October 30, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #3--Prayers and Sin

Does God hear our prayers when there is sin in our lives?

Psalm 66:16-20 “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surly listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God who has not rejected my prayer or withheld this love from me!”

Proverbs 28:9 “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.”

Isaiah 59:2 “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

Need I say more?

So what doe we do to make sure that our sins don't affect our prayer life, which is the vital connection to remaining in Christ? Keep clean hands and a pure heart before the Lord. Regularly approach God in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of the sin that is in your life. As that sin is revealed, don't just ask for forgiveness, but ask that God grant you the gift of repentance...to turn away from that sin.

We are called to live holy lives. Holiness is not perfection, though. Holiness is dealing rightly with your sin through confession and repentance.

I heard someone ask, "but what about the sinner's prayer...doesn't God hear that?" The "sinner's prayer" refers to a prayer that goes something like, "Dear God, I know that I'm a sinner and that my sins separate me from You. I come to You now confessing and repenting of my sin through by belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I believe that he died on the cross to forgive me of my sins and rose again on the third day. Help me to follow you through this decision. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Of course, there are other versions, but they're all pretty similar. This "sinner's prayer" is not found in the Bible and has sort of evolved over the years as a way to help people express their desire to for salvation through prayer. You don't have to say that prayer to be saved, as some have claimed. The things expressed in the prayer are key, though (recognition of Jesus as God's Son who died for our sins, confession and repentance, etc.).

Of course God hears the "sinner's prayer" because it's a turning to God and away from sin.

Next, we'll be answering what God has to say about tattoo's, piercing, and body modifications. You can read all of the questions and answers from this series here.

October 29, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #2--Predestination vs. Free Will

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What do Baptists believe about predestination?

Great question! And especially from a teenager.

You can ask “What do Baptists believe about…” anything, and I can give you just about every answer under the sun. Since we have no centralized form of church government, and our agreed upon beliefs are somewhat general in areas that don't concern salvation, you can find a group of Baptists throughout history that have believed just about anything. There were Particular Baptists who were very Reformed in their beliefs, Free Will Baptists who are very Arminian in their beliefs, and everything in between.

So, instead of focusing on what Baptists believe, I’m going to change the question. Instead , how about we ask, “What does Scripture say about predestination?” That’s what matters most.

First, a definition of predestination, or election, as defined by Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: "An act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of anything they have done, but only because of God’s sovereign good pleasure." Basically, God chooses some people to be saved, and others to not be saved.

The question here is, "does God choose some people to be saved and not others; or, does everyone have an equal chance to be saved by their own choosing or rejection of God?" Are we predestined, or do we have free will?

There are two camps that people have historically fallen into. Those in the Calvinistic or Reformed camp have historically believed that God choses some for salvation, and that the rest are not chosen. Those who are in the Armenian or Free Will camp believe that everyone has an equal chance at salvation, and that our salvation depends only on our choosing or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The problem with these two camps is that they tend to move towards extremes…all or nothing.

Ecclesiastes 7:18 “It is good to grasp the on and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” So what do we believe?

Some verses:

  • Acts 13:48 “When the Gentiles heard this (the gospel) they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

  • Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

  • Ephesians 1:4-6 “For he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Jesus).”

But, what about free will?

Nowhere does Scripture say that we are “free” in the sense that we are out of God’s control. It just doesn’t say it. But, we are free in the greatest sense that any creature of God could be free. We get to make willing choices; choices that have real effects on the world around us. But, our choices are not outside of God’s control. If they were, then we would be equal to God in our will.

But, the question is in reference to our salvation. Can we freely choose to be saved by God through Christ without Him making the first move. Do we have true free will in that sense?

Why do we love God? Because he first loved us—1 John 4:19. Clearly, when it comes to our salvation, God makes the first move. In our completely sinful state, we have nothing good inside of us that would make us choose the goodness of God (Romans 3:10-12). On the other hand, we as humans have some responsibility to respond to the offer of the gospel.

This sounds like a cop-out answer…but here it is: predestination and human responsibility work together in a way that we don’t , can't or won't understand. We’ve been arguing about this for 2000 years, and we’re not going to solve it.

Some are predestined to salvation. It’s a pretty big eraser to take that word, predestined, out of the bible. And, humans have the responsibility of responding to the gospel. I don’t have to understand how it works to respond, believe and obey.

Since the question is “what do Baptists believe”, let me show you what our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message Says: Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

But doesn’t it make this useless to share the gospel if some are predestined? Not at all, because we don’t know who those people are. The Great Commission as spoken by Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. We must obey Jesus’ command.

2 Timothy 2:10 “Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Paul knows that some will be saved and he sees this as an encouragement to preach the gospel.

Someone asked the follow-up question, "What about the verses that say 'Christ died for all' and 'God so loved the world...that whosoever believes'?" The reference is to 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and John 3:16-17. This gets into an area called "limited or definite atonement", and you can find a great explanation of that doctrine here. The question is did Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross pay for the sins of everyone, or only those who will be saved. That's another discussion for another day, and involves what Paul meant by the word "all"...as in "all believers" or "all people".

You can check out all of the Q and A series here as I post them, and tomorrow we'll look at whether God hears prayer when there is sin in our lives or not.

October 28, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #1--The Bible

Why are their only 66 books in the Bible? How was that decided on? Were there more books that didn’t make the cut? Why does the Catholic Bible have more?

Great question! If we’re going to use the Bible as our guide, then it’s good to take a brief look at how we got it.

First, there was no official, “let’s all get together and figure this out” meeting, nor was there a list dropped out of the sky. In the 400 years before Jesus' birth and shortly after His death and resurrection, God’s people who were scattered all over the place began to get together and realize that all of the same books were being used and recognized as Scripture.

The Old Testament—In the 400 years or so between the last prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus, there grew a general recognition of which Old Testament writings were God’s Word and which writings were not. Among Rabbis and Jewish scholars there was essentially total agreement on 37 of the 39 books in the OT.

Luke 24:44—Jesus said to them, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms”

Sometime around 90 A.D. there was a council of Jewish rabbi’s that got together in a city called Jamnia and debated over Song of Songs (because it’s so steamy) and Ecclesiastes (because of the occasional use of sarcasm). Ultimately they let these books in, too, and saw them as being the Word of God. This was not a “decision” so much as it was a “recognition” of God’s Word. 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Timothy 3:16 refer to Scripture, and by this they mean the Old Testament.

The New Testament—By the end of the first century, there was common consent among the churches all over the middle east and eastern Europe about which writings were Scripture, though there wouldn’t be an "official" statement until the mid 4th century.

In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings as “hard to understand and being distorted with the rest of Scriptures”. Clearly, he recognizes these writings as being on the same level as Scripture. We have writings of early church fathers as early as the 120’s that include the list of books considered a part of “the canon”, or Scripture. These include the four gospels, Paul’s letters, Revelation, and most of the rest of the New Testament. But, it wasn’t until a big controversy swept the Christian church in 325 A.D. that they actually took a serious look at what was God’s Word and what wasn’t. This controversy was over the divinity of Jesus and resulted in the Council of Nicaea in the same year. The only books in the New Testament today that were debated were Hebrews, (because we don’t know who wrote it), James (because if you read it wrong it seems to indicate that you can be saved by good works), Jude (because it references a book that was not a part of the Old Testament), and Revelation (because, well Revelation is just crazy!). Overwhelmingly, these books were recognized as Scripture.

After that council, a bishop of the church named Athenasius wrote a letter in 367 A.D. that detailed the 27 books of the NT. There were other false gospels and books written, but some of the writings of early church leaders clearly condemn them as heresy. For those of you who read The DaVinci Code, the author lays out a scenario where the emperor of Rome selected the books of the Bible as we know them today in an effort to consolidate his power; he also proposes that there were other gospels written by a group called the "gnostics" whose beliefs were ultimately condemned as heresy. These books include the gospels of Thomas, Judas, Mary, Peter and others, none of them written by the people whose names they contain. The story that he tells is really good fiction, but it’s bad history. It just didn’t happen that way.

There were 6 ways that the were agreed up when deciding if a book was Scripture

  1. Was it written by a prophet or an apostle? Most of the books are in this category.
  2. Was it written by someone associated with a recognized prophet or apostle? Luke was associated with Paul, Mark with Peter.
  3. Is it true? This is why the books that didn’t make it, well...didn't make it.
  4. Faithfulness to previously accepted writings. Is it consistent with the rest of Scritpure?
  5. Did Christ or another apostle confirm it? Jonah, Peter for Paul, Psalms, Moses...
  6. Church usage and recognition…did the Spirit bear witness in the hearts of believers?

John 16:12-14 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

Who is Jesus talking to here? Who will he guide into all truth?

We think it’s us, but it’s actually his disciples. The context is he is telling them that he’s going to be leaving them soon, and the Holy Spirit will tell them what they need to tell the folks. For that reason, we believe that when the last book was written, Revelation by the apostle John, that the Scripture (the canon) is closed. There was no more revelation by God through his Word after that.

But what about the Catholic bible which has more books?
In 1517, the Protestent revolution began because the Catholic church had become very corrupt and had added many things to the faith that were never in Scripture. The final straw was the selling of indulgences to get people out of hell and purgatory. In order to justify some of the teachings that had gotten away from the orignal 66 books, the church held the Council of Trent in 1546 that voted to recognize nine more books that contained some of the justification of their practices. Those books are now known as the Apochrypha, and they are some of the books that the original councils did not recognize as Scripture. So we don’t either.

That’s how we have 66 books that serve as the basis for our answers to this series. Coming tomorrow, we'll look at the age old question about Free Will vs. Predestination.

October 27, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: Introduction

I've recently completed a sermon series on Sunday nights at our church called Question and Answer 2.0. I've been asked to re-hash the topics I covered, along with answering follow-up questions that were text-messaged in, plus answer some of the questions that I couldn't get to. I'll be re-posting the series here, too:

I've had a blast the last three weeks answering your questions, and since I didn't get a chance to answer all of the ones that were submitted, or answer all of the follow-ups, I'm going to take the next few weeks to try and fill in those gaps. I look forward to your comments as we revisit some of the things that were already discussed, and get to some of the ones that I just didn't have the time to answer.

Today, I simply wanted to revisit the parameters that we laid out for answering questions and using the Bible to do so:

Why do we ask questions? To get answers.

We live in a culture that says “question everything”, and it’s a good thing to question and test things that we say we believe in. But, we can’t just be satisfied with being people who question everything. The point of asking questions is to get answers. And, if questions have answers, then we have to ask: how do we know that answer is right and true?

There has to be a standard of truth if we are going to agree on the answer to any given question. Since we are a Christian church, then why not agree that the Bible, God’s Word, is our standard? For this series and for these answers there are two things that we assumed:

#1—The Bible is true
#2—Context is key

When we look at these verses, we have to read them in their context. This context is in light of the whole verse, the whole paragraph, the whole section, and even the whole book and the whole of the Bible. If we don’t pay attention to the context, the culture, the audience…then we can come up with some really nutty interpretations:

An example: Psalm 14:1—“There is no God.” If that's really true, then we should pack it in and go home. But, if you look at the whole verse it makes more sense: Psalm 14:1—“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” That’s a little different.

An example of knowing the culture: Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
I know a lot of teenagers who can relate to this verse, and suddenly get very excited about following Jesus. But, this verse takes an understanding of first century Jewish culture and love/hate language. Jesus doesn’t mean hate like we use the word hate. To the culture that Jesus lived in, loving one thing and hating another is to place the priority of love on the most important thing; in other words, hate means to love less.

So where did we get the name for the series, Q and A "2.0"? The idea behind something called "Web 2.0" is that the people at home get to create the conversation that is happening on the web. Sites like blogs, Facebook, Wikipedia, and even our own church website that allow you to leave your comments comprise a two-way conversation between the people who post their pages, and the people who read them. The content is driven not just by one side, but by both sides. You can add your opinions, and see the opinions of literally millions.

The Bible, on the other hand, is 1.0. We don’t get to add our opinions to it. It is a one way conversation between Almighty God and the human race, and we don’t get to throw in our two cents. The Bible is not Wikipedia…it’s not Biblepedia. We don’t get to add to it or take away from it.

One of our core values as a church is Biblical instruction, and my goal from this series was to show what the Bible says about your questions. I’ve tried to be clear about what is fact, and what is opinion…where there are gray areas and where there is black and white truth. Some things are clear…some things we’ll have to wrestle with. But most of all, my prayer has been that you develop a hunger and a passion for God’s Word so that you can know the truth, and the giver of truth, and that it won’t just become knowledge for your head, but that it will become the driving force behind the way that you live life each day.

So, we'll look to the Bible for our answers. Starting tomorrow with a question about how we got the Bible in the first place.