sin is their "original" doctrine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eight Years in the Faith, All Because of The God of Calvinism!

Eight years in the faith. June 5 is the day. Everyone who knew me ten years ago could easily spot the difference. I still wonder how I got here each time I think of it. I just know it wasn't because of me.

Sure, I did a lot of things, met and mingled with a lot of people, and learned a lot of things --- all of which became factors for this drastic change.  But the socio and the logic wouldn't suffice to alter one's nature (Jer. 13:23). There must have been a supernatural intervention. Far be it from me to give the credit to myself. Everything I am now is all by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 15:10) so the glory is due to Him alone. And, aside from the fact that I find it biblical, I believe this is the main reason why I fell in love with this theological system known as "Calvinism", which was introduced to me in the early months of my Christian life.

Some people think the doctrine of Total Depravity downplays mankind's integrity. I see it as a biblical rationale for the domination of evil in my past and in this world. We may keep a blind eye towards this tragic reality but the dudes in the news confirm that sin often has the upper hand. Many think man is naturally good but in God's eyes,
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
The more I acknowledge this fatal disease, the more I appreciate its cure. (see Rom. 3:21-26)

Most people deem Unconditional Election as hazardous to the justice and love of God. There God chose some for salvation while leaving others to condemnation. But to me it as a great display of both (Rom. 9:22-24). That God did not choose all shows his justice in punishing sinners. That God would choose me, rather than let me in my sinful nature choose him (as if I will) exalts God's love more. Like Spurgeon, I do not wonder why he chose to save some. I wonder more why he chose to save at all (for nobody deserves salvation) and why he chose me (for I don't deserve salvation).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." (Ephesians 1:3-5)

While others find Limited Atonement as an insult to Christ's great salvation,  I find Christ's cross more magnified through this doctrine. That Christ's death is intended and efficient only for His people[1] shows more of its power. It was Christ's cross that saved me, not I using the cross. Limited atonement implies that the cross of Christ actually saves, not just makes salvation possible. It actually saved me. 

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
"...the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Some think Irresistible Grace does no justice to man's freedom. I believe it marvelously restores it. Our will is free only insofar as it does what we decide and what we desire. Our will is just a servant of our intellect and affections. The problem is that both of these are captivated by sin (TD). Hence, that God would 'irresistibly' make me believe by changing my nature Him is freedom (i.e., from sin's power), not captivity.
"All that the Father has given me shall come to me..." (John 6:37)
"Your people shall be willing in the day of your power..." (Psalm 110:3)

Finally, while some think that Perseverance of the Saints discards man's responsibility, I believe it puts man's responsibility and God's sovereignty in a balance. Left on my own, I could've given up on this battle long ago. God knows that I can hardly finish anything worthwhile, let alone salvation! But thanks be to God who gives me security that can endure against all odds.
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

If only the five points of Calvinism (aka TULIP) would be understood in their proper contexts, they would beautifully shine 'cause Calvinism, biblically and logically, (1) exalts the grace of God the most, and (2) gives the glory to God the most

I praise God that I am now eight years in the faith (and counting). This is all because of Calvinism. Not the concepts themselves but the reality of them at work in the world and in my life. I believe that I have gone this far only because I have this God of Calvinism, who elected me despite my radical sinfulness, sent His Son to effectively die for me, called me by His powerful Spirit and will preserve me to the end.

[1] This does not discard the truth that Christ died sufficiently for all. (e.g., John 3:16; 1 John 2:2)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spiritual Warfare (Part 2): Warring Against The Flesh


When things go wrong, most of the time religious people blame unseen demons around them. Little do we know that Satan isn't the only enemy we are up against. We have this flesh deep inside of us. And I do hope I could sufficiently stress its force in this second part of Spiritual Warfare series.

A. Discerning the Flesh
First off, let me clarify that the term "flesh", depending on the context, could mean two things in the Bible. Sometimes it refers to 1) our physical body (1 Pet. 1:24); sometimes to 2) the old sinful nature or the natural inclination to sin (e.g., Gal. 3:3). In the former sense, flesh is not intrinsically evil. In the latter sense, it is. Remember that the second definition is what we're referring here.
"Indwelling sin [or, the flesh] in the believer is the old man who must be killed, with all his faculties, properties, wisdom, craft, subtlety, and strength. Its power, life, vigor, and strength must be destroyed and slain by the cross of Christ." (John Owen)

1. Dethroned from the believers' life (Gal. 2:20)
"Dethroned" implies that it was once sitting on the throne, reigning in our lives. Paul says 'sin' (as an influence)  is the unbelievers' path where we 'once walked' (Eph. 2:1), and that the 'I' (i.e., the old self) 'no longer lives' but the 'I' (i.e., the new self) lives 'by faith in the Son of God' (Gal. 2:20). John teaches that the 'born again' ones, despite their rebirth's mysterious origin, have their transformed lives evident like a blowing wind. (Jn. 3:5-8) In another letter he said that genuine Christians do not practice a sinful lifestyle. (1 Jn. 3:4-6) So if you are someone whose lifestyle demonstrates an unrepentant, passionate pursuit of the pleasures of sins, showing no positive change at all, you have not been truly saved. Because, generally though not equally, true followers of Christ bear fruit (Jn. 15:5).

2. Dwelling inside the believers (Rom. 7:17; Heb. 12:2)
But just because sin was dethroned, it doesn't mean it's already dead.Many theologians call it "Indwelling Sin", acknowledging its continual residence in the believer. In Paul's terminology, when we were unbelievers we were 'in the flesh' (Rom. 7:5; 8:9). Now that we're Christians the flesh is 'in [us]'. (Rom. 7:17) In fact, so dangerous is this "resident evil" that Paul himself, calling it a law, testified of its captivating power and its 24/7 onslaught. (Rom. 7:21-23) Even if one will disagree with my interpretation of Romans 7[1], the over-all tone of the scriptures regarding the saints' spiritual struggle affirms the remaining power of sin in our lives (e.g., Heb. 3:13; 12:1).

More than that, experience can confirm it. It would be hypocritical for me to trivialize the gravity of my inner struggle. I confess that there are times (many times!) I fall into pride and sexual lust. These are the same sins with which I struggle ever since I became a Christian and the same sins which I treasured when I was an unbeliever!

3. Different from God's Spirit (Rom. 8:5; Gal. 5:16-17)
The enmity and tension can be heightened if we note that God the Holy Spirit resides in us also and that His desires are in complete contrary to the flesh. The flesh is not just our enemy, it is God's. Everytime we embrace the flesh, we dishonor our thrice-holy yet imminent God. In the same way, everytime we fail to follow the Spirit, we are following this obnoxious, good-for-nothing flesh.

4. Defiant to God's authority and law (Rom. 8:7-8)
The flesh is like a rebel in our system, a mad guerrilla opposing Christ's kingdom of grace. Like as a rebel, it does not wait until you're ready, it takes advantage of our weakness. Like a rebel, we should expect its continual schemes and surprising ploys. As J.I. Packer puts it,
"Sin is always at work in the heart; a temporary lull in its assaults means not that it is dead; but that it is very much alive."
Like a rebel, it defies the law of God. It will take your mind and heart as far as it can from God's word.

5. Deceitful and Destructive (Rom. 8:6; Jas. 1:15)
This dethroned guerrilla is very able to destroy our spiritual bulwarks and fortresses! It could make us 'carnal' and keep us from growing (see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) and 'running well' (Gal. 5:7ff) It could contaminate others (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9), divide the church (1 Cor. 3:4) and destroy relationships (1 Cor. 6). Like David, it could even make us commit heinous crimes (like murder and adultery) which, albeit forgivable[2], could bring disastrous consequences to ourselves and to others (2 Sam. 11 cf. Psa. 51). This is the same sin which will put many professing Christians to eternal death.

B. Defeating the Flesh
Now we are ready to give some pointers to defeat this foe.

1. Guard your Mind (Jas. 1:14-15; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-4)
The anatomy of sin was stated by the apostle James. Before the flesh seduces the affection and conceives actual sin, it first deceives the mind. The Greek word even alludes to fishing. Giving in to the flesh is being like a fish biting a colorful butterfly, not knowing she was hooked. If the mind then is the gate of our souls, we should barricade and fortify it. Fill it with the thoughts of Christ's beauty (Col. 3:1-4) and Christlike thoughts. (Phil. 4:8) Immerse your mind in the Bible and spiritual books rather than in senseless TV shows. Search for godly conversations and avoid disparaging chitchats. Let the beauty of the cross of Christ satisfy you rather than the fleeting pleasures of sin. 
"Your mind can only protect against the deceit of the flesh if you are cross-eyed.  That is, you can only keep the rottenness of sin and the kindness of God in mind if you fix your eyes on the cross.  What shows God's hatred of sin more than the cross?  What show's God's love to you more than the cross?  If you want to know exactly what sin deserves, you have to understand the cross.  If you want to know how infinitely deep the rot of sin reaches, you have to think through all the implications of the cross.  If you want to know how far God was willing to go to rescue you from sin, you have to see his precious Son hanging on the cross for you." (Kris Lundgaard)

2. Grip on the Spirit (Rom. 8:16)
Theological understanding of sin, however helpful it is, is never enough. We need to draw the power from God's Spirit. We need a daily, heartfelt communion with God. As Erwin Lutzer says, 
"The victory over sin that you seek will come from your relationship with God. When you seek to know God and love Him with your whole mind, heart, and soul, the freedom you are looking for will become yours." 
So a healthy prayer life and constant meditation must be added.

3. Give your All (Rom. 7:23; 8:13; Col 3:5)
The terms "waging war", "enmity" and "mortify (kill)" imply vigilance and violence. The prince of puritan John Owen puts it this way, "Not to conquer sin is to be conquered by sin." and "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." We should have a wartime mindset. As John Piper puts it,
"Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses."
4. Get Practical (1 Thess. 5:22)
So much can be said here. Avoid the places and circumstances where you are tempted most. Be accountable to others and let them pray and oversee you. Get busy in doing good things. Develop your spiritual habits purposely by having reading plans, drafting prayer schedules, journaling, and the like. Make radical, practical and personal resolves for you not to fall into your own weaknesses. Be practical.

Now I'm done expounding my outline. I scanned my books, thinking I might have missed something important. And as expected, I missed a lot! I guess its impossible to sum them all up in a single post. The best thing I can do, then, is to compel you to read more hamartiological books[3]. There's so much more to learn to mortify this monster.

[1] I am aware of the difficulty of this chapter and the differences of interpretation under the evangelical umbrella. I am more persuaded, though, that the man of Romans 7 is indeed the already-Christian Paul, struggling with his old sinful nature.
[2] Heb. 10:12-14. The Catholic doctrine of mortal sin is unbiblical.
[3] I recommend the following:
a) John Owen's Triumph Over Temptation - for an in-depth spiritual analysis of the flesh's nature and work.
b) Joshua Harris's Not Even a Hint - for practical, easy-to-read guide to defeat lust
c) Erwin Lutzer's Winning The Inner War - very pastoral, filled with spiritual nuggets to overcome temptation
d) Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within  - contemporary restatements of Owen's hamartiological treatises
e) Sam Storms's Pleasures Evermore - elaborates the joy available in Christ as an antidote for sin

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parody: Thessalonians

(a parody of Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton)
Acts 2:9-11; Jn. 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-53

Making Your way back home
Taken up
With a cloud
And then You're gone

Stunning angels appeared
They're saying someday
In the same way
You'll come back

And when it's due
time, we'll meet You
The world will wonder

We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
When You come down
With a great cry
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday be with You for life

There are many deists
They're deriding You
And they utter that You desert us coldly

Yet You prepare our home
Where we all belong
Living in Your mansions we would be

So just where You
are, we're there too
With you forever

We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
Alive Christians
And ones who died, oh
Chapter four of First Thessalonians
Says we would all see You arrive

And come, come with an archangel's voice,
(with) a sound of trumpet of Yahweh,
(with) a loud command, oh we implore
Come now Lord.

There in mid-air's a throng
From all tribes
And all tongues
And it's awesome

Still we'll greatly be thrilled
Just seeing Your face
Seeing Your flesh

And I believe You
And I still wait to
Behold that wonder

We'll be transformed
In blink of an eye
Last trumpet sounds
The dead will rise
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday just see You
We'll all be caught
Up in the sky
When You come down
We all will fly
Cause we hope, like the Thessalonians,
To someday be with You
To someday behold You for life

Monday, May 21, 2012

D.A. Carson on The Problem of Weak Faith

I've been listening to D.A. Carson these past few months and on a certain Q&A portion on the book of Hebrews, I find this theological (and spiritual) nugget quite helpful.

Question (from one of the audience):
"Sometimes I feel my faith is very weak. Does that mean that it is not God-given, and that it's just me trying to believe?"

Here's Carson's reply:
"Probably not. The important thing to remember is that faith's ultimate strength does not depend on the faith but on faith's Object. You're saved not on the basis of how strong your faith is but on the reliability of faith's Object, which in fact you may cling to still pretty weakly. And ultimately, the stronger you see, the more clearly you see that at the end of the day it's not the strength of your faith that is the crucial thing but the reliability and truth that's in the faith's Object that is the crucial thing, the more you'll be driven to having stronger faith. Because if you're trying to strengthen your faith by simply turning up your stomach muscles to believe more strongly then you're wanting the faith to be thing that is the crucial ingredient rather than faith's Object. At the end of the day, you're saved by faith in the sense that faith is the means of salvation. But you're not saved by faith in the abstract, you're saved by Christ. You're saved by the correct Object of faith, namely, Christ and Christ crucified, and so on. So the way you will strengthen your faith is not by simply turning up your stomach muscles to try harder to believe. The way you'll strengthen your faith is by studying Christ. And the more you understand him and his cross' worth in the scriptures... the more you'll strengthen your faith."

Without the elaborate relationship of faith, Christ and salvation, I think another theologian sufficiently answered with these words:
"...the weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as does the strongest faith." ~ Sinclair Ferguson

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spiritual Warfare (Part 1): Warring Against Satan

The Bible in Eph. 6:10-12 pictures the Christian as a soldier in a spiritual warfare. And one of the fundamentals in war is to know your enemy.

The Bible presents three enemies of Christians:
1) The Supernatural Enemy: Satan (Jas. 4:7)
2) The Indwelling Enemy: Flesh (Rom. 8:16-18)
3) The System Enemy: The World (1 Jn. 2:15-17)

Though these three are inseparable in battle, discerning them individually would arm us more with vigilance. This is the first of a three-part series. It is in no way exhaustive[1] but I think it can offer some helpful information.


First, we shall try to describe Satan according to the scriptures.

1. Wicked Destroyer (1 Pet. 5:8-9)
We maybe are in a modern world where human intellect is exceptional and our technology is superb but Christianity never changes in its teaching that supernatural, evil beings are real. Martin Lloyd-Jones emphatically stated:
"I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking..."

We dare not ignore this destructive fiend. Even during Job's time, he was zealously "going to and fro on the earth" (Job 1:7), looking for opportunities to destroy God's people. (Job 2:2) How much more now that his time is short?

It wasn't arbitrary that, according to 1 Pet. 5:8-9, he was described as a lion[2] and not a dog. He is fierce and strong, unstoppable by mere human strength. We cannot defeat him on our own. He lurks to catch us unaware. Of course, he isn't omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent but he has a bunch of agents to work for him day and night. It is his greatest ambition to spoil God's work, hence, he gives his all to destroy God's people. In some restricted sense, he even has the power death. (Heb. 2:4)

2. Wise Deceiver (2 Cor. 11:13-15)
Aside from his supernatural strength, his malicious wit brings mankind to ruin. If God is a Being of truth from start to end, Satan is the opposite. From the very beginning, we find him successful in deceiving Eve (Gen. 3), damning us all to sin and death (Rom. 5:12). At the end of time, he will energize the man of sin, the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:1-10 cf. Rev. 13:1-8) who will deceive the nations.

He is the same in the present. He blinds the mind of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4) He wasn't called "The Accuser of the Brethren" (Rev. 12:10) or "the Tempter" (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5) for nothing. In John's apocalyptic vision, the Devil wrathfully pursues the community of faith[3]. The word "Devil" itself means "accuser" or "slanderer". He slanders us to God and slanders God to us. He is the king of malice and deceit. He deceives the whole world. (Rev. 12:9)

His deceitful schemes are not easy to unveil. He could've been doing it by suggesting evil thoughts on our minds (in a supernatural way), perhaps somehow similar to Christ's temptation. (Mt. 4; Lk. 4) More similar is the case of Peter (Lk. 22:31-34) or of Ananias (Acts 5:2) He could also do it by putting us into unfavorable circumstances to fan the evil inside us. Such is the case when he struck Job with illness and other miseries, or when he planted Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7). What's surer, however, is that he spares no one and tries to deceive God's children of all times. Adam and Eve at their perfect state doubted God and fell for his facade. Peter, the leader of the Twelve, after being called "Blessed", was demonized and opposed Christ's atonement.

There's one more hazardous tactic Satan uses today, namely, spreading false teachers (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such people are not only in the world (2 Jn. 1:7) but are also inside the four corners of our worship assembly! (2 Pet. 2:1-2) It's not just a warning. Both Peter and Paul said it is going to happen. More fearful is the fact that "many will follow them...". This inner deception is a fruit of one error: ignorance of God's word (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Oh woe to the modern church for undermining the significance of doctrine and embracing heresies like universalism! Not all who hold a Bible and stand on the pulpit inside our churches are of God! They could be the devil's. We should learn how to test the Spirit (1 Jn. 4) the way the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).

3. World Dominator (2 Cor. 4:4)
Jesus called him “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31) Paul called him "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4) and "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). These text give us the stern warning that we are behind enemy lines. We live in Satan's territory.

So true is the inference of Dr. Robert Duncan Culver,
"It follows that the world - as cosmos, arranged in a certain way - will reflect the devil's policies and is therefore a very dangerous place in which to dwell (spiritually, morally, physically), especially to rear our children! (Should we expect their schooling under worldly government aegis to reflect godly principles?)"
Yet how often do we expose our children unguided to television and the internet? How often do we love superficial trendiness? How often are we aware that Satan could influence the academe, legal courts and government institutions the same way as he could influence false religions and criminals? I am not suggesting that we should live a fearful, Amish life but practice a cautious lifestyle with a pilgrim mindset.

Now, there are two wrong actions we could undertake. One is to overestimate Satan. The other is to underestimate him. I offer two biblical truths we should mind to avoid such extremes.

1. Remember that the Cross of Christ Assured Satan's Final Defeat (Col. 2:8,14,15)
Some people unconsciously buy the heresy of dualism. That is, the belief that there are two equal powers in the world (good and bad). When tragedies and other unpleasant things ensue, they always attribute it to the devil, as though God is not in-control. But that is unbiblical. God has always been sovereign over everything (Psa. 103:19). Satan cannot do anything apart from God's permission (Job 1:12,2:6).

Aside from that, Satan's defeat is ascertained. Even before Christ's career, Satan already failed to tempt Christ (Mt. 4:1-11). During Christ's ministry, he saw Satan "fall like lightning" (Lk. 10:17-18). As Christ's death approaches, he said Satan has already been judged (Jn. 16:11). Finally, at the cross, Christ triumphed over all demonic "principalities and powers" (Col. 2:15). Let us cast out unneccesary fear for him.

2. Remember that the Armor of God Assures Satan's Daily Defeat (Eph 6:13-18)
But making fun of the devil is not a wise alternative. We best join Michael in respecting the devil (Jude 8,9), not speaking presumptuously about him. We should acknowledge his might and seriously resist him by putting on God's panoply everyday.

Finally, let us remember that Christ taught his disciples to pray "deliver us from the Evil One" daily. We are in a war. Against an extraordinary foe. Only by grace will we win this.

[1] D.A. Carson said, "There's a huge amount of details that we do not know so I'm again a little suspicious of... detailed angelology."
[2] In Rev. 12 Satan was even deemed as a "Dragon", more destructive than a lion.
[3] Such term is acceptable whether you interpret the woman to be the nation Israel or the universal Church

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Soteria Stands Out Against Any Manga

Manga  is Better
I love manga (and anime). It can't be helped. The anything-goes plots are mind-boggling. Its innate ability to mix various genre (like action, comedy, romance, shounen, mecha) is outstanding. And, of course, the cool and "kawaii" character designs are too appealing. I think manga's best characteristic is its expressive perspectives through artistic exaggerations. It thrills the heart. Ah, words won't suffice! Read one for yourselves (LOL). Right now, I'm still subscribing to four online manga, believing that manga is always better than any real-life and real-human-character movies or stories.*

Soteria is the Best
However, there's one real-life story that will always be better than any manga and any other story in the world. It does not just thrill the heart. IT BURNS IT. Two persons confirmed this phenomenon a long time ago:  
They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us...?
These persons were subscribing to this Soteria story. But one time they were confused about the plot: 
The Hero has come. He wonderfully exhibited His power, wisdom and love. He became famous. Then, the villains appeared on the scene and fought with Him. And guess what? He was tragically crushed, haplessly hanging on a tree. What an ugly ending if that's all there is in the story.

But after three days, the Hero rose from the dead, declaring the real plot of His heroic story to these fellows. Apparently, this Hero, the main character I was referring is the historic Jesus Christ (Luke 24:13-35). And it was his "soteria" (Greek for "salvation") which is the greatest story ever told. For what reasons? I'm not sure if I can exhaust them. Let me just name some:

A) Christ is More Than A Hero
Common super heroes have their weaknesses. This Hero has none. He is divine.  (Col. 2:9) The Maker of All things. (Col. 1:16) The All-Powerful (Rev. 1:8) so when it comes to strength, He has no rival. He needs neither us nor our praise. Yet He stooped down to save us from our sins. He is more than a Hero. He's the King of the Universe. Yet He condescended even to the point of death. (Phil. 2:6-8)

B) Christ Defeats The Most Terrifying Enemies You Can Think Of
Enemy #1: Satan, the wisest deceiver. One who has mastered mind manipulation. Far more witty than Einstein or President Marcos. But on the cross, at a time when he thought he outwitted God, Christ landed a fatal blow on his head. (Gen 3:15) And in the end he will finally be overthrown. (Rev. 20:10) 
Enemy #2: Sin, the greatest virus. Nothing poisoned us like sin. It has corrupted the world with just an instance. (Rom. 5:17) But through the cross, we can be freed from sin's penalty and power.
Enemy #3: Death. The Darkest Horror. It has terribly reigned since the fall. But death shall die in the end because of Christ. (1 Cor. 15:26) 

C) Christ Has the Grandest and Most Unique Triumph
Isn't He the only Hero who rescued by being fallen, helped by being helpless? Isn't He the only Hero who, by His great power, saved not just His friends but also those who used to be His enemies (Eph. 2:1-5)?

D) Christ's Salvation is Cosmic in Its Effect
Yes, you might have heard about comic heroes "saving the day" and saving "the world" from villains. Christ's salvation does not just last for a day, though. It's for all eternity (John 3:16). He did not just save our lives. He gives us life. (John 10:10) His salvation affects not just the earth but all things (Col. 1:20). He did not come just to reduce this world's imperfection. He has come to bring perfection.

What Now? 
If you're a believer in Christ, you should dwell more on this thoughts. Read more of His word. Know that Christ is supreme in all things, hence, sufficient for all things. Know that nothing satisfies the soul more than savoring Christ's person and work.

If you're an unbeliever, you certainly are missing the greatest story ever told that affects the eternal destiny of your soul. He is not a hearsay personality on a tabloid or a legend on a folklore. He is the loving King of the universe to whom all should surrender, lest His just wrath fall upon us (Psa. 2:12).

Do you want the greatest story to burn your heart? Go grab a Bible and look for CHRIST!


* It is true, however, that there are Christian manga existing now. One of which is Manga Messiah and its sequels.