Vessels of Mercy

Predestination and election are difficult to understand until we diligently consider the context — the dreadfully sinful human condition: Man’s Depravity. Apart from carefully integrating this concept throughout our theology, many fundamental precepts of Scripture appear hopelessly irreconcilable.

For example, how can God choose who will be saved while respecting Man’s Free Will? Similarly, How can a loving God be in total control when there’s so much evil and suffering? These are perhaps the hardest questions, and they aren’t peripheral; they’re fundamental spiritual bedrock. We can’t afford to dismiss them, yet resolving such mysteries seems impossible. Many stumble here, and go no further.

Yet God Himself gives us the key by addressing the problem directly, asking these same questions, and then answering them. God’s purpose in election will be realized (Ro 9:11) yet God will be totally righteous in it all (14), because God’s not obligated to be merciful (15) — by definition: mercy is undeserved, never justly required.

The reality is, if God didn’t elect anyone, choose anyone to be saved, and He let us all go our own way — we would: every last one of us would walk away from Him; we would not come to Him. (Mt 22:3) This would be fair, certainly, but then Heaven would be desolate (Lk 14:16-18a), and the world filled with even more evil and suffering than it already is. (Ge 6:5) This is what Depravity teaches us (11), if we listen. (Je 17:9)

So, if God chooses to intervene in a few of us, choosing us out from the masses and giving us new hearts and new wills that don’t run away, He’s showing mercy in election, not being unjust.

God never actually turns anyone away who seeks Him, or causes anyone to do evil; He controls by mercifully restraining us from acting out our full evil nature according to His sovereign purposes. (2Th 2:7) There’s nothing at all inappropriate about restraining evil; so, God’s in absolute control of all that happens (Ep 1:11), yet He’s also perfectly good, just and merciful; He’s righteous and holy in all He does. (Ps 145:17)

In giving us new hearts God doesn’t force us against our will; what He does in His elect is heal our will, displacing our love of lies, which moved us to distrust and despise Him, with a love for truth; He works in us to will according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13), such that we begin to want to do good. He works all this in us for our good and for His glory. (Ro 8:28)

The only remaining challenge here is: Why doesn’t God save everyone if He has this ability? The answer lies in God’s glory: He’s most glorified in fully revealing His nature, His wrath and power as well as His love and mercy. (Ro 9:22-23) If God didn’t let most all of His enemies act like enemies, and treat them as He does, we’d know much less about Him, so that’s exactly what He’s doing; God is perfectly revealing and glorifying Himself by only saving a few. (Re 15:3)

Rather than faulting God for being absolutely sovereign, and for choosing only a remnant to be saved, we ought to let all the blame for evil lie where it truly belongs: with sinful Man, and glorify God for His mercy. (Ro 15:9) Rather than complaining and running away, we seek God until we find Him (He 11:6), and discover that we’re indeed elect, vessels of divine mercy. (Ro 9:23)

And in being vessels of infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), undeserving recipients of God’s kindness, love and favor, we also ought to be merciful (Lk 6:36), to be compassionate toward those who are out of the way (He 5:2), esteeming others better than ourselves. (Php 2:3)

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Resist the Devil

God tells us to resist the Devil so he will flee from us. (Ja 4:7b) What does this mean, and how do we do it?

If we’re ignorant of the basics of spiritual warfare we might fall into Pentecostal witchcraft, white magic, employing rituals and techniques such as pleading the blood of Christ over our homes or places of worship, or reciting specially formulated prayers hoping to bind Satan and control him.

Or we might fall into simplistically imagining that we’re putting on spiritual armor (Ep 6:11), dressing up for battle like a gladiator in some virtual arena, giving spiritual labels to our helmet and breastplate, sword and shield. But in the end such deception only adds confusion to our suffering — it isn’t the way of the Word.

The immediate context illuminates: we resist the devil by submitting to God. (7a) Satan’s ultimate objective is always to alienate us from God; this is the only direction he ever pushes us, never towards God. So, as we pursue God and seek His face we’re going upstream in the satanic current, fighting into the headwinds of his tempests – resisting his temptations and intent in our lives.

So, we resist the Devil by drawing nigh to God (8a), as we start obeying Him more carefully, focusing our hearts more toward Him and His Word, putting off our carnal mind, rooting out our doublemindedness. (8b) We grieve and mourn and weep over our sin, afflicting ourselves (9) and calling upon God to heal us, quicken us, waiting on Him to help us. We see our sin more as it truly is, ourselves more as we truly are, and humble ourselves (10a), esteeming others better (Php 2:3), acknowledging that we’d be unspeakably worse without His aid, rejoicing in God alone (2Co 10:17), and then God lifts us up. (10b)

Another way of saying this is that God resists us to the degree we allow any trace of pride in our hearts, as we exalt ourselves before Him. (6) So, Satan’s constant strategy is to pit us against God by deceiving us into pride in any way that he can. He lies through both pain and pleasure, poverty and wealth, friend and foe — he is relentless in trying to bring us down and destroy us by separating us from God through our selfishness and disobedience.

It is essentially by definition then: the only way to resist the Devil is to be constantly pursuing God, drawing ever closer to Him through every trial and temptation. Whenever we lapse here, become complacent or negligent in pressing toward the mark (Php 3:14), we begin to yield, to succumb to the enemy.

When Satan discovers that everything he’s throwing at us is only bringing us closer to God, that God is working all things together for our good (Ro 8:28) as we faithfully resist him, he will eventually leave us alone; he will flee from us, and only then. (Ja 4:7b)

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By His Blood

The Old Testament lays the foundation of justification by substitutionary atonement: blood must be shed to atone for our souls. (Le 17:11) There’s never been any other way to take care of our sin problem: something or someone must take our place.

Yet it’s clear that animals are an insufficient sacrifice for human sin (He 10:4); a sacrifice of sufficient worth must be presented for our souls. Jesus Christ is that perfect sacrifice (Jn 1:29); God makes Christ to be sin for us that we might be made perfectly righteous in Him (2Co 5:21); His blood is what eternally justifies us before God, makes us perfectly righteous in His sight. (Ro 5:9) Nothing else even gets close, but God is perfectly satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. (Is 53:11) Jesus Christ: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1Jn 2:2)

So, being now justified by Christ’s blood, we are saved from wrath through Him. (Ro 5:9). This positions us to overcome the enemy (Re 12:11a), delivering us from the penalty of sin: death. (Ro 6:23)

The blood of Christ not only secures our justification, redeeming us — buying us back to God after we sold ourselves into the slavery of sin — through Christ’s sacrificial atonement for us on the altar of God, forgiving all our sins (Ep 1:7), it’s also sprinkled upon us (1Pe 1:2), as animal blood was sprinkled upon Israel (He 9:19-21), to sanctify us (He 10:29) and set us apart from this world so we can safely draw near to Him. (He 10:22) His blood purges our consciences of dead works so we may serve God. (He 9:14) Christ thereby effects and secures our sanctification (1Co 1:30), which results in us having a practical testimony, a righteous message or word emanating from our lives, which proves out our justification. (Re 12:11b)

Christ shed His blood to atone for our souls, securing our justification and sanctification. Yet some would take it upon themselves to try and apply His blood upon their houses, pets, furniture and cars, or upon an atmosphere, or setting — as if this would deter evil spirits from being able to access material things or invade our living spaces. This treats the blood of Jesus as an amulet or a charm, like an incantation or a magic spell in reverse. Is this an appropriate application of the precious blood of the Son of God?

I see no instance in scripture of anyone using the blood of atonement and sanctification in this manner, and no indication that evil spirits might be afraid to come near the blood of Christ. The entire nature of spiritual warfare is based upon entirely different principles, which are totally unrelated to such techniques.

God never tells us to resist and overcome the devil by pleading the blood of Christ; He teaches us to resist and overcome the enemy by believing and acting in truth. (2Ti 2:25-26) To the degree that lies have a home in our minds and hearts we’re in bondage (Jn 8:32); lies lead to sin, and sin enslaves. (34)

Inevitably, one will claim that pleading the blood works in their experience: it produces the results they want. This may be true on occasion, but this doesn’t justify the technique. Witchcraft works. (Ac 8:11) Why wouldn’t the enemy entice with superficial results if he can deceive us into demeaning and abusing the blood of Christ?

Trust in such devices may indeed be just one more way the enemy gains ground to steal, kill and destroy. We must be very careful, staying true to scripture and walking in truth. In spiritual things, the ends do not justify the means.

The precious blood of Christ has secured our redemption (1Pe 1:18-19) and brought us near to God. (Ep 2:13) Let’s be exceedingly thankful for this priceless gift, and reverent and sober in how we treat it.

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I Am JEHOVAH

When God reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He introduces Himself as JEHOVAH (Yeh-ho-vaw, or Yah-weh). (Ex 6:4) Yet most of the time translators come to God’s name, in the Hebrew – YHWH, they refuse to translate it, rendering it the LORD. Why?

The choice is likely rooted in long-standing Jewish tradition to not pronounce the name of God, or to even write it, in order to avoid misusing it or taking God’s name in vain. (Ex 20:7) Yet this has resulted in obscuring God’s name altogether, such that there’s serious debate about how to even pronounce it, which doesn’t seem very good either; now, we’ll need to wait until He returns just to know for sure what His precious name sounds like.

This fact been bothering me for a while, that the KJV in particular has this problem most of the time, such that when I’m quoting scripture which contains the tetragrammaton I’ve been saying Jehovah; it seems to me the most respectful way to navigate this one. Personally, I’d be displeased if no one was willing to pronounce my name when talking about me or addressing me; I’d see it as a subtle way to dishonor me. So, in loving God fully I mustn’t do that which might dishonor Him.

However, recently, I noticed that when Paul quotes Ps 117:1 in Ro 15:11 he does the same thing, replacing YHWH with the Greek kurios: Lord. If Paul himself does this under inspiration, it appears reasonable for translators to do so as well. This is sufficiently conclusive to settle the matter for me; it just isn’t an issue.

Yet some argue that Paul wrote Romans in Hebrew, not Greek, claiming he didn’t actually translate God’s name; they’d claim the Greek kurios came to us later through a scribe, and it’s not inspired. But this doesn’t pass the sniff test: in Romans, Paul addresses Gentiles (Ro 11:13) as well as Jews (Ro 2:17), and Gentiles in that day weren’t expected to be fluent in Hebrew. Paul wouldn’t write a letter to a mixed Jew-Gentile congregation in a language many in his intended audience didn’t understand.

If the Pauline answer isn’t enough, the Gospel of John also follows this pattern (Jn 12:38), and was clearly not written in Hebrew – within the text itself John translates common Hebrew terms for his reader, such as rabbi (Jn 1:38) and messiah (41), and explains basic biblical feasts (Jn 6:4); this wouldn’t be the case if John wrote in Hebrew to a Jewish audience.

We should certainly be careful to respect God’s name, and it’s clear that God originally reveals His name in Hebrew. So, it certainly isn’t wrong to use His Hebrew name as well as we can, especially when quoting the Hebrew scriptures, and many of us prefer using God’s Hebrew names. But insisting that others do so, or that God’s name must be transliterated, or not replaced with the LORD, is inconsistent with God’s own manner of inspiring His Word.

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Ye Are Gods

Each and every person, being made in God’s image, is an eternal being; we’ll all transcend physical creation and endure forever. The salient question isn’t how long we’ll exist, but what we’re becoming. Since existence itself isn’t an option, we ought to soberly consider the consequences of an eternal, limitless transformation.

From our temporal experience, becoming is a matter of trajectory, a journey, a vector with force and direction. In an eternal trajectory then, once we’ve established a general direction of travel, we’re headed for one of two extremes. We’re either becoming the equivalent of gods and goddesses (Jn 10:34-36), at least in the mythic sense, or demons and devils. (Jn 6:70) There’s no middle, neutral ground in this eternal centrifuge of becoming.

Christ will ultimately divide us into two distinct groups: sheep and goats. (Mt 25:32) But in this eternal division there won’t be any close calls, we’ll have cleanly divided ourselves into good and evil, benevolent and malevolent, beauty or horror, well before God begins to sift through us. By then it will be mere formality.

These two paths we tread are vast in scope; the destinations are infinitely disparate: there’s no upper (Php 1:6) or lower bound to what we can become. (2Ti 3:13) As the distance between two divergent lines, no matter how slight the angle, eventually becomes infinite, every step we take, every move we make, has an eternal, limitless, unfathomable consequence.

So as we interact with one another in this apparently finite, temporal space below, we’re dealing with eternal beings, beloved children of God (Ac 17:29), those infinitely loved by the Almighty. (Jn 3:16) God reveals how we value Him in how we treat one another. (40) Do we honor all as bearers of the divine image? (1Pe 2:17) Do we esteem others better? Or set ourselves up as judges? (Mt 7:1)

How do we call forth from within ourselves, and from those we meet, the best we each have to offer? (Php 4:9) Knowing the depravity of Man, how do we, in wisdom, beckon to fellow pilgrims in this eternal journey to walk in the light with us? (1Jn 1:5-7)

In fear and trembling (Php 2:12), knowing the terror of God (2Co 5:11), we prayerfully aim our lives at God, seeking Him with our whole heart (Ps 119:10), pressing toward the mark (Php 3:14)joyfully pointing the eternal trajectory of every thought and action toward Him the best we know how.

And we trust in God as we extend the welcome, benevolent hand of brotherhood to every soul we encounter, loving our neighbors as ourselves, praying for everyone (1Ti 2:1), listening and looking for how we might nudge each and every soul more into the Way of righteousness. (Da 12:3)

We don’t do this naively, in weakness or passivity, foolishly presuming others are good; we wait only upon God, knowing He only is our Rock and our Defense (Ps 62:2), our Light and our Salvation (Ps 27:1), that He works all things together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28), and that all He calls will come to Him. (Jn 6:44)

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Thy Judgments Are Right

The goodness of God ensures His judgements are right (Ps 119:75); the righteous understand that any affliction or punishment He prescribes is perfectly appropriate, faithful and just, more than deserved. (67,71) To resist or complain when God afflicts us is to defiantly reject His goodness and claim He’s inherently malevolent and evil; it’s exalting ourselves above God, arrogant presumption of the highest order (Ps 19:13), insisting we know better. (Ge 3:22)

This includes all those suffering everlasting punishment (Mt 25:46); to believe in God and receive Him from there, from Hell itself, which the wicked should certainly still do (Re 22:17), is to acknowledge that all divine punishments are appropriate in response to offenses and crimes committed against God; the wicked shouldn’t complain against or resist the wrath of God, even from Hell. (Re 15:4) They should exclaim with all Heaven that God’s judgments are true and right. (Re 16:7)

However, the wicked will not do this (Ge 4:13), because the very wellspring of wickedness is the belief that God is not good, that He is unjust. (Ge 3:5) Even to escape the fires of Hell itself, the wicked won’t repent of this sin against God; they’ll stubbornly persist in it. (Re 6:16)

Consider the story Christ tells of a rich man in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torment, pleading with Abraham to relieve him in his misery. (Lk 16:23-24) He plays on mercy to tempt the righteous to do what God will not do, and thereby admit God’s justice is too severe. Yet Abraham aligns with God and refuses, reminding the rich man of his sins against God and Man, having profoundly neglected the helpless in their earthly suffering (21), and of the righteous consequences. (25)

The rich man’s next move is to again beg Abraham to do something else God will not do: send someone back from the dead just to warn his family to flee the wrath to come. (27-28) This is a second attack upon God, directed at His self-revelation, claiming it’s insufficient, again implying His punishments are unjust. Abraham again refuses, pointing out that his family has perfectly sufficient proof of God’s character and expectation: God has plainly revealed Himself in Torah and the Prophets. (29)

The rich man persists in his denial of the sufficiency of God’s provision, insisting that his family would repent and be saved if they witnessed such a spectacular miracle. (30) This is a third arrogant attack upon God, directed at His knowledge of Man: his presumption is that God is misinformed, that we’re mostly reasonable people, his family in particular, undeserving of eternal punishment; we simply lack sufficient warning to live in light of eternity. Yet Abraham remains faithful: God knows Man’s depraved heart and is revealing Himself to mankind accordingly.  (31)

What would God do if the wicked softened their hearts in Hell and acknowledged His goodness? If we know God well we know how He’d respond: His mercy is infinite toward those who fear Him. (Ps 103:11)

Why won’t the wicked honor God then, even from Hell? Why would anyone ever deliberately sin against God? This is indeed the true mystery, the mystery of iniquity (2Th 2:7): the desperate wickedness of Man; the godly are horrified by it; we may never fully understand it. (Je 17:9)

In repentance, regardless of our suffering at God’s hands (La 3:9), we admit to receiving the due reward of our deeds (Lk 23:41) and heed God’s warning to flee the wrath to come. (Lk 3:7) This is God’s gift to all who are willing to acknowledge that He is, and that He faithfully rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

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How Can Ye Believe?

Christ asks how we can believe in God when we’re more concerned about Man’s approval than God’s? (Jn 5:44) The implication is we can’t: before we can believe in God we must be seeking God’s kingdom and pleasure first and foremost as a manner of life. (He 11:6) If we’re out to please others we aren’t servants of Christ (Ga 1:10); and if we aren’t obeying Christ we aren’t seeking Him – we’re His enemies, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

This follows from the fact that esteeming Man’s approval above God’s is to trust unfaithful sinners more than the Holy One; it’s believing in Man rather than God, disvaluing God by serving the creature more than the Creator. (Ro 1:25) So, preferring the praise of men is unbelief in God by definition.

This begs the question: what other conditions preclude us from having saving faith? Any disposition to sin intentionally, on purpose, means we don’t fear God (Ro 3:18): we don’t revere Him as our King. This also is to mistrust Him, to reject Him, to disbelieve in Him. Salvation is far from such a heart. (Ps 119:155)

Is believing in and trusting God even something we can decide to do? Is this subject to the power of our will at all? (Ro 9:16) Believing God exists is certainly a necessary first step, but that’s not the same as believing in Him, trusting Him, receiving Him as He has revealed Himself to be. (Jn 1:12-13)

Suppose a man stretches a tightrope across Niagara Falls and balances a wheelbarrow across the raging torrents. To cheering spectators he yells, “Do you believe I can push a man across in this wheelbarrow?”

How do you respond?  Can you make yourself believe? Is this an act of your will, like scratching your nose? Maybe you figure he can, so you nod in subtle agreement, but then, pointing directly at you he commands: “Get in!”

Ah! Now we’ll see if you believe! Perhaps you’d be willing to risk your life, but if you’re shaking like a leaf … if you have any doubt at all (Mk 11:23), any hesitation at all (Ja 1:6), any fear at all, this isn’t trust, belief – faithFaith is knowing you’re safer in that wheelbarrow than anywhere else in the universe – perfectly secure, chill enough to fall asleep. That isn’t something you can just will yourself into knowing. Faith in God is a miracle: it’s supernatural assurance. (He 10:22)

Consider, if placing saving faith in God is an act of our will then it’s a work; for if an act of the will isn’t a work, then nothing is a work. Acts of our will are works by definition.

However, believing on God saves us from sin (Ge 15:6), yet no work can save anyone from sin. (Tit 3:5) Since no work can save anyone from sin, experiencing saving faith in God can’t be our work; so faith can’t be an act of our will; this must be the work of God. (Jn 6:29)

Yet God commands us to repent and believe on Christ (Ac 17:30), so how can this not be an act of our will?

Well, God requires us to be perfect (Mt 5:48); this isn’t an action, but a state of being from which our actions originate, and one clearly beyond our reach. (Pr 30:29) God’s command doesn’t imply our ability; it’s righteous for God to demand perfection of us: He can’t rightly accept anything less. (Eze 18:20)

The reality is that faith and repentance aren’t things we do, or actions we take, but characteristics of our state of being as we’re transformed by God; they’re two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21) – both are gifts of right beliefs, affections and desires, a new heart, a Godward disposition. We don’t do faith, we have faith … to trust and obey God when our blind heart is healed to see and know Him more as He truly is.

And to repent, to stop believing lies, to have faith and start believing truth, God must intervene: He must give us repentance and faith so we can identify and dismiss the lies as we acknowledge the truth. (2Ti 2:25) So, while God may command us to be a certain way (1Pe 1:15-16), this doesn’t imply that we’re actually able to obey; our will is broken and corrupt. (Je 13:23)

Faith is rooted in the divine nature from which godly action springs (Ja 2:18): what we need in order to believe in God is a new nature (Ga 6:15), and we just can’t decide to have one.

Our inability to align with holiness lies in our being in a state of unbelief and enmity against God (Ro 8:7); in this state we deliberately choose patterns of disobedience which further enslave our will. We are, in our broken state, eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices. (Pr 1:31) Engaging sin leads to deeper bondage, the continual weakening of our ability to resist sin and choose good. God isn’t responsible for this condition, for our inability to choose good: we are.

Alienation from God is the result of our own ignorance and blindness (Ep 4:18), which comes upon us as we reject the light (Jn 3:36) and respond inappropriately to God. (Ro 1:21) In blindness we make more choices which alienate us even farther from God (Ps 73:27), leading to ever deeper sin and bondage (Ro 1:24), such that we’re continually becoming more irrational, confused, deceived, believing more and more lies about God, others and ourselves. (2Ti 3:13)

We can no more escape this spiraling descent into bondage and corruption through the effort of our own will than a rotting corpse can raise itself up from the grave (Ep 5:14), or the non-existent can conceive and birth themselves (Jn 3:7), or the wicked can give themselves new hearts (Ez 18:31) – yet God requires this of us.

God isn’t cruel to command the impossible – He does this in mercy, as a promise: if we hear His command, humble ourselves and seek life from Him (Ps 119:107), trusting He’s faithful (1Co 1:9), He quickens us (Col 2:13), conceives us with the truth by an act of His own will (Ja 1:18), and gives us new spirits and hearts (Ez 36:26) which delight in His Law. (Ro 7:22)

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Free Will

How do we reconcile Man’s Free Will with God’s Sovereignty? our responsibility to make good choices with God’s ultimate control of our behavior?

It’s clear that we all make choices of our own free will, and that our choices are not always good, yet we pray as if God governs other people’s choices and can control them as He wills; we even accuse God of letting people make horrible choices – we instinctively know He can prevent them.

It’s very difficult to understand how God can be in control of our behavior while holding us responsible – it’s like an open contradiction. This mystery is so profound, so difficult to grasp, many rebel against God because of it, or deny His existence altogether.

Yet denying God’s existence is equivalent to denying the existence of evil itself, so evil can’t be evidence of God’s non-existence: our very cry for justice proves we’re made in God’s image.

And rebelling against God for being in control while holding us responsible accuses God Himself of being unjust and evil, yet we can’t rightly define justice or evil apart from God … in fact, in redefining good and evil we’re exalting ourselves as gods. (Ge 3:22)

To resolve this dilemma, note that paradoxes are often rooted in incomplete perspective; in stepping back a bit and challenging our underlying assumptions we often find our answer.

If we assume Man is truly acting freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)

And if we assume Man’s evil choices are actually caused by God, then holding Man responsible for evil violates God’s own standard of justice (De 25:1); so Man’s own will is the ultimate cause of evil. (Jn 3:19)

And if we assume that God has no good purpose in allowing evil, then God is acting in a way that is ultimately harmful and not good; thus it must be that God knows what He’s doing, that He will be pleased in the final outcome, and therefore that it’s good. (Ps 27:13)

So, we resolve the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will by attributing evil entirely to Man’s total depravity, and attributing goodness to God’s intervening restraint: when Man chooses freely, apart from divine aid, Man makes the most evil choice God allows him to make every time he makes a choice, because that’s Man’s nature, freely chosen by him. (Je 17:9)

Yet God is constantly and mercifully intervening and controlling Man’s behavior by perfectly and imperceptibly restraining evil according to His perfect will and plan (Php 2:13); whenever God does permit evil it’s for a glorious final purpose (Ro 8:28), by which He intends to reveal and glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) For this we ought to be genuinely thankful. (Ep 5:20)

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A Revenger

The purpose of civil government is to be a revenger, to protect us from evildoers by administering justice to those who break God’s laws. (Ro 13:4) With the advances of our modern military capabilities, this naturally includes providing for the common defense, shielding us from hostile foreign powers.

The primary reason for restricting government to this defensive role is straightforward: it’s the only entity which may lawfully take money from others by force (Ro 13:6), and this power to tax is very easily corrupted; limiting governmental power limits corruption.

Ensuring domestic tranquility is the one thing we as individuals or small groups are incapable of managing effectively; when we start taking the law into our own hands we no longer have a stable society, we have mob rule. So, maintaining civil order must be delegated to government, aligning us all with a code of conduct we collectively agree to follow.

Furthermore, it’s common sense wisdom to restrict government to minimal, necessary functions since government spending is the most inefficient and wasteful way to spend money. Consider the only four possible ways our money can be spent.

  1. We can spend our money on ourselves. This is the most efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be concerned about both quality and cost; we’re incented to buy efficiently, to get the best deal for the kind of quality we want.
  2. We can spend our money on someone else. This is a less efficient way to spend money, since we tend to be much more concerned about cost than we are about quality; we’re incented to buy something less expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.
  3. Someone else can spend our money on themselves. This is an even less efficient way to spend our money: when someone else spends our money on themselves they tend to be much more concerned about quality than than they are about cost; they’re incented to buy something very expensive even if the higher quality is unnecessary or minimal.
  4. Someone else can spend our money on someone else. This is the worst way to spend money because when someone else spends our money on someone else they tend to be unconcerned about both quality and cost: they’re often incented by entirely unrelated factors; they may buy something very expensive even if the quality is unacceptable.

When government spends our money it’s Type 4 spending, the very worst kind. Government tends to be more wasteful and inefficient simply because it’s never directly impacted by its own decisions; it’s very difficult to hold government accountable for waste and inefficiency.

So, God’s prescription for helping the poor isn’t government handouts: it’s found in the hard work (Pr 14:23), ingenuity (Pr 8:12), diligence (Pr 12:27) and industry of free enterprise (De 15:10): being rewarded according to the kind of value we create. (1Ti 5:18) Once our own needs are met, we are to offer person-to-person charity, where we have some idea of who we’re helping and why. (Ep 4:28)

We’re less inclined to help those who won’t help themselves, who are unwilling to work (2Th 3:10), who squander their time, energy and money. (Pr 13:23) We know that consequences are generally the best teacher; when people suffer for their personal choices they tend to straighten up; but when we reward laziness and foolishness we tend to get more of the same.

Government bureaucrats don’t know who best to help and when, over-burdening value creators and rewarding problematic behavior to achieve political objectives, promoting apathy, mediocrity, and creating self-fulfilling cycles of sustained dependency and pathology which are extremely difficult to correct.

God’s way encourages us to contribute earnestly to our own welfare, to meet the needs of our own families (1Ti 5:8), and to enjoy the fruits of our own labor. (Ec 5:18-19) Then we’re to help those who, through no fault of their own, need our help to get back on their feet. (Ga 2:10)

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On the Sabbath

As we remember the sabbath (Ex 20:8) in the midst of a fallen culture, we find ourselves questioning what kinds of activities are allowed. This isn’t new; even in Torah-keeping cultures there’s controversy here. It’s one of the chief obstacles Jesus Christ Himself faced. (Jn 9:16)

God says we’re to stop working on sabbath (Ex 20:10), and do all our work the remaining six days (9), but He never defines work, and for good reason — it’s evidently related to our motives, which are context-specific. He does, however, give us some helpful examples.

Gathering manna on sabbath was forbidden (Ex 16:29), as well as cooking and preparing it (23), gathering firewood (Nu 15:32,35) and kindling a fire. (Ex 35:3) Conducting business as usual, in manual labor and routine commerce, violates sabbath (Ne 13:15-17), and carrying burdens profanes the sabbath. (Je 17:21-22)

Jews extrapolate from this to extremes, forbidding us to operate elevators, microwaves, stoves, light switches, or tear off pieces of toilet paper, drive a car, or lift anything heavier than an infant.

In light of our modern conveniences, is there perhaps a balance here which honors the spirit of sabbath without perverting it into a burden (Mt 23:4), especially in cultures which are ignorant of sabbath?

For example, is it OK to go to a restaurant, go shopping, warm up some left overs, or to go for a hike or a jog on Saturday? Perhaps this depends on what we do for work the other six days, to provide for ourselves and those we care for.

Perhaps we should each take the time to define what work means for us; maybe whatever that is should be off limits for us on Shabbat, without neglecting our duty to ourselves or others. If our work requires shopping during the week, then maybe we should avoid going on Saturday; if we’re manual laborers, then prioritize physical rest; if we make a living straining our brains, best forget problem-solving on Saturday.

It’s perfectly consistent with sabbath to engage in needful, useful activity, even if it happens to be difficult. (Mt 12:12) The key appears to be related to both our weekly routine and what it means to love each other. We ought to do our best to set the day apart, and not impose rigorous work on others, but when people are working anyway, how do we integrate this into our own observance? Must we isolate ourselves and disengage, or might it be wisdom to leverage their voluntary sabbath violations to make our own more peaceful, joyful and restful?

These questions get at the heart of obedience, yet we may not have definitive answers until our Lord returns. Meanwhile, each of us must do our best to honor Him as our conscience directs in our particular circumstances, enlightened by the Word, and the Spirit of the living God.

Keeping the spirit of Sabbath in mind, that it’s sanctified by our Father for our benefit in rest, what can do to set this day apart and make it more of a delight? This perspective will lead us on a journey to discover sabbath, to orient our lives around God’s appointed times of rest, teaching us, as each sabbath evening draws on, to rest in what He’s allowed us to accomplish for the week, and to worship Him as our Fountain of eternal rest.

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