A Consuming Fire

What’s God like? In being selective with scripture it’s easy to miss Him and fashion an idol after our own lusts. (1Jn 5:21) We should look at the whole of God’s revelation.

God is love, it’s true (1Jn 4:8), but that doesn’t mean He’s like a doting, harmless old grandfather.

God is also light (1Jn 1:5), the very medium by which we perceive spiritual reality. God is truth itself (Jn 14:6), undiluted, uncompromised, pure and holy. If we think we can fellowship with Him and not be seeking truth more than gold and silver, if we’re content to walk in darkness of any kind, to any degree, we don’t know Him. (1Jn 1:7)

God is also holy (1Pe 1:16), separate from sinners, higher than the heavens. (He 7:26) He calls us to holiness (2Co 7:1) because He won’t fellowship with anyone who walks in willful sin as a manner of life (1Jn 2:4); He’s angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11), and will trample them underfoot. (Ps 119:118) His response to any kind of rebellion is fiery indignation. (He 10:26-27)

We might get a clearer picture of God if we see Him as a consuming fire. (He 12:29) Like a raging wildfire, He’ll destroy anything and everything that’s opposed to Himself in any way (Ps 21:9) just by being Himself, by letting His very brightness shine forth undiluted, unfiltered, untamed. (2Th 2:8)

Yet God’s consuming nature will not annihilate the wicked; it will overwhelm, terrify, incapacitate and disable them with everlasting punishment. (Mt 25:46) God’s enemies will no longer be able to act like enemies when God reveals Himself. That’s a good thing, for God and for everyone – totally consistent with love: God shouldn’t have to suffer forever, and His arms will always be open to anyone who’ll come to Him. (Re 22:17)

God’s love is what fuels His justice and wrath, even His hatred. He’s benevolent, so He hates (or detests) sin and those who persist in it. (Ps 5:5) Sin harms ourselves, others and God, so He won’t overlook sin and let it go; there’s a price to pay. (Ro 3:23) We must pay that price ourselves, a debt we can never ever pay in full, or trust God to pay it for us in His Son; Christ is willing to become our sin, and die in our place so we might be made God’s righteousness in Christ. (2Co 5:21)

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe; serve Him with reverential fear and rejoice with trembling. (Ps 2:11) Both His goodness and severity are awesome and beautiful (Ro 11:22), simply awe inspiring (He 12:21); we should rejoice in all His ways. (Re 15:4)

It’s a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands (He 10:31), but there are no other options; it isn’t a matter of if, but when. For those who love Him, who are seeking God’s face, there’s no better place to be. (Php 1:23)

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The Law Is Spritual

Laws defining acceptable behavior are spiritual in nature, not physical; they express a moral standard by which we may evaluate our actions. In this sense, God’s Law, Torah, is spiritual, perfectly expressing God’s Way. (Ro 7:14a)

We, on the other hand, are carnal, sold under sin, tending to violate God’s perfect standard. (Ro 7:14b) In this state our sin nature is always looking for ways to justify breaking God’s Law (Ro 7:21); the carnal mind won’t ever submit – it’s at war with goodness itself. (Ro 8:6)

Attempts to subvert Torah can be extremely crafty, using sleight of hand to make the point. (Ep 4:14) One such teaching is that since Torah is spiritual, we need not bother with the letter of the Law. In other words, as long as we’re in keeping with what we think is the spirit of a command, it’s OK to ignore its actual wording and break it. For example, if the spirit of Sabbath is a weekly rest, does it really matter whether we rest on Saturday or Sunday?

This begs the question of whether we can properly honor the spirit of a command while we’re despising its letter, what it actually says. If the sabbath command tells us to rest on a particular day of the week, which it does (Ex 20:10), and we choose to rest on a different day, are we breaking the command? Of course we are, by definition.

While it’s true that God’s laws have spiritual applications, perhaps many such applications, it’s a mistake to think each law doesn’t also have a specific, practical application; it is presumptuous to claim we’re keeping a law in spirit – spiritualizing it – while we’re disobeying it literally. Who are we to say what all the spiritual applications of a particular command are, or even the primary application?

The words are what God has given us, and what He expects us to obey (De 27:26); as we look at the words of all of His commands, as well as all His examples, we begin to understand some of the spirit and intent behind His laws, the precepts. But all of this is based on the very words He uses, the letter, if you will. We can’t rightly divide the Word while we’re ignoring the actual words; we can’t respect the intent of His Law while we’re routinely breaking it; this is handling His word deceitfully and corrupting it. (2Co 2:17)

Certainly, there may be extenuating circumstances where the spirit of a command might be respected while we’re violating its letter. For example, in an emergency we might technically violate the sabbath to preserve life, even of an animal. (Mt 12:11) The sabbath was made for us; we weren’t made for it. (Mk 2:27) We must use common sense in the application of God’s law, and not violate the Law of Love as we force technical obedience to the letter of the law.

God’s Law is written such that it’s the exception to properly violate the letter; for the letter perfectly captures the intent, as a general rule. If we love God’s law, and He’s writing it in our hearts, we’ll be keeping it as well as we can, both the letter and the spirit, as a manner of life. (Mt 5:19)

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Dull of Hearing

An inability to hear or see severely limits our opportunity to receive new information. Most of us cherish our sight and hearing in the natural realm, but not so much in the spiritual; we tend to think we’ve already arrived (Php 3:13), to be wise in our own conceits (Ro 12:16c), thinking we already know it all. We tend to close ourselves off to anything new, choosing to ignore what doesn’t fit with our preconceptions, dimming our own sight and dulling our own ears, locking ourselves into our current errors and limited understanding. (Mt 13:15)

When we read our Bibles in this state, or participate in spiritual discussions, we aren’t really listening with an intent to learn; we’re waiting for an opportunity to reinforce or show off what we think we already know. We ignore and dismiss ideas which might contradict our current view; we want to be perceived to be right, rather than actually being right. We become dull of hearing, unteachable. (He 5:11)

Scripture calls such behavior loving darkness, and it’s our natural state (Jn 3:19); it takes an act of God to wake us up (Ep 2:1) and fill us with love for truth. (2Ti 2:25) Apart from God’s intervention, making us truth lovers, we’d all be deceived and eternally damned. (2Th 2:10)

How do we know if we’re dull of hearing? Simple: when we perceive something inconsistent with our current way, how do we respond? In the natural realm, we carefully consider obstacles and incorporate them into our world view, understanding them and navigating them, or leveraging them as tools to help us on our way. But if we’re constantly ignoring and dismissing reality itself, stumbling over the aspects of it we don’t like and not even noticing, it proves we’re blind, deaf and insensitive to pain – disconnected from the natural world and largely unaware of it. (Jn 11:10) In such brokenness, we don’t tend to last very long. (Mt 15:14)

When we perceive any aspect of reality which might not align with our current world view, a lover of truth pauses and carefully reflects on this new information. What am I missing? How does this fit with my current understanding? If something doesn’t fit, I need to adjust my thinking until it does … until everything fits into a coherent whole. I am poor in spirit; I need others to challenge me, to help me see my blind spots, where I’ve been deceived, where darkness still dwells in me. Everyone knows something I don’t; let my hearing be clear and sharp, so I can learn what I should as God crosses our paths.

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Your Own Conceits

The carnal nature in us, our old man, presumes we already know all we need to know; we don’t seek truth since we think we already have enough. It often operates in a vacuum of desperate self-deception (Re 3:17); the less we know the more confident we are in our understanding: in the extreme, it’s being utterly confident while knowing virtually nothing. (Pr 26:16)

We can detect this well-known principle operating in us, called the Dunning-Kruger effect, when we find ourselves over-estimating our own ability or knowledge, or underestimating that of others. Simply ask, what do I really know about this? How well do my ideas hold up under the scrutiny of experts who disagree with me? How well do I understand their best counter-arguments? Do I have training and experience demonstrating my capability under stress? What are the true boundaries of this area? Is my confidence based on facts or presumption? Whenever we find ourselves smugly confident, unwilling to listen to and deeply consider the claims, opinions or skills of others, we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22)

Were it not for the restraining grace of God, our sin nature here would put each of us well beyond hope (Ro 7:24), for one who thinks he already knows has closed his mind (Mt 13:15) and can’t learn. (Pr 26:12) But this presumption is simply pride rooted in lies; we can learn from anyone, we can always improve if we’re poor in spirit and love the truth. As we perceive this arrogance operating within, it’s time to humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and repent. (Ja 4:10)

Rather than thinking we’ve arrived (Php 3:13-14) and are superior to others (Ro 2:19), God tells us all to be not wise in our own conceits (Ro 12:16c): helping each other seek and find the truth (a), esteeming others better, focusing first on fundamentals, along with the lowly. (b) Generally, when we’re missing it big, we’re missing the basics. (Mt 23:23)

This isn’t to say that we can’t be confident in our knowledge of God (Je 9:24), that we must always be doubting everything. (2Ti 1:12) There is room in faith and humility for confidence and certainty. (He_10:22) While that is true, it is also true that we don’t know everything about anything. (1Co 8:2) We can be both confident and teachable, grounded in the truth while ever seeking more of it.

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Like a Lost Sheep

Sheep may be the most defenseless, vulnerable creatures on earth; they tend to die when they roll over, unable to get up, and when they get lost, since their primary defense is in being part of a herd. The very brain of the sheep is hardwired to follow other sheep, so isolated sheep become agitated, and when one sheep goes off in a bad direction, the rest will likely follow.

We’re all like sheep in that we’ve all gone astray, turned from the right way, to live our own way. (Is 53:6) Even the godly Psalmist admits this (Ps 119:176a), asking Jehovah, his shepherd (Ps 23:1), to seek him (176b), grounding his request in the fact that he has kept hold of God’s commandments; he has not forgotten them. (176c)

Asking God to seek us when we aren’t keeping His commands in our hearts, trying to obey Him the best we know how, is nonsense — like a man pleading to be rescued while resisting and fending off his rescuer, trying desperately to get away — it’s a contradiction. We don’t even want to be found if we’re not already obeying God the best we know how; this kind of seeking is just the carnal mind playing tricks, not wanting to be reconciled with God at all, just wanting to avoid the tragic consequences of rebellion. (Ge 4:13)

Yet we can easily go astray, even as we’re keeping God’s commands in view. We can be dull in our understanding of God’s Way (Ps 73:22), unable to fully perceive even as we’re trying our best (1Co 8:2), incapable of detecing our own blind spots. (Re 3:17) Ignorance not only blinds us (Ep 4:18), it blinds us to our very blindness. (Jn 9:40-41)

In our lostness we’re thus truly lost; like a lost sheep, we’re utterly unable to find our way back to God on our own. (Ro 7:24) We’ve only one hope: that God Himself will rescue us (25a) as we serve His law with our minds as best we can (25b), in spite of the insidious nature of our old man. (25c) It’s not a vain hope though, it’s a valid one: God finds all who seek Him. (He 11:6)

Seeking God is seeking truth wherever we can find it: in the Word, in science, in history, and in others. Thoughtful perspective in others is particularly helpful; all of us see things a bit differently, perceiving things about each other and the world that the rest of us miss. We should value differing opinion like gold, asking others to challenge our thinking and looking carefully at their reasoning. What are we still missing? The slightest indication that we aren’t fully aligned with reality at every level of our consciousness is a window to more truth; we should jump at the opportunity to climb through it.

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We Have Sinned

There’s a lot of talk today about white guilt and while privilege; some of Evangelical Christianity’s finest are jumping on BLM’s racism bandwagon to convince white America that we’ve something to be ashamed of, simply because we’re white Americans. They’re teaching us about corporate guilt, being guilty and bearing responsibility for the sins of our group.

As examples, they cite Daniel’s confession of Israel’s guilt for having forsaken God’s laws (Da 9:5), and claim that Achan’s entire family perished for his personal sin. (Jos 7:24-26)

Yet both examples, as well as the general concept, break down in light of God’s clear instruction that children ought not to be punished for their parents’ sins. (De 24:16, Eze 18:20) This would include any of our ancestors.

The truth is that Daniel never admitted any personal guilt for ancestral sin; he did confess that Israel had sinned, stating the obvious, but he didn’t admit that he himself shared in this guilt, that he himself bore any responsibility for it, or that he could repent for the nation – that he could not do so is clear once one understands the nature of repentance.

Similarly, Achan’s family and children may not actually have been stoned along with him, only his animals and possessions included; the biblical text is unclear on this point, and Rabbinic scholars are mixed in their views. If the entire family was put away, we may safely conclude from God’s own command that they each knew about their father’s sin and were complicit in it, guilty along with him, which is certainly plausible.

Corporate guilt is only relevant for a group member when that individual actively and personally participates in the corporate sin; all die in Adam (1Co 15:22) because all in Adam have actually personally sinned. (Ro 5:12)

Apart from personal responsibility, corporate guilt makes no sense if we think about it just a little: if we’re to be punished for our group’s sins, then doesn’t it follow that we’re also to be rewarded for our group’s righteousness? How, for example, can a white individual today be both ashamed that some whites were racist slave owners, while other whites rooted out and extinguished slavery?

And why focus on just the white group? We’re each in practically an infinite number of groups, starting with the human race? Are we all then guilty for every single sin ever committed by any human?

And how far back in history should we go for each group? Ten years? A thousand? Can such guilt ever actually be remedied? By what standard? It makes zero sense.

Those aligning themselves with corporate guilt are, of necessity, aligning themselves with corporate punishment. If I’m guilty for the sins of my group, then I also deserve to be punished for these sins: justice demands it. So, what penalty should be imposed, and by whom? There are no biblical precedents here.

When we support victimization by conceding that one group has unfairly treated another group, we may think we’re being compassionate, but we’re departing from a biblical worldview into the realm of Marxism and group identity. Marxists consistently use class warfare and group victimization to empower themselves through the envy and murderous resentment of the marginalized. Historically, it typically results in genocide of one form or another.

Today, conceding the victim narrative is already excusing the anemic response of officials as rioters intimidate fellow citizens and burn down our inner cities. Those who dare to stand up and defend themselves risk further harassment from employers and leftist officials.

At present, the mob is a marginal fringe, and largely unarmed, yet it’s already the most influential force in American society due to a vast base of passive, empathetic citizens. But the more powerful the mob becomes, the more murderous it will be; there’s no appeasing it.

We need to be very careful how we articulate this, because the price for getting this wrong in western culture this election cycle is our safety and freedom. It’s an ideological warfare, and it’s powerful because it contains much partial truth which appeals to compassionate souls who aren’t thinking for themselves. Yet even if intentions are good, oversimplification here will be devastating.

There are certainly generational consequences for sin, in that we tend to inherit sinful patterns of behavior from our parents. We’re also influenced by our culture and our upbringing, and will tend to be swept along with the crowd if we aren’t careful.

But in the final analysis, we’re each individually responsible only for our own personal choices, and we’ll be judged entirely on our own merits. (Ga 6:4) So, we’re wise to be watchful for sinful patterns within ourselves that are common in our culture and ancestry, repent and root out every trace of these iniquities from our own lives. To the degree that we’re successful in doing so, we’re free of corporate guilt.

Scripture never clearly shows God treating an individual better or worse merely due to what their ancestors have done, when they themselves were not complicit in the same sin, nor does God ever encourage anyone else to do this.

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Establish the Law

Christians commonly teach that Faith and Grace don’t mix with the Old Testament Law. Since the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Ga 3:24), does our faith in Christ relieve us of our obligation to obey God’s Law, or at least certain parts of it? (Ga 3:25) If Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf (Mt 5:17), why should we worry about it?

God addresses this issue directly, saying: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Ro 3:31) A right understanding of salvation by grace through faith solidifies the continuing relevance of God’s Law in our lives. How so?

Firstly, sin is defined as breaking God’s Law: every time we sin we break God’s Law (1Jn 3:4a), because this is the definition of sin (1Jn 3:4b)

Secondly, Christ aims to take away our sin (1Jn 3:5), not just forgiving us of sin’s penalty, but delivering us of its power in our lives (Ro 6:14); so, as we corrupt the definition of sin we deceive ourselves concerning the purpose and work of Christ.

Without God’s Law, we don’t know what sin is (Ro 7:7), or uncleanness (Ep 5:3), or holiness. (Eze 44:23) This blinds us to whether we’re truly in fellowship with the living God, or worshiping an idol, an image of our own imagination.

Since our carnal nature will never obey God’s Law (Ro 8:7), comparing our hearts with the standard of Torah (Ja 1:23-24) is God’s way of helping us clearly and consistently identify what’s displeasing to God within us (Ps 119:9); it’s how we dispel the darkness. (Ps 119:105) If we don’t align with Torah, we have no light (Is 8:20), and will inevitably make up our own definition of sin, harming ourselves and others. But if we purpose to keep it as well as we can, our lives will be blessed. (Ja 1:25)

God’s Law is perfect, converting our souls (Ps 19:7a), as God uses it to transform us to love others with pure motives, discern between good and evil, and to know Him as He is. (1Ti 1:5) Torah is good for us when we use it as God intended. (1Ti 1:8)

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Call on the Name

One of the most abused texts in Scripture must be Romans 10:13 – “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Today, it’s generally taken out of context to try to help people receive Christ, teaching that those who ask God to save them are guaranteed eternal life.

But the context indicates we must already believe in God in order to rightly call upon Him, (Ro 10:14a), and that those who thus believe are already saved. (Ro 10:10a) Salvation occurs as we first believe in God (Ga 3:6), as our basis of trust changes from ourselves to Christ, not when we ask to be saved.

This exposes a basic contradiction inherent in the typical evangelical gospel message: when we ask Christ to save us we’re admitting we aren’t saved, and if we aren’t saved then it follows that we don’t yet rightly believe on Christ. (Jn 3:18)

So, asking Christ to save us can’t be an expression of faith; it’s an admission of our unbelief. Teaching that one can be saved like this, by rote prayer as they continue in unbelief, is in fact another gospel (Ga 1:6), a false, perverted one, offering a lie for eternal life.

What’s missing from this mechanical gospel is faith: supernatural assurance that Christ’s atonement has already secured our salvation. Apprehending the true nature of Christ’s work produces solid assurance of eternal life (1Th 1:5); without it we’re still lost, dead in our sin. (Ep 2:1)

Trying to mechanize the gospel takes God Himself out of the equation: yet He must enable us to believe unto salvation (Jn_6:29), bringing us to life as He gives us faith in Christ. (Ep 2:5) Until we’ve experienced this supernatural work, we must continue to seek the Lord.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve called upon the Lord if we haven’t believed on Him. Do we believe? That’s the question. It’s about who we’re trusting in: Christ or ourselves.

One way to tell whether we’re grounded in Christ is to notice were we look for assurance of our salvation. Do we look to Christ, and to the work He’s done? Do we look first to the cross, and see the efficacy and completeness of His work, how God has made Christ to be sin on our behalf? Or do we look to something we’ve done, to some act of receiving Christ? It makes all the difference in the world.

To call on the name of God means to take Him at His word, to trust that He’s faithful, reliable, to enter into His rest. (He 4:1) Only those who believe on Him can do this. (He 4:10)

To corrupt the Gospel by twisting such concepts is to miss the narrow gate. (Mt 7:14) Strive to enter; give diligence to make your calling and election sure (2Pe 1:10), and be established in your faith as God intended. (Col 2:7)

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A Good Conscience

The conscience is the part of us affirming us in doing right, and shaming us when we aren’t. It’s like a map and compass in the race of life: absolutely indispensable.

But a conscience can become wounded and weak (1Co_8:12), even defiled and corrupted (1Co 8:7) through our lies and hypocrisy, seared with a hot iron. (1Ti 4:2) Then it’s useless, corrupting everything about us (Tit 1:15); then we’re calling evil good and good evil. (Is 5:20)

We cleanse our conscience by continually recalibrating it with God’s Word (Ps 119:9), comparing its assessments with what God says instead of the world, thereby renewing our minds by persistently aligning our conscience with revealed truth. (Ro 12:2) and allowing it time to adjust. At first, a weak conscience troubles us as we persist in obeying truth with our wills, just as it does when it’s clean and we’re offending against the truth, but it eventually heals and aligns with our will when our actions are according to truth. This is, in fact, the very goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5)

God tells us to hold on to a good conscience, to protect and guard it (1Ti 1:19), to cleanse our evil conscience (He 10:22) from dead works through His blood. (He 9:14) He does this in us as we obey what we already know to be true (Ja 1:22), repenting of sin and walking according to all the truth we have (He 13:18), consistently delivering ourselves from bondage unto more and more freedom (2Ti 2:25), and ever seeking more truth (Ps 119:30), wisdom and understanding. (Pr 4:7)

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Examine Yourselves

The questions we ask reveal our hearts. Are we asking, “Which of God’s law must I obey?” Or are we asking, “Which of God’s laws am I allowed/permitted to obey?”

As God writes Torah into the minds and hearts of His own (He 8:10), He’s revealing that Torah is holy and just and good (Ro 7:12), such that we “delight in the law of God after the inward man.” (Ro 7:22) As He transforms us we’ll be obeying every law that we’re able to obey as well as we can, and continually asking Him to help us obey Torah better, more perfectly. (Ps 119:35)

But if we don’t delight in Torah, we’ll be looking for excuses and explanations that relieve us of any sense of duty (Ec 12:13), and most any deception will do. (2Ti 4:3) This is the posture of the carnal mind (Ro 8:7), enmity against Torah, and ultimately against the heart of God. (Ps 119:136)

So, ask yourself the question: “What kinds of questions am I asking? What does this reveal about my heart?” Examine yourself (2Co 13:5): does your life reflect the things that accompany salvation? (He 6:9) If our questions don’t reveal a delight in Torah, then something’s wrong with our inward man.

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