Reading the Characters in God Story (Psalm 15)

“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.

There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.

I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.

Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.

If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.

Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.

This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.

If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.

The Exegetical Systematician: The Gospel Does Require Adaptation…

Oftentimes it is pleaded that the Christian message must be adapted to the modern man. It is true that the message must be proclaimed to modern man, and to modern man in the context in which he lives and in language he can understand. But it is much more true and important to plead that modern man must be adapted to the gospel.  —John Murray, The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession

Poorly Hung Church Doors (Colossians 4:2–6)

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” —Colossians 4:3 (ESV)

Paul’s “open door” has been installed in many churches incorrectly. This phrase has been hijacked in an attempt to sanctify a horrid way to seek God’s will. In his excellent little book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung quotes a Lark New satire piece,

TUPELO — Walter Houston, described by family members as a devoted Christian, died Monday after waiting 70 years for God to give him clear direction about what to do with his life.

‘He hung around the house and prayed a lot, but just never got that confirmation,’ his wife Ruby said. ‘Sometimes he thought he heard God’s voice, but then he wouldn’t be sure, and he’d start the process all over again.’

Houston, she says, never really figured out what his life was about, but felt content to pray continuously about what he might do for the Lord. Whenever he was about to take action, he would pull back ‘because he didn’t want to disappoint God or go against him in any way,’ Ruby says. ‘He was very sensitive to always remain in God’s will. That was primary to him.’

Friends say they liked Walter though he seemed not to capitalize on his talents.

‘Walter had a number of skills he never got around to using,’ says longtime friend Timothy Burns. ‘He worked very well with wood and had a storyteller side to him, too. I always told him, ‘“Take a risk. Try something new if you’re not happy,” but he was too afraid of letting the Lord down.’

To his credit, they say, Houston, who worked mostly as a handyman, was able to pay off the mortgage on the couple’s modest home.

Do you know how Paul found open doors? He prayerfully tried a bunch of handles. When one opened, he went through.

What are the open doors Paul asks for? Opportunity for the gospel, to declare the mystery of Christ. Upon returning to Antioch following his first missionary journey, we read that, “when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).” The open door for the word then isn’t just the opportunity to declare the gospel, but receptivity to believe the gospel. Listen to the same truth in different garb. In Acts 11 Peter reports of this same open door of faith for the Gentiles. When the church “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ ” (Acts 11:18)

Paul desires prayer because He knows the work is the Lord’s. All opportunity and all receptivity for the gospel are gifts from God’s hand. Paul isn’t asking for prayer so that he might know who to marry, where to go to school, or what job to take. Paul’s personal request isn’t that personal at all. Paul doesn’t ask for an open door for himself, but for the gospel.

Why is Paul’s door installed incorrectly in so many churches? Because we are idolatrously bent in on ourselves. The crooked can’t hang straight doors.

The Exegetical Systematician: Incompatible Power Adapters

“Oftentimes as an accompaniment of this [Arminian] conception of the message and of the response to the message there has been fostered a certain type of high-pressure appeal and of emotional excitement that is scarcely compatible with the sobriety and dignity that ought to characterize the preaching of the gospel, and scarcely consistent with the deliberateness and intelligence appropriate to the exercise of faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.” —John Murray, The Message of Evangelism

The Exegetical Systematician: The Free Offer Rides the Wave Divine Soverignty

It must be said without reserve that there is no limitation or qualification to the overture of grace in the gospel proclamation. As there is no restriction to the command that all everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30), so is there none to what is correlative with it. The doctrines of particular election, differentiating love, limited atonement do not erect any fence around the offer in the gospel. No text is more eloquent of the pure sovereignty of both the Father and the Son in the revelation of gospel mystery than the words of our Lord in Matthew 11:25-30: ‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so. Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Here is the sovereign will and differentiation of the Father. ‘He to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ This is the witness to Jesus’ own sovereignty in revealing the Father to men. But the immediate sequel is: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.’ The lesson is that it is not merely conjunction of differentiating and sovereign will with free overture, but that the free overture comes out from the differentiating sovereignty of both Father and Son. It is on the crest of the wave of divine sovereignty that the unrestricted summons comes to the labouring and heavy laden. This is Jesus’ own witness, and it provides the direction in which our thinking on the question at issue must proceed. Any inhibition or reserve in presenting the overtures of grace should no more characterize our proclamation than it characterized the Lord’s witness. —John Murray, The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel

The Apologist: The Battleground

The real battle for men is in the world of ideas, rather than in that which is outward. All heresy, for example, begins in the world of ideas. That is why, when new workers come to L’Abri, we always stress to them that we are interested in ideas rather than personalities or organizations. Ideas are to be discussed, not personalities or organizations. Ideas are the stock of the thought world, and from the ideas burst forth all the external things: painting, music, buildings, the love and the hating of men in practice, and equally the results of loving God or rebellion against God, in the external world. Where a man will spend eternity depends on his reading or hearing the ideas, the propositional truth, the facts of the gospel in the external world, and these being carried thought he medium of his body into the inner old of his thought, and there, inside himself, in his thought-world, either his believing God on the basis of the content of the gospel or his calling God a liar. …

It is for this reason that the preaching of the gospel can never be primarily a matter of organization. The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a contentless experience internally received, but it is contentful ideas internally acted upon that makes the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas, and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is, as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for people is centrally in the world of thought.

The third conclusion is that the Christian life, true spirituality, always begins inside, in our thought-world. All that has been said in our earlier study of being free in this present life from the bonds of sin, and also of being free in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin, is meaningless jargon, no more than a psychological pill, if is divorced from the reality that God thinks and we think, and that at each step the internal is central and first. The spiritual battle, the loss or the victory, is always in the though-world. —Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

The Apologist: Apologetics a Subset of Evangelism

Thus apologetics, as I see it, should not be separated in any way from evangelism. I wonder if “apologetics” which does not lead people to Christ as Savior, and then on to their living under the Lordship of Christ in the whole of life really is Christian apologetics. —Francis Schaffer, The God Who Is There