July, 2010

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The Fallacy of Entitled Opinions

Friday, July 30th, 2010

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” How often does one hear that bit of conventional wisdom? Ironically, that familiar axiom is itself a commonly held opinion – but is it true? If the number of people who believe it is the determiner of something’s veracity, then this adage is clearly verified. Yet this is circular reasoning: this statement of opinion is substantiated by the opinions of a great mass of people! The modern age of “tolerance” exalts personal opinions as sacrosanct – one may disagree, but one may not declare another’s opinion as invalid. In contrast, God is the arbiter of truth; thus His word offers the true determination of any statement’s truth or falsehood. The written word of God reveals the mind of the One Who describes Himself as the truth (Jn. 14:6.) Consequently, the Scriptures supersede human opinions, upholding them or casting them down depending on whether or not they agree with the Bible.

Unfortunately, this elevation of human opinion to the same authority as Scripture is not limited to the lost. Many professing Christians – doubtless some of them truly saved – approach the Bible with the attitude that they will receive the portions that appeal to them, and banish the unpalatable parts from their thinking. If the prevailing culture and philosophy finds the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, homosexuality, or church order objectionable, then they will gladly set aside the scriptural teaching for sake of their personal well-being and respectability. After all, no one wants to be branded as intellectually deficient or culturally irrelevant. To have others think less of you – or worse still – speak harshly of you, is a detestable fate to be avoided at all costs.

When God’s Word Comes To Town

Like other cities in the Greco-Roman world, first-century Thessalonica was populated by idolaters, who knew little or nothing of the true God of heaven. After Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to town on the apostle’s second missionary journey, there was a marked change among some of the inhabitants. As 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 describes their dramatic conversion:

For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Their remarkable transformation from pagans to Christians was a direct result of the hearers’ response to the message, as Paul notes: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thes. 2:13; emphasis mine.) The power of Christianity lies in believing God when He speaks. When the Almighty is taken at His word, He radically changes lives.

What A Wonderful Change In My Life Has Been Wrought

The above verse affirms that the Bible “…effectively works…” in believers (v. 13.) The Lord Jesus revealed the Scriptures’ centrality in the work of sanctification, saying: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17.) God uses His Word to instruct and edify Christians, as well as warn, rebuke, and correct them (Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.) His word gives light and direction (Psa. 119:130.) It also produces spiritual cleansing (Eph. 5:25-26.) What is more, God ingrains it on the hearts of believers (Heb. 10:16.)

The Word of God astonishingly alters men and women who believe it, changing them from the inside-out and making them resemble the image and character of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 5:22-26; 1 Jn. 3:1-3.) The sanctifying experience of the Thessalonians was not unique, for in the dissolute city of Corinth Paul addressed moral degenerates who had been transformed by the power of God (1 Cor. 6:11.) Throughout history, biblical Christianity has irrevocably saved and changed drunkards, addicts, prostitutes, thieves, liars, hypocrites, and so forth into moral and ethical people who faithfully serve others.

A story from the life of the expository preacher H.A. Ironside illustrates the power of the God of the Scriptures to convert notorious sinners. One day while conducting a Gospel street meeting, Ironside was handed a business card by a celebrated agnostic orator who challenged him to debate the merits of unbelief versus Christianity. The preacher responded by setting the preconditions for the contest: the agnostic must bring two people who were enslaved to degrading vices and sin that were utterly transformed by their embrace of infidelity. In turn, Ironside avowed that he would bring two hundred such examples of moral and spiritual transformation by God’s power and Word.[i]

Like Mr. Ironside, the author of this article knows many people from dissipated backgrounds who are today trophies of the transformative grace of God. Drug addicts, smugglers, drunkards, fornicators, not to mention many “respectable” sinners whose wicked hearts were invisible to their fellow men but fully known to the Lord, have been regenerated and sanctified by the living God. Today they put aside their opinions and old way of thinking in favor of the Lord’s mind and will as revealed in the Scriptures. Furthermore, as the Bible so often attests, such fidelity to God and His Word will inevitably lead to opposition and persecution in this world (e.g. Jn. 16:1-4; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:12-14.)

God’s Unassailably Limitless Wisdom Or Man’s Vague And Uncertain Speculations?

Rather than shrink back from controversy and the world’s scorn against the unpopular message of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians must resolutely affirm that the Bible is truly their sole authority for life in this age and the one to come. No matter how difficult obedience to the Bible proves, believers must recognize that obeying is the mark of their love for Christ and the only wise course to follow. “I think” and “It seems to me” must be set aside in favor of “The Bible says” and “God’s Word teaches.” The modern church faces the choice between man’s philosophy and the Almighty’s revealed will – there is no third option. To try to mix human thinking and the Bible is really to prefer the former at the expense of the latter. Man must not sit in judgment on the Scriptures, but instead allow God’s Word to search and judge him. Moreover, the church must be built on the sure foundation of Christ as revealed in His Word, and every believer must adhere to this blessed book as the sole arbiter of truth. Human opinions, impotent as they are to change a sinner to a saint, must yield to the eternal Word of God which saves and sanctifies those who receive it.

[i] E. Schuyler English, Ordained of the Lord: A Biography of H.A. Ironside, Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1976, pp. 98-101.


As Well-Known & Yet Unknown

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

The title of this article intentionally reverses the word order of Paul’s self-description in 2 Corinthians 6:9. Jesus Christ is well-known by name around the world, yet His true identity is unknown to many who assume they know all about Him. This was also the case when Jesus walked on the earth millennia ago. Even many in close physical proximity failed to perceive His true character and mission. Christianity is based on objective and subjective knowledge of Jesus Christ. If one does not know the truth about Him and know Him personally in one’s own experience, than one cannot lay claim to being a Christian. A Christian knows the Lord Jesus, and seeks to increase his knowledge of Him by prayerful study of His Word.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Lord Jesus declared Himself to be the Bread of Life who came down from heaven (Jn. 6:35.) Rather than receive His claim, His listeners reasoned that since they knew His parentage, then all of this talk about coming from heaven was nonsense. They ignored the evidence of His supernatural origin – the dramatic sign of feeding multitudes by miraculously multiplying five loaves and two fishes – instead reasoning from only one piece of information about Jesus. Starting from a false assumption regarding Him, their conclusion was inevitably false. This is not surprising, for even the denizens of His hometown mistook Him based on acquaintance with His family, saying: “‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him” (Mk. 6:2-3.) They could not fathom how a mere carpenter from an ordinary family could be a miracle-working teacher.
In each of these cases the people made no effort to further investigate Christ’s claims. Later the people of Jerusalem discounted Him as a possible Messiah, for they knew that Micah 5:2 revealed Bethlehem as Messiah’s birthplace. Had they bothered to ask, they would have discovered that Jesus was not born in Nazareth, but in the city that the Old Testament predicted (John 7:42.) The religious leaders made a similar error, assuming that He only had Galilean beginnings (v. 52.) Furthermore, if they had given due weight to the evidence of His miracles, as well as His unequalled teaching, it would have shown that He was more than a man. Instead, they continued in willing ignorance, uninterested in a Saviour who could radically change their lives and deliver them from eternal judgement.
Knowing God, The Core of Eternal Life
While it is tragic that so many lost people misunderstand the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, it would be a greater tragedy if Christians likewise fail to learn more about their Lord. The essence of eternal life is personal knowledge of God through Christ (Jn. 17:3.) True believers cannot rest content with the basic facts about Christ, such as His deity and teachings. They must go on to know Him with greater intimacy in their every day lives. When he was lost, Paul “…thought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth”; nonetheless, as a believer, his ambition was to “…know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Acts 26:9; Phil. 3:10.) His delight was to probe the depths of Christ’s person, work, and especially His love. He prayed that his converts reflect this interest in learning more of the Lord Jesus. For the Ephesians he prayed: “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 4:17-19.) In like manner, he interceded for the Colossians thus: “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10.)
Nor is such an emphasis on knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ restricted to Paul. Peter also exhorted the Christians to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18.) Likewise, John described the Christian life in terms of knowing God and Christ (1 Jn. 2:13-14.) Obviously Christianity’s essence is to know Christ – an activity that is endless, for as God, His person is infinite.
Fellowship With The Friend Who Sticks Closer Than A Brother
In the fast-paced modern world, time alone with the Lord is often the first thing that is jettisoned from one’s schedule. Careers, academic studies, entertainment, and social events all have their place. If one is not vigilant, however, these things may rob one of precious intimacy with the Almighty. Spending time with Him in prayer and study of the Scriptures is essential for believers. They must daily commune with the Bread of Life, who feeds their souls. To ignore Him, is to neglect our reason for being as redeemed creatures of God. Superficial knowledge of the Lord must be replaced by the deep, personal relationships that can only be forged by spending much time with Him.

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