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Friday, 30 November 2018

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not the same

The Problem
Some have argued that if you forgive someone in your heart, you should naturally be reconciled to them in person.

But that is not necessarily the case. If the offender does not recognise their sinful behaviour or confess it or apologise for it, there can be no meaningful reconciliation  - though the offended must always forgive in their heart.

Forgiveness is an inward attitude of mind and heart that views the person who has offended them - as hard as this might be - as though they had not offended. In other words, there is no longer any anger in the heart towards that person. Forgiveness - true forgiveness - is only possible for a believer because of God's forgiveness. The logic of all Christian forgiveness is this: "If God has forgiven me the greater offences I have committed against him, I must find it in my heart to forgive the far lesser offences someone has committed against me." Meditating on Christ's forgiveness and praying the line of the Lord's prayer regularly really does enable a believer to work towards real heart forgiveness. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us."

There can be no meaningful reconciliation, however, if the offender is totally unwilling to admit or own up to their offences. Why? Because every time the offended and offender meet, there is an elephant of offence in the room, undealt with. So you can pretend to be reconciled, but in reality you are not - and can't be.

The Joseph Example
The story of Joseph is a moving example of human forgiveness motivated and empowered by God. Joseph's brothers sin against him in a terrible way. First, they are filled with internal envy for his gifts and role (we must in part blame Joseph's father for favouritism). Second, they are callous when they threw him down a well while they were eating a meal. Third, they knowingly sold him to slave trader who "bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons." Fourthly, they lied about him to their father. 
If ever there were men who sinned against a brother - here it was. 

And if there was ever a group of men who did not own up to their sin, it was this crew.

But here is the interesting and important point. Joseph made it hard for his brothers before he reconciled with them. While I do not doubt that he forgave them in the heart, there was no reconciliation until the brothers owned up to their sinful behaviour.

What did Joseph do to get them to see their sin?
  • He put them in prison for three days
  • He made them send their youngest brother to Egypt - an act they knew their father would find nigh on impossible to accept
  • He put a royal silver cup in one of their sacks  making it look like they were thieves!
  • He spoke harshly to them (42:30) and treated them as spies
What was the purpose of this gracious-harsh behaviour? Was Joseph being vindictive? Not one bit! He was trying to get them to see their wicked behaviour - and it worked:

"They said to one another, 'Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen, that's why this distress has come upon us'." (42:21)

It was only when the brothers could see their wickedness that Joseph was - or could be -  reconciled to them.

So reconciliation and forgiveness are two very different things which must never be confused. We are always called to forgive, but reconciliation is impossible without acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the offender(s). 

If someone sins against you, always forgive them in your heart. How can you not? Then run through  the process of Matthew 18 if you can - sometimes it is impossible. Reconciliation is always desirable, but not always possible.  See if you can get them to see their sin. If they can't or refuse to see their sin, then do not feel guilty if you cannot reconcile.

 As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Can a believer lose their salvation?

A Real Question
Some believers struggle with assurance. Assurance is the inner knowledge that we are, for sure, right with God; that our sins are for sure forgiven; that we are certainly on our way to heaven.

Assurance can be connected to personality as well as doctrinal teaching. People with low self-esteem and confidence can also suffer from a lack of salvation-assurance.

Believers from theologically "Arminian" backgrounds can also suffer from assurance.

(In simple terms, "Arminianism" says that salvation is in our hands. One day I can believe and the next day I can decide not to believe. In contrast, "Calvinists" believe that salvation is completely of the Lord. God decides who is saved and God keeps them by his almighty power through all the struggles of this passing life.)

For sure, Satan uses any chink in our armour, whether doctrinal, personality - and most frequently failure - to "accuse" us. The name "Satan" means accuser. He says to us "How can you be a true believer when you just thought that, said that, did that?" And all too often we believe his lies.

The answer is a radical "NO"
So can a believer lose their salvation? Absolutely, and certainly "No!" Why not?

(i) God is the one who chooses who is saved. "Salvation is of the Lord" according to Scripture (Psalm 3:8, Jonah 2:9). If salvation had anything to do with us, we would have no hope, because outside of Christ we were lost in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and under the power of Satan (1 John 5:19). If salvation depends on us choosing it, not one person would ever do so. It is God who sovereignly chooses who is saved (Ephesians 1:4)

(ii) Those whom God chooses, he for sure brings to heaven. "He who began a good work... will carry it on to completion" (Phil 1:6). "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8).

If salvation was in our hands, as some Arminians teach, the expereince of assurance is completely unattainable. But if salvation is in God's hands, we can have every confidence, in spite of all the ups and downs of life, that we are safe.  

What about those who have walked out?
Someone says, "But what about those who once believed but don't any longer?" Don't they demonstrate that we can be lost?" Not at all. A "backslidder" is a true believer who leaves for a while but in the end returns. The prodigal son returned home; Peter returned to the Master after denying him. King David returned. If someone truly believed, but is now backslidden they will one day return. A backslidder is a true believer all the time.

An apostate is someone who looked like a true believer but never was and one day leaves for good and thereby demonstrates that fact. Judas was an apostate.

What about Hebrews 6?
The book of Hebrews was written to backslidden believers on the verge of walking out. How do we bring such back? With many encouraging truths and with the severest warnings, that if they walk out they may never ever return. That's what the warning of Hebrews 6 is about.

Won't assurance lead to spiritual apathy?
Again, no. Because the mark of a true believer is that they work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). They don't rest on their spiritual laurels saying to themselves, "I'm saved so I don't need to bother". That lazy attitude is almost certainly the mark of someone who is not saved.

Assured that we are loved by God and eternally saved should be the experience and blessing of all Christian.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
  Praising my Savior all the day long

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Attenborough's Anthropology

"Sir David Attenborough wants more women to lead like in the animal kingdom."

A household name, a national treasurer
For as long as I have been watching TV, I have enjoyed the wildlife programmes written and narrated by David Attenborough. He has a deep understanding of the natural world and a winsome way about him.

I encouraged my sons to watch his nature programmes as they were growing up (though always with their "baloney" filters turned on: they learned to temporarily tune out when he mentioned evolutionary theory, the present creation myth.)

But now Attenborough, at the ripe and grand old age of 92, has turned from wildlife to anthropology and boldly declared his wish that more women become leaders in the world of human beings. 

Pourquoi?  because females are often leaders in the animal kingdom.

Using the world of elephants as his example he notes how  the lead females have all the wisdom, bring up all the "kids" and deal with the problems of drought. Bull elephants by contrast don’t stick with the family, and, he says, dash around, trumpeting and copulating whenever they get the chance.

As in the animal kingdom so is (irresponsible men) and should be (wise women leaders) the human kingdom.

Dear Dave
Where has Attenborough gone wrong?

First, because he is wedded to the theory of evolution, he thinks that there is a straight line between the animal kingdom and the human world: Animals 'R' Us. Since human beings have arisen from the animal kingdom by the process of evolution we are to expect continuity between the animal kingdom and the world of human beings. And more than continuity - lessons about how we should order our human world.

Suppose however that evolution is a myth of the first order? Suppose it is just the latest in a long line of creation myths - this one generated by a scientific culture? Suppose the measure of continuity between the animal kingdom and the world of human beings is not account of common descent, but common Creator? Suppose that examined in any detail, there is actually a step discontinuity between the animal kingdom and human beings? And that this discontinuity is on account of humans being made in the image of God, rather than being made in the image of animals? Why then should we look to elephant communities as our guides?

For those with their eyes open, nothing is clearer than that humankind is radically and step-wise different from all the animal kingdom. Humans are made in the image of God, with minds and emotions and creativity totally and completely unmatched in the animal kingdom. When an animal thinks of food, it means an immediate digestion of the meal, for example. When a human being thinks of a meal, she thinks, what shall I eat today? Perhaps, I want to eat this meal with a friend. I will find out what my friend likes. Text friend. I will go to the shop and buy the ingredients. Come home and cook it. Text friend to tell them it is ready.  Lay the table with tablecloth knife and fork. Light scented candle - of the fragrance liked by friend. Buy some wine to go with the dish: one kind out of thousands of kinds, choose carefully and wisely. Welcome the friend into the house. Ask them to sit at the table. Perhaps say thanks for the food. Share it out - offering the guest the first portion. Talk between mouth fulls and so on. An infinitely more complex process than "feeding behaviour" at the zoo. What goes for food goes for every other comparison - the points of discontinuity far outweigh the tiny points of continuity.

So we should never look to the world of animals for our behaviour, because animals are not us. We rise infinitely and gloriously above them in every way imaginable.

Second, "Dave" is wrong to suggest that the parallels between the behaviour of some men and all bulls is inevitable.  Men are fallen creatures. Perhaps there is now, in our fallen world, an all-too-common superficial parallel between some men and the self-centred bull. But that is not the way God made men. God made Adam to love Eve, to protect her and cherish her and put her needs first. The likeness of some men to an elephant bull is not how things should be. To draw the parallel is to reinforce a false stereotype and to discourage men from rising any higher.

Shall we now follow the lead of all animal behaviour? Eat like pigs? Copulate and defecate in public? Why not? Why not?

Third, Mr Attenborough is wrong, because he is reasoning without Revelation. If we were left to our own poor intellects and certain examples of the animal kingdom, "women should lead" may be a conclusion we draw. But since we have God's Word on the matter, we know that women leading is not the way it should be nor the way it was meant to be.

God made Adam to lovingly lead his wife, not to be led by her. By leading we mean primarily loving Eve in a sacrificial way, so that she naturally wants his lead. This is the way all women uncontaminated by feminism or the dreadful example of bull-headed males think, it's what they would ideally want. Their psychology and biology desires the lead of a  kind and loving man. 

If men were what they ought to be, then the anthropological ramblings of Attenborough would gain no traction.

This kind of reasoning will be more and more common. Our children must be inoculated against it. There is no sign that the discredited theory of evolution will be replaced by something more sensible and truthful, and so we can expect more animalistic anthropology to enter the mainstream of received wisdom in our western culture.

Mr Attenborough, stick to wildlife.