I just read a news article about a Minnesota professor who says God impregnated Mary without her consent. (His intention is to depict the Biblical God as a date-rapist.) There are so many things wrong with this blasphemous idea, you almost run out of room to list them, but here are three:
(1) God often made offers of blessing to people, but the people still needed to accept them by faith. For example, God offered to exalt Jeroboam to a level of honor equal to David (1 Kings 11:34-38), but Jeroboam in unbelief threw the Lord's blessing away. The principle is that Mary needed to receive the Lord's promise by faith.
(2) Hebrews 11:11 says that Sarah's faith enabled her to receive God's power to conceive Isaac in her old age. If she hadn't exercised faith, Sarah would not have been able to conceive. Since Mary expressed faith in her prayer, we can assume the same principle was true of her. God didn't inflict a miracle on Mary.
(3) In Luke 1:38 Mary tells the Lord plainly, "I am the Lord's servant, let it be to me as You have said." In other words, Mary believed and accepted what the Lord wanted to do in, for, and through her.
Satan is a liar, and he lies through this Minnesota professor. But the Word of God tells us the truth, if we read it through. God never sins, and Mary by faith consented to God's promise.
I know many fellow Christians who have experienced the loss of loved ones -- loved ones who passed away without confessing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ clearly believed in heaven and hell, so this is a serious matter. The Bible consoles Christians when believing loved ones pass. But does it have anything to say when non-Christian loved ones pass on?
I would encourage Christians who lose a loved one with the fact that we usually don't know what happened between a person and God in the hours, or minutes, or even seconds, before life is done. I'm confident that Heaven has many people in it whom the Lord snatched like a stick out of the fire. The thief on the cross became a saved person in his last moments of life, and the same possibility exists for anyone. Luke 23:43. So, there is always hope of that having happened.
I think it's also important to believe in God's fairness. When Abraham was negotiating with God regarding Sodom's judgment, he said, "Far be it from You to kill the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Abraham knew something about God that is very important. God will not treat any man or woman unfairly. Even though this truth is not like the rejoicing we experience over a soul saved, that confidence in God's integrity is important.
God also deals with people individually. He once said to Ezekiel, "Every soul is Mine" (Ezekiel 18:4). I think this is important because it's in my nature to think of someone as my mother, my father, my sister, or my friend. But to God, that person's most important relationship was to Him. God made them for Himself (Romans 11:36, Colossians 1:16). God, as God, has a special claim on that person which supersedes everyone else.
I think it also matters quite a bit that God finds no enjoyment in passing judgment on anyone. He said this clearly, forcefully, in Ezekiel 18:32. He showed it with tears in Luke 19:41. God is no monster. He judges because He's righteous. God is love, even in His role as Judge.
This truth strongly implies that God doesn't cause anyone to sin. For instance, God says forcefully about the Hebrews, "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35). The Hebrews' sins were entirely their own doing.
God didn't sovereignly, irresistibly cause them to sin, and then play-act that He was appalled. God's relationship to sin is that He ordains it (in the sense that it's part of His over-all plan) but He doesn't cause it (James 1:13-14). In other words, God didn't cause my non-Christian loved one to be unbelieving; God didn't cause my loved one to die in unbelief.
We can't force anyone to repent and believe in Christ, and the passing of a non-Christian loved one reminds us of that. We share in the apostle Paul's unhappiness over the stubbornness of blood kin (see Romans 9:1-3). The Lord wants us to do what we can in this life, even if that's limited to prayer, and then we trust that God, being God, will always do the right thing.
Advent Meditation from 1st Corinthians 13:
Love is patient – God took centuries to prepare the way for the Savior.
Love is kind – God took pity on all of us in our sins and sorrows.
Love is not possessive – Christ did not cling to heaven’s privileges.
Love does not brag – Christ never boasted.
Love isn’t arrogant – Christ came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Love doesn’t act unbecomingly – Christ was born and lived without sin.
Love doesn’t seek its own – Christ sacrificed His glory for us.
Love isn’t provoked – In spite of all the ways the human race provoked God through the centuries, God sent His Son for us anyway.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered – Christ forgave and accepted people from the groups who had killed Him.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – God’s opposition to unrighteousness led Him to save us from it.
Dear Lord, You say You are love, and in Your Son’s birth we see Your love on full display. Your love, born as a man. Lord, we don’t deserve your love, and we can’t earn it, but we gladly receive it. Let this candle remind us of the love-light that You lit that amazing morning.
Here are five signs of a proud heart:
1. A proud Christian will seldom, if ever, admit to actual sin. He might talk about sin in the abstract, "sin" as a doctrine or a concept, but it's often deflected out onto the "world", as if evil is always external to himself. In extreme cases, he might hold to a doctrine of sinless perfection, or claim the sin-nature can be eradicated in this life. Some Christians talk too much about their sins, sometimes to a squirming degree of unwanted detail. But, to the proud person, admitting actual sin is humiliating. Proud people seldom, if ever, admit to needing daily forgiveness. Ecclesiastes 7:20.
2. A proud Christian seldom, if ever, admits to needing help. Self-reliance is taken to an extreme, sometimes a harmful extreme. Even though the Bible tells us to carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), which implies a degree of weakness in all of us, the proud man or woman won't accept help, or even admit needing it. This is because because admitting weakness is embarrassing. It reveals them to be less than what they want to believe about themselves, or want other people to believe about them.
3. A proud Christian wants to control, but at the same time habitually rejects authority. Like arrogant Diotrophes (e John 9-10), he is driven by a desire for the preeminence, but he also rebels whenever authority is applied to him. He wants accountability for others, but never wants it for himself. The proud Christian chafes against not being obeyed.
4. A proud Christian resents other Christians' gifts, positions, or accomplishments. Like Saul becoming jealous of David's victories (1 Samuel 18:8), the proud person sees other Christians' achievements as a personal slight. The other person's victories diminish them, in their own eyes. They feel threatened by people who are better than they are. The reverse of this was John the Baptist, who was content for Jesus Christ's fame to grow as his own fame diminished (John 3:30).
5. Using Saul is a pride-indicator, pride leads to a paranoid perspective. Saul's jealous resentment over David's victories immediately led Saul to convince himself that David was scheming after the throne. There was no evidence that David had that in mind. Saul was "projecting" what he would do were he in David's shoes. This can happen because the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9); the proud heart lies to itself first among all.
Witchcraft, and all related "arts", are absolutely forbidden by God in Scripture.
Divination (the attempt to foretell the future or discover hidden knowledge by occult means), omen-interpretation, fortune-telling, sorcery of any kind, mediums, necromancy -- all was forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10). Techniques often used in these practices are the Ouija board and Tarot cards. All these practices are detestable in God's eyes. It was for all these practices that God sent in the Hebrews to destroy and drive out the Canaanites from Palestine.
The New Testament condemns sorcery as a manifestation of evil (Galatians 5:20). Witchcraft is a sure way of bringing God's fiery wrath down on yourself (2 Chronicles 33:6). There is no such thing as white witchcraft; in God's holy eyes, all witchcraft is black.
Why is God so hostile to witchcraft? It is because witchcraft is all about knowledge and power, divorced from God. It is an attempt to gain supernatural power over the world for one's self or others, apart from God. The diviner seeks to know the future, apart from God. The reader of omens seeks hidden knowledge, apart from God. The witch seeks to exercise power, in defiance of God. The whole enterprise is fueled by lust for worldly things, and unbelief.
God wants us to rely on Him by faith alone in His Word, while witchcraft pretends to offer power apart from reliance on God. God says to deny wealth, power, fame, pleasure, influence, or worldly success in favor of serving Jesus Christ, while witchcraft pretends to show a path to all these things. God says to worship Him alone, while witchcraft always leads into idol-worship. God says we should bow to His supernatural sovereignty, but witchcraft pretends to offer us our own sovereignty by other means.
Another reason God hates witchcraft is because demons are the unseen power behind mediumistic practices (setting aside ordinary fraud for the moment). There are only two spiritual powers in the universe -- God and Satan. God is good always, Satan is evil always. Nature has no hidden paranormal powers waiting to be tapped by ritual -- nature is subject to God. There is no power battery in-between God and Satan, waiting to be tapped. If you aren't going to God, then you're appealing to Satan, even if that isn't your intent.
The spirits of the righteous dead go to heaven, while the spirits of the sinful dead go to hell. This means the spirits contacted through mediumistic practices are evil spirits -- demons. And demons only lie, steal, kill, and destroy. People who engage in divination practices open themselves up to demon possession (example, Acts 16:16). This is why God vowed a death-sentence against anyone in the Jewish nation who engaged in witchcraft (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:31). This was a way of protecting the rest of society from a social cancer.
Some popular depictions of magical things are just silly. "Ghosts" chase Pac-Man through a maze, Dr. Strange jumps through sparking portals -- these are just foolish, an, more importantly, they are impossible to replicate in the real world. More serious are depictions of real things, like seances, or water-witching / dowsing, which (unlike flying carpets or Sabrina making things disappear) are ceremonies that can actually be performed by real people. Casper the Friendly Ghost is one thing, actually showing people a ceremony on how to allegedly contact the dead is another.
(Some people point to the story of Samuel's spirit rising from the underworld, in 1st samuel 28:3-25, as an example of a "positive" appearance of the spirit of the righteous dead. The problem with this attempt to sanitize necromancy is that Samuel's spirit pronounces doom upon Saul (I take the view that it actually was Samuel, since he chastises Saul, his words honors the Lord, and his prophecy of Saul's destruction at the hands of the Philistines came true). This story should be taken as a freak occurrence, and it certainly doesn't endorse divination; rather, it condemns it by condemning Saul to death.)
Have nothing to do with real witchcraft.
A cult is a religious organization that says it's Christian but denies one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity. These would include monotheism, the Trinity, the inspired reliability of the Bible, Christ's deity and humanity, or salvation by faith. They are usually dominated by one overbearing, dictator-type leader, use abusive forms of authority, and exploit the members financially and often sexually.
A sect is a Christian group that is basically sound in its preaching and teaching, but has elevated some secondary doctrine, peculiar tradition, or unique practice up to such a level of importance that the group breaks fellowship with other believers. Examples of this could include foot-washing, modes of baptism, or opinions about the time of the Rapture.
Cults are not Christian at all, even though they claim to be. For example, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) is not a Christian organization. Sects are Christian but they're divisive over secondary issues.
For example, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church forbids its members to take Communion with any church but another Missouri Synod Lutheran church. If a Missouri Synod Lutheran was to break bread with us at our church, he or she would be excommunicated by the Missouri Synod. The Lutheran policy seems to say that no other Christian churches are "real" Christian churches, but that we're all heretics. This is the sin of sectarianism. Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 1.
Both of these are bad, though cults are worse because they actually deny the faith, where sects unbalance the faith. However, a spirit of denominational superiority, church-splitting, and judging one another over matters of personal conviction, weakens the Body of Christ and makes us more vulnerable to Satan's attacks.
There is a very old Christian doctrinal term, which is hard to understand and needs some up-dating: impassibility. Have you ever heard it? I only began interacting with it a couple of years ago. It's important, because it's about God.
The default faith of the Scripture is that God takes care of His people in every sense. He forgives all their sins, heals all their diseases, rescues them from destruction, crowns them with lovingkindness, and renews their life with vigor (Psalm 103:1-4). However, when the complete context of the entire Bible is taken into account, we find out that there were times when God did not heal every every disease in this life. The five benefits of God's care listed in Psalm 103 should each individually be understood in light of the whole Scripture.
For example, Christ doesn't heal a Christian when it's time for them to go to heaven (Psalm 139:16). It's obvious from practical experience that Christ doesn't heal every Christian of everything, because all Christians age, get sick, their bodies die, and they go to be with the Lord. Sin's curse still rests on this material world, in spite of Christ's death. The earth still groans. Christians groan with it (Romans 8:22-23). There were a few extraordinary cases in Scripture where a believer got to go to heaven without dying (Enoch, Elijah), but the rest of us age, wear down, and most of us will die of natural causes.
The Lord doesn't heal when he is punishing sin. King Uzziah sinned grievously by intruding into the sacred role of the priests. Uzziah should have known better! In fact, he did know better, which is why God smote him so sternly. I do not doubt that God forgave Uzziah, but the text says God never took the leprosy away (2 Chron. 26:27). God could have healed Uzziah (He did for Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15), but He did not. Uzziah died a leper.
Any sin can be forgiven, but the punishment of the sin might remain. Sin , especially sin by a leader, always carries serious consequences, and some of those consequences involve physical ailments. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 11:30 that some of the Corinthian congregation were weak and sick, and some had died, because of their selfish mistreatment of others in the flock and the way they dishonored the Lord's Table.
Christ doesn't heal while He is testing faith (Job 1-2). Not every sickness is punishment for sin, and we commit the sin of Job's judgmental friends if we assume this. It's a sin to just automatically assume a sick Christian is in unbelief or did something wrong. God Himself, in Job 1, said Job was a man of excellence, guiltless, so teachings that Job somehow brought his illness upon himself are wrong. Rather, God was vindicating His own praise of Job's faith, and shaming the devil for claiming Job was a religious mercenary, although Job never knew that (and God didn't tell him).
James 5:11 promises God will reward us as we come through His tests in faith. Job's example shows us that illness is one of those tests, along with natural disasters (lightning killed some of Job's herds, a windstorm collapsed a house on his children) and crime (gangs of thieves murdered Job's workers and stole all his flocks). But the Lord eventually stops the test, and rewards the believer.
Christ doesn't heal the payback for foolishness. Not everything bad is from the devil. Some of our problems are self-inflicted. Proverbs 3:18 says wisdom is a tree of life and blessing, so what fruit do you imagine foolishness grows? Elsewhere in Proverbs, Solomon says that drunks get bruises, lazy people get poverty, adulterers get beaten up by jealous husbands, and schemers fall into the pits they themselves have dug. Christians could catch AIDS because of immorality, and they shouldn't count on Christ miraculously healing them of it.
Christ knew not to throw Himself off the temple mount on the notion that God would catch Him, because you don't try to force God's hand by deliberately doing stupid, reckless things (Luke 4:9-12). Christ will let us live with the physical consequences of our own foolishness.
Christ doesn't take away the physical scars of persecution. In Galatians 6:17, Paul reminded his readers he still carried in his body the scars of Christ -- referring to wounds left on him by persecution. Paul suffered physically in his service to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul said he had been pelted with stones and beaten with rods for the Gospel. He still had those scars. Christ allowed Paul to carry those badges of faithful honor in his body, like the medals of a military hero.
Psalm 103 doesn't contradict these other passages. Instead, we take them all side-by-side, believe all of them, and, with the help of other sound Christian teachers and thinkers, think through the best way to harmonize them. Unlike the saving forgiveness of sin, God makes certain exceptions to His normal, default work of ministering to His people's diseases. In the end, all of God's people will be forever immortal, vital, and whole through the redeeming work of His Son.
Recently, Dr. John MacArthur made a statement on social justice which, to my mind, was inadequate and reactionary. On the other hand, I dislike the current habit of fellow evangelicals to quote Martin Luther King Jr., as if he was a reliable guide on justice (due to his liberal disrespect for Scripture, he was not). But what does "social justice" even mean? People bat that phrase back and forth, often plunging into specific topics, but often without defining basic terms.
God is the ultimate basis of justice. The community isn't the basis of justice, neither is individual intuition. Justice exists because God exists. If there is no God, or if God hasn't spoken, then there is no justice. There can be no justice in an atheist world.
God has already spoken definitively about justice in the Bible. The Bible is God's out-breathed word, without error over-all, and in each individual part. This makes it the highest authority.
The Bible defines what is just, and the Bible's definitions of justice are sufficient for all peoples at all times. The Bible does not need to be supplemented by human reason, and is not defined or evolved-past by human culture. Sociology, law, and economics do not define justice, the Bible does.
The Torah states rules of justice in both narrative and prescriptive ways. Genesis tells many stories in which many characters act unjustly. God held them accountable for their unjust acts, even though Moses hadn't written his law yet. Then God gave His written law through Moses.
In the pursuit of clear rules of justice, Moses' Law must be handled with extreme care. Christians have erred toward theocracy (such as Rousas Rushdoony) by applying all of Moses' laws to Gentile societies, which is incorrect. On the other hand, other Christians (such as J. H. Thornwell) preached the exclusive "spirituality" of the church, and that Christianity had nothing to say to the civil society and laws of its own times. This too was wrong.
I believe that nine of the ten commandments can be seen in the stories of Genesis, and the New Testament gives us guidance on which portions of Moses' Law were timeless versus which ones were discontinued; and which of Moses' laws illustrated justice at work. For example, Moses forbids the moving of boundary-stones. This was an example of the timeless law, "Do not steal." We don't use boundary-stones today, but the principle would be not to steal by altering ownership markers.
The New Testament is clear that the entire priestly system of Moses was fulfilled by Christ, and is obsolete. Only Israel was supposed to be God's real theocracy. Christ said the Mosaic food laws were no longer in force. God gave the blessings and cursings of the Law for the Hebrews as they dwelt in the Promised Land. The Puritans, misguided by their "replacement theology" errors, never had the right to claim them. The U.S. was never the New Israel.
I believe God governs the 'secular' world by the general moral laws we see in Genesis. Another way to describe these laws is "conscience."
God affirms the right of non-theocratic governments to exist, both during Israel's time in Babylon (where God tells the Hebrews to be a blessing to the city), and in Romans 13 (where Paul says God appoints the secular rulers and requires us to respect and obey them within certain limits).
This is why the absence of blue laws doesn't bother me in the least. The Fourth Commandment (Sabbath) was only for the Jews, was only for the seventh day, and was fulfilled in Christ. God never expected Gentile nations to keep the sabbath, not even in the Old Testament times.
My bottom line is that true standards of justice are defined by the Bible. The Bible affirms the basic, universal instincts of conscience (even bad people object when evil acts are done to them!). It is a sin to falsely define "justice" by an unbiblical philosophical authority, such as Ghandi, Rousseau, or Marx, then try to Christianize those definitions with verses -- almost always quoted out of context.
So, please don't be wildly swept along by the passionate purveyors of politics. Political theories of justice, social or otherwise, fall under the dissecting sword of Scripture as much any religious sermon does. Scripture alone, studied carefully, defines the fundamental laws of justice. Not sociologists, economists, or philosophers.
I'm appalled by the vile verbal river that flows in nearly every forum of public discussion today. There is no excuse for anyone who names the name of Christ for talking in the way we read in chat-threads. As Christian citizens we need to set a higher standard. Even on explosive topics we need to write and speak in self-controlled, godly ways.
At the simplest level of ethic, the Lord does not permit a Christian to talk abusively to others. Merriam-Webster defines "revile" as to inflict verbal abuse about another. This includes profanity, name-calling (such as calling someone an "idiot" or worse), dirty innuendos, and other such things.
Reviling is a serious sin in God's eyes. We're not to associate with revilers (1 Cor. 5:11), revilers are on their way to hell (1 Cor. 6:10), and the Lord lumps it in with other reprehensible sins, such as self-love, greed, boastfulness, arrogance, rebellion against parents, ingratitude, and ungodliness (2 Tim. 3:2). 99% of what I read on Twitter, comment threads, and sites like Reddit pertaining to current-event talk, is reviling.
Second, God is politically impartial, which should make all politicians of all parties in every nation tremble. God doesn't take sides. He does not favor Republicans. He does not support the Democrats. Jesus was not a socialist. God is not even an American.
He is His own side.
Third, God has a moral law. God's law hangs over America like a sword dangling on a thread, and only His mercy holds back the blade. If God's law condemns something, like abortion, homosexuality, needless wars, and the abuse of the poor (which it does), then we Christians are obligated to condemn those things also. God's law condemned Herod for taking his sister-in-law as his wife, and John the Baptist was right to call him out on it. (I bet there were people who called John a snowflake.)
Fourth, Christians in every nation need to remember that this world is not our home. We are not living in the Promised Land. We're more like the Jews in exile in Babylon. We ought to seek the peace of the various places where we all live, but we are not of this world.
I believe it is possible for Christians to serve honorably in public office. The Bible does not support the Amish way of withdrawal. Total withdrawal from society would betray our commission to be salt and light. Deborah served as a judge. Daniel worked for a pagan government. Isaiah served as a prophet and as a government official. I'm sure it's hard, but with God's help I believe Christians can serve in public elected office, and we should.
But to imitate swinish behavior disgraces the holy name of Christ. If worldlings are tearing each other up, we should take a step back. Do not join in. We need to maintain a higher standard, even if we are mocked as weaklings. We Christians need to set a godly example to a lost and dying world, including when we engage with the heated social issues of the day.