A Reprobate Mind

How do we understand those who struggle with immoral attractions, who would rather be more natural in their inclinations? Or who feel compelled to self-identify as something other than they are? Or who fantasize about unspeakable wickedness? It does seem as if we’re not all deliberately choosing the attractions and tendencies over which we struggle, that we seem to be born with them, and Christians are not immune from the fight. How then can we condemn such behavior?

God tells us He gives us over to a reprobate mind, to do things which are harmful to ourselves and others, because we’ve not kept God central in our world view. (Ro 1:28) However, many of us struggle with such behavior who are not morally bankrupt; we may indeed be struggling quietly, doing our best to walk with God in spite of how we feel, and may not be able to identify anything we’ve done to create this condition. What hope do we have when we find ourselves struggling like this?

Perhaps the things we do instinctively, apart from our conscious will, spring from our sub-conscious, from beliefs and thinking patterns programmed into us from infancy through various combinations of trauma, societal training and cultural influences. How have these millions of signals, most of which we didn’t chose, impacted us?

It may also be that we inherit moral tendencies through our ancestry (De 23:2), and perhaps even from those in our current culture (3-4), or even from mankind in general (Ro 5:19), as part of a single, living human organism. (Ep 4:25) We don’t fully understand how we’re influenced by the thoughts and actions of others, but we don’t actually need to understand the why and how in order to be healed.

God has told us that knowing the truth makes us free (Jn 8:31-32), that acknowledging the truth sets us free from spiritual slavery and bondage. (1Ti 2:25-26) Truth is the weapon of our warfare in this struggle; there is no bondage or instinct too strong for God to heal, if we’re willing to pursue and receive the truth. (Ep 3:20)

Every one of us struggles with sinful tendencies and attractions which seem beyond our control; we can deny and resist them, but we can’t simply turn them off altogether and feel differently without divine healing. Rather than presuming “God made me this way” whenever we have an instinctive reaction that’s contrary to moral law, perhaps we should offer up these instincts to God and ask Him to help us re-program both our conscious and sub-conscious minds.

Consistently and prayerfully exposing our minds and hearts to truth and asking God to work it down into the deepest recesses of our being, this is the way to cleansing and freedom. (Ps 119:9) It may not be a quick fix, any more than our initial programming happened overnight; the web of lies may be extremely deep and complex. One thing we know is that God knows us better than we know ourselves (Ps 139:1-4), and He has given His very best to set us free. (Tit 2:14) If we want to be healed and pursue Him for it, He’s on our side and will be with us every step of the way. (He 13:5-6)

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Bitter Envying

Envy, a feeling of discontent or dissatisfaction due to another having more or better, is traditionally considered one of the worst sins. (Pr 27:4) It desires others to have less or worse, and is thus purely and uniquely destructive. It’s also grounded in the primal lie that God Himself does not satisfy (Ps 63:5), and that something else will.

Bitterness is resenting God for not treating us as well as we deserve (if we knew we deserved worse we’d be thankful; since God could improve our lot and hasn’t, our resentment must be toward Him). It presumes God’s not good, that He’s not ordering things rightly, that we could do it better. It’s born of pride; thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. (Ro 12:3)

So, bitter envying is quite the combination! a feeling of resentment toward God for others having more or better; it combines the destructiveness of envy with the arrogance and pride of bitterness. As we find this within we should admit the corruption and deceit it reveals, and turn ourselves back toward the truth. (Ja 1:14) The truth is we don’t deserve better, and what we’re after won’t satisfy us.

Bitterness and envy cripple, trapping us in brokenness; they don’t move us to healthy living. Thankfulness and worship are the healthy counterparts, setting us free to become all God has designed us to be, to live in the fullness (Ep 3:19) and adventure to which He’s called us, a life of ultimate pleasure and goodness. (1Pe 3:10-11)

Truth is, we deserve to be burning in Hell forever; no one suffers eternal Hell who doesn’t fully deserve it, and we’re as bad or worse when left to ourselves. (Php 2:3) Anything else is mercy, God restraining us and giving us repentance (2Ti 2:25), for which we should be exceedingly thankful.

Also, we’re designed to enjoy God supremely; pursuing anything apart from God (as opposed to pursuing it in God, for God and with God) is to try to replace Him with part of His creation. (Ro 1:25) This is based on the primal lie and it will always fail; be sure of it.

We may know these things academically, but when we’re bitter and unthankful, envious and wanton, we reveal another belief system in opposition to God operating within our sub-conscious, our core selves. We did not learn this in Christ. (Ep 4:20) Rather than dismissing this as natural, confess it as a work of the devil, reckon ourselves dead to it (Ro 6:11), ask God to destroy it (1Jn 3:8b), and consistently expose the sub-conscious mind to truth with a prayerful intensity that takes no prisoners. (Mt 5:29-30)

Christ in us, living in and through us, always believes unto joyful obedience. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. (Ep 3:20)

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Bury Him

Cremation is certainly a convenient alternative to burial today; it’s generally cheaper and provides more flexibility in scheduling the funeral. Yet it may be inappropriate, especially for followers of Christ.

While there’s no direct command forbidding cremation, it is interesting to note that even the dead bodies of the cursed are to be respected by burial (De 21:23), that burning is not given in Torah as a way to either punish or dispose of a human body, and that there’s no indication anywhere in scripture that cremation might be an acceptable alternative to burial.

In fact, Abraham went to great effort and expense to obtain property just so he could have a place to bury Sarah properly (Ge 23:4); Isaac and Rebecca were interred there with similar concern; Jacob went out of his way to bury Leah there, and his last act was to insist that his children go to great expense and trouble to bury his own body there. (Ge 49:29-31) Joseph even insisted that his body be preserved and his bones brought out of Egypt along with Israel when they were delivered from slavery several centuries later. (Ge 50:25) If cremation were arbitrarily equivalent to burial, it’s difficult to explain the preoccupation of the godly with where and how their bodies should be kept in death.

Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron, Israel

The burial of Moses is perhaps the most significant and unusual example in this regard; as far as we know, it’s the only body God Himself buried, and (not coincidently) also the only body the devil sought to exploit. (Jud 9) Since God Himself chose to bury Moses’ body in a secret location (De 34:5-6), evidently even stationing a high-ranking angel at the tomb to resist Satan’s attempt to take it, when cremation would have solved the problem more conveniently, we have compelling evidence that burial is the only godly choice, and that cremation is problematic.

It’s clear that cremation doesn’t prevent God from resurrecting anyone (He 11:19), so this cannot be the concern. It’s also clear in scripture that the bodies of animals were routinely burned (He 13:11); this method of disposal was commonly used for sanitation but never recommended for humans.

Perhaps it’s related to the fact that we’re all made in the image of God (Ge 1:27), and that this bodily image is to be respected. It’s clear from scripture that our physical body is of interest to God; He tells us to treat it with dignity (De 14:1) and respect (Le 19:28), chooses to dwell within it (1Co 6:19) and intends to redeem it. (Ro 8:23)

In fact, God has identified so intimately with our physicality that He treats our earthly bodies as members of Christ Himself (1Co 6:15), and the physical body of Christ might just be the holiest object in existence anywhere, holier than the holiest of all within the temple itself. So, if our bodies are part of Him, as they evidently are (Ep 5:30), it’s very important how we treat them while we live, as well as when we die.

If our thought is that our bodes don’t really matter, we’re missing a significant part of God’s precious design in us (Php 3:21), part of what He values in and about us. Yet, if in the end we’re blown to bits in an accident, burned at the stake or beheaded as martyrs, dismembered and cast into smoldering trash heaps (He 11:37), God certainly won’t be set back by this. (Ps 116:15) As in so many other things, this is about our hearts and motives (1Co 4:5), not God’s ability to redeem. (Mk 10:27)

We’re stewards of our bodies; how we handle them in both life and death is a matter of stewardship, respect and dignity, treating something precious made in the image of God, the very temple of God, with the honor it deserves. (1Pe 2:17)

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The Avenger

God tells us very plainly not to avenge ourselves (Ro 12:19), yet He also makes provision in His Law for His people to avenge the death of a loved one, and He evidently wants us to do this. (De 19:12) Thus, while it’s true that vengeance belongs to God alone and not to us, there are evidently times when He chooses us to be the instrument of His vengeance and to deliver it on His behalf.

Predator C Avenger

As we exact revenge on our own, we seldom do so with the right heart; our wrath doesn’t work the righteousness of God (Ja 1:20); righteous anger is indeed a rare thing. Yet when God sets the boundaries on when and how we’re allowed to take revenge, He is keeping us within His standards and ordering our steps in His ways.

After all, as warped as our desire to get even generally is, it is based on a desire for justice, and justice is generally a good thing; it’s a deterrent to evil and places the ultimate cost of malevolence on the perpetrator rather than the victim. When a legal system aligns with God and allows us to take proper revenge, this is holiness.

What God forbids is taking matters into our own hands; He sets the stage for revenge in the context of impartial community which agrees on the legitimacy,  method, timing, and degree of our response. Apart from such a legal system, we must leave restitution entirely in God’s hands.

USS Avenger Minesweeper

Even so, though we’re not allowed to avenge ourselves per current legal standards, we may certainly desire justice (Re 6:10), even rejoice when it’s carried out, and this might indeed be righteous. (Re 19:1-2) When justice is sought so God Himself might be vindicated, for He is the one primarily and mostly wronged in every offense (Ps 51:4), our interest in justice may then be upright. (Ps 119:84)

Yet how do we integrate love for mercy into our love for justice? How are we to do justly as well as love mercy? (Mi 6:8) We do it by loving our neighbor, desiring what’s best for him, which is to be reconciled to God and to walk in His ways.

When repentance is already present (Ex 20:6), or if we have evidence that mercy will further reveal the goodness of God and encourage repentance (Ro 2:4), then mercy is very likely appropriate. (Mt 18:33) Otherwise, justice is likely best, for offender, victim, and all within society. (De 19:20)

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Resist Not Evil

The fact of evil in the world may comprise the greatest proof of God’s existence; we recognize people doing wrong and we’re moved by moral instinct to condemn and resist evil behavior. Yet without God there can be no such thing as evil.

Recognizing and responding to evil is fundamental to our both spiritual nature and our entire legal code, so we must be very careful when Christ says, “Resist not evil.” (Mt 5:39a) Taking this out of context sets us up for failure.

The context is a legal dispute: an eye for an eye, where we have a moral obligation to endure inconvenience or punishment in resolving an injustice. (38)

This is not about someone taking out their frustrations on us, or persecuting us for our faith, or even about random acts of violence, but a civil context where we’re found guilty of harming another and justice requires similar harm be imposed on us, the offender. (De 19:18-21) In such cases, mere justice is insufficient for the follower of Christ: we must go beyond the letter of the law in making things right. (Php 2:15)

This is most clearly seen in Christ’s second example, in the immediate context of how we’re to voluntarily offer to suffer more than we already have: we’ve been sued in court and found guilty, and the penalty is that our coat is being taken from us and awarded to the plaintiff. (40) When our community has found us guilty (implying we resisted resolving the offense out of court (Mt 5:25), and the offended party had to take us to court to find justice), it’s certainly appropriate for children of light (Ep 5:8-10) to go above and beyond what the law requires and voluntarily offer more if our adversary wants it. (1Co 6:7b) In other words, we’re to go out of our way to make things right once we’re shown by due process to be in the wrong. (Mt 5:16)

Christ’s third example is similar; one is compelling us to carry their burden a mile. (41) In other words, we have a moral obligation to comply with their request, as when Roman soldiers conscripted subjects into short-term manual labor to assist with military duties. (Mt 27:32) When one with such authority lawfully engages us to do something most people would resent, we show our integrity by willingly and cheerfully going well beyond what is required.

There’s a sense of resolving injustice even in Christ’s first example: someone strikes us on our right cheek. (39b) This would typically be done with the left hand, and would therefore be a formal insult. Presuming it is deserved, and lawfully dealt, Christ is telling us to submit to more harm than required to ensure any and all wrong on our part is fully resolved.

We see then by repeated examples in the immediate context that Christ is not teaching us to be passive in the face of wanton malevolence, but to voluntarily accept additional suffering (evil) as needed to fully resolve our offenses and fulfill our civic duties. He is calling us to live above reproach. (Tit 2:8)

It’s important then to consider how others might abuse this concept and teach us that it’s inappropriate to resist evil people, to defend ourselves and others, that we’re never to confront and challenge those who would wrongfully and maliciously harm us.

Yet Christ Himself does not do this, passively stand by as others harm Him contrary to the Law; He does not turn the other check when He is slapped; He publicly resists such abuse by pointing it out as unlawful and challenging it. (Jn 18:22-23) The Apostle Paul acts similarly, even cursing his perpetrator. (Ac 23:3)

So, when scholars corrupt Christ’s teaching here, as very many do (2Co 2:17), saying we ought to voluntarily submit to the arbitrary malice of evil people (NASB, NIV, RSV, ASV, ESV), thereby deliberately and unnecessarily forcing the language of scripture to specify the source of the harm as moral wickedness, and thereby claiming it’s un-Christlike to stand up to malevolence in general (as if the translator’s only concern is grammatical possibility, without regard to context, with no intent to actually obey what they offer as scripture), we should carefully observe a carelessness, a thoughtlessness, and a dangerous presumption with God’s Word, evidence we ought to hold such translations in overall suspicion, and distrust them as spiritual authority.

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