Why We Never Outgrow The Gospel: 3 Reasons

pexels-photo-925985.jpeg

The Fundamentals

Each year during Easter week and Resurrection Sunday, both the world and the Church are on alert as to the implications of this event from a historical standpoint. Yet both sides have glaringly distinct motives behind why they care at all about that time of year. I won’t at this point in time pontificate on the objections offered by critics and opponents of Christianity; suffice is to say that the burden of proof is on them to offer compelling evidence dispelling the claims of Christianity regarding the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, our interest in the Resurrection is one of absolute necessity, since on it hinges the validity of the Gospel we proclaim as the power of God unto Salvation (Rom 1:16). My aim in this blog is to offer a staunch reminder and biblical exhortation to my brothers and sisters in Christ, of the wonders of this Gospel by which we have both been saved, and are being saved at this very moment until the day of Redemption (1 Cor 15:1).

The Gospel is outlined in Scripture as the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3,4). It is the testimony of what God has done to make a specific people, whom he has chosen by his own decree and purpose, right with himself by no merit of their own but by the merits of Christ alone (Eph 2:1-8). In modern Christendom there is a commonly held belief that the Gospel is the elementary doctrine of Christianity. It is often taught and preached in mainline evangelicalism today, that the Gospel is what gets us into the Kingdom of God, and then we move on to the weightier and more significant teachings of Christianity. I think we would do well to examine this further and see if in fact we are compelled by Scripture to move on from the Gospel.

I desire that all Christians be people of the Book, and seek earnestly in the Bible how they may grow their faith in Christ and pursue personal holiness. I believe firmly, that having a deeply rooted conviction of one’s perpetual need for the Gospel compels us to go back often to the Scriptures, therefore reminding us to look to Christ for all that we need. A view that minimizes the Gospel actually serves in encouraging the exact opposite; it opens the door to pursuing experiences that are subordinate to the Scriptures and in many cases contrary to the commands of Scripture. I hope to offer three clear and objective reasons from Holy Scripture why we never outgrow the Gospel.

3 Reasons We Never Outgrow The Gospel

We Are Called To Make Disciples Through The Gospel

The Gospel was the means God used to make us alive in Christ. As Christians we inherit the calling issued at The Great Commission by Jesus (Matt 28:18-20) to go and make disciples of all nations. As such, the Gospel is the means God uses in our preaching to save the lost since it is the very power of God unto Salvation (Rom. 1:16). If we are to take this command seriously we must certainly be well versed in the Gospel we stand on. Our calling to make disciples is inextricably woven into our common need and dependency upon the Gospel for our own continued growth in Christ as well as those we are discipling. If we seek to make disciples by an means other than the Gospel of Christ, we will certainly find our efforts to be vain and ultimately ineffective. The Gospel saves and the Gospel alone; not the Gospel and some of our works, not the Gospel and some weightier doctrines, no, the Gospel alone is the Power of God unto Salvation! To preach anything less than this glorious Gospel is to cut off the very legs upon which our hope stands. To preach anything more than the Gospel is to render the Gospel powerless and insufficient. Our calling involves making disciples, and doing so is impossible apart from the Gospel of Christ being clearly preached and taught!

We All Stumble In Many Ways, So Daily We Need The Gospel

God demands perfection from those who would draw near to him and be called his own (Matt 5:48). Unfortunately perfection is something we can never attain to on this side of eternity. Nevertheless we must strive toward that end, working diligently by faith not so as to attain righteousness, but because through this Gospel we’ve been offered an alien righteousness. The Gospel is not merely what God has ordained that we be saved through, but it is also the means God has ordained by which we are being saved (emphasis on progressive or gradual sanctification) (1 Cor. 15:2). We must daily recognize our desperate need for the Gospel, and preach it daily to ourselves recognizing that we are not yet perfected, but are being sanctified daily. This in no way undermines our justification; we are fully and instantly justified upon regeneration, however, we need daily reminded that our works are filthy rags before God and add nothing to our right standing with God. We need only rest in the finished work of Christ to have our hearts encouraged and our consciences cleared before God. A believer who views the Gospel as inapplicable to their daily walk with Christ, will naturally migrate into a form of legalism. They will tend to relate to God based on a system of works, where each sin they find in their life will need to be outweighed with self condemnation and excessive “good works” so as to tilt the scale back toward “favor with God.” This is far too common among believers and it is not glorifying to God or beneficial to the individual. Yet this is the natural pull of the person who sees the Gospel as an elementary tool only necessary for new believers. Nothing could be further from the truth; we all stumble in many ways, and as such we need the Gospel daily to direct our attention to Christ and remember His righteousness which has been imputed to us by which we stand fully justified before God (2 Cor 5:11-21).

The Gospel Is a Mystery That We Can Never Exhaust

The meditation and singular focus of heaven is “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). Within those words is the essence of this Gospel which I submit to you, we must never outgrow. The gospel is not as many may suspect, an elementary principle, rather it is the culmination of the manifold wisdom of God! We can never exhaust the wonders of this message in which we see the mercy, love, grace, and justice of God all fully displayed and upheld. The mystery of this gospel is one into which even angels long to look (1Peter 1:12). There was never a secondary plan of redemption in the heart and mind of God, for Christ indeed is the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). It is a shallow and presumptuous person who would assert that they have come to master and move on from the basics of the Gospel. Such a person does not know full-well the depths of their own sin and the fierce holiness and perfection of God. The gospel being the Good News, is only good when the individual understands the just and eternal judgement they rightly deserve. It will require all of eternity for us to explore in full depth and pure bliss, how it is that a people who by no merits of their own, have come to not only be reconciled to God, but to join him in reigning as co-heirs (Rom 8:17)! That the gospel is inexhaustible comes as no surprise to the soul saved by grace, because through it we come to know Him who is inexhaustible, namely Christ Jesus our LORD! As John Piper has so succinctly stated “God is the Gospel.”

Song for Reflection

But God Made Me This Way: Thinking Biblically About Homosexuality

confused-muddled-illogical-disoriented.jpg

“As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And if our society celebrates it, we can’t both be caring and not say anything. Too much is at stake. This means it is an oversimplification to say that Christians — or conservative evangelicals — are simply against homosexuality. We are against any sin that restrains people from everlasting joy in God.” -Jonathan Parnell

Calling Sin, Sin!

I love the aforementioned quote by Jonathan Parnell, because I believe it truly gets to the heart of the argument I will aim to make in this blog post: homosexuality being sin, robs people of everlasting joy in God! I don’t intend to isolate homosexuality as the “unpardonable sin” that many in the conservative Evangelical camp have treated it as throughout the years. To be sure, homosexuality is a sin and should be seen and called out as such. However my goal is not to be condescending or condemning to homosexuals or those wrestling with sexual identity and orientation. My goal rather, is to bring biblical clarity to the widespread confusion in the Church around the topic of homosexuality. This confusion is owing in large part to an adopted abandonment of objective Scriptural authority among many professing Christians, even prominent Christian leaders. Without the objective unwavering truth of the Holy Scriptures to stand on, we naturally defer to science and culture’s moving-target philosophy to define anatomy and sexuality in their own subjective terms. This variability of philosophy becomes ultimately self-destructive since it is open to one’s own interpretation and subjective experiences. The Scriptures are clear as to what God says and how God feels about homosexuality, therefore being divinely authoritative they bring to bear upon our conscience the absolute standard of God’s moral law. Now at risk of sounding antiquated, I have to admit that I see an egregious arrogance in our modern culture that undermines the knowledge of those who have come before us. We do so by assuming our modern epistemology is absolute and far superior to any past generation’s, whereby emancipating ourselves from any submission to what has long been understood as orthodoxy. Consequently we are in a dilemma in the Church and our culture where our failure to stand for objective truth; namely the Word of God as binding on all people, has led to a repudiation of the notion that sin is a complete corruption of human nature. Instead it has led to sin being equated with nothing more than honest mistakes deserving of a slap on the wrist at most. I believe this is a fundamental flaw in the modern school of thought surrounding the widespread embracement of homosexuality. And it is also where I believe we must start if we are to engage in any meaningful understanding of how to help our friends and loved ones understand their own wrestling with this sin, as well as all sin for that matter.

A low view of God will always translate into a low view of sin, therefore rather than first driving home the point of the utter grotesqueness of sin (which we must do). We must first properly establish a sound understanding of the Grandeur and Holiness of God! God is the primary, singular and ultimate cause of the universe. As well as the transcendent being who exists from all eternity as three distinct persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) yet one Holy God (Gen 1:26,27;Isa 46:7-10;Matt 28:18,19). God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and all things whether in heaven or on earth were created by him and for him (Col 1:16). God does whatever he pleases with what he has created for his own good pleasure and glory (Psalm 115:3). God has perfect freedom and autonomy and owes no one an explanation for anything that he does since he himself is the standard of truth and goodness and is the ultimate and Just Judge of the universe. God is omnipotent and complete lacking nothing whatsoever, he is omniscient and can learn nothing since he himself established all knowledge. God is preeminent and worthy of all glory and praise since he alone established all that there is and governs and gives life to all things. There is only one true and living God and he is the inexhaustible and eternal God of the Bible. God is perfect and holy in every way, and is himself the perfection of beauty. In God’s good pleasure he created all that is seen and unseen and established every law that makes up this universe, (i.e. Law of Gravity, Physics, Thermodynamics, Moral Law, etc.). God created all that we observe with our eyes and experience with our senses in such a way that his eternal invisible attributes are clearly perceived in nature, so that they are without excuse who claim there is no God (Rom 1:20). Yet even with this irrefutable evidence before us, many do only to their demise, assert that there is no God. This is the forlorn and logical end of the sinful heart. God is good and his plans and purposes are good. However, sin having entered the world through Adam (Gen 3) has so emphatically corrupted the human nature, that we naturally hate God and perpetually seek to establish ourselves as our own standard of truth and captain of our souls. It isn’t that there does not exist an objective universal truth that we are all subject to. It is that we hate that this objective truth exists and so we aim to suppress it at all costs. Sin is utterly atrocious to God because it is an affront to his holiness and goodness. Sin offends God because it undermines his authority and seeks to distort the truth about God. God being  holy and eternal must punish sin eternally, therefore sinning is an eternal insult to God. When we underplay the seriousness and wickedness of sin, we prove that we do not truly understand the holiness and justice of God. To make light of sin is to make God out to be a small and tolerant god, rather than the perfect and demanding God that he is, rightfully so. God can not accept anything less than perfection, which is why he had to send his perfect and holy son to make atonement for sin once and for all, for those who repent of their sin and believe in Christ. The picture that the Apostle Paul paints of fallen humanity in Romans 1 is one of sheer depravity and we should really consider the implications.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:18–21).

God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against man’s ungodliness, because by man’s unrighteousness he suppresses the truth. Man seeks to abolish any notion of absolute truth as he propagate ideals of relative subjective truths. Human beings are not merely neutral beings who can be persuaded in either direction toward good or bad, not to the extent which God demands. No, that would be paying far too high a compliment. Mankind is dead in sin and is bent toward perpetual unrighteousness, only ever desiring sin and ungodliness. The inevitable end of this corruption of nature is delusion and destruction. This indictment is for all people everywhere and is not aimed at any one sin over against another. For we all have sinned and fallen short, eternally short in fact of the glory of God. God’s attributes, power, and divine nature are clearly perceived in all of creation so all are without excuse for their unbelief and impenitence. It is by God’s general revelation in nature that we know that there is in fact a God who exists. More than that we have God’s special revelation of himself in Holy Writ. This is the specific means whereby we can know God actually and accurately, yes even intimately. Still even with these means of knowing God, mankind does not honor him as God or give thanks to him for all his goodness to them. This waywardness leads naturally to futility of thought and darkened foolish hearts lacking any light of hope. This may seem harsh, but it is the objective truth regarding the human condition and the natural consequence of sin. Without a proper understanding of God’s holiness and mankind’s depravity, we will never arrive at an absolute congruent conclusion. Instead we will remain inconsistent and circular in our argumentation, further cementing mankind’s suppression of the truth.

Experience Is Not Absolute Truth

We must resist the natural temptation to make our experiences absolute. Doing so makes those experiences the lens through which we interpret reality and truth. This comes far too easily to the natural mind, which apart from divinely given spiritual life and awareness, can only think in terms of naturalistic ideologies. I mean by this that as we look at homosexual desire and gender neutrality, there is a God given order that is truly natural and meant to be embraced with thankfulness, which homosexuality just can not conform to. However due to the unwillingness to accept the truth of original sin which we all inherit from Adam, we lean into personal experience and scientific theory to explain why some feel a strong bent toward same sex attraction. Never willing to accept it as a corruption of human nature through sin they justify it as a biological reality wired into that person’s DNA. The necessary progression of this train of thought is to subject truth to our personal experience, and impose upon the Scriptures a naturalistic interpretation that validates our experience as not just endorsed by God, but actually a work of God. If we follow this type of reasoning to its logical conclusion the results will be truly horrifying, as to what people will be willing to excuse as God’s doing in their life, therefore celebrating it and repudiating any notion of repenting of and renouncing that lifestyle. We are seeing this very thing happening currently with the LGBTQ community, and as Christians we can not both be silent or worst yet celebratory about the destructive nature of their actions, and think that we are being loving to members of that community. It is actually a hatred of the worst sorts to endorse their sin, and we have to see that as a reality if we are to be helpful in any way. This is not to imply that our experiences are meaningless or irrelevant, but rather to say that our experiences are real and deeply meaningful in helping us see the reality of God’s testimony in Scripture. I will venture out on a limb to share a deeply personal and horrifying experience that I myself endured as just a small child. I do this not as a means of entreating your pity, but as an example of how experiences no matter how real, are still subject to God’s absolute truth.

I was only 5 years old when my mother met her would be husband. At first he seemed rather pleasant and the thought of having a father figure in my life gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose. They dated seriously for about a year and before long he had moved in with us, their commitment to one another only ever appearing to strengthen. During this time of living with us he proposed to my mother and she gladly said yes. It seemed like a fairy tale of sorts right before my eyes, little did I know it would soon become more of a horror story than anything else. After several months of living together, my mother and I started to realize that my soon to be step-father was quite the enforcer and disciplinarian, yet she didn’t make much of it. It didn’t take much to get him excited, he often seemed like a drill sergeant than a caring father figure. His methods of discipline were certainly unique and nothing short of cruel. I recall one Saturday morning as a six year old cartoon fanatic waking up without making my bed. running to the kitchen to fetch bowl of cereal, and subsequently leaving the dirty cereal bowl on the table since I didn’t want to miss the start of the Power Rangers marathon. I was able to watch about 10 minutes of the first episode before I heard my name yelled so loudly that one would have thought I committed a murder and fled the scene. I ran to see what happened and upon walking into my room, I was met with a flogging from the metal part of my stepdad’s belt. He was furious that I hadn’t made my bed and that I left the dirty bowl on the table. He proceeded to finish beating me and then made me clean my room and the rest of the house, after which I was given the pleasure of kneeling on rice while holding up flower pots and thinking upon my actions. I’ll spare you the details of the other types of punishments he employed to discipline me. Suffice is to say, I often wished he’d just beat me and make me kneel on rice to avoid the other forms of punishment. I learned very quickly that I had to tread carefully around my stepdad, but I noticed that there were days where he was very kind and intrusively touchy with me. He would often send my mother off on errands and make me stay home with him so that she would “not be distracted.” During these isolated times, he would lay in their bed and make me lay with him as he would proceed to fondle me and rub himself against me in a very forceful and sexual manner. I was terribly confused as to what was occurring, but for fear of being severely beaten I would comply with his requests. This happened on and off for about 2 years from the ages of 6 to 8 years old. I never dared tell my mother because she seemed to think so highly of him that I thought she’d never believe me if I said something so horrible to her. Needless to say, before long I realized that I was experiencing something very unnatural and unhealthy. I became very confused in my sexuality, and wrestled with same sex attraction even into my adolescence. I never succumbed to my feelings of desiring a homosexual relationship, especially since the older I got I understood that my earlier childhood experience with my stepdad was the initial cause of my sexual confusion. Add to that the fact that it wasn’t the dominant pull of my emotional and relational desire, my interest and desires for the opposite sex were far stronger. Many years later I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I realized that what happened to me in my childhood wasn’t a matter of bad luck, but rather the result of being sinned against by a sinner who had a seared conscious and a depraved heart. Maybe you are gay or wrestle with same sex attraction and have never experienced childhood molestation or rape, well for that I praise God! However, I’m sure if you think back far enough, and for some it may be much further back than others, somewhere along the way you will likely be able to recall the moment where you were either sinned against or you engaged in blatant sin which fed your appetite for self gratifying pleasure.

Transformation Is Possible

In my interactions with family members and friends throughout the years who have homosexual desires and tendencies; I have found that their religious upbringing has often served in making them feel judged and condemned beyond any hope of freedom. This naturally has led many people who want very eagerly, at least outwardly, to be accepted by God and his people to give way to subtle compromises of biblical truth. They surround themselves with “loving” and “tolerant” people who affirm them in their sin and then they impose upon the word of God what Science and the Culture says is true of them. This leads to perpetual confusion and reluctance to see their sin and desires as the enemy of their true Joy. Many who still hold to a theistic world view, not necessarily christian, have gone as far as making bold assertions that God made them to be gay, and that they can not help their same sex attraction, therefore concluding that homosexuality can not be inherently wrong. The major problem with that logic is that it is fundamentally contradictory to Scripture. In fact Paul in Romans 1 proceeds in explaining the progression of those who suppress truth by their unrighteousness. He says:

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Ro 1:22–28)

We see here that a simple exegetical exposition of this passage makes it clear that it is the result of self exaltation and exchanging the truth about God for a lie that brings upon the offender God’s judgement. Exchanging the truth of God for a lie is what leads to a false belief that God approves of and even creates people with homosexual desires. Once that lie is fully embraced, there is no need for the individual who has wedded the lie to feel the burden to change. What we must understand as Christians even if you are a professing christian who is living a homosexual lifestyle or wrestling with homosexual desires, or are simply approving of those who are; is that God sees those desires as dishonorable and the same sex relationship as contrary to nature. What same sex attracted people feel for the same sex is not love, it is actually self gratifying lustful passion. This lustful passion will produce destructive penalties either in this life, or ultimately in the life to come by being judged to Hell eternally. This goes for all sin that remains un-repented of, be it as trivial in our eyes as a “white lie” or as destructive as Homosexual intercourse that leads to HIV Aids and other potentially fatal STD’s. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that no one who practices homosexuality will enter the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9,10), this is not analogical discourse, but rather matter of fact objective Truth. This ought to grieve us and cause us to be bold in speaking the truth in love and desiring to see the LGBTQ community realize that their lifestyle is not one to be celebrated but rather one that is evidence of a debased mind because they do not see it fit to acknowledge God.

This is not say then that there is no hope, we believe the Gospel offers real and lasting transformation, to die to our sin and live a life pleasing to God. God is not a cruel or unjust God, but he is kind and merciful and has made a way of escape for those who acknowledge their depravity and need for a Savior. We live in a fallen world, and we are subject to the curse that God has placed on this world. We aren’t exempt from the curse of sin, rather we endure the same hardships, trials, and temptations. This is to showcase to the world that there is indeed power from on high, to be transformed and to endure the woes of this life with patience and joy. I do not and can not blame God for the sins committed against me in my youth, just like I can not blame God for the sins I myself have committed or commit against others. I forgave my stepdad for his sin against me, and I pray that God had mercy on his soul now that he is deceased and has to stand before God in judgement. It is my eager hope that he was met by grace and reached repentance just as it is my hope for all sinners. We can not make the mistake of being self righteous in assuming that our sin no matter how inconspicuous, is any less egregious than the sins of those with blatantly conspicuous sins such as homosexuality. We must truly love those from the LGBTQ community, and love will translate into calling them to repentance because of God’s love and absolute objective truth revealed in Holy Scripture. We must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom. 1:16) and we must trust the Holy Spirit to remove the stony hearts of sinners who are dead in sin and place in them the heart of flesh as a free gift from God. If you feel trapped in your sin or know others drenched in LGBTQ lifestyles, don’t waver from the truth of God’s word. Instead often remind yourself and them that we were all at one time enemies of God and were under the wrath of God, but in due time through the proclamation of the Gospel, God made us alive with Christ. By Grace we have been saved and this not of ourselves (Eph 2). There is real objective transformation in God’s word and we must hold fast to that confidence. There were many homosexuals in Paul’s day and many were saved and transformed. Paul speaks of them in this way:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:9–11). 

Such were some of you he says, but he affirms the effectual work of God’s Spirit to wash, sanctify, and justify those who repent and draw near to Christ. So yes, there is real wrestling that occurs regarding homosexual attraction, and for many varying and unique reasons. However, we affirm that this is ultimately the product of sin, and not the working of God. God does not create people to be gay, nor does he endorse same sex attraction or homosexual action. We see clearly from God’s authoritative Word that God finds same sex attraction absolutely repulsive. This is not because he is a homophobic cruel God, but because it is contrary to his design and is an affront to the holiness of God. Homosexuality is a self destructive lifestyle that robs people of knowing the goodness of God, and ultimately being satisfied by the pleasure of God’s Joy. We can not both genuinely love our friends and family in the LGBTQ community while simultaneously embracing and celebrating their sin. Let’s call them in love to repentance and to the hope of the Gospel, that they may be washed, sanctified, and justified subsequently proclaiming with Paul: such was I, but I have been washed by Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit and am thus no longer! Blessings to you from the LORD Jesus Christ in your pursuit of personal holiness!

Song For Reflection

Book Review: Defining Deception

Defining DeceptionWhen It Hits Close To Home

It has been 12 years since I came, by God’s sovereign and electing grace, to a saving faith in Christ Jesus. For 11 of these past 12 years I was a member and served in different leadership roles at a local charismatic church. I thank God for His providence in every season of my life, for even when I now reflect on the many ways that I was not helped by my time there; I can also find evidences of God’s grace in granting me true growth and for allowing me to gain true brothers and sisters in the midst of a less than ideal spiritual atmosphere. For anyone who is caught in deception as I once was, there is a real blinding affect that one is overcome with, whereby they are unable to see that they are in fact deceived. This happens very subtly and happens far more easily than most realize. How so, you ask? Deception is illusive in its nature, because it resembles and masquerades in elements of truth just enough to come across as an authentic embodiment of truth, but is actually nothing more than a straw man. What contributes to this widespread deception in churches is an overwhelmingly prevalent biblical illiteracy. Congregants in these churches where deception is rampant are usually unskilled in handling God’s word. This is owing in large part to not being properly taught how to read and study the Scriptures, and in part because there is a strong lack of desire and priority amongst the members to know and understand the Scriptures with accuracy for themselves. I was amongst that crowd for years and reveled in my Biblical illiteracy and mystical experiences, in fact I made many excuses for them. It was only by God’s grace through much wrestling with Scripture and humbling myself, that I came to realize that my faith though wide, in terms of what I was willing to believe and embrace as being of The Lord, was profoundly shallow and had very little if any rooting in Biblical Orthodoxy. I bless the LORD that God brought faithful men into my life about 4 years into my walk with Christ to challenge my faith and teach me the Scriptures, subsequently introducing me to Reformed Theology. My heart and prayers go out on behalf of my friends and family, brothers and sisters, and all those who are caught in deception within the mystical-miracle charismatic world. I hold no feelings of offense toward any of them, and the only regrets I own are the missed opportunities to speak out more boldly and consistently against the deception I witnessed. I pray by God’s grace that their hearts would be softened and humbled to see their deception and ultimately find grace to repent and seek to be healed by God’s Word. This is my heart as I write this book review. I understand that no matter how lovingly and genuinely one may say or write something, there will always be those who see it as a condescending assault and elitist attitude. I would aim to disarm my critics from those thoughts by saying, I grieve for and love deeply my brothers and sisters and pray for their true satisfaction in Christ which is rooted in Objective Biblical Truth. I echo the sentiments of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:1-3.

It has been over a year now since my wife and I decided after much prayer and conversation to leave our previous church and join a local Reformed church where the Scriptures are being exposited faithfully each week. Though few decisions have been harder emotionally, fewer still have been more monumental and impactful to our Faith and walk with Christ. It was in the midst of this life transition into our new Church family, that I came across several interviews online with Costi Hinn and Justin Peters. I had never heard of Costi Hinn, but quickly discovered that he and I shared very similar church life experiences and were in very similar seasons of life simultaneously. If his name sounds familiar to you that is because it is. Costi W. Hinn is the nephew of famed Prosperity preacher and False teacher Benny Hinn. Costi was sovereignly saved out of the Word of Faith and prosperity movement and is now serving alongside Anthony Wood as a Reformed Pastor in Southern California. Watching Hinn’s testimony online and seeing the work Christ had done and was doing in his life, filled me with a true sense of confidence and encouragement knowing that what God was leading my wife and I through was not in isolation, but He was doing the same with other brothers and sisters. I determined quickly that I needed to meet this brother. Conveniently enough we had a vacation planned to Los Angeles in October of 2017. So we set it in our calendar that we would worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ at Mission Bible Church while we were in California. Though I had no clue whether Costi would be there, I had hope that I’d get to catch Costi and hear more from him and hopefully share my own story with him to offer mutual encouragement as it were.

Well, October came around and we did just that. We showed up early and brought with us a dear brother who is living in California in hopes that he may feel compelled to call that church family his own. Upon arrival a young lady kindly greeted us, so I explained to her that we were traveling from Pennsylvania and wanted to come worship with them since we heard of the grace God showed to Costi by saving him. She seemed astonished that I even knew of Costi, and asked immediately if I wanted to meet him, to which I quickly responded, that would be great! Sure enough she had us wait while she located him, and he came to us with a huge smile and genuine gratitude that we had joined them for worship. It felt like a family reunion after not seeing your loved ones for many years, and we instantly knew that this was indeed our brother in Christ! Pastor Anthony Wood skillfully exposited the scriptures that morning and we were greatly encouraged and edified. After the service we met with Costi again and we spoke of God’s grace in opening our eyes to the Truth of His Word and of their (Hinn’s and Wood’s) upcoming book Defining Deception. Costi introduced us to his wife Christyne and their children, where we were pleased to know that both our wives were pregnant and were only a week apart in their due dates. We also discovered that his wife has family in PA, in fact they knew and had been to Green Dragon which is a popular flea market about 30 min from my house. IT WAS MEANT TO BE! Surprisingly enough, Anthony has roots that trace back to Lancaster PA as well. I really felt at home, and realized how small our world truly is. I know this is not yet a review of the book, but I felt compelled to share this so that you know that I am not speaking of some foreign unbeknownst to God characters who wrote a book. These are dear brothers tending God’s flock and loving Christ’s people! In fact, I have had the privilege of keeping in touch with Costi through email, and he is a genuine brother who is responsive and Gospel centered. He is not into himself, in fact upon finding out that my wife and I discovered that our unborn daughter was diagnosed with a serious heart abnormality, he immediately added us to their prayer wall and has kept in touch and gave me his phone number to keep him updated. That is the heart of a child of God and of a pastor and I’m blessed to call Costi and Anthony my brothers in the LORD! It is with this in heart and mind that I commend this book to you!

IMG_1771
Costi and I at MBC
IMG_1772
Our Family and Costi and Cristyne at MBC

A Few Thoughts On The Book

Defining Deception is a skillfully written narrative on the history, key figures, and fundamental doctrines of the mystical-miracle and New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. The book is a quick read for most readers being comprised of only seven key chapters along with some helpful appendices in the back of the book. Costi and Anthony do a masterful job of being accurate, concise, and loving both to their audience and opponents. This is not a book aimed at making well meaning uninformed brothers and sisters look bad. Rather it is a book aimed at protecting the flock by exposing wolves and charlatans who use the church as a means for gaining wealth and exploiting the weak. The book is very intriguing and hard to put down since it is filled with not only skillful refutation, but also personal testimony through-out. Whether you are someone on the fringe of the Charismatic movement seeking answers. Or you know loved ones who are drenched in this movement and need fair warning. Or whether you’re a pastor aiming to understand this movement which is growing exponentially in the church amongst younger and older people who are professing christians. This book is sure to be an invaluable resource in helping people think through the claims made by leaders and proponents of this movement. Defining Deception is very well put together, Costi and Anthony really do a great job providing notable sources to validate their research and really avoid superficiality by addressing relevant issues and exposing the faulty theology that drives the erroneous doctrine in the NAR movement. This book is simple and intriguing enough to win the trust of the layperson, but simultaneously contains academic level facts and research to compel the scholar and deep thinker. The skeptic may well see this as a ploy by Costi in building his name and gaining his own wealth, yet as one who comes from that world I know that to be false. In fact he himself asserts in the book, that if it were about the fame and money, he would have done far better for himself in the prosperity gospel world, and that is a fact! I shared my experience with Costi and Anthony above for the purpose of setting at ease the skepticism of some by ensuring that I can testify personally that these men are lovers of Christ and care deeply for the Church, which is Christ’s Bride! Anyone who reads this book with a desire to learn and truly weigh the evidence presented against the Truth of Scripture, will quickly see that these are genuine men who love God and through the words in this book are caring for their souls. Without going into great detail for the sake of not presenting spoilers, I end this review by saying: GO BUY THE BOOK! More than that, do as I did, and buy several copies and pray about who the LORD would have you give a copy to, you’ll be glad you did. May the grace and peace of our LORD Jesus Christ be multiplied to you dear brothers and sisters!

Song For Reflection

Calvinism Is For You!

pexels-photo-287332.jpeg

“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”
-John Calvin

I Found What I Wasn’t Seeking

The year was sometime between 2008 and 2009 if I’m not mistaken. It was around that time that I inadvertently stumbled upon Reformed Theology, or as I’ll refer to it for the remainder of this blog: Calvinism. I had only been “saved” or “born-again” for roughly 2 years at this point, and I was attending a vibrant and “cutting edge” Charismatic/Word-of-faith church in the city. It was about 7 min (walking distance) from my house. I was a young and zealous new convert, and wanted eagerly to put down my roots and grow in my faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. I quickly got involved with the Church’s youth group and met several leaders who I immediately grew to love and admire. These particular leaders had a way about their faith that was substantive. The version of Christianity that they taught in our youth group was dense and robust, it was able to withstand criticism and provoked one to examine the Scriptures. It challenged us to not settle for a surface Christianity that only addressed one’s emotions or outward behaviors. Honestly, I didn’t understand a lot of what I was being taught in youth group, mainly because it was foreign to what was being “taught” in the main service of our Church. The messages we heard on any given Sunday were jam packed with charisma and flair, able to rouse even the most mundane of personality types. I seldom left a Sunday service emotionally discouraged, yet could rarely find the substance in the messages to defeat my sin throughout the week. I knew something was fundamentally different between the version of Christianity I would get on Sundays, and the version of it I would get at youth group. Still I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it could be.

After about a year of seeing these two contrasting paradigms at work within the same church, I noticed that one of the youth leaders I had come to love and admire was no longer attending our Church. I looked intently for him week after week to no avail. Eventually, I decided to make a trip to his house to inquire for myself why he wasn’t there anymore. We spoke for some time as he expressed to me that they could no longer attend the church with a clear conscience, seeing that they had stark theological disagreement with the leadership of the Church. It was December and only a couple weeks away from Christmas, and much to my surprise, as I was leaving he tells me he actually had a gift for me. He runs upstairs and comes down almost immediately and hands me a copy of John Piper’s book “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.” My life would never be the same after that! I thanked him and went home, I devoured that book, I couldn’t get it out of my hands. It was as if everything I had experienced and learned in youth group started to make perfect sense. The reason that I loved my youth pastor’s version of Christianity, is because it was True Christianity. As Piper masterfully laid out in that great book I was being groomed to see and savor Jesus Christ, and anything less than that would not do it for me! This unmistakably became my inception to Calvinism. I started with John Piper through sermons and books. I watched Youtube videos of Piper’s, which led me to other Calvinists as well. Before long I was all in with pastors like Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, Paul Washer, R.C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, James White, C.J. Mahaney, James Boice, and so many others. I managed by the grace of God, to stumble upon and find that which I wasn’t even seeking!

What is Calvinism?

My introduction to Calvinistic Theology was, well, abrupt and dramatic. It was this way in large part because my church at that time, was outspokenly opposed to it. I would hear things from the pulpit like, “doctrine divides,” “theology puffs-up,” “don’t be a pharisee.” Sure I have little doubt that my leaders meant well with these statements and truly felt they were protecting their flock by giving these “warnings.” Yet, the irony in each of those statements, is that each one is a doctrinal and theological statement so it was counter-productive to make them. Needless to say, I quickly realized through my interactions with my leaders and peers that I had to be careful about how I communicated the Reformed Faith I now held firm to and believed. The Podcast app on my phone became my new sermon source, and functionally my pastors became men I admired but only knew from a distance. Though not ideal or recommended, for that season of my life I would have it no other way. Better to receive robust Biblical Truth from afar, than to be spoon fed erroneous doctrine regardless how sincere the one feeding you may be. So, what is Calvinism? In short and simple terms, Calvinism as I like to call it is merely a nickname for Biblical Christianity. I say this because what Calvinism aims to do, is view the Scriptures of the Holy Bible (66 books) from an objective perspective. Whereby we draw out or Exegete from the Biblical text what is there, rather than impose upon or Eisegete the text to fit our biases and pre-conceived notions. Calvinism or Augustinianism, naturally derives its name from the historical Church leaders, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 AD-430 AD) and John Calvin of France (1509-1564). Their writings and teachings (along with many others) helped to draw out conclusively what Orthodox Christian Theology is, based solely on Scripture. Most notably, they wrote extensively on the Biblical testimony of the Depravity of man and the Sovereignty of God. Time would fail me to write in great detail of the rich history of The Reformation and the genesis of Calvinism. However, I certainly encourage you to research the history for yourself as it will be greatly beneficial in helping you find confidence in your Faith. I recommend starting with this three part video series on “The History of Calvinism.”

Pertinent to a proper understanding of Calvinism is the realization that John Calvin was not himself the originator of Calvinism. Though undoubtedly his teachings and writings were the premise upon which Calvinistic Theology was formed. However, what came to be understood as The Doctrines of Grace, or even more widely known as The TULIP was not Calvin’s doing. So, if “Calvinism” is not John Calvin’s doing, then who’s is it? Well, in 1618 the Dutch Reformed Church convened an international Synod, called The Synod of Dort in order to address “The Arminian Controversy” which had arisen among the followers of Jacobus Arminius and was upsetting and causing no small disturbance in the Reformed Church of Holland. Ironically enough Jacobus or James Arminius was actually an orthodox Reformed Scholar for most of his life. It was not until later in his life and studies that he opposed the Biblical and Reformed notions of man’s depravity and subsequently the bondage of the will of man. Additionally he also opposed the Reformed teaching of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. Arminius though orthodox in the public eye was privately concurring with classic Roman Catholic doctrines especially in his soteriology. He went from being a confessional monergist with an Augustinian view of man’s condition, to a synergist with a semi-pelagian view of man’s condition. Though Arminius himself never came out and said these things in public, he had managed to infiltrate several of his students behind closed doors. Upon Arminius’ death in 1609 his students and followers took it upon themselves to form a remonstrance against The Dutch Reformed Church, which would come to be known as the 5 points of Arminianism. In these Five Points Arminius’ followers laid out a man centered approach to Salvation:

  • 1. election conditioned on foreseen faith
  • 2. universal atonement (that Christ died for all men and for every man, so that He merited reconciliation and forgiveness of sins for all through the death of the cross; yet so that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer)
  • 3. the need for regeneration if man is to be saved (here they seemed to be orthodox enough, but, as it later appeared, this was understood in such a way as seriously to underestimate the depravity of human nature)
  • 4. the resistibility of grace (‘but with respect to the mode of this grace, it is not irresistible’)
  • 5. the uncertainty of the perseverance of believers (in respect of this article the Arminians shortly came openly to deny such final perseverance)

It was after many years of conflict and uproar in the church and government that the Synod of Dort was convened from 1618-19. At this Synod The Arminians or Remonstrants as they were known, were proven to be inconsistent in their reasoning and unable to provide any conclusive biblical backing for their conclusions. Eventually the Synod dismissed the Remonstrants seeing they were making no progress with them, and ultimately Rejected  their 5 points as erroneous and false. This is portrayed in writing within The Canons of Dort. The synod then formed their own 5 points in response to the 5 points of Arminianism rooted in Holy Scripture, that came to be known as the Doctrines of Grace or The Tulip of Calvinism:

  • 1. T- Total Depravity (Man’s complete inability to choose God or Salvation)
  • 2. U- Unconditional Election (God’s Sovereign Choice in salvation based on no act or merit of man)
  • 3. L- Limited Atonement (Jesus’ atoning work applied only to and accomplished only for His Elect)
  • 4. I- Irresistible Grace (God’s effectual calling and regeneration to the soul dead in sin)
  • 5. P- Perseverance/Preservation Of The Saints (God keeping those He saves until they are with Him in glory, or once saved always saved)

This may seem a trivial matter to most in the Church today, since not many care to see the significance of these doctrines in daily thought and practice. So, why does it even matter whether you side with the Arminian view of salvation or the Calvinist view? Maybe you consider yourself to be one of those Christians who doesn’t side with either, you’ve paved a new road as it were (be very careful lest you be found to be lacking true saving faith at all). There is great significance in understanding the truth laid out in the Calvinist view and the error laid out in the Arminian view. These are soteriological doctrines, so to err in this matter could prove fatal. Today most everybody in the Protestant Church whether consciously or subconsciously views the condition of man as well as the role man plays in salvation through either an Arminian or Calvinist view. This is owing to what has been handed down to us throughout the history of the Church since the Synod of Dort. What’s at stake you might ask? Well the glory of God of course! The glory that God says he will share with no-one (Isaiah 48:11). The Calvinist view is the Biblical view, and it is the view that is devastating to human pride. It speaks of man’s complete spiritual deadness and inability to do anything to please God. It empties man of any and all grounds for boasting (Ephesians 2:1-10). Most importantly it shows the infinite and glorious mercy and kindness of God in electing and redeeming a people for Himself by His own sovereign grace and pleasure (Romans 9:19-24).

Rage of the Cage Stage

This is not to say that there are no faults with calvinists or that we’ve perfected our theology. Many a Christian and non believer have inevitably been hurt or offended by a Calvinist who is new to his/her Calvinist theology and is going through what we call “The Cage Stage.” This stage is where a new Calvinist discovers the wonderful depths of the Doctrines of Grace and feels the need to prove to every opponent of Orthodox Reformed Faith that they are wrong and must repent and turn to Calvinism! Cage Stage Calvinists experience a wide spectrum of emotion, since they now question everything about their previous life in Christendom. They wonder if they were lied to their whole Christian life, and whether they were really even saved. It is quite a dilemma that one finds them-self in. Naturally but not justifiably so, they lash out on others and feel the need to prove any and every opponent wrong even to the point of humiliating them. This is a terrible thing, and I’ve certainly been guilty of it. How long does this stage last for new calvinists? It is hard to say since it varies greatly based on the individual and their support system, but it is a real problem for the Calvinist and others. If you are reading this and have your walls up in defense or feel a real and insidious distaste with Calvinism, the chances are you’ve encountered several Cage Stage Calvinists along your journey. I want to apologize on their behalf and assure you that this is not the best, by any stretch of the imagination, that Calvinism has to offer. I implore you to reconsider whether you could benefit from what the Scriptures teach through the Calvinist lens. The Doctrines of Grace are merely the tip of the Ice-berg, there is so much more to Calvinism since there is so much more to our Christian Faith. I feel the need to also correct a misconception amongst the opponents of Calvinism which assumes that Calvinists don’t feel the need to evangelize or do missions work, or even speak to others about our faith due to our view of God’s sovereign election. This is a false and erroneous position that is seen as Hyper Calvinism and any sound and orthodox Calvinist rejects this position. I stand firm in the belief that Calvinism is for every Christian who wishes to be Biblical and see their Christianity objectively, as God through Holy Scripture would have them. Do you want to be Biblical? Do you desire to see God for who He truly is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture? Then you would do yourself a great benefit to be a Calvinist. This is not a call to perfection, rather a call to Orthodox Christianity. This is not a plea to be saved, rather a plea to make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). I love deeply those from my previous Church, even though I disagree strongly with their theological conclusions. This is not a call to hate your opponents rather to pray for them, and to understand that God is the one who works in the hearts and minds of His children. Whether you are a Calvinist or not, examine the facts and search the Scriptures and by the Grace of God you too will see that Calvinism is for you!

Steps For Application

With all the talk of doctrine and theology this may seem like pure mental ascent, however I would seek to help you apply what you’ve read. Consider the following:

  1. If you’re not a Calvinist especially, read Romans 9 and examine whether you find that you are the one arguing with Paul. (We often implicitly assume that God would be wrong to withhold mercy from whom he pleases. If you find yourself defensive with Romans 9 that’s an indicator your view of man is much more favorable then it should be)
  2. If you’re a Calvinist call an Arminian you know and invite them to coffee and ask them to share their testimony with you. (This is not a matter of saving them, rather it will encourage you to remember the grace you yourself have received, and will serve to help you gain rapport with them in matters of Faith. It will also help dispel the myth that Calvinists are cold and arrogant)
  3. If you’re an incognito Calvinist in an Arminian Congregation, set up a meeting with your elders and share your theological convictions from Scripture and ask them if that is a problem with them. (You may be feeling the need to leave your church, but you may find after a real and thoughtful conversation that it’s possible to have effective fellowship right there. If nothing else you’ll see it is not possible and may feel affirmed in your decision to leave. Don’t ever leave abruptly and with hard feelings so long as it depends on you)
  4. Read an intriguing and accurate biography of John Calvin. I recommend this one. (Biographies do wonders in helping us look down the corridors of history to admire the strengths as well as the weaknesses of some our heroes. Both Calvinists and Arminians would do well to read about Calvin and examine his life)
  5. Associate with others who think and believe different than yourself. (Don’t feel threatened since we have the Word of God as our final authority. Yet be willing to repent and change where you find your views are in contradiction to Scripture as pointed out from your peers, remember context, context, context.)

This argument between Calvinists and Arminians is well over 400 years old, and will not be resolved on this side of eternity so long as sin and human pride is in the picture. These steps are by no means the solution to your differences, but if applied biblically and humbly can help you gain steady traction in seeing for yourself and helping others see the Scriptures as God intends. Grace and peace to you!

Song For Reflection