I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Essential Doctrine of Original Sin

There is no doctrine so much despised or so much needed by the modern world as the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is well summarized by the first line of a colonial New England primer: "A is for Adam. In Adam's fall, we sinned all."

According to the biblical doctrine of original sin, God made our first parents in a state of untested innocence. Although Eve sinned before Adam, God had appointed Adam to represent the whole human race. Therefore, when Adam sinned, he brought doom on all of his posterity. Just as a king or president can involve his whole country in war, so we are born into this world as enemies of God (Romans 5:10). As a judgment for Adam's sin, God withdrew His Holy Spirit from the human heart, leaving us alone.

The Bible often refers to human nature apart from God as "the flesh," and it tells us that the "deeds of the flesh" are: "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Bible says that the heart is "more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9).

This, then, is the doctrine that is both despised and needed by the modern world. Moderns have got the problem all wrong, and so cannot find a solution. In the first place, moderns typically exalt "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry and sorcery" as alternate life-styles or expressions of freedom. In the second place, they assume that the human heart is basically good. The problem is not with the heart, but with educational, economic and social inequalities. If that is the problem, then the solution is obvious. Use the power of government to erase the inequalities, and all will be well.

On the international scene, the problem between warring parties is usually assumed to be a misunderstanding of each other's values. The answer to the problem is therefore diplomacy. When enemies talk to each other, they understand each other; when they understand each other, they become friends.

Let us suppose that on Thursday of next week all inequalities and misunderstandings could be magically erased. The doctrine of original sin says that by the following Thursday the strong would have begun to oppress the weak, and fresh occasions for hatred between races and classes would already have arisen.

Certainly, it is right to help the poor. Certainly, it is right to provide a good education for all of our children. Certainly, it is right to promote dialogue between enemies. These things are right. They are just not enough.

Because the human heart is sinful, there must be sanctions as well as incentives. There must be punishments as well as praise. Governments should exercise their power to protect the weak and to balance the interests of opposing power blocks. For example, many workers are pro-union, because they believe that unions protect the little guy. Many businessmen see unions as evil. The truth is that both big business and big labor, when left to themselves, become greedy for power and profit. Both have shown themselves willing to use ungodly tactics to further their own selfish self-interests.

Therefore, the doctrine of original sin helps us to be realists. We work toward temporary and limited solutions to fundamentally intractable problems, and we thrust aside all dreams of man-made utopias because we see that our social ills have spiritual dimensions.

Finally, the doctrine of original sin sounds the death knell for all forms of self-help religion. Do we want to be better than we are? We need to be rescued by a power beyond ourselves. The Bible says that God forgives our sins when we trust in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we "receive the promise of the [Holy] Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14), and "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

That is what the modern world really needs, and that is what we need as individuals. As I point out in my book The Beauty of God for a Broken World, we must understand the Bible’s teaching on sin if we want our lives to be invaded by the beauty of God.

Monday, October 18, 2010


“The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not make sense,” says the skeptic. “People do not spontaneously rise from the grave. It is contrary to history and to the laws of nature.”

I say that history and nature do not make sense without the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us begin with history.

The existence of the Christian Church is an inexplicable riddle apart from the resurrection. Many people suppose that the Church arose because the disciples of Christ wanted to carry on the teachings of their dead Master. Later they invented the resurrection to enhance the Master’s reputation. Such a notion is completely inconsistent with the available evidence.

The whole New Testament was written within seventy years of Christ’s death, and its consistent testimony is that the resurrection of Christ is the central fact of His life. The four Gospels, which record the words and deeds of Christ, all present the resurrection as the climax of His story, and in all of them hints of the resurrection are woven throughout the text. It is not possible to rip the resurrection out from the teaching of the Gospels without destroying the literary unity of those books.

In the book of Acts, which describes the early spread of Christianity, every sermon reported in detail deals with the resurrection of Christ. Most of the rest of the New Testament consists of letters, and throughout this body of literature the death, resurrection and future return of Christ are presented as crucial factors for moral and spiritual wholeness. The modern notion—that the early disciples wanted to spread the ethical teaching of Jesus—is simply false. The only morality of interest to New Testament authors is that which flows from His death and His bodily resurrection.

The detailed historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is very impressive, but in this article I wish to make only three points. First, the Church would never have arisen without a firm conviction in the supreme importance of Christ’s resurrection. Second, this conviction must rest on some historical event. Third, no proposed event is able to explain the conviction and the explosive energy of the early church as well as the literal resurrection of Christ. The disciples saw Him repeatedly after His crucifixion. They spoke to Him. They touched Him. They were on fire with the certainly that He was alive.

In the same way, nature itself is inexplicable without the resurrection of Christ. Most ancient cosmologies, except those related to the Bible, are cyclical. The whole cosmos, and often individual human beings, go through a great cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. Some modern cosmologies are also cyclical, but there seems to be a growing consensus that the universe will continue to expand and cool forever and finally become incapable of supporting life.

None of these worldviews sees any rational end behind nature. The world and its creatures simply exist. That is all. There is no reason for their being and no purposeful direction for their destiny. Ultimately, nature itself does not make sense.

The resurrection of Christ, however, assures us that the God who created the world and framed its laws came to live among His creatures. He died and rose again—shattering the law that sin leads to death—in order to lead His creation out of death into life. He will come again to complete the restoration of His world to Himself. By His resurrection, Jesus declares that nature is not senseless. It has a goal. Furthermore, by His resurrection He heals the senseless brokenness of human nature for all who trust in Him.

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. ‘O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Downfall of Self-Esteem

February is the month for love, so I want to discuss a biblical text on love that I have heard abused times without number.  It is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

The typical abuse of the passage goes something like this.  In order to love others, you must first love yourself.  Loving yourself means having a good self-image.  Positive self-esteem is the secret to happiness and fulfillment in life.  Therefore, the first order of business is to learn to feel good about yourself.

There are several problems with this approach, not the least of which is the fact that pursuing self-esteem is as foreign to the Bible as camels are to Alaska.  What on earth would the modern psycho-babblers do with a verse like Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves"?

Now don't get me wrong.  Those who obey God's word have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves.  First, they receive the forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, so they have no cause to wallow in the pigpen of their guilt feelings.  Second, they become the children of God.  What status could be higher than being the King's kid?  Third, the Bible's prescriptions for life are a blueprint for fulfillment and happiness.

Take, for example, the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  There is, of course, a bad kind of self-love.  Selfish self-love seeks happiness by grabbing whatever it can get without regard for the needs and feelings of others.  The Bible, however, also recognizes a proper self-love, a kind of self-love that every human being necessarily has.

This inescapable self-love is the desire to be happy.  It is impossible for anyone consciously to desire his own misery.  Even when people punish themselves for their own misdeeds, their motive is to ease their sense of guilt, and thus to decrease their misery.

The Bible recognizes that we inevitably want to be happy, and we therefore want the things we believe will make us happy.  Our problem is that we are normally confused about how to find happiness.  The greedy child thinks more toys will make him happy.  The work-a-holic thinks that piling up achievements will make him happy.  The flirtatious woman thinks that the attention of men will make her happy.

The Bible has a different prescription for happiness.  It tells us to love God above of all, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To love God above all means to fall in love with the One whose nature is beauty, truth, goodness and love all wrapped up together.  To love your neighbor as yourself means to desire his happiness as you desire your own.

When you desire your neighbor's happiness, your occasions for happiness are automatically doubled.  If God blesses you, you rejoice.  If God blesses your neighbor, you rejoice.  Therefore, it makes sense to work for your neighbor's good in the same way that you work for your own.

People who love their neighbors as themselves are not out frantically searching for more self-esteem.  They don't have time for that kind of nonsense.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Factors Influencing Our Choices

My friend has a son who hears voices in his head, sometimes several voices at once.  One of the voices speaks a constant string of numbers, and it will not shut up.

This tragedy admits of two very simple explanations.  The first is that the young man has a demon.  Case open; case shut.  The second is that his genetic code is scrambled, and as for demons—bah!  Humbug!

The problem, however, with simple solutions is that they are often simply wrong.  Human beings are very complex, and the Bible recognizes multiple factors at work in our lives.  There are at least five of them.

1.     Our birth.  The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth” (Psalm 58:3).  There is something morally twisted or broken in all of us from the moment of our birth, but the fact that we have an inborn disposition toward one kind of sin or another does not render us guiltless before God.

2.     Our nurture.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  The Bible recognizes that the things that are done to us in the formative years have a great effect on our actions.

3.     Our choices.   "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).  People who are capable of making choices (and that includes most of us) are responsible for the direction their lives take, no matter what other influences may bear upon them.

4.     The devil.  “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  The devil is real; the devil is dangerous, and the devil commands legions of demons.

5.     God.  The Lord works in many ways. Sometimes He gives rebels over to their own sinful choices (Romans 1:24, 26, 28), but whenever Christian people are seeking to serve God, we can say, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

The important thing to realize is that all of these factors may come into play at once.  The devil frequently tempts us in our areas of weakness, whether this weakness is inherited, is caused by childhood experiences or is a result of our previous decisions.  God gives substantial healing to all who come to Him through Christ, but He never completely heals the ravages of sin in this life.  Final healing waits for the resurrection at the last day.

A man who is born with a quick temper may struggle with that disposition all of his life.  The devil will constantly tempt him in that area, but when he receives Christ as Savior and begins to walk in fellowship with God, the Holy Spirit gives him new resources to fight against that particular sin.  In time his temper may even be tamed.

Now let us return to my friend’s son.  There is every reason to believe that he was born with a genetic defect that surfaced when he became a young adult.  The multi-track stereo in his head may have been triggered by unusual stresses when he entered the military, or it may have been hard-wired to turn on at a certain age.  Can the devil get into his head and add a sound-track of his own?  I don’t see why not.  He attacks others in their areas of weakness, so I suppose he can do the same here.

What should this young man do?  Is he helpless before forces that are too strong for him, or does he have some responsible choices to make?  Certainly the latter.

He can gratefully accept the measure of healing afforded by modern medications.  He can refuse to blame himself for the existence of the voices he hears.  He can latch on to God’s promise, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7), and fight against every suggestion to do evil that comes from the voice of Satan.  He can look with hope for a greater measure of healing through Christ than he would otherwise experience.

Will he ever be completely free of these multiple voices?  I do not know, but if he bravely struggles on, trusting as well as he can in the power and love of the risen Christ, then on the last day the Lord will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”