Welcome to “Let’s Talk About It.” Our gust today is the well known atheist and author Norman Rottweiler.
Host: It is good of you to grant this interview today. I appreciate your taking the time to talk about yourself and your atheist/naturalist view of the world.
Atheist: I was intrigued by your request. Why would you want to talk to an atheist?
Host: My listeners send me questions from time to time. They ask about how the world works, or why we are here in the first place. You write extensively on these issues and I think my readers will find your comments of interest.
Atheist: OK, that sounds reasonable.
Host: What is the hardest question for you as an naturalist to answer?
Atheist: There are a few hard ones. Well…I guess the hardest one is to face the fact that there is no good or evil in the world. Ask me what is good or what is evil and I have no real answer for you. You see we live in a natural world full of random processes. Those processes have no intention, no direction, no ultimate purpose. We just have to make do with that. Things happen to us that we don’t like, that are harmful or hurtful, but that is about the extent of our ability to discern good or evil. Nature is petty indifferent to our preference or our feelings.
Host: Don’t we have rights? Aren’t there things that are morally wrong?
Atheist: We have opinions about thing. We establish conventions and agree with one another to follow those conventions. We make judgments about possible outcomes from our actions and we try to minimize the harm to ourselves or to society. It is just foolish to run red lights if you value not getting hurt.
Host: Survival of the fittest…
Atheist: It boils down to that doesn’t it. Some reject the implication from Darwinism that there is no basis for objective morality and they try to construct some objective morality based on naturalism. I just find that they fail miserably. Atheists will point to science as a means for establishing what is good or evil. In all honesty, science just can’t test something that is immaterial. If objective moral values exist, they must be outside the material universe. You can’t smell them or touch them, so how can you test them. No, they can’t even exist. Only material things exist.
Host: But, numbers exist and logic exists. They are real things, but they are not material? We use logic and numbers to tell us about the world around us don’t we.
Atheist: On materialism, they must be an illusion, a trick of the brain. It is just the way our brain works, The way the neurons fire.
Host: If you go too far down that road, you will end up believing that I don’t exist, or that your own existence is an illusion.
Atheist: That is true.
Host: And that doesn’t bother you?
Atheist: It is just the way it is. I have to accept the nature of things.
Host: But doesn’t the universe tell us that there is more to it than just material objects?
Atheist: Are you talking about design?
Host: Design, and intentionality…I think there is clear evidence for both, don’t you.
Atheist: I did say there are hard questions I can’t answer easily. Those are two of them. I am aware of the fine tuning of the universe. It is well established that if the initial conditions of the universe were not finely turned we would not be here. Some atheists argue that there are many universes and that we are one of the few that survived because all the parameters were finely tuned for life.
Host: There are real problems with the multi-universe argument. What is your view?
Atheist: You are correct, the multi-universe theory has serious flaws. I don’t support that argument.
Report: Do you see intentionality in nature?
Atheist: Now you are talking about an attribute that can only belong to a mind. I reject that there is a god, so how can there be intention to any random processes.
Host: If the universe was finely tuned for life, doesn’t that show intention?
Atheist: Certainly, but it can’t in reality because that would require a creator mind. I reject such a mind.
Host: Your objection is a priori. You fix a position before you begin an argument and thus bias your argument.
Atheist: I think the condition is self evident. To think otherwise is just to fantastic and the consequences frightening to me.
Host: That is interesting. Let me move on then. Darwinism is under attack by the newest scientific evidence for intentionality combined with the need for complex DNA molecules required for life at the earliest stages of their appearance. Is Darwinism on a precipice?
Atheist: True, it seems that you mess with the DNA, or with developing cells and either the animal mutates into something not very useful or it dies. You cannot manipulate the process and produce a new species. A pig is a pig from the time the embryo is formed and nothing we do seems able to change that ping into a chicken. You are right, there is an intention that embryos of a certain species will always become that species. You are also correct that a finely tuned universe that produces life seems intentionally designed that way.
Host: How do you deal with that in view of your a priori position that denies the existence of a god, or a mind?
Atheist: Darwinism will have to be rethought. Perhaps it is past its prime. I just think that any discussion of intention is illusory. It can’t be real.
Host: You have used the word “illusion” a number of times. Atheist accuse theists of relying on the “god of the gaps” to fill in their lack of knowledge. Isn’t your using “illusion” a way to fill the gaps of your ignorance. Isn’t it just a copout? You are avoiding the evidence for something beyond a material world.
Atheist: Look, I am an atheist. I reject a god or a mind, or a soul. They are unreal. They are not material. They are the product of the random molecular activity in our brains. I am not filling gaps by referring to illusion. I am just pointing out that there are limits to what these processes can produce, thus limits to our ability to know what is real.
Host: So you live in an illusion.
Atheist: My brain is the functioning of molecules and chemicals that behave randomly. My brain is the result of a long process of evolution that is itself a random process. What I think, feel, see, taste all are the product of those random processes. Of course it is all an illusion. That is all that random processes can ever produce.
Host: But you admit to evidence that goes beyond the material.
Atheist: To deal with that I would have to admit to a mind, to a god, to a designer. I refuse to believe in a god or mind like that.
Host: What would be the harm? I would think that would open up your world to something real, to something that is not an illusion.
Atheist: If a god existed, I would have to answer to such a god. He would establish what was good, moral or real. I don’t want to live under that authority.
Host: Despite the evidence that you admit you cannot explain.
Atheist: You don’t get it. That evidence is just as much an illusion as god is an illusion.
Atheist: God does not exist.
Host: On what basis do you say he does not exist?
Atheist: On the basis that I say so. It is my view shaped by my understanding of the material world.
Host: Which you admit is an illusion.
Host: You place a great deal of faith on the idea that god does not exist. I wish we could explore that more but we are out of time and must end our discussion. Again I appreciate your taking the time.
Atheist: So we are done. I hope your listeners will be informed and that they will join me in rejecting the myth that god exists.
Host: I think your very frank answers might have just the opposite effect. We really must end now.
Comment: The above is total fiction. Our Truthful Atheist does not exist. But it is true that Atheism at heart is simply a rejection of God. It is no more sophisticated than that. Once a person goes down that road they do indeed live in an illusion. The underpinning of logic, and reason are no longer present. Their beloved science no longer has a foundation. Their ability to make sense of evil, or to even know what that evil exists disappears. The Atheist cannot tell us why we are here, nor what we are here for. Surprisingly, Atheist’s cannot provide reasonable, persuasive arguments for their assertion that God does not exist. Atheism starts and ends with a visceral attack on God himself. It is couched often in lofty terms, but pry a little and soon the true nature of the atheist’s stand is revealed.
What is real and true is grounded in God. Apart from Him we have no access to what is real. Everything becomes an illusion.
We cannot live without trusting. “I will meet you at McDonalds at seven.” You trust that at seven you will see me at McDonalds waiting for you. You arrive, order your food and take it to a table where your friend waits. You sit in a chair without a care and the chair holds your weight. You exercise trust constantly throughout your day. You trust drivers to stop at red lights and go on green ones.
Why do we trust things in our lives? It is because of past experiences. People tend to be reliable when they promise to meet at a certain time and place. We worry when they don’t show up because that is outside our expectation. You come to a scary suspension bridge and your guide tells you to hold the side ropes and walk across. He assures you that it will hold you. You trust his experience, his expertise. We trust much of what our teachers tell us. At least we do till we are old enough to know better. How often does a parent tell a child “you can do it” and after some effort the child actually does it? We are taught to trust, because it is essential to our growing up.
We trust in many things that we ourselves have never proven or experienced. Caesar lived. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You cannot breath in outer space. The earth is round. The sun is extremely hot. If we believed in only the things we experience for ourselves, our knowledge would be narrow and debilitating.
We trust science and scientists. We trust that science describes the natural world accurately. We believe that scientists are truth tellers and can be trusted. (Unfortunately this has become a serious problem in our modern culture.) We trust our doctors, our historians, our sociologists, and on and on. Trust is essential to our living successfully in the world.
God asks us to trust in Him. When we place our trust in a person, we call it faith. When a person lives up to the trust placed on them, we say they are trust worthy. It seems that many think this kind of trust, this religious faith in God, is not rational. We kind of lose our minds when we begin to trust in God. We make an irrational leap across a wide chasm to get to trusting an unseen being. But is that so?
(Heb 11:1-2 [NET]) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. For by it the people of old received God’s commendation.
This is a much maligned verse. Here is the basis of the misinterpretation that concludes that faith is a blind leap. Faith in God is irrational. It has no basis in fact. At the heart of the verse is the word “conviction,” to be convinced, persuaded. Persuaded by what? The verses that follow give a litany of those who are declared faithful. In each case there was a history of God showing His faithfulness to those individuals. God taught them to trust Him. He made promises that he kept. Promises kept makes us sure of what we hope for. Our faith in God looks to our future home with Him. We have faith that that is a reality because we have learned that God is true to his promises. We may not have seen the outworking of all God’s promises, but we have a profound trust that they will come to fruition. Christian trust is stronger than most because it rests upon a trustworthy God. Chairs do break and people do run red lights. People, things, scientific theories, and teachers will disappoint. God will not disappoint.
Our trust in God rests on His revelation to us, both in nature and in history. It is rational to look at the world and universe around us and marvel at how wonderfully made it is. What power, what knowledge, what being would create such beauty and complexity? We can make very rational arguments from the complexity of the world around us to show that God must exist. Nature screams at us that it did not just erupt out of some spontaneous event where something sprang from not anything, from nothing. Our science supports our trust by telling us that the universe has a beginning. Our logic and our understanding of infinity tells us that the creation around us could not have an infinite past. If the universe had an infinite past, we would not have life. We would not be here. The very nature of an infinite series would not allow it.
Faith in God is rational because He entered into His creation and we have a recorded history of that event. That recorded history is more extensive than for most of our well known historical figures. That history has been looked at and analyzed by many skeptics and their conclusion is that Jesus lived on this earth, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. Those events began a wave of faith in Christ that has survived time and has spread throughout the world.
Faith in God is rational because He has left us with a document that in detail tells us who He is, His purpose and His plan for mankind and the world. It is said that we know 99% accurately the words written in Scripture. Scripture tells a compelling story. It reveals accurate history. Its geography has proven accurate over and over again. Even more, it speaks to our heart and our need as fallen men and women in search of why we are here and what we should be doing with our lives.
Faith in God is rational because He joins Himself with those who trust in Him. He makes Himself known to them. This is no idle, pie in the sky, leap of faith. Christian’s throughout history have given testimony of God’s revelation directly to them. He is real in their lives. He lives. Christianity would have died long ago if this was not true. You can trust a Christian when he tells you how real God is to him. You can bank on it.
You don’t have to lose your mind to be a Christian. You have nature, Scripture, the testimony of believers, and more on which to rely. I would wager that if more people applied sound reasoning in their evaluation of the validity of a Christian faith, more of them would come to see how rational trusting in God really is.
Try a little logic for a moment. If the premises below are true, God exists. Metaphysics, mathematics, and science all support the major premises. Faith in God is not an irrational leap.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
(1) Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
(2) The universe has a beginning of its existence. Therefore:
(3) The universe has a cause of its existence.
(4) If the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God. Therefore:
(5) God exists.
The atheist/naturalist would say that the universe always existed. It had no beginning. Now that position, in the face of logic and science, takes a huge leap of faith. It just isn’t rational.
No discussion of the law in Scripture is without controversy. No discussion of the law is complete. It is too large a subject. One of the many controversies found, when discussing the law, revolves around the application of the law to the life of a believer for sanctification. This seems to be an orthodox view. Most grace teachers reject this view. I camp with the grace side of the issue.
I find that the arguments circle around, but never really deal with a core issue. There will be talk about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the life that that brings to live righteously, or the power that that provides to a believer to keep the law, but the discussions never seem to get to the core of the issue and that is that good rests in the nature of God. Only God is good and only He is able to express who He is. I will touch on that and other issues in what follows.
Any law demands compliance. When told not to speed in my super cool Volvo, I must do something, and not do something. I must be observant of the speedometer and I must avoid pushing harder on the gas pedal. When told to Love the Lord with all my strength, I must apply myself with my whole being. The law, a command, requires work to comply. The law demands discipline, diligence, and a level of understanding. You cannot live by law and not do works, they are inseparable.
God’s moral law is particularly demanding. It asks that I have the character of God. The moral law is a reflection of who God is. Under the moral law, all that I do must reflect who He is. God makes legal demands because man must be holy if man is to have a relationship with Him. Adam and Eve broke their relationship with God and left the garden because they were no longer holy. Their desire to be their own god made them unholy. They decided that they could decide, out of their own being, what was good and evil. Only God knows what is good, because all good is found in His being. God is good. “God does what He does because he is who He is.” (Dr. James Fowler) God does not follow a set of moral laws. His actions flow out of His nature.
God cannot be satisfied by a partial compliance with His law. A partial compliance falls short of who He is. We are to be holy as God is holy. Only Jesus was able to keep the whole law.
God’s character is eternal, while God’s law is only a reflection of His character. A reflection of something is not the real thing. God’s law is not eternal. It is not God’s character. It is an error to equate the two. The law is temporal. It has a beginning and an end. Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant [Christ] to whom the promise had been made. (Gal 3:19 [NET]) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the law]. (Gal 3:25 [NET]) Add sugar to tea and you have something in your tea that wasn’t there before. The presence of sugar in your tea had a beginning. The law was added, thus it had not existed in the world before. It had a beginning. The law had a goal, an end in mind, the coming of Jesus and man’s faith in Him. The law was to be a tutor, to prepare men for the perfect sacrifice that the law demanded.
God’s presence in men could not be achieved through the law. The law lords over a man as long as he lives. The law demands work, and no work of man can produce God’s character, thus make him holy or righteous. Man’s failure to keep the law leads to spiritual and physical death. There is no law that can produce life. To live, man must be reborn, recreated. That rebirth is not acquired by being good and doing good. No human work can produce the recreation we require. Only God can create a new mind and heart in a man. We obtain this new state of holiness by giving up our trust in our own ability, our own work to obtain righteousness. It is faith that saves, not works of the law.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the sacrificial death of the unblemished Lamb of God, makes the way for our being made whole again. Placing our trust in Jesus allows God to make us new. God forgives all our sins, and makes us holy. We are made a suitable dwelling for a holy God. His Spirit brings to us all that we need to live the life He has for us. …you died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead to bear fruit to God. (Rom 7:4) Jesus was raised from the dead to bear fruit to God. The mechanism for acting out our faith has changed. We do not try to keep the law to demonstrate we are righteous. We have a new life in Christ. Christ in us is a source of God living through us. Christ in us means that we have God’s holy and perfect nature alive in our being. Christ is our righteousness. In Christ we cease our works and we enter His rest. We live free and abundant lives. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. [Eph 2:8-9] We have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code. [Rom 7:6} Believers have been released from the law to serve not by an internal, Spirit empowered version of the law, but by newness of life. That life in us is Christ.
God achieved what the law could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [Rom 8:3-4] Paul could have easily said that you will now keep the law because you are empowered by the Spirit to do so. Instead he says that God achieved what the law could not do. The saved man walks/lives by the Spirit not by works of the law. The Spirit does not give us a new power to keep the law, or to produce good. Man was created to depend on God to produce good. The saved man dies to the law and lives by God’s Spirit. The Spirit is your life. That life is pure, righteous, and holy, not because the Spirit enables us to be obedient to the law, rather it is because that life is God’s life within us. If you are led by the Sprit of God you are an adopted child of God. He has placed His very being, His nature, His goodness within you and expresses that life through you.
Live free! Live abundantly! Don’t become enslaved again to the law. It is an instrument of death. Christ’s Spirit brings life.
For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:19-21)
Notice the change. I died to the law so that I may live to God. Why go back to something that will not give life, something that I am now dead to? Will we walk in the fruit of the Spirit or walk in the works of the law? To be clear, the choice between Spirit produced fruit in our lives, or fleshly produced works of the law involves our moral conduct. It is not just the judicial and ceremonial parts of the law that we have died to. It is also the moral law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. (Gal 5:19-25)
“…let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit .” Let us behave in accordance with the new life/Spirit God has placed in us. Our behavior is Spirit, not law directed, and Spirit is our life..
No law exists against God’s character. No law exists that can create that character in us. There is no law against those things that are natural (in ones nature) to reborn Christians. Righteous living comes naturally to those who are indwelt by the Righteous One. Our actions/behavior reflect the new, holy nature God has placed in us. Our actions reflect who we are in Christ.
It is in the nature of a tree to produce fruit. No work required. It is in the nature of a born again Christian to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit, to reflect God’s moral character in our lives. No work required. Step back into the works of the law and the flesh is free to express its moral lawlessness. Walk by faith and enjoy the fruit of God’s Spirit in your life. Live free! Live abundantly!
Now I will make an abrupt change and tell you why I wrote this. I wrote in response to a chapter in one of Dr. Walter Kaiser’s books (book and chapter reference below). He is a consummate Old Testament scholar who impeccably captures the flow of Jewish to Christian history and the Jewish foundation on which Christianity rests. Having said that, I was disappointed in his chapter on the Law.
Dr. Kaiser is quite strong in his position making the following statement: “Consequently, any solution to the question of the unity of the law and the gospel that quickly does away with the law for the believer today cannot look to Scriptures for support. One cannot say that believers have nothing to do with the law anymore, for in that case they will stand opposed to the plain teaching of Scriptures.”
So now I stand in opposition “to the plain teaching of Scriptures.” Read Dr. Kaiser’s book and let him support his thesis. I have a simple question. If Christ is my life, why do I need an internal version of the law that the Holy Spirit empowers me to obey? I have Christ the law giver and the law keeper in me, expressing himself through me. I no longer live, Christ lives in me.
Am I wrong? I have tried to show that I am not, but I will let you be the judge.
Recovering the Unity of the Bible, One Continuous Story, Plan, and Purpose, Walter C Kaiser Jr., Zondervan, 1984, pp. 157-168, The Unity of the Bible and the Law of God
Some years ago I sat in a Presbyterian church that we had happily attended for a number of years. The leadership decided to emphasize their Reformed theology. I was growing uncomfortable with the theology even though I had attended a Presbyterian church as a child. The Pastor said something about Israel that I could not accept. What he said denied what God had promised to that tiny nation. The Pastor’s Replacement Theology said that Israel was just a place on the map. It no longer held any spiritual significance and was no longer important to God. This is what is called Replacement Theology. Replacement Theology says that the church is the new Israel and all the blessings promised to the Jews are now placed upon the church. The church has replaced Israel.
I revisit the subject from time to time. The refutations of Replacement Theology are extensive. Recently, it occurred to me to ask what Paul would say about the subject. Would he deny or affirm Replacement Theology? What follows are my musings that developed from that question. [The emphasis in the Biblical texts is mine.]
First I want to simply note that God has made promises to preserve the nation of Israel and He has kept those promises.
(Jer 31:35-37 [NET]) The LORD has made a promise to Israel. He promises it as the one who fixed the sun to give light by day and the moon and stars to give light by night. He promises it as the one who stirs up the sea so that its waves roll. He promises it as the one who is known as the LORD who rules over all. The LORD affirms, “The descendants of Israel will not cease forever to be a nation in my sight. That could only happen if the fixed ordering of the heavenly lights were to cease to operate before me.” The LORD says, “I will not reject all the descendants of Israel because of all that they have done. That could only happen if the heavens above could be measured or the foundations of the earth below could all be explored,” says the LORD.
Any common sense reading of those verses would conclude that God preserves the nation of Israel. There is absolutely no warrant in the context of these verses, nor throughout Scripture, to apply these words to the Church. We will come back to the proof of this promise to the nation of Israel later.
Think about the new covenant for a minute. Who received that covenant? I know who has benefited from the new covenant. The Church has benefitted, as well as believers in Christ. However, they were not the initial focus of God’s promise of a new covenant. No the promise is far older than our New Testament. God promised the new covenant first to Israel, first to the Jews. Is that surprising to you? Paul tells us that salvation came first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. I wonder if he is remembering these words from Jeremiah when he says that.
(Jer 31:31-33 [NET]) “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the LORD. “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the LORD. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.
Hearts and minds changed. That sounds like the Christian experience and we claim those promises because we are now in Christ. But look again at the passage. It is not addressed to the Church, it is addressed specifically to the people and nation of Israel. It is a covenant that writes the law on the hearts of the Jewish people. When does this new covenant occur? It occurs after God has planted the Jews back in their land. God preserves the nation of Israel and He preserves their land. He doesn’t abandon Israel even when they fail Him. God says that He is a faithful husband to Israel. A faithful husband does not abandon his bride no matter how she might disappoint, and that is Israel’s testimony. Israel violates the old covenant and God gives them a new one. God keeps His promises. God does not withdraw His love for those He has chosen to love. God loves because He is Love, not because the object of His love deserves it. We call that grace.
In reading Paul, there might be a tendency to think of him as a Christian, not as a Jew. He was both. HIs being a Christian did not diminish his being a Jew. When Paul wrote his letters, roughly thirty years after the cross, there was no “Church” as we would think of it today. There were assemblies, gatherings of people for the purpose of worshiping Christ. There was no New Testament, there was Torah. When believers opened the Word, they were reading or quoting from the Torah, the Jewish scrolls that we think of as the Old Testament. We tend to think that Paul wrote to purely Gentile churches. He did not. The Christian assemblies were considered a Jewish sect. They were led by Jews trained in the Torah. Note that the word for Church in our Bibles simply means an assembly, a gathering of people who, in this case, believe in Christ. The word ecclesia could be used for any gathering of people for a common purpose. For example, the legislative assembly for the Athenians was the “ecclesia.” To Paul the words would carry no special meaning in terms of what Church is. We have expanded and specialized the meaning of those words over many years of “Church” history. Boyarin writes: “for at least the first three centuries of their common lives, Judaism in all of its forms and Christianity in all of its forms were part of one complex religious family, twins in a womb, contending with each other for identity and precedence, but sharing with each other the same spiritual food.”
Very early, Gentiles began to outnumber the Jews and they began to reject their Jewish spiritual roots. (The writer of the Gospel of John was turned away from a Greek/Gentile assembly. 3 John 9-11) As Gentiles rejected their Jewish roots, they began to accuse Jews of killing Christ (something the Catholic church only recently repudiated and apologized for). Gentiles grew to believe that their predominantly Gentile-Christian assemblies had replaced Israel. They began to vociferously reject all things Jewish.
This Replacement Theology says that Israel’s blessings have been taken from them, because of disobedience, and placed on the Church, the ecclesia, the Christian assemblies. Think about that for a moment. Put yourself in a time when Paul was establishing new Christian assemblies. They were predominantly Jewish at first. Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. The Christian assemblies were led by Jews. The argument then is that these new Jewish/Christian assemblies have replaced Israel. Why would Paul think that? Replacement Theology, which developed from the first to the fifth centuries, has fed centuries of anti-Semitism and cruelty toward the Jews. I think Paul would have been shocked by this theology. His heart was for Israel and the new covenant promise of salvation for them.
(Rom 9:1-5 [NET]) I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit –I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed – cut off from Christ – for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen.
Paul, speaking roughly thirty years after Christ’s death and resurrection, says of Israel, “to them belong.” In Paul’s mind nothing has been taken away. If he thought so, here is the perfect place to state it. No, Israel possesses adoption as sons, and the covenants (this includes the new covenant). God’s glory belongs to them. Nothing has been taken from them because of Christ’s coming. It was Israel that gave us Christ, and historically the Church turned its back on that reality. Paul would be appalled at the suggestion that God has abdicated His promises to Israel. Would Paul ever conceive God, Israel’s husband, divorcing Israel? Replacement Theology comes out of a jealous heart, a conceit, that robs Israel of the very things Paul attests that they possess.
The seeds of conflict between Jew and Gentile were brewing in Rome when Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. Paul wrote Romans to a church divided. The Jews at one point were expelled from Rome. The expelled Jewish scholars had been the leaders in the Christian assembly in Rome. Their expulsion left the Roman assembly in the hands of Gentile leaders. Later, those exiled Jews were allowed to return to Rome, creating a crisis within the now Gentile-dominated assembly. Paul in Romans addresses the issues that this melding of Jew and Gentile had created. In Romans, Paul sees Christianity as an extension of his Jewish heritage. The Gentiles had been grafted into Israel through Christ. Paul sees Jews and Greeks as co-recipients of the gospel message and the new covenant promise.
(Rom 1:15-17 [NET]) Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
A brief summary of this time in the assembly in Rome can be found here.
Jesus was a devout Jew. The Apostles were all practicing Jews. Paul, after his conversion, proclaimed his Jewish qualifications boldly. None of them disavowed their Jewish fellowship in order to become Christian. Nowhere in Acts is anyone asked to renounce being a Jew in order to become Christian. The Christian assemblies were seen as an extension of Israel, not its replacement. Gentiles were the outsiders. “Alienated from the citizenship of Israel,” Paul says. The Gentiles have been brought near through Christ’s blood. Near to what? Near to fellowship with Israel and near to Israel’s God. In Christ, both Jew and Gentile are one. Be careful here. Paul is not stating anything about Israel being replaced by the Church. He says nothing about a change in God’s relationship with Israel in these verses. He is only emphasizing the common benefit to both Jews and Gentiles in Christ.
(Eph 2:10-15 [NET]) For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace,
We get our directions wrong. “ You who used to be far away have been brought near.” The Church did not replace Israel. No, Gentiles joined in the fellowship of the promised covenant with Israel. It was a surprise to the Jews that Gentiles would share in the coming of the Messiah. Believing Jews and Gentiles are one man, neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ. The Jewish law was no longer a barrier between the two races. Yet the identity of Jew and Gentile was unchanged. Paul the Christian declares that he is of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), and he addressed Roman believers as you Gentiles (Romans 11:13).
(Eph 3:4-6 [NET]) When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, namely that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.
Gentiles being fellow heirs with Israel of God’s promises would be a shock to a Jew of Paul’s day. Let me repeat, fellow heirs, a joint sharing on equal footing. Not one superseding another. How could Paul then hold that the Church (a Jewish sect made up of scattered Christian assemblies) has replaced Israel, having stated emphatically that Gentiles are fellow heirs with Israel?
(Gal 3:28 [NET]) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
It is important to understand the nature of our standing in Christ. The verse above indicates our oneness in Christ by contrasting various groups of people. Note that that oneness does nothing to abrogate the function of those groups. Jews and Greeks are one in Christ, but they remain functionally Jews and Greeks. A man remains functionally a man and a woman remains functionally a woman even though they are one in Christ. In Christ, we are all fellow heirs, but we are not stripped of our function in the process. The prior verses indicate a bringing in of Gentiles, while Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles. One does not absorb the other. One does not replace the other. Christianity grew stronger among the Gentiles, while it withered among the Jews. God’s work with Israel did not end with the coming of their Messiah. This oneness in Christ does not take away from the truth, the mystery that Paul knew to be true.
(Rom 11:1-4 [NET]) So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew! Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left and they are seeking my life!” But what was the divine response to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand people who have not bent the knee to Baal.”
Paul could not be more emphatic regarding Israel’s standing before God in the New Covenant, Christian age. Israel is far more than a place on a map. God has made promises to Israel that He will not abandon. God is not finished with the nation of Israel, and one day Jew and Gentile will share their worship of Christ. If God has abandoned His new covenant promise to Israel, then we can have no confidence that He will keep His promises to the Church. Replacement Theology undermines the graciousness of God. It pictures God as a divorcee. It is the product of an early anti-Semitic view that developed among Gentile Christians who conceitedly rejected their roots in the Jewish faith.
Up till 1948 most Christian theologians had spiritualized many of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel including the following:
(Deut 30:3-5 [NET]) the LORD your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors.
The United Nations did the unthinkable. On November 29, 1947 they declared that the nation of Israel was now a sovereign Jewish State. Jews who had been scattered all over the world began returning to the land God had promised to them in Genesis. From May 1948, Israel stands in vivid testimony to God’s faithfulness. They stand testifying to a gracious God who keeps His promises to His chosen people.
God is not done with Israel. There are promises to Israel yet to be fulfilled. Here is one of them:
(Deut 30:6=7 [NET]) The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live. Then the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you.
That is a promise that God will restore Israel’s relationship with Him. It is as certain to occur as was Israel’s return to the land after years of dispersion and persecution. God has not abandoned Israel.
Paul looks ahead to the future salvation of his beloved Israel:
(Rom 11:12-15 [NET]) Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
(Rom 11:25, 26 [NET]) For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
How can we deny that the dry bones of Ezekiel have been gathered once more in God’s promised land? The return of Israel to their land gives unimpeachable testimony that God has not abandoned His promises to His chosen people, nor has He removed His blessings from them. Israel’s people have once again been given flesh and sinew. The Jew walks again in Israel. Now those restored bones of Israel wait for God to breathe His Life into them. God has used Israel to benefit the Gentiles. He has never abandoned Israel in that process and He has not replaced Israel with the Church. Paul saw the Church as an extension of God’s work with Israel, not an abandonment of them. I don’t think it is possible for him to even think such a thing. Why then should we?
(Ezek 37:10-14 [NET]) So I prophesied as I was commanded, and the breath came into them; they lived and stood on their feet, an extremely great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Look, they are saying, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and tell them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am about to open your graves and will raise you from your graves, my people. I will bring you to the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. I will place my breath in you and you will live; I will give you rest in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD – I have spoken and I will act, declares the LORD.’”
Have you ever had a crazy desire? What would you do if you woke one morning and wanted to be a married-bachelor.
We all have desires, some admirable and some silly like being a married bachelor. We filter through our desires moment by moment and we prioritize them. Some we put at the top of our list and others we discard as a nuisance, dangerous, or impossible. It is impossible to be a married-bachelor. You knew that didn’t you. I don’t have to tell you that. I don’t have to convince you that the two states of being are incompatible. Some things are intuitively obvious. They require no proof, in fact no proof exists. They are simply necessarily so. Two plus two is four we state with no proof, there is none. Yes we can manipulate set theory to support our conclusion, but that manipulation rests on the necessary properties of numbers and the necessary rules we use to count. There is no proof of necessary things, they simply exist and are universally true.
When a desire comes along that defies what is necessarily true, and when you give in to that desire, problems ensue. We don’t go around thinking of a world in which every desire we have is a good one. We test those desires against what is objectively and necessarily true. We often learn what is necessarily true by experiencing the harmful effects of our bad desires when we act them out. My desires do not change what is real. What is objectively true and necessary modifies my desires. If that doesn’t happen in a person’s life, we declare that person mentally ill, or we label them criminals.
When something is intuitively true in all times and all places, we have discovered something outside ourselves. I would guess that there are very few people groups that cannot count. There are few people in the world who would not know intuitively that if his neighbor had two cows and he had one, his neighbor would be tangibly richer than he was. We live in a sea of objective, necessary things. It makes life possible. The basic things of life work according to intuitively understood principles. Our grandson is learning to walk and at the same time learning something about gravity. He can’t name gravity yet, but it is a reality to him.
How often have you heard the name Jesus used by politicians to support their "moral" position. They are looking for cover, something outside themselves to support their personal moral view. They know intuitively that their moral opinion is nothing more than opinion. It has no standing greater than any other person’s opinion, so they borrow the moral standing of Jesus to boost their position. In doing so they put words in the mouth of our Lord in ways that He would never approve. On moral issues we look outside ourselves for lasting and meaningful answers.
We live today in a world filled with moral outrage."I want my safe place." "Can’t we all get along?" "That is not who we are as a people." "You must be tolerant." "Who are you to judge?" "Marriage must extend to partners of the same sex." "You can’t criticize those who have gone through a sex change." "I have a right…" When our desires are allowed to form our moral code we step into a world where there is no right and wrong. We create a world where no person can make a judgment about the actions, or opinions of another. All judgments are relative and the only standard is personal opinion. It is often stated that everyone has the right to their own opinion. Notice in saying, "everyone is entitled to their own opinion," one is eliciting a moral imperative. Everyone can have an opinion, but not every opinion is true, or valuable.
Interfere with a person’s position of moral outrage and you will suffer responses ranging from invective to battery or worse. This personal moral outrage based on personal desires has become entrenched in our society. It can’t end well.
Relativism leads to ethical nihilism the worst of all worlds where there is no good and evil, right or wrong, judgment or shame. There is only personal opinion, rights, and moral imperialism. It is a world in which might makes right. (They wonder why people cling to their guns.) We see groups joining together that share the same desires. They rage in the streets with moral fervor. They dictate on campuses and in classrooms. They enforce jihad in the most profane ways. They pass laws to enforce their personal point of view. In the name of a personal moral code they encourage anarchy, the ultimate end to rejecting what is necessarily and objectively real.
When we rely on our personal desires to form our moral code we reject the source of objective moral values. It is the ultimate sin. It says, "I can be like God." That is saying that I am my own arbiter of what is good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. I am sufficient in myself to judge.
Necessary, objective reality is not hard to understand. We come by it intuitively. The math might be hard but the fundamental concepts are easy to grasp. "She got more than I did," is an easy response that reflects both the grasp of the fundamental nature of counting and a sense of what is right or wrong. These things are meant to be known.
Getting our moral actions entirely correct is a learning process, it is like learning math. The reality is that the fundamentals are there for us to use and grow into. Yes, slavery was wrong. So is abortion. If you are going to place value on life then let’s do so consistently. Of course, to preserve your personal moral code, you redefine what life is. In the womb a baby is not a human being, you say and in so doing deny the obvious. We have heard this before. The Jews were not human beings to the Nazis. Blacks were not viewed as human beings by their slave owners. We are moving toward holding the aged and others as no longer being human beings. In our demand for personal morality we destroy our own humanity.
We all face desires many of which should never be acted upon. Some desires are bad for us. Desiring to be a married-bachelor is an impossible state of being. Others wake up desiring to be of another sex, or to be "married" to the same sex. Equally impossible states of being. We all wrestle with our crazy desires, but we do not give into them no matter how powerful they might become. That would be lunacy, but just that kind of lunacy is what we see in the world today.
The more we exclude God from our lives, the worse things will be. That is a simple fact, as simple as two plus two equals four. That is a necessary, and objective reality, no proof needed. How do I know. I know by intuition. I know because God wants me to know.
1John 1:1-4 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life –and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. [NET Bible]
I appreciate the New English Translation Bible (NET) and their effort for a clear and accurate interpretation. Their notes are extensive and often helpful. They provide Biblical commentary on bible.org where I found a detailed exegesis of 1 John. The following quote from that writing caused me to pause:
In contrast to v. 6, which reflects a claim of the opponents, the present verse introduces the counter-claim of the author of 1 John. However, does the author’s statement the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin refer to initial justification or to ongoing sanctification for the Christian? Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification. This means that fellowship with one another is also something shared between believers and is a result of a righteous lifestyle (“walking in the light”). The author is not worried about the initial justification (salvation) of the people to whom he is writing. Rather he is reassuring them about forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians. (Click here for the full article.)
This argument is repeated and augmented when the commentary approaches verse 9, a much abused verse on sin. 1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
The exegesis referred to above promotes the idea that a Christian must keep a short leash on his sins, confessing them on a regular basis in order to prevent sins from diminishing his access to God and disrupting fellowship with fellow believers. 1 John 1:9 is the key verse in this requirement. There cannot be a once-and-done forgiveness of sins, but there is a need for continuous confession of sin is the typical interpretation of this verse. To support this position the commentator requires that John’s epistle be about sanctification, not justification. We are cleansed of sins as we confess them and walk in the light and as we work to reflect Jesus in our lives. This is a saved by grace, sanctified by works understanding of Scripture.
To my mind, the commentator misses the radical demarcation between walking in the Light versus walking in darkness. I would argue that the following key statement is presumptive and not supported by the text: “Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification.”
I believe the prologue (verses 1:1-4 above) sets the tone for what is to follow. What happens to the darkness when you turn on the light? Does any darkness remain? Jesus is the light of the world. One comes to Him and finds life, or one stays in the darkness and suffers death, eternal separation from God. John leaves no room for being partly saved, or somewhat in the Kingdom. You are in or you are not. His readers are questioning this reality. Those who have come to the light are being challenged by those who have not come to believe in Christ. The opponents, those in the darkness, distort who Jesus is and what it is to be in fellowship with Him. John paints a picture of what it is to be in the light or to remain in the darkness. The discussion of sin arises because at its essence, Sin is rejection of God. Sin is the free human choice not to accept Jesus, a refusal to come to the Light. John’s joy will be complete when those in opposition come to the light, accept the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and enter into true Christian fellowship. The epistle turns then on this struggle between light and dark, between the refusal to accept justification in Christ and its consequences, or to accept justification in Him with all its subsequent positive attributes. John is writing about the stark dividing line of justification, not an ongoing progressive sanctification.
I will try to support my thesis by looking at the sin verses from 1 John interspersed with my comments:
1John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
What happens when we walk in the light? We have fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. When did this cleansing happen? When did we enter into this fellowship, this transition from darkness to light? This clearly occurs when one personally accepts the work of the Cross where Jesus in his death and by His shed blood took away the sins of the world. When we accept Christ, God promises to remember our sins no more. We are cleansed white as snow. Our sins are put as far from us as the east is from the west. Which of our sins are not forgiven? All our sins occur after the Cross and it is there that all our sins are forgiven. Note what we have in the light. We have fellowship and cleansing. We have those things, we do not produce them. We walk in the reality of being cleansed and in fellowship with one another.
1John 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
This is what walking in darkness is like. To have the truth is to have Christ. Those who will not come to the light deceive themselves and Christ is not in them. They deny God. Don’t let the use of “we” mislead you. It is the unbeliever who is described here. This is not “we Christians.” It is like saying “If we as human beings say…”
1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
Notice the result of this confession; one is cleansed from all unrighteousness? At the Cross we died with Christ and rose with Him. Through our faith in Him we have His righteousness. This is justification language. This is once-and-done language. This is that single moment when a seeker recognizes his sin of rejecting Christ, confesses that sin and accepts Christ into his life.
1John 2:1,2 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.
Even if we sin as Christians we have an advocate with the Father. Notice that we do nothing, Jesus does it for us. If we sin, Jesus tells the Father, my blood is sufficient for that and the Father remembers that sin no more. There is no special pleading on our part. It is Jesus our advocate on view.
1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.
Jesus came to fulfill the law, because mankind could not keep it. The standard of the law is far too great for our human effort to achieve. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. No amount of contrition can atone for our sin. No amount of self effort will sanctify us.
1John 3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
Jesus did not come to judge us. He came to set us free. He takes away the sins of the world. He takes them away. He does the work we cannot do. On the Cross, Jesus has done all that is needed to deal with the issue of sin.
1John 3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
A very strong statement that describes being in the light or remaining in darkness. And here we have the crowning statement on sin. Jesus who has no sin has made it possible for us to be His temple, His dwelling place, pure and holy as He is. In our death and resurrection in Christ we have been circumcised from the sin that dwells in our flesh. We are no longer a part of the old, and we have been made new. This is the gospel John is preaching. Let me emphasize, this is an “in the light or in the darkness” statement. It is one or the other, no mixture of the two is possible. We are born from above and are in Christ. We do not sin. We do not oscillate in and out of Christ. Our actions do not change who we are in Christ. We are born of Him and that is an eternal reality that will never change. Christians reside in Christ and according to John they do not sin, period.
1John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous.
Is righteousness something we practice? Righteousness is right standing with God. It is not something we produce, it is a standing granted to us by God in Christ. We practice, or do righteousness by walking in its reality. We abide in the righteousness that Christ has provided to us. We are righteous just as Jesus is righteous. That is startling. Our standing before the Father is just as pure and holy as that of Jesus. You are as righteous as God’s Son is righteous. What deception are we vulnerable to? We can be robbed of the truth that we have the same standing before the Father that Christ has. It is not a matter of sanctification, our producing righteousness by our concerted effort to please God, it is a matter of who indwells you, the righteous One who assures your right standing before the Father. Don’t be deceived that that is not a reality in your life.
1John 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.
If you are in the light you practice righteousness. The presence of God is reflected in the way you walk in this life. If you reside in the darkness you practice sinful things. What we do depends on who’s influence we are under. The source of sin is Satan, not man and certainly not God. God’s wrath rests on Satan not on believers. Remain in the darkness and you remain under Satan’s influence. Come to the light and you are guided and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
1John 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
Adam’s seed has been replaced by the Father’s seed. Adam sinned. The Father cannot sin. Our true selves, our new nature, does not practice sin because God’s seed dwells in us. We are born of Him. Our new nature is who we truly are. We are no longer identified with the flesh. This is a once-and-done event. As soon as we exercise faith in Christ we are born from above and the Father’s seed is implanted in us. The moment we are justified that seed is implanted and we no long practice sin. We cannot sin, we no longer have the sin nature in us. We have God’s love nature in us.
Conclusion: John is very clear about sin. God dealt with sin on the Cross. It is no longer an issue that stands between the believer and his relationship with God. We are new creatures in Christ made for the indwelling of God with the same standing of righteousness held by the Son. We are His holy temple. John does not hold to a weak view of the Cross and all it has accomplished for us. The Cross dealt with the problem of sin completely. It is surely once-and-done. Placing our faith in Jesus brings to us all the benefits of Christ’s shed blood. Any suggestion, in my view, that our sanctification requires our continual confession of sin diminishes the work of the Cross and distorts what John is saying. The good news really is GOOD NEWS! By faith in Christ we have stepped from darkness into Light and that ends our relationship with sin and sin’s standing in the way of our fellowship with the Father. We have the seed of the Father in us, we no longer practice sin, and we are not the source of sin. We walk in the righteousness that Jesus provides to us. John warns us not to be deceived. God has done a mighty work, walk in His light, don’t even imagine that the darkness has not been dealt with. In Him there is no darkness at all and He dwells in you.
The commentators get it wrong when they promote a progressive sanctification that depends upon our ability to continually recognize and confess our sins. They fail to recognize how completely Jesus dealt with sin when he shed His blood on the Cross. Walking in the light is not a progressive growth in Christ. It is the absolute quality of life that begins when we are born again of the Spirit and the Fathers seed, His very nature, is placed in us. Walking in the light is an eternal truth for the believer because he has turned from rejecting Christ to walking in faith with Him. These turning points are associated with justification not sanctification. John warns us not to be deceived.
We value our freedom. We will die for our freedom. We declare our autonomy. We have a deep desire to make our own decisions free from coercion. I can do what I want to do as long as it does not hurt anyone else we argue. Don’t tread on me. I live in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Don’t judge me. Don’t lay your moral code on me. I will judge for myself. I will follow my own sense of moral right. Only I can decide what is right for me.
I think our autonomy is God given. We are unique persons with our own characteristics, abilities, desires, needs, goals, etc. We are made in God’s image. We can reason. We have emotion. We recognize beauty. We desire to create. We sense moral good and evil. We love. We freely make decisions and act on them.
But something is terribly wrong with our exercise of autonomy. If when applying our autonomy to real life situations we abandon what is true about ourselves, then we have a serious problem. Examples abound. When a man decides that he is not male, but female, something is seriously wrong. When a society decides that certain human beings, Blacks, or Jews, or Catholics for example are in fact not human then something is seriously wrong. In the name of personal freedom we now turn the definition of marriage on it head to the point that it has no meaning left in it. In the name of personal freedom we say that a baby in the womb is nothing but tissue suitable for harvesting or careless disposal. In the name of autonomy we lower our borders to any who would come into this country, many, not all but many, bring evil intent with them including murder, rape, robbery, and terrorism. In the name of autonomy we are destroying the very fabric of society. I have a right is our rallying cry with anarchy only a breath away.
Man is free, but dependent. Man does not create, he derives. God has placed us in a universe that uniquely supports us. Plants grow and can be harvested to our benefit. Animals can be domesticated to provide nourishment, clothing, even companionship. Within the world God has created for us we are free to eat vegetables, or meat, or both. We can seek our own kind of labor and profit from it. We can breathe the air around us and drink the water that fills our rivers. We can go and come as our whims lead us. Yet in our freedom we depend on what God has provided at every moment of our lives. I am not free from God’s natural law. Gravity wins every time.
There is another dependence that we pay little attention to as we extol our autonomy. We are made in a way that makes us respond to an external spirit. Our human spirit responds to a spirit that is apart from ourselves. God designed us to respond to the Holy Spirit. In our exercise of freedom we were to have God guiding us by His Spirit. We were not made to be robots, but we were made to depend on God to show us what was good in our lives. In the Garden of Eden we decided to assert our autonomy and be like God. We would decide for ourselves what was good or evil for us. In that moment we abandoned our dependence on God’s Spirit and we allowed Satan’s spirit to have sway over our free choices.
What we see today is the consequence of that decision. We are dependent, derivative beings. We depend on spirit to guide us. That is how we are made. We will follow the leading of spirit. We cannot avoid this truth anymore than we can avoid the effects of gravity. What we see in the world is the product of an evil spirit influencing mankind.
Most of us don’t think about the impact of a spirit on our lives. The presence of that spirit is hardly perceived. We only recognize what spirit is guiding us by the fruit that it produces. At the root of the relativism that surrounds us man insists on his autonomy. This includes his absolute freedom from God. He turns his back on God in ways that are beyond rational. In doing so the father of lies places his intent in them and manifests evil through them.
The evidence for man’s need to return to his dependence on God is vividly clear. We are not facing simply political, moral, or ethical issues that a consensus will cure. There is no political solution for our present state. We are facing a spiritual issue that can only be addressed by dethroning Satan’s spirit and replacing him with God’s very presence, His guiding Spirit. In a word, mankind needs to be saved. He needs to be saved from his own autonomy, from his own self-serving living under Satan’s influence.
People need to know the power of the Cross and the Spirit that flows from it. There and only there rests our hope. Christ in you the hope of glory.