CRUCIFORM

Living the Cross-Shaped Life
Jimmy Davis Cruciform Press | Released April, 2011

Christine: The way you live—denying yourself daily, taking up your cross, and faithfully following Jesus—paints a God-glorifying portrait of the Cruciform Life. Abi, Micah, and Anna: I’m praying that you will learn, love, and live the cross-shaped life. Remember, Jesus loves you, and so do I. – Jimmy Davis

© 2011 by James B. Davis, Jr. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

“Jimmy Davis loves the cross. This little book will open your heart up to see how the cross is the center of all of life. Well done.” Paul Miller, Director of seeJesus.net, author of A Praying Life “In our day, when all kinds of words are being tossed around to describe the faith of Christ, we need some down-to-earth sanity to help us sort out what it really means to be a Christian. What better image than that which Jimmy Davis supplies in the cross of Jesus Christ? The Christian is a temple of the Lord, a cathedral devoted to demonstrating the power of the cross. Jimmy explains to us how this ancient image, first endorsed by our Savior himself, is the best way—and, really, the only way—to think about the life to which we’ve been called as Christians. With sound biblical exposition, clear and helpful illustrations, and a wealth of practical guidance, Jimmy Davis shows us how to cut through the fog of contemporary Christian thinking to recover the Savior’s plan for our lives.” T. M. Moore, Dean of Chuck Colson’s Centurions Program, Principal of the Fellowship of Ailbe, author of Culture Matters “In Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life, my friend Jimmy Davis compellingly demonstrates that the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before. Jimmy shows from personal experience how a lack of passion and purpose, focus and fervor, compassion and conviction, is always due to distance from the now-power of the gospel. I pray that through this book you will rediscover the beauty and brilliance of the gospel in brand new ways.” Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, author of Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels “Cruciform is a theologically grounded and redemptively freeing picture of a life spent boasting in the cross of Jesus. Avoiding the distortions of both repressive legalism and irresponsible antino-

mianism, Jimmy Davis helps us understand how the indicatives of God’s grace lead to the imperatives of obedient love. This book will help many people understand what the gospel driven life is all about.” Scotty Smith, Pastor for Preaching, Christ Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee “Cruciform is built on sound theology that has been tested in the crucible of life and found to be true. This book will be a help to everyone struggling with “Why, God?” As a seminary professor, I believe every person planning for, and serving, in a place of Christian ministry should read this book.” Dr. Brian Richardson, Basil Manly, Jr. Professor of Christian Ministry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “In today’s evangelical culture, the cross of Christ is a no-show in many churches and sermons. Not in Jimmy Davis’ Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. The Cross is not merely a message, he says, it forms the template and the substance of how we live, worship and disciple. Chock full of memorable stories, illustrations, and Scripture, this is a terrific book for those breakfast discipleship groups. It is the next one I am going to use.” Dr. William E. Brown, President, Cedarville University “The cross-shaped life is a life that’s larger than life, far wider, deeper, and higher than we can possibly imagine. If the gospel has become at all routine to you or you simply wish to be freshly amazed at the transformative grace of God to you in Christ Jesus, read Jimmy Davis’ book Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. In it, Jimmy provides stunning, gospel-saturated vistas of what a cross-shaped life looks like in real life. If you are like me, you will want to read it more than once. It’s that spiritually helpful.” Dan Cruver, Director of Together for Adoption and editor of Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father

“Jimmy Davis helps us understand that the cruciform shape of history and our living is the only way to make sense of both. He leads us to see that the death of Christ is not only something done for us but also something done in us. And he helps us to see that the cruciform life is the most practical one of all.” Dr. Joseph (Skip) Ryan, Chancellor and Professor of Practical Theology, Redeemer Seminary, Dallas “Jimmy Davis has developed a simple but profound approach to the Christian life using the symbol of the Cross. The three elements in the shape of the cross—vertically, our love for and from God; horizontally, our love to and from others; and the intersection and unity of these two directions—pack a powerful punch.” David Arthur, Executive Vice President, Precept Ministries International “With compelling stories, winsome humor, and sound theology, Jimmy Davis draws us into the power and purpose of our lives revealed by our cross-shaped story. Read this book to know and grow in a life of radical discipleship. Read this book to see how your Cruciform life reveals God’s grace and glory to a broken and desperate world.” Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, author, Learning God’s Story of Grace “In Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life, Jimmy Davis calls us to live beyond what comes naturally and live into lives truly shaped by the cross. In a world habitually turned in on itself, this book speaks a word we desperately need to hear: a word about life so anchored in Christ that our lives and our ministries can’t help being transformed as a result.” Mark DeVries, author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Cruciform Cathedrals One Two Created to Be Cruciform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Redeemed to Be Cruciform . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

Three The Elements of Being Cruciform . . . . . . . 35 Four Five The Cruciform Life in Action . . . . . . . . . . . 49

Servants of God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 In the Shape of the Cross Six Sons of God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Shaped by the Cross Seven Embracing the Gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 Taking In the Cross Eight Expressing the Gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Taking Up Your Cross Further Reading. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .108 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .110

Print ISBN: ePub ISBN: Mobipocket ISBN:

978-1-936760-14-5 978-1-936760-16-9 978-1-936760-15-2

CruciformPress.com email: info@CruciformPress.com Facebook: http://on.fb.me/Cruciform Twitter: @CruciformPress Newsletter: http://bit.ly/CruciformNL
Published by Cruciform Press, Adelphi, Maryland. Copyright © 2011 by James B. Davis, Jr. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Italics or bold text within Scripture quotations indicates emphasis added.

Illustrations by Denton Lesslie www.dentonsdesigns.com

INTRODUCTION
Cruciform Cathedrals

Those grand and glorious cathedrals built in the Middle Ages may have something to teach us about the way we live the Christian life today. The medieval church ministered to a culture that had no direct, personal access to the Scriptures in their own language. The church leaders of that era were faced with the challenge of teaching biblical truth to a Bible-less people. One creative way they taught key doctrines was by building object lessons into their church facilities. The cathedral served as “The Poor Man’s Bible,” as historians now call it. Everything about the way a cathedral was built—firm foundations and transcendent towers, storytelling statues of stone, tile mosaics and stained glass windows depicting central biblical stories in full color, and even the way sunlight streamed through those windows—was designed to help folks discern, delight in, and declare the great, biblical doctrines concerning God and the gospel. The art and architecture of these sanctuaries taught two central biblical truths: God’s just judgment

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against the sinfulness of mankind; and God’s gracious provision of salvation from his wrath through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Cathedrals were intentionally built to teach theology to the people in the pews. And not just random bits and pieces of biblical teaching, but a consistent curriculum of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as he is offered in the gospel. Indeed, the most distinct feature of these cathedrals was their cruciform or “cross-shaped” floor plan. The central doctrine the church building communicated was the gospel, the message of the cross. And since these church buildings were the most prominent and prized buildings, the hope was that through the preaching of the gospel inside the church building and through the presentation of the gospel in its art and architecture, the surrounding population would both see and hear the message of the cross.

We Need More Cruciform Cathedrals
Here in the 21st century we need more cruciform churches. Not lavish cathedrals but living communities of disciples being shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. Our best hope is to cooperate with The Architect, who promised he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) as we join him to form our families, small groups, and churches into “cruciform communities.” Such communities visibly show and verbally share the message of

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Introduction

the cross because they are made up of people who have been vibrantly shaped by that message.

Cruciform Christians and Cruciform Churches
Unlike the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, this construction project requires both a cruciform building and cruciform building blocks. The Apostle Paul taught that both our individual bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the corporate Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) are temples in whom the Spirit and glory of God dwell. The biblical blueprint calls for Christians and churches to live what I’m calling “the Cruciform Life.” So grab your work gloves, strap on your tool belt, and put on your hardhat and safety glasses. Let’s partner together with the Architect as he builds his cruciform cathedrals in and with us.

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One

CREATED TO BE CRUCIFORM

It started in fourth grade when my buddy Tommy and I entered our class talent show. Elvis had died that summer, so with all the taste, compassion, and sensitivity of 10-year-old boys we decided to pay tribute to the King by mocking him. I sang “Hound Dog” while Tommy ran around on all fours, barking. We were a hit. By fifth grade my family had moved, so I decided to bring Elvis back for the all-school talent show. This time it was serious—out with the canine sidekick, in with the costume. My mom slaved over a sewing machine to tailor a white jumpsuit, complete with rhinestones, high collar, and giant belt buckle. My dad squeezed half a tube of goo into my hair and combed it into an impressive pompadour. I took that stage and stole the hearts of the grade-school girls and their moms. “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender” never sounded so good, thankyouverymuch, and I became known as “The kid who does Elvis.”

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Seventh grade brought yet another new school. Since my older brother was already established there, I was mostly known as “Jeff’s little brother.” But that changed when I showed up at the Homecoming banquet in full Elvis mode. As everyone applauded and the Homecoming Queen planted a kiss on my cheek, I basked in the attention. I had made a name for myself. From then on in that school, I was “Little Elvis.” Why do I offer this odd glimpse into my past so early in the book? Because as any good theologian will tell you, Elvis impersonation has its roots in the Garden of Eden. We are all born to be someone special; all created to do something special. Indeed, we were made to partner with God’s community and participate in his mission. But one way or another we all tend to pursue a people and a purpose that neither relies on nor revolves around God. We have this desperate, unshakable need to be special, but that need gets misdirected, so we find ourselves in a kind of costume, pretending to be someone we are not meant to be and singing songs that are not really our own. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian offers a brief explanation for how we came to this condition. “Essentially, the Bible tells a three-part story. Creation: God made everything good. Fall: Our sin has broken everything. Redemption: Everything in Christ will be made new.”1 That is an excellent summary of what’s gone wrong and how God will make it right, but to really understand

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how Elvis impersonation and our countless other strivings for human greatness relate to Adam and Eve, we need to go a little deeper.

Creation
The first words on the first page of the first book of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created.” That is the right anchor point for the story of creation, but another passage in the Bible actually looks further back. Writing after the resurrection of Christ, the Apostle John’s New Testament account of the story of Jesus opens with, “In the beginning was the Word.” John was present among the disciples on Resurrection Sunday when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” as being all about him, their long-awaited Messiah (Luke 24:45). Moses wrote Genesis 1 to describe creation, but when we talk about origins from this side of the resurrection, we must go further back. We must begin where John began.

In the Beginning Was a Community on Mission
John 1:1-15 gives us a glimpse into the eternal plans of God. It is the prequel to Creation because God’s story really begins with himself. It begins with the God who is a three-in-one community: “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1). The community we understand as the Trinity was there in the beginning, with each

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member participating in creation (Genesis 1:1-2, John 1:2-23,
Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2). The story begins with God’s

mission to show his glory and goodness by sharing with his creation the overflow of the fullness of his grace and truth. God’s story begins with the Community on the Mission.

God Created a Community on Mission
Genesis 1 and 2 teach something affirmed by John: God is a being intent on doing. In fact, God began his doing with a unique special project: he created the heavens and the earth and filled them with unfathomable radiance and resources (Genesis 1:1-25). But he didn’t stop there. This triune God was on a mission to build a people in his image, created for his glory (Genesis 1:26-28, Isaiah 43:7). Adam and Eve were made to relate and to create, just like the inherently communal and creative God who made them. They were created in the image of God for relationship as his beloved son and daughter and also rulership as his blessed servants. When God made mankind he created a people with a purpose, sons who would serve. They were not only meant to take delight in one another, but also to take dominion over all that God had made (Genesis 1:28). As his “kingdom of priests,” the mission of God’s sonservants was to “work and keep” creation, to cultivate and care for the place in which he put them so that it would be the dwelling place of God and his people, for

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the glory of God and the good of others forever (Genesis
2:15; Numbers 3:7-8; Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:6, 5:10).2 If God

is a relationship that rules, a being who is doing, those made in his image and likeness must also relate and rule. Each human being is designed for relationship—to be someone special to God and to one another—and for rule, as together they do something special for the glory of God and the good of all God has made.

Created to Be Cruciform
We too were made to live in God’s community and on God’s mission. We were made for God, for people, and for creation. The stick-figure diagram below illustrates what I mean. Like Adam and Eve, we were made to live in right, loving relationship with God, people, and all that God has made (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15-25). We exist and have been placed here for God, for other people, and for the sake of all creation. We exist to exalt the glory of God and to help other people and all of creation do the same (Psalm 8, Isaiah 43:6-7).

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In my family, this is what we call living with a you-first heart. We were created to look away from ourselves toward God, other people, and all of creation and say, “You first.” A person with a you-first heart recognizes that life is about using oneself to serve God, others, and all that God has made, thus living a life that takes the form of a cross. Can you see it? We were created to be cruciform (cruci = cross, form = shaped). Like Adam and Eve, we were made to live a crossshaped life.

Fall
Today, however, cruciform is not the norm. A quick look at the way we and others fulfill our various relationships, roles, and responsibilities tells us we’re not in Eden anymore. Something has gone terribly wrong. The people God made became a man-centered community on man’s mission to multiply man’s glory for man’s good throughout all creation forever. Since then, people no longer live with you-first hearts but lean toward living with me-first hearts.

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Created to be Cruciform

This drawing represents the human condition as we know it. People are disconnected from God, isolated from one another, and cut off from meaningful purpose in the world. The arrows are broken because our relationships with God, people, and creation are broken. The arrows point inward, indicating that we have traded the self-sacrificing cruciform life for the self-centered life of a me-first heart. Rather than using ourselves to serve God, people, and creation, we live to use God, people, and creation to serve ourselves.

The Story Has a Villain
What happened? How did we all become isolated individuals who live for our own glory and good? In Genesis 3 we’re introduced to one who hates God’s community and God’s mission. The serpent that slithered his way into God’s garden is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). The Adversary sought to disassemble God’s new community and distract them from their mission (Genesis 3:1-5). Satan suggested that perhaps God was not as open to share his community and mission as Adam and Eve had first believed. Adam and Eve listened to these lies and came to think there was something better than that which God offered them. This was an illusion, yet they wanted it. They wanted to do it their way. So they traded their you-first hearts for me-first hearts. God’s son-servants rebelled against their Father, the

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King. They rebelled against the being and doing of God, and thus lost their passion for and place in God’s community and God’s mission.

The Brokenness Begins
Adam and Eve’s broken relationship with God led to broken relationships with one another and with creation. This unraveled their relationships with God’s people and purpose as well. Genesis 3 describes their alienation and aimlessness. First, their relationship with God was broken. They once enjoyed unhindered partnership with their Creator and participation in his creative work, but having disobeyed his Word, they became disconnected from him (Genesis 3:8-11). Second, their relationship with people was ruined. What was once a beautiful partnership of oneness (Genesis 2:18-25) disintegrated into furious finger-pointing (Genesis 3:12). Disobedience to God left them distant from and divided against one another (Genesis 3:7). Finally, their relationship with creation was corrupted. They retained their created purpose to be someone special by becoming an intimate community, but their efforts to do so would often seem futile (Genesis 3:16). They retained their created purpose to do something special by pursuing a God-given mission, but their plans would regularly be frustrated (Genesis 3:17-19). Their purpose to make the world a temple filled with the multiplied glory and goodness of God was

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Created to be Cruciform

curtailed when God’s curse plunged all of creation into misery (Romans 8:20-23). Once disengaged from their mission and cut off from paradise (Genesis 3:24)—the place in which they could live freely as a people with purpose—humankind immediately began to distort creation’s glory and goodness (see Genesis 4 for starters). Tragically, we have inherited Adam and Eve’s ruined relationships with God, people, and creation (Romans 5:12-21). We are now naturally inclined to believe that everyone (God and people) and everything (creation and all its resources) is here to serve us. Our fallen “community” of me-myself-and-I has adopted an almost exclusively me-first mission: making the world a temple of our praise by using everyone and everything for the exaltation and enhancement of our glory, not God’s.

From Bad to Worse
Genesis 4-10 illustrates the intensified impact of sin as it passed from generation to generation and culture to culture. The me-first heart went viral. Genesis 11 tells a story that captures the essence of the brokenness Adam and Eve set into motion, because it is a story about a community with a mission. The people who built the Tower of Babel sought the community and mission for which they were made but separate from dependence on the One who made them. They wanted to maintain relationship with heaven and with one another by building “a city and

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Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life

a tower” so that they could reach the heavens and not be “dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted the community for which they were made, but on their own terms. They also held out hope that this project would help them make a name for themselves, an accomplishment that would leave a legacy. They wanted the mission for which they were made, but again, on their own terms.

Making Sense of My Story
Doesn’t this shed some interesting light on my supposed glory days as a teenage Elvis impersonator? I was using the Elvis act to be someone special and do something special. I sinfully pursued the affection and the attention of my community, and my mission was to make a name for myself instead of living for the only name worthy of fame, Jesus Christ. I was designed to live life with a you-first heart, to relate and rule with God in his Kingdom, but the Elvis act was all about establishing my own me-first kingdom. I look back now and laugh at the madness of my methods. I might be tempted to chalk it all up to youthful foolishness, but the truth is that as I grew older I simply found more subtle and sophisticated strategies to pursue the same twisted goals. In high school and college I tried drama club, getting good grades, student government, and the church youth choir as avenues for joining a community on mission. In my college and seminary days, local-church ministry and academic

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Created to be Cruciform

achievement were my means to be someone special and do something special. These days I’m tempted to depend on the behavior of my children, my religious reputation, praise for preaching and teaching and counseling skills, the number of hits on my blog, and a whole host of other ways in which I can relate to others and rule some small kingdom within my purview without depending on God. Even now I must fight against all the me-first reasons for writing this book. Elvis is still in the building, still trying to do it his way. He just keeps changing costumes. Indeed, all of us are caught between the dignity of our design on the one hand and our depraved distortion of it on the other. We were created to live in community and on mission, but we pursue these things on our own terms, not God’s. What’s your story? As you look back over your years, can you see the pattern I’ve described here? Are you aware that you were created to be cruciform, to enjoy right relationship with God, people, and all that God has made? Can you discern the ways in which you have pursued people and purpose apart from God? What are your Elvis stories?

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Two

REDEEMED TO BE CRUCIFORM

I had never seen so much orange. The side streets of Knoxville had turned to raging rivers of color, sweeping my friend and me the two miles from our car, across campus, and finally to Neyland Stadium. It was my first University of Tennessee Volunteers home football game. I’ll never forget cresting that last hill and standing in awe as a vast orange crowd flooded into the famous football fortress as if someone had pulled the stopper from a giant drain. We were soon sucked through the main gates with volumes of other fans. Finally surfacing near our seats, we took in the vastness of one of the nation’s largest open-air stadiums. The splendor of the Volunteer spirit filled that place to overflowing. The energy of anticipation and the sights, sounds, and smells of “football time in Tennessee” almost took my breath away. A hundred choruses of “Rocky Top” gave way to a single, massive roar as our players ran out of their locker room,

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Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life

solemnly slapped the sign that says, “I will give my all for Tennessee today,” and blasted onto the field. As the game unfolded, there were moments of high drama when we seemed to be on the verge of defeat. I sat on the edge of my seat. I chewed my nails. Hope rose and sank in that orange sea like a fisherman’s bobber. When our boys somehow pulled through and won the game, I leaped and yelled, pumping my fists in the air as if I had personally made the winning touchdown. All around me, complete strangers shared hugs and high-fives. We were all champions, each one a conqueror. We were the victorious Vol Nation. What I experienced that day was glory. I was caught up in the glory of a community on mission, the glory of being someone special and doing something special. I felt that glory, saw and heard it magnified by a hundred thousand people, and even contributed to the glory with my own heart, head, and hands. There is only one reason college football can do this. There is only one reason that we can be captivated and galvanized by any kind of collective activity, be it sports, the arts, politics, crafts, business ventures, online communities, social causes, or anything else. We were made to pursue and participate in the glory generated by a community on mission. We were made to be a people with a purpose. We really were born for glory. There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying Tennessee football—unless and until it turns into i-Volatry. And that’s the tragic part. We so easily turn any

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Redeemed to Be Cruciform

community-on-mission into an idol. It happens the moment we define ourselves more by any community other than the community-on-mission for which God made us. When we look to some smaller community to save us from boredom and give us our primary sense of intimacy and effectiveness, we have joined with those who rallied around the Tower of Babel. We have begun to use that smaller community-on-mission to pursue a me-first search for glory. Like the people who built the tower in Genesis 11, we all tend to live for the glory of being someone special and doing something special, but we try to do it on our own terms, apart from God. The reason it never really works and never really satisfies is that we were made for greater glory than that. Far greater glory.

Redemption
In sharp contrast to what took place a chapter before in Babel, Genesis 12 opens with God’s stunning plan of redemption. As he did in the beginning, God chose one man from whom he would make a people for himself and his purposes. What makes this plan stunning is that God did not wipe the slate clean and start over. No, he did the unthinkable. Rather than throw all of us hell-bent sons and rebellious servants in a landfill, the holy and righteous Creator salvaged some to build the cruciform cathedral—the you-first, God-first community called the church—he had planned from the beginning. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 lays out his plan:

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Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) John Stott highlights the prominence of these promises: “It may be truly said without exaggeration that not only the rest of the Old Testament but the whole of the New Testament are an outworking of these promises of God.”3 These verses unveil God’s blueprint for redeeming and rebuilding his cruciform cathedral. God plans to choose a people whom he will bless by bringing them into loving relationship with himself. He will then change these me-first idolaters into you-first image-bearers who, in blessed community with God and one another, will be someone special and do something special toward the fulfillment of God’s mission to bless the world. First, God planned to adopt and bless a people. When God promises Abraham, “I will bless you,” he is repeating and restoring the blessing he originally gave his first son and servant, Adam, in Genesis 1:28. Abraham and his descendants would enjoy a special relationship with God based on nothing more than

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God’s gracious promise to lovingly choose them as people he made special and would faithfully use to do something special (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). The community that would come from Abraham, later called Israel, would be God’s adopted son and servant (Genesis 35:10-11, Exodus 4:22-23, Hosea 1:10). Second, God planned to assemble this people as his beloved community. God’s promise to make Abraham’s people “a great nation,” blessing those who bless them and cursing those who dishonor them, undergirds his plan to build them into a privileged community whom God himself protects and for whom God provides. Later, under the ministry of Moses, God would give this people the Law, a more detailed blueprint for building a cross-shaped community functioning as his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). In this Law, summarized by the Ten Commandments, God showed Israel what it would look like to live as a God-centered community of people who love God with all their head, heart, and hands (commandments one through four), and who love their neighbors as they love themselves (commandments five through ten) (see Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 5:1-21, 6:4-5). They were to be cross-shaped, a graciously chosen and blessed community of people in right vertical relationship with God and right horizontal relationship with one another in the place God had them. 4 God made them to be, and then caused them to be, a people special to him, to one another, and to the world.

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Third, God planned to apprentice this people in his mission to bless the world. God redeemed his collective son Israel to serve with him as a kingdom of priests who would pick up where Adam and Eve had left off. They would do this by loving God and each other, and by preparing the place where God had put them. Preparing it as a dwelling place for God and people. Preparing it by guarding and keeping all creatures and creation for the glory of God and the good of others. God would therefore strengthen his servant Israel to do something special (Isaiah 41:8-10). Their mission was to bless their neighbors, the nations, and the next generation by pointing them to God’s glory and goodness. Eventually, this would include inviting Gentiles to become part of God’s community and mission (Genesis 12:3, Deuteronomy 26:18-19, Galatians 3:8).

Bad News
But as we read the Old Testament, it’s clear this plan was never fully worked out. Even with great men like Moses and David leading them, God’s sons and servants continued to be runaway rebels. Under King David’s reign, God’s blueprint for an adopted community apprenticed on his mission began to approach reality, but then it all fell apart again. Throughout Israel’s history, sin repeatedly divided God’s community and distracted them from his mission. Any contractor knows that a structure is only as strong as its materials, and something had to be done

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about these faulty building blocks, these sinners God had been using to build his sanctuary. But God had a plan to deal with sin. And though there had always been provisions made for sin through the sacrifices of atonement God had granted, these were only a shadow of God’s ultimate plan to make strong bricks out of sinful people (Hebrews 10:1-18). We pick up the story with God’s people in exile. Once again, just as in Eden, they were kicked out of God’s place and outside of his blessing because they refused to live under his rule.5 Not only had they profaned God’s name in their own land, they continued to do so even while being punished in exile (Ezekiel 36:16-21). But God intended to vindicate his good name. Had I been the architect, I would have trashed the building blocks and started from scratch with better ones, but God didn’t do that. He would build a cathedral that would vindicate his name, but he would use the very people who had shamed his name. And so God’s people began to hear through his prophets about a New Covenant, a new set of promises that would deal with sin and complete the blueprint for God’s holy dwelling place in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God knew he must do something about the me-first hearts of his hell-bent sons and rebellious servants, so through the prophet Ezekiel he unpacked the New Covenant promises to God’s people: a new purity, a new passion, a new power, and a new partnership. A New Purity. “I will sprinkle clean water on you,

29

Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life

and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:25). Purification must come first. In order to be God’s true sons and servants, the people must be unilaterally, voluntarily, and completely forgiven by God for rejecting his community, rebelling against his mission, and embracing idolatry. Idolatry is the reliance upon or trust in anyone or anything besides the Living God for community and mission (Jeremiah 2:11-13, Exodus 32:7-8). God had a plan to forgive and thus purify the people from their idolatry. A New Passion. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). What do you do with building blocks whose hearts are desperately wicked, diamond-hard, and determined to do evil (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Zechariah 7:12)? God’s plan was literally to transform his people, turning their passionately me-first hearts into hearts that looked to him and others and said, You first. A New Power. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27). It was painfully apparent that God’s people had no power to keep his royal law, so God promised the gift of his Spirit to empower them to live the cruciform life of vertical love for God and horizontal love for people. His Spirit will be the power supply for a you-first heart.

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JUMP TO

Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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“ BUT GOD...”
The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel
Casey Lute Cruciform Press | Released May, 2011

To Kelly, my wife and my best friend. I love you. – Casey Lute

© 2010 by Casey S. Lute. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

“Casey Lute reminds us that nothing is impossible with God, that we must always reckon with God, and that God brings life out of death and joy out of sorrow. Faith looks to God for everything we need, and we are reminded here that our God is the fountain of living waters, and that nothing can defeat us if God is for us.” Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “Casey Lute has seized upon the brief expression, ‘But God…’ that appears at some crucial locations in the Great Story of God’s plan for his creation. He traces these references within their contexts and with concise and meaningful commentary. What results is a mini-theology that will speak to the needs of every reader of this small but powerful book. Read it yourself and you will be blessed. Give it to a friend and you will be a blessing.” William Varner, Professor of Biblical Studies, The Master’s College “Keying off of nine occurrences of ‘But God’ in the English Bible, Casey Lute ably opens up Scripture in a manner that is instructive, edifying, encouraging, and convicting. This little book would be useful in family or personal reading, or as a gift to a friend. You will enjoy Casey’s style, you will have a fresh view of some critical Scripture, and your appreciation for God’s mighty grace will be deepened.” Dan Phillips, Pyromaniacs blog, author of The World-Tilting Gospel (forthcoming from Kregel)

Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Part One: God Shows How He Saves One God Preserves Humanity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Genesis 8:1, Noah Two God Creates a Nation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Exodus 13:18, The Red Sea Three God Preserves His Nation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Nehemiah 9:17, Israel the God-Fighter Part Two: God Provides Salvation for His People Four God Provides a Better Sacrifice . . . . . . . . . . 43 Psalm 40:6-8, The Incarnation Five God Demonstrates His Love for His People . . 51 Romans 5:8, The Cross Six God Raises Jesus from the Dead . . . . . . . . . 61 Acts 13:30, The Resurrection Part Three: God Applies Salvation to His People Seven God Chooses the Foolish and the Weak . . . 71 1 Corinthians 1:27, Election Eight God Brings Life Out of Death . . . . . . . . . . . 81 Ephesians 2:4, Salvation Nine God’s Firm Foundation Stands . . . . . . . . . . 91 2 Timothy 2:19, Perseverance

Ten

Final Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 Addendum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 About Cruciform Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .108

Print ISBN: ePub ISBN: Mobipocket ISBN:

978-1-936760-17-6 978-1-936760-19-0 978-1-936760-18-3

CruciformPress.com email: info@CruciformPress.com Facebook: http://on.fb.me/Cruciform Twitter: @CruciformPress Newsletter: http://bit.ly/CruciformNL
Published by Cruciform Press, Adelphi, Maryland. Copyright © 2011 by Casey S. Lute. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Italics or bold text within Scripture quotations indicates emphasis added.

INTRODUCTION

This is a book about two words. Concerning them, the late James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—‘but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” It is no surprise, then, that the human authors of Scripture use this phrase repeatedly to highlight God’s grace in every aspect of salvation. From Moses to Paul and just about everywhere in between, “But God” appears time and again at many crucial junctures in Scripture. It is the perfect phrase for highlighting the grace of God against the dark backdrop of human sin. To the left of “But God” in Scripture appear some of the worst human atrocities, characterized by disobedience and rebellion. To the left of “But God” is hopelessness, darkness, and death. But to its right, following “But God,” readers of Scripture will find

5

“But God...”

hope, light, and life. Following God’s intervention, the story of Scripture becomes one of grace, righteousness, and justice. This book has been born out of my desire to better understand these two words, and how they are used in Scripture. Having searched through and referenced every instance of “But God” (or “But he,” “But you,” etc.), I have found that this phrase is used to describe God’s activity in nearly every great salvation story in the Bible. “But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. It also teaches us of the potential consequences if God were not to act. Scripture shows over and over that without God’s intervening grace, without the “But God” statements in the Bible, the world would be completely lost in sin and under judgment. It may not be a common thing to write a book about two words, but these are no insignificant words. Indeed, everything Dr. Boice wrote above is true. If we understand these two words as the biblical authors use them, we will understand salvation—a salvation that is by grace alone, through Christ alone. May the reading of this book, and of the biblical “But God” statements it contains, cause you to understand these two words, recall them regularly,

6

Introduction

and allow them to transform your understanding of God’s grace and thus transform your very life.

But / conjunction / (but): 1) Used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. 2) Nevertheless; however. 3) On the contrary; in contrast. God / noun / (How much time do you have?)

7

Part One

GOD SHOWS HOW HE SAVES

8

One

GOD PRESERVES HUMANITY
Genesis 8:1, Noah

I had been serving as an associate pastor at a small church in Grand Junction, Colorado, for about a year before I got out and did any real hiking (I’m much more comfortable behind a desk). On the recommendation of a longtime resident, I took a group of at-risk junior high boys to Hanging Lake, a small body of water east of town. Once you reach the trailhead the only way to the lake is on foot; the terrain just gets too rough. So we drove the ninety minutes to the trail, ate lunch, filled our water bottles, and began to climb. None of us were seasoned hikers, and it didn’t take long for our lack of experience to show. While the trail was not spectacularly difficult, we had to work hard, stepping over rocks and traversing small streambeds. The boys probably wished they could have spent the day playing video games.

9

“But God...”

But then we reached the top and looked out over Hanging Lake. None of us had ever seen anything like it. The water was perfectly clear, with fish darting back and forth in full view. One waterfall fed the lake, and a second one at the opposite side emptied it. We walked along a boardwalk built on the rocky shoreline, the beauty of God’s creation mingling with man’s ingenuity. And we crossed part of the lake on a fallen tree, careful not to fall into water that was surely as cold as it was clear. Eventually, we made our way back down the trail (a much easier trip), climbed back into the car, and drove home. I dropped the boys off at their houses, then went home myself. Thus, the day ended not with a bang but with a bit of a fizzle. We had spent the bulk of our time traveling—in car and on foot. The company had been good and the exercise much needed. Still, we never would have done it if not for the promise of that experience we had in the middle of the day— seeing the lake and enjoying God’s creation together. The best part of the day was not the beginning or the end, but the middle.

Saving the Best for the Middle
So often in our great stories and life experiences, the best is saved for last. From the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to the dramatic

10

God Preserves Humanity

scene just before the credits roll to the encore performance at a great concert, we just seem to love the grand finale. However, many of the stories in the Bible do not save the best for last. Like my hiking trip to Hanging Lake, we must look to the middle of many biblical stories to find the best parts, the most meaningful parts. Take for example the first great salvation story in Scripture—the account of Noah. Reading the flood account is like following a trail across a great mountain: it ascends until it gets to the main point, then descends again. The whole journey is important, but the most glorious part happens at the mountaintop in the middle. The main points of the biblical story of Noah and the flood, as told in Genesis, appear as follows:1 • The earth became incredibly corrupt, to the point where God regretted creating mankind and decided to destroy all human beings (6:1–6:7). • God chose to save one man (Noah) and gave him instructions for building a large ark in which to survive the flood God would send to destroy the world (6:8–7:25). • Noah went into the ark, along with his family and some of each kind of animal, and the flood came upon the earth, wiping out all men and beasts outside the ark (7:6–24).

11

“But God...”

• The flood subsided and Noah left the ark with his family (8:1–19). • Noah sacrificed to God, God promised never to destroy every living creature again, and God made a covenant with Noah (8:20–9:17) • Noah planted vineyards in the new world, became drunk from the wine, was mistreated by his son Ham, and died (9:18–29). At the center point of the flood account, we read: But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. (Genesis 8:1) This verse reveals the main point of the story. Mankind deserved destruction, and even Noah found himself in dire straits, floating with his family and a host of animals in a glorified box over the flood-covered world. At this point, the very heart of the story, we encounter the incredibly important words, “But God.” God remembered Noah and saved him. God chose not to let humanity die out, instead initiating a salvation plan.

Numbers Show the Center
Shouldn’t we perhaps view the exit from the ark as

12

God Preserves Humanity

more important? How about the moment when God makes his covenant with Noah? What about the other portions of the story? How do we know Genesis 8:1 is truly the significant center? We know by looking to the biblical text itself. The author of Genesis, Moses, wants us to see that everything in the flood account points to God’s salvation—the “But God” of 8:1. One way he does this is by emphasizing the divine chronology. Moses tells the flood story in Genesis 7 and 8 using a numerical/chronological structure, framing the center of the story (Genesis 8:1). Consider these verses: • And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth (7:10). • The flood continued forty days on the earth (7:17a). • And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days (7:24). • At the end of 150 days the waters had abated (8:3b). • At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven (8:6–7a). • He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark (8:10).

13

“But God...”

The structure of this text reveals itself clearly. The numbers ascend, from seven to forty to 150, and then descend, from 150 to forty to seven. This is a well-known ancient literary structure called a chiasm, intended to direct the reader’s attention toward what occurs in the middle of the story. In this case, the very peak of this biblical mountain is Genesis 8:1–2. “But God” is at the heart of the flood account.

Grace and Remembering
Perhaps no Bible story suffers from more trivialized telling and retelling than that of the flood. Children’s books, toys, and Sunday school curricula often depict Noah in a proportionally tiny ark sailing along happily with a few cheerful animals. Such presentations typically focus on either the animals or Noah’s piety. But the biblical story of Noah is no mere morality tale. The point is not that the rest of the world was really bad but Noah was really good, so God decided to save him. In fact, Noah does not even serve as the main character in the story. The main player in the biblical flood account is God. The entire story points to him. We have already seen how the chiasm of this story centers the account on 8:1, “But God remembered Noah” But we also need to understand that when the Bible speaks of God “remembering” someone,

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God Preserves Humanity

it does not mean he had previously forgotten about that person. It means he is choosing to work on the person’s behalf, and for his good.2 Certainly, this describes what happens in the flood account. With the rest of the world lying dead under a sea of judgment and Noah floating aimlessly above with a slew of animals, God remembered him; he would not let Noah die. God saved him by reversing the flood and giving Noah a new world in which to live. In other words, the flood story is about God’s grace. Even the first significant statement made about Noah tells us more about God’s grace than about Noah himself: “So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:7–8). The word “favor” might not seem especially meaningful to us, but the Hebrew word translated here as “favor” can also be translated as “grace.” In fact, the King James Version translators used that very word, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” This is the first time we find the word grace in Scripture. Amid a sin-corrupted world, God looked at Noah and decided to treat him differently. He decided not to give him the judgment that his sins

15

“But God...”

deserved, but instead to bless him and to preserve the entire human race through him. Only after noting that Noah received grace did Moses recount Noah’s righteousness (Genesis 6:9). This order conveys something significant. Henry Morris writes: Note the consistent biblical order here. First, Noah “found grace.” Then Noah was “a just man” (that is, “justified” or “declared to be righteous”). Thus, he was “perfect in his generations” (or “complete,” in so far as God’s records are concerned), and therefore he was able to “walk with God.” Salvation in any era is exactly in this way. By sovereign grace, received through faith, the believer is justified before God and declared to be complete in him. Only as a result of, and on the basis of, this glorious gift of grace, can one then “walk” in fellowship with God, showing the genuineness of his faith by his works.3 The biblical account of the flood does not exist to glorify Noah or to tell a cute story about animals but to exalt the Lord as the God who saves. God saves men by his grace, through the cross, and he saves them unto good deeds and obedience. Noah was a righteous man only because he received the grace of God. He was a sinner4 who needed God

16

God Preserves Humanity

to remember him if he would survive the judgment God had sent upon the earth. And God did so. The flood account takes us up the mountain of God’s grace and back down, centering on this one glorious point: the world was doomed to destruction, but God chose to remember one man and show him grace. This narrative sets the tone for every great salvation story in the Bible—God saves people by his own doing, keeping them from the judgment they rightfully deserve. “But God,” as we will continue to see, plays an absolutely necessary role in every great salvation epic in Scripture.

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark . And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided .

Next:
The “But God” moment when God began to form his people into a nation.

17

Two

GOD CREATES A NATION
Exodus 13:18, The Red Sea

As the story line of Scripture progresses, the scope of God’s salvation plan expands, taking on a corporate aspect. Beginning with Abraham, God repeatedly says, “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). The remainder of the book of Genesis shows how God began to form this nation, increasing its size and molding its collective character. The process starts with Abraham and continues in the families of his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32), thereby renaming a nation that would grow rather rapidly, due to his eventual twelve sons. When we come to the book of Exodus, we find that the nation of Israel has grown exceedingly large (Exodus 1:7), yet Egypt, the world superpower of the day, has enslaved them. These Israelites are a pitiable, oppressed people, with no way out of their predica-

19

“But God...”

ment. In order for them to become the great nation that God had promised they would be, something extraordinary must happen. They need a “But God” event.

The Transformation Begins
The transformation of Israel begins when God sends Moses to deliver the people from bondage. Through Moses, God works wonder after wonder to bring about the Israelites’ deliverance, yet Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to let them go. Only after God brings about the death of all Egyptian firstborns (sparing the Israelites through the Passover sacrifice) does Pharaoh free Israel from bondage. So a couple of million souls, from infants to the elderly—a people who have known nothing but slavery, poverty, and bondage for hundreds of years—march out into the desert. What next? Which way do they go? Neither Moses nor the Israelites had to answer those questions. The God who had done wonders on their behalf had not finished doing them good and leading them. The Israelites did not need to determine their own route out of Egypt. Instead, God led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). And he led them on an unexpected route—not the easiest or most direct route to the Promised Land.

20

God Creates a Nation

Not even close. But God had good reasons for this. One reason was that he did not want them to meet war too soon. Exodus 13:17 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” God dealt graciously with the Israelites, who had never known battle. Some Bible scholars believe that they were not even armed with real weapons at this point.5 In any event, they were certainly not ready to fight, and God kindly protected them from needing to fight too soon. But God had a second reason for leading the Israelites to the Red Sea—so that he could fight for them. After releasing the Israelites to the desert where they followed the pillar and the cloud, Pharaoh changed his mind and came after them in order to enslave them again. An enslaved Israel could never become the nation God had promised they would be, and Israel could not match the strength of Pharaoh’s soldiers and chariots, so God had to act. And Scripture reveals that the sovereign, omniscient God had already acted. Before Pharaoh had his latest (and last) change of heart, the necessary “But God” moment had already taken place:

21

“But God...”

But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:18a). Pharaoh thought he had set the stage for a dramatic moment of victory. But kings do not set such stages; God does. God had indeed set this stage for a dramatic moment. It would not, however, be a moment of victory for Pharaoh.

Dry Land, Wet Walls
At first glance, it seems that the Israelites were in a horrid predicament, backed up against the sea with nowhere for retreat. If they had any sense that the Egyptians might come after them (and they should have, given how fickle Pharaoh had been), this was not a smart place to go. But according to the biblical account, God led them there. They became backed up against the Red Sea because God wanted them there. Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea has been immortalized not only in the biblical record, but also in Cecil B. DeMille’s landmark film, The Ten Commandments. The most visually impressive scene in the movie shows the parting of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could walk through on dry land. Operating in the days before computer-generated special effects, DeMille went to great lengths to re-create this event. He refused to use any handdrawn animation to enhance the scene but creatively

22

God Creates a Nation

filmed large amounts of water in various ways, splicing the shots together to achieve the finished effect. No wonder the film won the 1956 Academy Award for best visual effects. DeMille rightly put great effort into that scene, for it was central not only to the movie, but also to God’s story of salvation. The Red Sea was where God once and for all “saved Israel . . . from the hand of the Egyptians,” where “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians,” and where “the people feared the Lord, and . . . believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30–31). Here we see Israel’s formal beginning as a nation—the people’s initiation, of sorts, as the people of God. Paul writes that “all [Israel] were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2). The Red Sea crossing became a truly monumental event in Israel’s history. Israel’s deliverance that day was all of God, as he parted the waters so that Israel could walk through on dry land. Meanwhile, he held the Egyptians back so that they could not pursue until all the Israelites had passed through. When God then allowed the Egyptians to follow Israel into the sea, the waters closed upon them so that they were completely defeated. That day, Israel became an independent nation, not owing to any effort of the people, but only to God’s deliverance.

23

“But God...”

In September 2010, a team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research determined that the Red Sea crossing could have been accomplished by a natural phenomenon known as “wind setdown.” They demonstrated how, under the right circumstances, a 63-mph wind, blowing for twelve hours, could push a small body of water aside so that people could cross on dry land. Thus, they concluded that the Red Sea crossing could have been achieved by entirely natural circumstances.6 However, the phenomenon the researchers described does not come close to what we read in Scripture. In Exodus, “the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exodus 14:22). We read also that when God closed the sea, “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28). This was not a mere streambed pushed aside by a heavy wind. This body of water was large enough to submerge an entire army—and God parted it, held it back, and then released it with perfect timing. God delivered Israel in such a way that no Israelite could attribute it to anything other than the Lord’s great power and strength. Miriam’s spontaneous, infectious celebration (Exodus 15:20-21) then

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God Creates a Nation

symbolized a new courage and joy that God had planted in the hearts of his people. The transformation of that people, from oppressed slaves to great nation, had begun. They started to see their God as both powerful and faithful, and they began to understand that he had indeed called them as his own. Ever since that day, God’s chosen ones have celebrated that deliverance and the process of transformation it initiated.

A Newborn, Abandoned
Why did God choose to defend and embrace this particular people at this particular time? Not because they were impressive, or powerful, or wealthy, or well-organized, or especially promising in any way. It would be an understatement to say that this people had failed to distinguish themselves; without ever having been invaded or conquered, they had become a nation of slaves living within and serving a nation of non-slaves. Later in Scripture, God remembers Israel’s degree of helplessness when he called them as his chosen people. In vivid language, he tells them there was nothing in them that was of value to him: And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye

25

“But God...”

pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, “Live!” I said to you in your blood, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:4–6) The picture God paints of Israel in its beginning is not that of a powerful nation but of an abandoned orphan, a helpless baby entirely dependent on others for life. Yet God adopted the people and turned them into a nation unique in all the earth—a nation created not by military strength or political strategy, but by God himself.

God Delights to Help the Helpless
One of my collegiate textbooks on world history consisted of a collection of surveys about great ancient nations. It covered Egypt, Greece, Rome, and others, including Israel. The authors wrote that Israel had done nothing significant to benefit the world in the areas of art, music, literature, military prowess, or political innovation. Nevertheless, the authors claimed that Israel had to be ranked among the great nations of history because of its marvelous religious ingenuity. It was a mystery to the authors how this small nation, completely insignificant from

26

God Creates a Nation

a historical perspective, could have concocted a religion so magnificent that it has influenced nearly every facet of world history since then. Only the Bible solves this mystery. The biblical story shows that “religious innovation” does not account for Israel’s significance. Only the marvelous grace of God does. The Israelites had surely done nothing to commend themselves to God or man: • Prior to their initiation as a nation in the crossing of the Red Sea, Israel had been a band of slaves in Egypt. • Prior to their slavery in Egypt, they had been an insignificant family marked by petty jealousy and infighting. • Prior to that, their namesake, Israel (Jacob), had been known primarily as a deceiver. • Prior to that, Abraham had been an old man with a barren wife. At no single point in the history of Israel do the Israelites as a people appear strong or powerful. But God delights in helping the weak. And he delights in choosing those who have no ability to save themselves. Later in Israel’s history, when God gave his people his law, he commanded them to bring tithes to the temple once a year. When they brought their offerings, they recited the following words:

27

“But God...”

A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy 26:5–8) If this story did not reference God, it would seem ridiculous. Tribes of nomadic shepherds do not grow into a nation of poor, oppressed slaves and then simply decide to walk out on their slave masters. But God’s work on Israel’s behalf causes this story to make sense. God did not choose some powerful nation to advance his plan of salvation. He chose slaves instead of masters, and he did all the work for them. He showed them that he is the one true God, and that he had made them a nation by his might, not their own. He backed them into an inescapable corner, with the sea behind them and the world’s most powerful army advancing toward them. He alone delivered them from this predicament, establishing them as a nation.

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God Creates a Nation

He graciously orchestrated every step along the way so that these things could not be any more apparent to his people. In this way, he forever changed how the people thought about him and about themselves in relation to him. The transformation had begun.

But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea .

Next:
A “But God” statement that assures even rebels of God’s unfailing love.

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29

JUMP TO

Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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SMOOTH STONES
Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics
Joe Coffey Cruciform Press | Released June, 2011

To my wife, Karen, whose love and grace inspire me daily. To my children Jeremy, Rachel, and Rebecca, who continue to fill my life with joy. To my mom and dad, who first taught me to love Jesus with both my heart and my mind. – Joe Coffey

© 2011 by Joe Coffey. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

Please do not make copies of this ebook to give to others.That would be illegal and in violation of Scripture.Thanks!

“What a thrill for me to see Joe Coffey, a graduate of our first Centurions Program class, apply the biblical worldview principles we teach at BreakPoint and the Colson Center. “In this marvelous little book, Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Aplogetics, Joe simply and succinctly lays out the tenets of the Christian faith within the context of the four key life and worldview questions. “This is an excellent resource for Christians and nonChristians alike who are seeking the Truth.” Chuck Colson Founder of Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview “Most books on apologetics are too long, too deep, and too complicated. This book has none of these defects. Like its title, it is like a smooth stone from David’s apologetic sling directed right to the mind of an enquiring reader.” Norman L. Geisler Distinguished Professor of Apologetics Veritas Evangelical Seminary, Murrieta, CA

Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Chapters One Is There a God? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Two Does Science Disprove God’s Existence? . . 19 Three Is the Bible Authentic and True? . . . . . . . . . 37 Four The Question of Evil and Suffering . . . . . . 55 Five Aren’t All Religions the Same? . . . . . . . . . . 69 Six Is Jesus for Real? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 An Epilogue for Non-Christians . . . . . . . 101 An Epilogue for Christians . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 About Cruciform Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111

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Published by Cruciform Press, Adelphi, Maryland. Copyright © 2011 by Joe Coffey. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Passages indicating NIV are from New International Version, Copyright © 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Italics or bold text within Scripture quotations indicates emphasis added.

INTRODUCTION

It was just another article in the New York Times, but it spoke volumes to me.1 Journalist Nicholas Kristof was concerned to find that Americans were three times more likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus than in evolution. To Kristof, this meant Christians were becoming less intellectual and more mystical, resulting in “a gulf, not only between America and the rest of the industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well.” Kristof’s bias came through loud and clear: “Despite the lack of scientific and historical evidence, and despite the doubts of biblical scholars, America is so pious that not only do 91 percent of Christians say they believe in the Virgin Birth, but so do an astonishing 47 percent of us non-Christians.” He went on to say, “I’m not denigrating anyone’s beliefs, but mostly I’m troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic.” Kristof concluded with this sentence: “The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.”

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Smooth Stones

Check Your Brain at the Door?
Why did I write Smooth Stones? There are two reasons. The first is there are so many people like Mr. Kristof— people who think believing in Christianity means you have to take your brain and put it on a shelf and simply trust with blind faith, against all odds, against all evidence, the way a child believes in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I think nothing could be further from the truth. The second reason is that every two or three years, a new book intended to undermine Christianity will become a bestseller and shake the faith of many to the core. They’ll say, “You know, I’m not sure anymore if what I believe is really true.” And yet the arguments in these books, although well written, are typically not compelling. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus likened our faith to a house built on a foundation.2 If we build our house on a foundation of sand, when storms come and the winds of doubt blow, our house will fall. But if we build our house on a solid foundation, when storms come and doubts arise, our house will stand. What I want to do in these pages is to inspect our foundation so we know why we believe what we believe. We will explore six issues: the existence of God, the challenges of modern science, the validity of the Bible, the question of evil and suffering, the similarities of other religions, and the evidence for the claims of Jesus. I think we will discover that the Christian faith is built on a tremendous amount of credible evidence. Christians have no reason to check their brains at the door.

6

Introduction

A Word for Skeptics
If you find yourself reading this book even though you don’t believe in God, the Bible, Jesus, or Christianity, I hope you will read it all the way to the end. It’s a short book, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I also hope you will weigh all the evidence with an open mind. But I have another hope. Call it a request. Begin to read the Bible. I suggest you start with the Gospel of John. Why would I ask someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to read it anyway? Jesus told a story where an unbelieving man dies and immediately wishes he would have believed.3 The man wants someone to go back and warn his brothers. He cries out (I’m paraphrasing here), “Please send somebody back from the dead so my brothers will see and understand.” “They have the Bible,” is the reply he gets. So the man basically says, “That’s not enough. They need someone to come back from the dead.” The last point Jesus makes in the story is to say that if people won’t believe the Bible, neither will they believe if someone comes back from the dead and tries to tell them. That’s why I want you to read the Bible. It is the source for all God declares to be true. The time to read and understand and apply it is now—while we are alive. I will cover the reasons you can trust the Bible as authentic and true in chapter three. But first let’s look into the reasons to believe God even exists at all.

7

One

IS THERE A GOD?

In this world, God is known only by faith. So even though there are plenty of good reasons to believe—and I will present many of them in this little book—there is a sense in which no one can prove the existence of God. In the same way, people who argue against the existence of God also have reasons for what they believe. But they cannot disprove God’s existence any more than Christians can prove it. Believing in God or disbelieving— either one involves a degree of faith. But it’s interesting: I have found that nearly everyone who sides against God’s existence, whether hard-core atheist or basic agnostic, has a disconnect. They may not believe God is there, yet they have these persistent internal moral convictions that people should do certain things and absolutely not do other things. In my discussions with unbelievers, exposing this and talking about it as an inconsistency has proven extremely helpful to them. So let’s spend a few minutes on that topic. Then, at the end of this chapter, I will present the first category of evidence for the existence of God.

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Smooth Stones

The Four Questions of Existence
The inconsistency, or flaw in logic, referred to above is best seen in light of what I’m calling The Four Questions of Existence. 1. The question of origin: Where did I come from? 2. The question of destiny: Where am I going? 3. The question of purpose: Why am I here? 4. The question of morality: How shall I live? There are many varieties of answers. But here’s the key point. The answers are linked—they are interdependent. No matter what answers you give, they have to be consistent with one another. Otherwise one’s intellectual integrity falls apart. Your answer to where you are going depends on your answer to where you came from. And your answer to why you are here depends on your answer to where you came from and where you are going, and so forth. All four answers must stack like building blocks or else they will contradict one another and result in an unsupportable belief system. We’ll come back to this concept in a minute. But first, let’s compare and contrast the way believers and unbelievers answer the four questions.

10

Is There a God?

The Atheist/Agnostic Dilemma
Bible-believing Christians would answer The Four Questions of Existence more or less like this: 1. Where did I come from? From the hand of God, my Creator. 2. Where am I going? To heaven or hell for all of eternity. 3. Why am I here? To glorify and enjoy God. 4. How shall I live? The way God wants me to live; he is Lord. Contrast those answers with the ones a student might get in a typical American high school. (I’m going to paint the picture a little starkly here to make my point.) Question One: Origin. The student raises his hand in class and says, “I have a question. Where did I come from?” “Well,” the teacher might say, “according to one view of evolution, you came from a series of random mutations. You are an accident of nature. Some people think there may be a design behind that process, but it’s hard to know that for sure. I think it’s just a long series of mutations in which the strongest or best survive.” Question Two: Destiny. Then the student would say, “Hmm. Well, then, where am I going?” The answer to the second question, since it follows from the first question, must be, “If you are a series of mutations, and life is all about survival of the fittest, then when you die your body will fuel the organisms that come after you.”

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Smooth Stones

That’s when the class clown jumps in and says, “He means you’re food for worms, dude! Get used to it.” So the teacher adds, “Well, we definitely know what happens to the body, but some people say you also have a soul and that it lives on—happy if you were good, maybe unhappy if you were bad. Nobody really knows, and after all, that’s not a question that can be examined scientifically.” Question Three: Purpose. The third question the young man would ask is, “Okay. Then why am I here?” That’s a tough one. Many unbelieving philosophers would answer by saying you have to take an existential leap—you have to create your own purpose. Maybe your purpose is to reproduce, or to make the world a better place, or to get all the pleasure you can, or to run for President. It’s totally up to you. So the teacher who believes that life came from mutations, and that after death we essentially just enrich the soil, would likely say something like this: “You are here to live a good life as a good citizen while enjoying yourself as much as you can.” Interesting answer, isn’t it? The second part, about just enjoying yourself, follows perfectly from the first two Questions of Existence, but where does the “live as a good citizen” stuff come from? More on that in a minute. Question Four: Morality. Then, of course, the student’s last question would be: “If that’s true, then how shall I live?” And the only answer consistent with the other three is essentially that you should live however you want and do whatever you want. But that won’t be what the teacher

12

Is There a God?

actually says. He or she will have to civilize the answer a little, so it’s not so brutal. So it might go something like, “Reach deep inside yourself and find an inner strength, and live out what is inside of you to do. Get a good enough education so that you can afford what you want and then try to do as much good as you want to do.”

Insist on Consistency
It’s no wonder America is so confused. Our atheist and agnostic friends typically answer questions one and two with reference to a particular view of science and reason and logic. Think Spock from Star Trek. In this view, God is just not allowed into the picture in any serious way. But when they get to questions three and four they feel compelled to introduce ideas about right and wrong, and good and bad, and loving people, and being good citizens. Really? Why? How does that follow from your answers to questions one and two? It doesn’t. But we all know in our gut that if you answer questions three and four consistent with the answers I gave above for questions one and two, our world would come apart at the seams. So questions three and four get answered differently, and intellectual integrity comes apart at the seams instead. In view of this, atheists and agnostics should choose their neighborhoods carefully—they may wind up in a place where some people think it’s right to love your neighbor and others think it’s fine to eat your neighbor. 4 Both are logical conclusions based on consistent answers to the atheist/agnostic view of The Four Questions of Existence.

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Smooth Stones

Internal Evidence for the Existence of God
When the Bible tells us that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men,5 it means he has woven into our very being an awareness of a reality beyond the material world. The nature of God himself is eternal. So we can expect to find evidence for God’s existence within our very souls. This is what I call internal evidence. External evidence is found outside ourselves using the tool of science. I will cover that in chapter two. In the remainder of this chapter I will present three exhibits of internal evidence: The Universal Concept, The Law of Human Nature, and the tendency toward Better Mental Health.

The Universal Concept
Every civilization that has ever existed on this planet has had a “God concept” as part of its core—from the Stone Age all the way to the present time. In that sense, belief in God is universal. Take the culture here in the United States. Estimates are that between 86 and 96 percent of Americans believe in God.6 In his book God: The Evidence, Patrick Glynn says people are wired for prayer, and in America, 90 percent of women and 85 percent of men say they pray daily. Even more amazing, of the 13 percent of Americans who describe themselves as atheists, one in five report they pray every day! 7 Human beings have an appetite for God. It’s built in. And appetites always have a corresponding reality. I

14

Is There a God?

think it is safe to assume that our predominant tendency to some kind of belief in God is the result of an inner spiritual hunger—a hunger to know and relate to and commune with our Creator. We do not hunger for that which does not exist. We hunger for food, or for knowledge, or for beauty, or for love, and those things exist. We can imagine something that doesn’t exist. We can imagine a world where we could hear the color orange—we just don’t long for it. We don’t have an appetite for it. We don’t write songs about it. We hunger for things that have a corresponding reality. What is the corresponding reality for the worldwide spiritual hunger for God? The hunger that cuts across every culture, every people group, and every language for every civilization that has ever existed on the face of the earth? The corresponding reality is God. For God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.

The Law of Human Nature
C. S. Lewis describes “our innate sense of right and wrong” in his book Mere Christianity.8 Lewis says that a basic law, an overarching ethic of a sense of fairness, seems embedded in every human being. You can call it a sense of justice. It is something we all recognize. If you want to test this hypothesis, find a place where people line up, like the grocery store. Take your stuff and then just cut into the front of the line. No matter what the people behind you believe, they will all communicate the same thing—that what you are doing is unfair. They’ll say, “Wait a minute! You can’t do that!” Everybody knows it is wrong, because

15

Smooth Stones

we have this overarching ethic, a hard-wired understanding of what is right and what is wrong. At the Nuremberg trials after World War II, when the Allies tried the Nazis for war crimes against humanity, they didn’t charge them with crimes against the law of Germany. What they said was, “You knew better, every human being knows better—you knew what you were doing was wrong.” They convicted the Nazis on the basis of this overarching ethic that all human beings recognize deep in their own hearts as true. Where does that kind of logic come from? God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.

Better Mental Health
Sigmund Freud was not a fan of religion. He thought belief in God was a sign of a mental disorder, something he called Universal Obsessional Neurosis. He said God does not exist, and to truly believe in something that does not exist and to live by that belief is to break from reality— an illness that needs to be cured. In one sense, Freud was right. If a person breaks from reality and believes in something that doesn’t exist, that belief will soon prove unhealthy—it will have a negative impact on his or her life. Let’s say I believe Martians are hiding in the walls of my house. At first, I merely hear noises, but as time goes on I will demonstrate a range of behaviors that become increasingly detrimental, like cashing in my life savings and moving to the desert. The further we distort or depart from reality, the unhealthier we become.

16

Is There a God?

Is this what happens when people believe in God? Patrick Glynn provides evidence and a stunning answer to that question: 9 Ironically enough, scientific research in psychology over the past 25 years has demonstrated that, far from being a neurosis or source of neurosis as Freud and his disciples claim, religious belief is one of the most consistent correlates of overall mental health and happiness. Study after study have shown a powerful relationship between religious belief and practice on the one hand, and healthy behaviors with regard to such problems as suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, depression, and perhaps even surprising levels of sexual satisfaction in marriage on the other. In short, the empirical data run exactly contrary to the supposedly scientific consensus of the psychotherapeutic profession. David B. Larson, MD, agreed. A psychiatrist trained at Duke who founded and directed the National Institute for Healthcare Research, Dr. Larson observed the same phenomenon and drew this conclusion: If a new health treatment were discovered that helped to reduce the rate of teenage suicide, prevent drug and alcohol abuse, improve treatment for depression, reduce recovery time from surgery, lower divorce rates and enhance a sense of well-being, one would

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Smooth Stones

think that every physician in the country would be scrambling to try it.10 Larson is saying that a belief in God results in all these things, so every physician in the country ought to prescribe it when you come in with a problem. Can you imagine your doctor saying, “Oh, listen, I’m going to operate. Do you believe in God? That will help with your recovery. And your anxiety and depression, too.” I think Freud is right in one sense. If you honestly believe in something that does not exist, you will become less healthy and probably become mentally ill. Yet we have this mountain of evidence indicating that a strong faith in God results in better mental health. By Freud’s argument, wouldn’t that indicate that people who believe in God are not distorting reality because, in fact, God is real? There it is again. God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. *** We have now examined three pieces of internal evidence. I started with these because I think they are compelling and difficult to refute. In the next chapter we will look at external evidence. We will enter into the realm of science—a place where the faith of many has been severely challenged. I hope to show that faith and science are not incompatible, and in fact, that science points to the existence of God.

18

Two

DOES SCIENCE DISPROVE GOD’S EXISTENCE?

According to the Bible, there is clear external evidence for the existence of God. It is all around us, all the time, if we only have eyes to see. Where do we see it? In creation: “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”11 As I will show in this chapter, science is a friend of people who believe in God. Science uncovers the facts about creation, the marvelous ways things work in the natural realm. But to believe in science exclusively—to deny that anything “has been made”—is to close your eyes even to the possibility of a Creator-God. Anyone taking that position immediately faces three huge questions: 1. Where did the universe come from? 2. How did life arise from non-living matter? 3. How did the simple become complex?

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Smooth Stones

Most people who deny God’s existence believe evolution provides complete answers for the second and third questions. Indeed, most everyone agrees that evolution on a very small scale is a valid process. Called microevolution, this is the kind of change that can happen within species, like Darwin’s famous finch beaks. But some use the theory of biological evolution in a much more sweeping way. They claim it provides a framework for understanding how man could evolve from a single cell, which many scientists believe emerged from nonliving matter (the “primordial soup”). That’s the kind of evolution I’m talking about in this book.

Conflicting Philosophies
The late Stephen Jay Gould was a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard. He was considered one of the foremost authorities on evolution. Just prior to his death he wrote, No scientific theory can pose any threat to religion, for those two great tools of understanding operate in totally separate realms. Science is an inquiry about the factual state of the natural world; religion is a search for spiritual meaning and ethical values.12 We saw in the previous chapter how all four questions of existence are inextricably linked. Do you see how Gould’s statement attempts to separate the answers to the first two questions from the last two? He is attempting the logically impossible. Gould was right when he said science is a great tool

20

Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

for uncovering facts about the state of the natural world. But here’s an important caveat: facts do not interpret themselves. Facts need to be blended into systems in order to be understood and given meaning. Those systems are known as philosophies. All philosophies prevalent today can be separated into two main categories: naturalism and what I call naturalism-plus. Naturalism. Naturalism says the universe is made up exclusively of matter and energy, and the only things that exist are the things you can experience with your senses—what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and/or touch. Science enables us to detect with our senses and analyze with our minds forms of matter and energy we would not otherwise know much about—like atoms, galaxies, and the activity inside a cell. According to naturalists, nothing exists outside of nature; therefore, the supernatural is completely imaginary. Naturalism-plus. The other category of philosophy can be called supernaturalism, but let’s call it naturalismplus. This is because, in addition to accepting the obvious existence of matter and energy—the reality you can experience with your five senses—naturalism-plus recognizes a reality outside of nature, something supernatural. The vast majority of people on the naturalism-plus side believe that this “something supernatural” is a supremely intelligent and powerful being they call God. Naturalism-plus people who believe in the existence of God are known as theists. It is crucial to understand that the divide is not between science and faith. Faith in the existence of God is not incompatible with science, and science is not incom-

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Smooth Stones

patible with faith in God. The divide happens between naturalism and naturalism-plus. That is, the divide happens between two different philosophies. Science and faith become competing rather than complimentary ways of seeing the world only when they get an overlay of naturalist philosophy—a philosophy willing to bend over backwards to interpret scientific facts so that they seem to exclude both the validity of faith and the validity of naturalism-plus. So don’t buy the claim that the conflict is between science and faith. It is not, and it never has been. It has always been between two competing philosophies— naturalism and naturalism-plus. Science is a tool that either side can use well, or use poorly.

The Cake and the Cosmos
Naturalists depend on the theory of evolution to explain how life arose from non-living matter and how the simple became complex. But how do they explain the origin of the universe? For years the naturalist position was this: the universe did not originate—it always was. If such a claim is true, then an infinite amount of time was available for a primordial soup to evolve into complex organisms— a lynchpin presupposition for naturalists. Picture the universe as an enormous cake. Would there be evidence for the existence of a baker? If the cake has been there for as long as you can remember, and if your genealogy shows the cake was around when your great-great-great-great-grandfather was alive, and if you extrapolate the concept to infinity past—you might

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Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

conclude that the cake was always there. And if the cake always existed, it means no baker was ever on the scene. That is what naturalists believed about the origin of the universe for a long time. But in 1927, Edwin Hubble, inventor of the powerful telescope named after him, performed an experiment. He passed the light of a distant star through a prism and discovered the light shifted to the red part of the color spectrum. This proved the star was moving further away from earth. It was the same with every star he tested. He called this phenomenon “red shift,” and concluded from it that the universe is expanding. This led to what later became known as the Big Bang theory.13 If the universe is expanding, it must be expanding from someplace, and if you go back far enough it had to expand from a single point, a point that one day must have made a really big bang. Then, in 1964, two Bell Laboratory scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, discovered and began to measure cosmic microwave background radiation. Explained in the simplest terms, if you’re out on the Fourth of July watching the fireworks and you see an explosion go off against the darkness, it lights up the sky and then fades. The imprint of the explosion that lingers is a radiation echo. Working backwards in time, Penzias and Wilson used radiation echoes to measure the initial explosion that, they theorize, began the universe.14 Through a series of related scientific experiments culminating in 1994, scientists proved beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the universe has not always existed.

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Smooth Stones

Carl Sagan, a famous naturalist, began his 1980 TV program, Cosmos, the same way every week: “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, all there ever will be.” Now we know that’s all wrong.

Before the Beginning: Ex Nihilo
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” That is, the Bible tells us that God created the universe out of nothing. Theologians coined a phrase for that concept: ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” It means that before “God created,” not only was there no universe, there was nothing to make a universe from—no matter, no energy, and no time. There was also no dimension, meaning there was not even any space for the stuff the universe was made from to not exist in. So, there was doubly nothing, if you get my point. Proponents of the “big bang” explain the creation of the universe through what they call a “singularity.” When physicists speak of the expansion of the universe from a singularity they claim that dimension—space itself— expanded with the big bang. There is nothing outside the universe, naturalists claim, so a singularity is a way of saying the universe sprang from a true nothingness. Theists believe the existence and activity of a Creator is the primary explanation for how something can come from nothing. The beauty and magnificence of the words, “God created” are revealed in this: no mere something

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Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

came out of nothing, but an entire universe came out of nothing. And not just any universe—a universe containing life. And not just any life—intelligent life, with people like you who can read words and sentences and paragraphs and derive meaning from them. Theists see the work of Hubble, Penzias, and Wilson as providing credible scientific evidence to support the theistic position—creation happened ex nihilo! It should have made the front page of The New York Times: “Science Finds New Support for the Existence of God.” But, go figure, it never has. Hugh Ross, Ph.D., a highly respected astrophysicist, made this observation: As atheistic and agnostic researchers have been repeatedly and progressively pointed by the evidence toward a personal Creator, they have devised more and more bizarre loopholes to escape these findings. This misguided ingenuity will doubtless continue until the return of Christ. However, the evidence for a universe designed, initiated, shaped, and sustained exactly as the Bible describes, by God, continues to mount. 15

Evidence for Intelligent Design
Intelligent Design is the proposition that the existence of the universe and life are best explained by the activity of an intelligent cause, not random processes such as natural selection. To theists, evidence for intelligent design is evidence for the existence of God.

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Smooth Stones

Let’s go back to the cake analogy. Cakes have bakers and bakers have recipes. If you examine a cake carefully, you start to realize there are a bunch of ingredients in it, and they all need to be added in a certain ratio and in a certain sequence and then baked at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. You have flour, sugar, vanilla, shortening, and eggs. But if you put in a cup of salt instead of a cup of sugar, what should have been a tasty cake comes out an inedible mess. Picture the universe as a cake and ask if there is evidence for a recipe. If there is, chances are there would be a baker to go with it. Brandon Carter, Ph.D., was a cosmologist and astrophysicist at Cambridge University. In 1973, he went to a conference in Krakow, Poland, and presented a paper to the most prestigious gathering of astrophysicists and astronomers in the world. Called “The Anthropic Principle,”16 Carter’s paper said the universe was made of all kinds of unrelated ingredients, like subatomic particles, strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetic radiation, gravity, and three dozen or so other ingredients. He said all of these ingredients had to come together in exact proportions and interact in exact sequences with absolute precision in order for human life on our planet to be sustained. Not merely to make it edible like a cake, but so it would be livable. Everything had to be in perfect balance. If even one of these ingredients would go even a tiny fraction of a percent out-of-kilter—POOF—no livable universe! Carter concluded the universe gives every indication it was designed to the minutest detail with one thing in

26

Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

mind—us. Us! That’s why he called it The Anthropic Principle, from the Greek word anthropos, meaning man. Not surprisingly, there was an explosion of fury in the scientific community. Carter’s paper implied a designer with a recipe, a purposeful God big enough and intelligent enough to manage all the ingredients of an unimaginably immense universe.

The Naturalist Answer: Multiple Universes
The scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning posed a two-fold challenge to naturalist philosophy. First, naturalists had to scramble for a new explanation for the origin of the universe. And, second, they could no longer claim there had been unlimited time for macroevolution to take place. Naturalists eventually responded with a new category of theories to try to explain how all these precise conditions could come to exist in our universe by chance. The cornerstone idea is that multiple universes must exist simultaneously, each one the result of countless random events. Out of these billions and billions of parallel universes, we happen to be in the one universe where everything came together just right. It makes me think of billions and billions of cake recipes, where the elements of each recipe are random. Let’s simplify that and limit the possible ingredients to actual cake ingredients, but the proportions are random. For each recipe there is a bag of ingredients. Some bags have no salt, some have lots of salt, some have no flour,

27

Smooth Stones

some have lots of flour, some are baked at 1000 degrees, and some are not baked at all. But out of all those billions and billions of bags, eventually one cake popped out that was just right. That, in essence, is the theory of how our hospitable universe could have come about. But the thing is, that is not science. It involves zero scientific facts. It is philosophy—naturalist philosophy that rejects even the possibility of a “cook” or a “designer” like God. Alvin Plantinga, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, compared this theory to a poker game in the Wild West. The dealer deals himself four aces twenty times in a row. Everybody starts to reach for their guns, and the dealer says, “Wait, wait, wait! I want you guys to think about something. In all the billions and billions of poker games that have gone on in this world and other worlds, don’t you think eventually it could happen that a dealer could deal himself four aces twenty times in a row and not be cheating?” And the people around the table would say, “Yeah, that’s a possibility. Now we’re gonna kill you!” Because nobody operates on a line of possibility that thin.

Entropy: Another Nuisance for Naturalists
The second law of thermodynamics is also known as the law of entropy. But I prefer to call it The Law of Your Kid’s Room. It says that things always proceed from order to disorder unless you infuse the system with intelligence and an outside source of energy. That is why, when you

28

Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

tell your kids, “Go clean your room,” they never come back and say, “You know, I left the window open, and the wind was blowing really hard—and the room cleaned itself!” You would not believe them because nothing in our universe ever works that way. At least, apart from the supernatural. The law of entropy has never been proven wrong. And this law gives naturalists fits when it comes to explaining the origin of life and how something simple can become complex. But for those on the naturalismplus side, especially the theists, the law of entropy is not troubling at all. Instead, it provides more external evidence for the existence of God—a God with unlimited intelligence and energy to create and sustain life and the entire universe. The Bible declares that “in [Christ] all things hold together”17 and that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”18 In spite of the obvious fact that everything tends to go from order to disorder, an amazingly intricate network of orderliness is maintained in this world from one moment to the next. How can entropy and a high degree of order coexist in the same universe? Because God holds it together.

Specified Complexity
How did life arise from non-living matter? The naturalist answer goes something like this: Chemicals + Time + Random Chance (because nothing directs it) = Life

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Smooth Stones

That’s what most of us we were taught in school. Remember the primordial soup? Chemicals are boiling around, on, and under the earth’s surface, and then lightning strikes—and all of a sudden life happens. But in recent years, the tool of science has uncovered several problems with this explanation. The first one came through microbiology, a relatively recent science boosted forward by the invention of the microscope. Better and better microscopes have been developed to the point that today we have scanning electron microscopes that can magnify objects up to two million times, and atomic-force microscopes that can “feel” the electron clouds of atoms. What microbiologists have found is that a single living cell is much more complex than people first thought. In every living cell, thousands upon thousands of organic machines run back and forth, taking stuff to and fro. Michael Denton wrote, Magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. We would then see an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the portholes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity.19

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Does Science Disprove God’s Existence?

William Dembski, Ph.D., is an analytic philosopher and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. In 2002, Dembski introduced a theory called “specified complexity.”20 Simply put, it says the more complicated something is to put together, the more intelligence and energy it takes to actually assemble it. For instance, if you have a lawnmower that is in a thousand pieces, assembling it takes a lot more intelligence and energy than it takes to put together a ham sandwich consisting of only five pieces. Dembski pointed to the level of complexity in a single living cell and asked the obvious question: How did that come into being without any intelligence? The naturalist’s answer is “random processes.” But as we will see in the next section, that level of complexity arising out of chaos through random processes is so terribly inefficient that it is essentially a statistical impossibility. Theists look at the same facts uncovered by the science of microbiology, and they see more external evidence for the existence of a God of inconceivable intelligence, energy, beauty, and majesty.

The Mathematics of Impossibility
The complexity issue becomes even more problematic for naturalists when they face the question of the molecular basis of the origin of life. This issue is brought into focus through the field of applied mathematics. David Foster studied the probability of a random process producing the DNA for one of the most primitive

31

Smooth Stones

single cells. He wrote, “The DNA of the T4 bacteriophage has an improbability of 10 to the 78,000th power. In a universe only 10 to the 18th power seconds old, it is obvious that life could not have evolved by random chance.”21 But what if the universe is older than David Foster says it is? The consensus of today’s naturalists claims the universe is 13.7 billion years old. That’s less than 10 to the 42nd power seconds old and, according to the mathematics of the Big Bang, still not nearly enough time to explain the complexities of DNA and the origin of life. Frederick Hoyle was the mathematician who coined the phrase “Big Bang.” When he tried to determine how something as complex as a living cell could happen through random processes, he ran the numbers and came up with one chance in 10 to the 40,000th power.22 To put that number in perspective, you should know that, the total number of atoms in the observable universe is only 10 to the 80th power.23 By the way, Hoyle was a naturalist, certainly not biased toward the naturalism-plus position, and in his day the scientific understanding of a living cell was incredibly primitive and simplistic—if he were making that estimate today the probability would be much smaller. What it boils down to is this: the probability of life emerging from nonliving matter through a random process is so ridiculously tiny we might even say it is virtually impossible. In fact, with numbers like one chance in 10 to the 40,000th power, the field of applied mathematics may provide the most compelling external evidence for the existence of God.

32

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JUMP TO

Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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LICENSED TO KILL
A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin
Brian G. Hedges Cruciform Press | Released July, 2011

To my sons, Stephen and Matthew: May you triumph over sin through the gospel of our crucified and risen Savior. – Brian G. Hedges

© 2011 by Brian G. Hedges. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

Print ISBN: ePub ISBN: Mobipocket ISBN:

978-1-936760-23-7 978-1-936760-24-4 978-1-936760-25-1

CruciformPress.com email: info@CruciformPress.com Facebook: http://on.fb.me/Cruciform Twitter: @CruciformPress Newsletter: http://bit.ly/CruciformNL
Published by Cruciform Press, Adelphi, Maryland. Copyright © 2011 by Brian G. Hedges. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Italics or bold text within Scripture quotations indicates emphasis added.

“Are there things you hate that you end up doing anyway? Have you tried to stop sinning in certain areas of your life, only to face defeat over and over again? If you’re ready to get serious about sin patterns in your life – ready to put sin to death instead of trying to manage it – this book outlines the only strategy that works. This is a book I will return to and regularly recommend to others.” Bob Lepine Co-Host, FamilyLife Today “Sanctification is a grueling process. But it’s NOT the process of moving beyond the reality of our justification but rather moving deeper into the reality of our justification. This is why when Jesus was asked in John 6:28, ‘What must we do to be doing the works of God?’ he answered, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he sent.’ Jesus was getting at the root of the problem because justification alone kills all of our self-salvation projects that fuel all of our bad behavior and moral failures. Brian Hedges shows the importance of fighting the sin that so easily entangles us and robs us of our freedom by fleeing to the finished work of Christ every day. Well done!” Tullian Tchividjian Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and author of Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels “Brian Hedges hasn’t written a book for our recreational pleasure, but a ‘field manual’ to assist us in our battle against sin. Rather than aiming at simple moral reformation, Licensed to Kill aims at our spiritual transformation in this fight by addressing the ‘drives and desires of our hearts.’ Like any good field manual, this is a small volume that focuses on the most critical information regarding our enemy, and gives practical instruction concerning the stalking and killing of sin. This is a theologically solid and helpfully illustrated book that

not only warns of sin’s danger, but also holds out the gospel confidence of sin’s ultimate demise.” Joe Thorn Author, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, Lead Pastor, Redeemer Fellowship, Saint Charles, IL “Are you ready for a serious fight to the death? My friend Brian Hedges goes for the jugular by dusting off a near antique word (and worse, a scarcely-used yet lethal weapon): mortification. Are Christ-followers really licensed to kill? Read this ‘field manual’ and you will discover that you have a monstrous and aggressive antagonist who is aiming to annihilate you. It’s your duty to fight back! Brian has given us a faithful, smart, Word-centered guide to help us identify and form a battle plan for mortally wounding the enemy of indwelling sin.” Wes Ward Senior Director of Media & Content Strategy, Revive Our Hearts (and a co-elder with the author)

Table of Contents
One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Chapters Killing Sin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 The Definition of Mortification Toward Life or Death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Why Sin Must Be Killed The Monster Within. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 The Nature of Indwelling Sin With Murderous Intent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 How Sin Works in Our Souls Soul Surgery. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Preparing for Mortification Transforming Grace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 The Power of the Gospel Crucified with Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 How the Cross Kills Sin Empowered by the Spirit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 His Role and Ours The Weapons of War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93 Meditation and Prayer

Appendix 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Does Romans 7:14–25 Describe a Believer? Appendix 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 Further Reading Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108 Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 About Cruciform Press. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112

One

KILLING SIN

The Definition of Mortification

Cory Byrne was showing off his pet. Draped over his neck and shoulders was his nine-foot-long, twenty-fivepound boa constrictor. To the horror of a watching friend, the reptile’s large, lumbering coils began to tighten around its owner like a noose. Slowly, irresistibly, the great snake squeezed Cory’s life away. His air supply was cut off. His face turned red and he passed out. Unable to remove the snake by herself, Cory’s friend called for emergency help. But several hours later Cory died in a local hospital. Some animals cannot be tamed. You may call a snake your pet and give it a cute name, but that doesn’t take the wild out of it. No matter how long you’ve housed, cared for, and fed a boa constrictor, it may still turn on you. After all, it is still a snake. It is much the same with sin. You may cuddle sin like a pet, but that doesn’t take the wild out of it or make it less dangerous. Evil cannot be domesticated. Sin is poised to attack your faith at any moment. Sometimes it bares its fangs and strikes in a surprise attack. Sometimes it is cunning enough to play dead and subtle enough to pose

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Licensed to Kill

as something good. But either way, sin is wired to kill. Slowly, cleverly, when you’re not paying attention, sin will squeeze the faith, love, and holiness right out of you. This is the nature of sin. Left unchecked, it always destroys. Sin’s hostility is both unchanging and fatal. Sin defiles the human conscience, hijacks human relationships, and weighs down the world with brutality and injustice. Worst of all, sin creates a gulf between us and God. Our intention towards sin must therefore mirror its hostile intentions towards us: death and destruction. This was precisely Paul’s point when he wrote, “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Or in the words of seventeenth-century pastor John Owen, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”1 Theologians of past generations, following Romans 8:13 in the KJV (“if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body”), called the duty of killing sin mortification. We do not often use the word mortification today. When we do, we usually mean humiliation. If I say, “Michelle was mortified,” I mean that she was really embarrassed about something. But Paul isn’t talking about being embarrassed. When he commands us to “mortify the deeds of the body” he has one thing in mind: killing sin. That’s what this book is about. Licensed to Kill is intended to serve you as a field manual for mortifying sin. But this isn’t the kind of fieldmanual a backpacker or naturalist might carry. There is nothing so tame as bird-watching or collecting butterflies in the pages that follow. This is more like the field-manual

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Killing Sin

of a covert intelligence agent. The context is war and the goal is survival. Kill or be killed. What we need is detailed instruction on surviving a dangerous assignment while in aggressive and hostile enemy territory. With that aim in mind, each chapter of this book will: • address an important aspect of this gritty but necessary business of killing sin; • explore a key passage from Scripture about mortification; • and conclude with a series of “Examine and Apply” questions . In this first chapter we will define and clarify what mortification actually is by setting it in contrast with what it is not.

Mortification Is About Indwelling Sin, Not the Physical Body
Some people associate mortification with the medieval Roman Catholic practice of “mortification of the flesh,” which employed ascetic techniques such as selfflagellation and wearing rough clothing. Others equate mortification with less severe forms of asceticism, prescribing vows of fasting, solitude, poverty, or celibacy as the path for fighting sin—as if food, companionship, possessions, or sex were evils in themselves. But Scripture cautions against this approach to spirituality. Paul alerts us to the danger of false teachers

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Licensed to Kill

who “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:3). In another passage, he warns against those who say, “‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’” with the goal of promoting “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” (Colossians 2:21–23). These people advocate spiritual advancement through a lifestyle of bodily renunciation. But Christianity is not against the body. As C. S. Lewis said, Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body— which believes that matter is good, that God himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. 2 No, our physical bodies are not evil. God made the body and sent his Son to redeem it. What, then, does Paul mean when he says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13)? By “the flesh,” Paul doesn’t mean the physical body, but indwelling sin, the sinful disposition of the fallen human nature. By “deeds of the body,” he doesn’t mean all the deeds of the body, but those that are sinful. This is the obvious interpretation when we compare Romans 8:13 with two other verses. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual

10

Killing Sin

immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” This list of sins clarifies that when Paul says we should put to death “what is earthly in you,” he means sinful deeds and desires. This interpretation is even clearer in Galatians 5:24, which describes our relationship to sin in terms of crucifixion. We’ll take a closer look at why Paul compares mortification to crucifixion in chapter 7, but for now notice what he says is crucified: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” So, “the flesh” is our fallen and sinful disposition towards evil, which has passions that war against the desires of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), and those desires must be killed. The focus of mortification, then, is not our physical body, but our sinful desires and the sinful deeds they produce.

Mortification Targets the Heart, Not Just Behavior
If we want to kill sin, we must aim at the right target. That target is not merely bad behavior but the sinful desires of the heart that produce the behavior. Mortifying sin will certainly bring about changes in what we say and do, but we need more than external reformation. Many people change their behavior without changing their heart to any significant degree. But Jesus is concerned about the root and motivation of sinful behavior—our drives and desires—not simply the behavior itself. For example, Jesus denounced the most religious people of his day, the Pharisees, for their externalism and

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Licensed to Kill

hypocrisy. He said that they were “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:2728). You can’t always tell what’s going on in the heart by looking at behavior. Sometimes we present a fine moral exterior that actually conceals inward evil and corruption. This emphasis on the heart means that we must be careful in our assumptions about sin, whether our own sins or the sins of others. We should not assume that the lack of certain behaviors means that sin is mortified or the heart is pure. Just because someone is no longer given to certain kinds of sins is no indication that his heart has been changed. John, for example is enslaved to food. On the surface, this is a sin of the appetites, the sin of gluttony. John may become self-disciplined through diet and exercise, and lose a lot of weight, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the deeper root of sin has been mortified in his heart. For John may still be bound to the sin of selfishness. Once his sin took the form of overeating. Now it may take the form of vanity and an over-concern about appearance. The expression of sin was pruned away in one area, but because the root was left intact, a different expression simply grew up in another location. Here is another example. Jennifer never indulges in angry outbursts or vindictive behavior. She appears to be as calm as a still lake on a cool, cloudless day. If you met her, you would think: “Wow. She is really peaceful—like Jesus.” But those who know her well understand that

12

Killing Sin

this peaceful exterior is due to her placid personality, not any particular working of grace in her heart. While Jennifer appears calm and never struggles with anger, the truth is that she frequently falls prey to fear, anxiety, and cowardice. She never gets mad at anyone, but neither does she confront others when she needs to. Her life is a web of codependent relationships, and she is the enabler. 3 You see, sin expresses itself in different people in different ways. That’s why measuring external behavior in one area alone simply isn’t enough to determine the state of one’s heart. The only way to kill sin is to mortify the roots of sin in the motives, desires, and drives of the heart. But to detect these desires we have to look comprehensively at our lives. You can’t measure holiness by simply taking one or two slices of behavioral patterns. In the two examples above, if you only focused on behavior in one area of John or Jennifer’s life, you could easily be misled. You could think, “here is a tree that produces only good fruit.” But that would be a false assessment, based on a surface judgment. We simply have to dig deeper. And one of the aims of this book is to help us with that task. So, mortifying sin is not merely changing behavior, but rather addressing sinful desires in the heart. But how are sinful desires weakened? Think for a moment about the act of killing. How do you kill something? To make this more palatable, let’s consider snakes again! There are lots of ways to kill a snake. You can crush it with a rock, starve it, burn it, drown it, or chop off its hideous little head. Choose your favorite method, but what you’re essentially doing

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Licensed to Kill

in each is depriving the snake of something it needs to live—be it brains, food, air, or a hospitable environment. That’s what we have to do with sin in the heart. We have to weaken sin by taking away the things that give it strength, by depriving it of food and air, as it were. This means that one of the most practical ways to kill sin is to quit giving it opportunities to thrive: “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14b). We’ll return to this topic in the next chapter.

Mortification Leads to Progressive Holiness, Not Sinlessness
What is the goal of mortification? What does “kill sin” actually mean? It’s an important question, because our expectations ought to be aligned with what God intends and what Scripture promises. If we aim too low, we will dishonor God and regularly miss out on important opportunities for growth in holiness. If we demand more of the process of mortification than the Bible says we can expect, we set ourselves up for discouragement and defeat. The goal of mortification is a life of genuine holiness that results from the gradual weakening of sin’s influence in our hearts and lives. Notice that this is clearly different from the total removal of sin from our hearts. Do not be mistaken: mortification does not produce perfection in this life. Of course, we desire sinless perfection, and we should. And the Lord has purchased this for us. Someday we will be like him, conformed to his image in every way

14

Killing Sin

(Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2). But while perfection is our ultimate desire, we will not attain it this side of glory. We will contend against indwelling sin all our days in this life (Romans 7:14–25). This means that life on earth is marked by warfare: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). We are engaged in a lifelong battle. This reality shouldn’t discourage us, but it should make us vigilant. Imagine you are a foot soldier at war in enemy territory. Your squadron faces daily skirmishes against enemy soldiers who are experts in guerrilla warfare. Though the fight is brutal and fierce, you know you are on the winning side. Victory is on the horizon. This confidence keeps you from losing hope. But the daily danger keeps you from dropping your guard. So you study the strategies of your enemy. You watch the perimeter of your base. You maintain the best defenses possible. You keep yourself always armed for battle. This is how we must engage in the war against sin. We need to study the strategies of our enemy. We need to know ourselves and our weaknesses. And we must always be armed with our spiritual weapons. So when you see an exhortation to “kill sin,” resist any impulse to think you can deal a once-and-for-all death blow to your sinful nature. Mortification is an umbrella term for a whole range of activities designed to gradually weaken the power of sin in your life — the range of activities we will spend the rest of this book examining.

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Licensed to Kill

Mortification Is for Believers, Not Unbelievers
You might expect Jesus to require more of unbelievers than he does believers. But here, as in so many other areas, the Lord turns our expectations upside down. He invites non-Christians to come to him, and offers them rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28–30). But to us, we who claim to love and follow him, Jesus demands drastic measures in dealing with our sin. Paul’s teaching reflects the same emphasis. The scriptural commands to put sin to death are always addressed to those who already believe in Jesus. This tells us two things. First, as we saw above, Christians still have to deal with sin. The Bible holds out no illusions of moral perfection in this life. But second, this underscores the truth that we cannot grow in holiness apart from the power of Christ that is ours through salvation. None of us can kill sin on our own. Jesus doesn’t call us to become holy prior to saving us by his grace, because we can’t be holy without his grace. The only way to kill sin is through faith in Christ and the power of the Spirit. If we fail to remember this, we will try to turn mortification into a means of earning salvation—even though we are Christians. This reverses the order of the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not “kill your sin and you will be accepted,” but “God accepts you through faith in Christ alone, so pursue holiness in the power and joy of his acceptance.” Putting sin to death is the duty of every Christian, but no one can become a Christian through mortifica-

16

Killing Sin

tion. The only sins we can kill are the sins that have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus. Owen said, “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.”4 To attempt to kill sin without Christ will only delude us and harden us further in our sins. The first priority in dealing with sin is to look to the crucified Savior, Jesus Christ. In one of the most interesting stories in the Old Testament, the newly rescued people of Israel sinned by murmuring against God and his servant Moses. Their unprovoked sin was so evil that the Lord judged them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp. These “fiery serpents . . . bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” Then the people came to Moses, confessed their sin, and begged him to ask God to take the snakes away. Moses prayed for the people, and God gave him a strange command: he was to make a serpent from bronze and place it on a pole in the middle of the camp. Then, if someone had been bitten by a snake, he or she only had to look at the bronze snake in order to be healed. The simple act of gazing at the brazen serpent brought life and healing (see Numbers 21:4–9). But more amazing is how Jesus used this story in the New Testament: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). The most important thing to understand in this first chapter is this: before you can kill sin, you have to look to the Lord who was lifted up on the cross for you. You cannot fight sin unless you have found rest in the inex-

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Licensed to Kill

haustible sufficiency of the doing and dying of Jesus Christ in your place. You cannot mortify sin unless that sin has already been nailed to the cross of Christ. There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.

Examine and Apply
1. Are you a genuine Christian? Do you have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ that is characterized by a desire for holiness and a commitment to keep turning from sin? When did you first believe in Jesus? Is it news to you that sin isn’t simply an external behavioral problem, but an internal problem of the heart? Think about your own struggles with sin. Have you been focused on modifying your behavior or changing your deepest desires, drives, and motives? Have you had unrealistic expectations for your Christian life? Have you been expecting to arrive at sinless perfection? How does learning about the ongoing conflict with indwelling sin affect you?

2.

3.

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Two

TOWARD LIFE OR DEATH
Why Sin Must Be Killed

Alone in the Utah wilderness, Aron Ralston was scaling a three-foot-wide slot canyon when he came upon some large boulders wedged into the opening. As he tried to scramble over them, one stone rolled free. Aron fell to the bottom of the slot, the 800-pound rock falling with him. As they landed, the boulder pinned his right hand to the wall. He was out of sight, in a narrow crevice far below ground level, in a 500 square mile national park, and he could not free his hand. No one even knew he had gone climbing that day. Ralston first tried to chip away at the boulder and cliff wall. It didn’t work. His efforts to lift the boulder with his climbing gear also failed. A day passed with no progress, and then another. On day three, Ralston’s food and water ran out. He made a drastic decision: he would cut off his arm. But equipped with only a dull-bladed pocket knife, his initial attempts were unsuccessful.

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On day four, Ralston determined to snap the bones in his arm, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. On day five, he summoned the courage and performed the amputation. First he snapped the radius, then the ulna, then the wrist. Ralston next applied a tourniquet and began cutting through skin, muscle, tissue, and nerve. The excruciating operation took an entire hellish hour. Finally free, Ralston still had to get out of the slot canyon, rappel down a sixtyfive-foot wall, and begin the seventeen-mile hike to his car. Six hours later, after encountering a family of hikers who gave him water and alerted the authorities, he was rescued by a helicopter search team. Aron Ralston encountered one of the worst dilemmas any person could ever face. Passivity would lead to certain death. The only way to live was to take bold and decisive action. Ralston’s decision to amputate his own hand was stark, gruesome, awful. But it was the right decision, the only rational choice under the circumstances. In fact, his decision echoes the kind of ruthless intention Jesus urges us to have when faced with the realities of sin, death, and hell. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes

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you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”(Mark 9:42–48) Sin has placed the human race in a life and death predicament. Left unaddressed, sin always leads to hell. This is the unalterable principle of sin that Jesus explains to his disciples in this passage. Jesus warns against the deadly dangers of sin with the some of the starkest, most gruesome metaphors found in Scripture. He is exhorting his disciples to embrace the most costly sacrifices, the most radical refusals, and the most drastic measures in the fight against sin. He is calling us to a life of holy violence against sin. Perhaps this raises some tensions in your mind. If you are not a believer (and I don’t assume that all readers of this book will be), you might feel a tad confused or even a bit put off by such gruesome imagery. And if you are a Christian, you might read a passage like this, scratch your head, and think, “But I thought we were saved by grace alone, through faith alone. This stuff about ‘cutting of a hand’ and ‘plucking out an eye’ in order to avoid hell sounds more like salvation by works than salvation by grace!” Well, it would be dishonest for me or anyone else to pretend that Jesus’ words are never shocking or offensive. But Jesus loves us enough to offend us with the truth. His warnings about hell do not contradict his consistent emphasis on God’s love and mercy. They demonstrate, instead, just how deep that love is. Nor is Jesus teaching that we are saved by works.

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Jesus is speaking to us in terms of our fallen condition as rebellious human beings who live outside the reign of God’s grace. And he is showing us how sin works and where it inevitably leads for all those who refuse to trust him for eternal life and entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus is calling us to forsake our sins, no matter how dear to our hearts they are, and embrace instead his rule and reign as our true Lord and King. It is true that Jesus saves us by grace alone through faith in his saving work on the cross alone. As he later says to his disciples, he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The ransom payment of his death effectively delivers all believers from the dreadful consequences of sin. No serving or working or striving on our part can earn us merit with God. But genuine faith in Christ’s saving work always sets our feet on the narrow path of holiness and one of the means he uses to help us on this path are vivid warning signs that show us where sin leads for those who don’t stay the path. A wise and careful driver on a winding mountain road will pay close attention to signs warning of steep ledges and falling rocks, and true faith will in like manner take note of the dangers of sin.

The Dangers of Sin
While sin cannot drag a true blood-washed believer in Jesus to hell, the basic lesson Jesus teaches in this passage is vital to the life of faith. Jesus’ words still hold true: sin is out to ruin us, as badly as it can, dragging us as far away from God as it can, in any way that it can. Just as Aron Ralston didn’t decide to sever his own arm until it was

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Toward Life or Death

clear there was no other alternative, so we will not exert holy violence against our sins until we’re convinced that they really are dangerous. We often tolerate anger, avarice, and anxiety in our hearts because we don’t see them the way Jesus does. We claim to believe that sin is an awful thing—after all, we’re good Christians, aren’t we?—yet we conveniently assume that in our special case our transgressions are really nothing more than minor offenses against overly rigid rules, like driving 5 mph over the speed limit. We treat sins like annoying warts—unpleasant, perhaps, but not threatening to a robust spiritual life. Christ, in contrast, considers them cancerous. But everything in our hearts and in our culture tells us the opposite: that sin is no big deal. For many people outside the church this mindset is reinforced by the misguided belief that right and wrong are relative categories. (Although almost everyone, when pressed, will admit that there are some things such as rape, murder, and genocide which are absolutely wrong.) Those who are Christians, on the other hand, sometimes take sin too lightly because they wrongly view grace as a Get-Out-ofJail-Free card. But the Scriptures counter both the false messages of our culture about right and wrong and the misguided logic of our fallen minds about sin and grace. Let’s consider three specific dangers of sin. Sin is deceitful. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Sin portrays itself as something other than what it really is. Sin

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comes to us in disguise. Sin looks satisfying, but hidden beneath the pleasing exterior are death and destruction. Sin is chocolate-covered poison. And, as this passage warns, sin’s deceitfulness puts us in a precarious position. As leprosy damages the nerves, rendering a person incapable of feeling pain, thus tending toward disastrous injuries, so sin deadens our hearts to the warnings of conscience, tending toward the destruction of ourselves and others. Sin is dehumanizing. Sin dismantles human relationships and corrupts the human soul. This is implicit in Scripture, which describes the new creation work of Christ and the Spirit as the restoration of human beings in the image of God. The less we bear the image of God due to the presence of sin, the less human we really are. We call some crimes savage, beastly, and brutal because they are so debased, so inhuman and inhumane, that we have to reach down for words to describe them. Sin dehumanizes us. And this is true for both believers and unbelievers. Sin, wherever it is present, always tends towards the deforming of the divine image within us, the dismantling of our relationships, and the distortion of our souls. The dehumanizing effect of sin is vividly illustrated in C. S. Lewis’s book The Pilgrim’s Regress. In perhaps the most memorable scene in the book, the protagonist, John, discovers a group of disfigured and deformed men. [A]ll seemed to be suffering from some disease of a crumbling and disintegrating kind. . . . It was doubtful whether all the life that pulsated in their bodies was their own: and soon John was certain, for he saw what

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Toward Life or Death

seemed to be a growth on a man’s arm slowly detach itself under his eyes and become a fat reddish creature, separable from the parent body. . . . Once he had seen that, his eyes were opened and he saw the same thing happening all round him, and the whole assembly was but a fountain of writhing and reptilian life quickening as he watched and sprouting out of the human forms. Moving among these tormented men was a woman, a witch “dark, but beautiful,” who carried a cup from which they longed to drink. Her name was Luxuria, the Latin word for self-indulgent sexual desire, one of the traditional seven deadly sins. One young man looked healthy, though there was “an unpleasant suspicion about his fingers—something a little too supple for joints—a little independent of his other movements.” As the witch moved near to him, “the hands shot out to the cup, and the man drew them back again: and the hands went crawling out for the cup a second time, and again the man wrenched them back, and turned his face away.” The witch stood silently before him, saying nothing, “but only holding out the cup and smiling kindly on him with her dark eyes and her dark, red mouth.” When he continued to refuse the drink, she began to walk away. But at the first step she took, the young man gave a sob and his hands flew out and grabbed the cup and he buried his head in it: and when she took it from his lips, clung to it as a drowning man to a piece of wood. But at last he sank down in the swamp with a groan.

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Licensed to Kill

And the worms where there should have been fingers were unmistakable. Lewis’s comment on this gruesome scene is telling: “Lechery means not simply forbidden pleasure but loss of the man’s unity.”6 Sin divides our hearts, disintegrates our souls, and disfigures the image of God within us. When we choose to sin, we think it will make us feel happy, alive, and whole. We are reluctant to reject any possible satisfaction, no matter how illusory. But choosing sin will never make us whole. Sin only makes us less human, less ourselves, less what God intended us to be. Sin is damning. Sin’s greatest danger is its threat to the eternal souls of the unsaved. As Scripture so often warns, sin leads to death, judgment, and eternal punishment in hell. The doctrine of hell is not popular today, but Jesus spoke unequivocally about it. His words in this passage teach us three things about hell. Hell is a fate worse than death. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (v 42). To be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck is a death sentence. But Jesus says it would be better to receive such a death sentence than the fate which awaits those who cause a believing child to sin. So, whatever hell is, it is worse than death. Hell is the final destiny of those who refuse Jesus’ terms of discipleship and fail to enter into eternal life in the kingdom of God. This is clear from the contrast

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Toward Life or Death

between hell and life in verses 43 and 45, and the contrast between hell and the kingdom of God in verse 47. There are only two possible destinies: life or death; the kingdom of God or destruction; heaven or hell. Hell involves both painful and eternal punishment. This is evident from the phrase “unquenchable fire” in verse 43, as well as the vivid imagery of verse 48: “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This is a quotation from Isaiah 66:24, which describes God’s future judgment of the wicked with an allusion to the Valley of Hinnom. The prophets of the Old Testament declared God’s judgment against the Valley of Hinnom because that was where the idolatrous people of Israel sacrificed their children by fire to the god Molech. Eventually, the Valley of Hinnom (or gehenna, the Greek word for hell used in this passage) was equated with God’s final judgment of the wicked, where the fires will never stop burning and the maggots will never stop feeding. This imagery tells us something about the conditions of hell. Externally, fire burns and consumes, disintegrates and destroys, while the worm symbolizes the internal condition of the condemned person. The damned not only will be eternally consumed by the fires of God’s unmitigated judgment, they will be everlastingly devoured by the gnawing pain of their sinful cravings and the torments of their self-condemning consciences. “Not only will the unbeliever be in hell, but hell will be in him, too.”7 This is frightening imagery that should cause us to both weep and fear. Jesus uses these images to portray the severity of eternal judgment. To refuse his forgive-

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Licensed to Kill

ness, spurn his words, and disdain his claims is to choose for our eternal destiny unending punishment under the righteous judgment and wrath of God. Jesus doesn’t spare us this knowledge any more than a good oncologist spares her patient the grim prognosis of cancer. But there is mercy in Jesus’ words, for the cancer of sin that leads to eternal death can be removed.

Drastic Measures Required
Because Jesus understands the dangers of sin, he urges us to be ruthless with it in our lives. He says that we should cut off our hands, cut off our feet, and pluck out our eyes if these organs cause us to sin. Some people have mistaken Jesus’ hyperbole as a call for literal self-mutilation. But we can reject that interpretation with confidence because Jesus elsewhere makes it clear that our problem lies in the heart (e.g., Mark 7:20–23). Pulling out an eye won’t cure a lust problem because adultery and sexual immorality proceed from the heart. No, Jesus is calling for mortification, not mutilation. But this still sounds drastic, especially to modern people who prize personal autonomy and individual freedom. In fact, even some religious people react negatively to the idea that Jesus could be so severe in dealing with sin. Several years ago, a friend of mine preached a message on mortifying sin. After the sermon, a woman in the church told him that she didn’t like the sermon and had no intention of applying it. He thought she must have misunderstood, so he began to clarify what he meant by mortification. But as he clarified, she confirmed that she had, in fact, understood him and

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Toward Life or Death

would not be mortifying sin! “I’m not going to do that!” she said with finality. She left the church and began attending another church in the same town. Her reaction wasn’t that different from the typical response of an unbeliever who resists Jesus’ moral demands because they seem overly restrictive. But these reactions underestimate the deadliness of sin. Sin, like a cancer, eats away at our hearts and souls, rendering us incapable of receiving God’s love for us or loving him and others in return. Sin leads to hell in the same way that melanoma leads to death. This is why Scripture insists that salvation involves not only forgiveness for sin but also freedom from sin. We are called to resist and renounce sin because sin is a kind of slavery, a slavery leading to death (see Romans 6:15–23). But Christ came to rescue us from slavery to sin and the death to which it leads. That’s why both Jesus and Paul tell us to mortify it, to cut it off, to put it to death: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13). This statement draws motivational force from the surrounding context. As believers, we are in Christ Jesus, and have therefore been delivered from condemnation and set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-3). We have also been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (v 9), who will someday give life to our mortal bodies (v 11). So the call to mortify sin is framed by the reality of salvation from the condemnation of sin (in the past) and the

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confident expectation of resurrection life (in the future). These realities do not nullify the demand to mortify sin. No, the certainties of our past justification and our future glorification empower us for present sanctification. This is how grace empowers mortification. (We will return to this again in chapter six).

Holy Violence Against Sin
The Bible is never casual toward sin. Rather, Scripture urges what the Puritans called a “holy violence” against sin in all its varied forms. What does this holy violence against sin look like? It begins with a wartime mentality, an Aron Ralston kind of ruthlessness toward evil, a mindset that takes biblical warnings and demands seriously. There are three specific forms this holy violence against sin should take in our lives. We should be putting sin to death in all areas of our lives, not just some areas. This is one of the tests of our sincerity. Are we committed to obedience in all areas of life? Sometimes we are selective in mortifying sin. We kill most of our sins, but not all of them. We spare the respectable sins that most people overlook or the dark sins that dwell deep in our hearts. We quickly settle for partial obedience. Maybe you are ruthless in dealing with lust, but are you also seeking to mortify your anger problem? Ask the Spirit to examine your heart, to show you anything that grieves his heart or quenches his influence. Then set yourself to mortify all your sins, not only the obvious or easy ones. We should give no opportunity to sin. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans

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13:14). There are some things we must not do and some places we must not go if we are to guard ourselves against sin. For one of my friends, this means never drinking alcohol. For him, the temptation to drunkenness is too strong. For others, it means no unprotected time on the Internet, lest they fall into pornography. In order to apply this command, you have to study your heart and know your unique temptations. We should reject the first solicitations of sin. This means saying no to temptation immediately. We must not pause to consider whether we will give in, for if we do our resolve will weaken. Eventually we will fall. Which fire is harder to extinguish, the flicker of a match or the blaze of a forest fire? Fires start small, then get bigger. “Rise mightily against the first sign of sin. Do not allow it to gain the smallest ground.”8 The promises of grace and salvation made to sinners in Scripture are great. But they are promises made to those who believe and repent. God’s purpose is not only to save us from the penalty of our sins but to actually deliver us from sin’s power and pollution. To be sure, this deliverance is a gradual process that takes place over time, amid many failures and setbacks. We are not yet fully redeemed. Sinful flesh still wages war against the soul. But though grace gives peace to sinners, it does not make peace with their sins. It rather calls us to arms and gives us the unceasing mandate of mortifying sin. Because turning from sin really is a matter of life and death. Jesus tells us that it is better to lose a hand or an eye than for one’s whole body to be thrown into hell. But on

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the cross, Jesus himself, body and soul, was “thrown into hell” for us. He absorbed the wrath we deserved in order to free us from both the curse and captivity of sin. Our only hope of turning from sin is in turning to Jesus, who became sin for us. The only reason we can wage war on sin with holy violence is because Christ himself suffered the violence of the cross for us. The only way to escape hell is to trust in the one who took hell in our place.

Examine and Apply
Do you find Jesus’ words about dealing with sin shocking? Do you find them offensive? 2. Are you sufficiently aware of the dangers of sin? Do you have a healthy fear of God and eternal punishment? If you are a believer, have you developed an unhealthy Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card mentality about grace? 3. As you examine your life, do you see evidences that you have been deceived by sin? 4. Have you witnessed the dehumanizing effects of sin in your life and relationships? 5. Is your life characterized by holy violence against sin? Has it ever been characterized by holy violence against sin? Why did that end? How could it begin again? 6. Are there any sins you have left untouched? Are you frequently yielding to the solicitations of sin? Where in your life are you giving sin an opportunity? 1.

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Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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GRIEVING, HOPE AND SOLACE
When a Loved One Dies in Christ
Albert N. Martin Cruciform Press | Released August, 2011

To the members and friends of Trinity Baptist Church who, as my “forever family,” wept with me during my long night of weeping, and who have rejoiced with me in my extended morning of joy. – Albert N. Martin

© 2011 by Albert N. Martin. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

“Albert N. Martin is a seasoned pastor, skilled teacher, and gifted writer who has given us a priceless treasure in this book. The sobering reality is that not a one of us is exempt from facing death. We are constantly confronted with the loss of loved ones at every turn in life. With this in mind, here is a book that walks us through the entire grieving process of death from an intensely biblical perspective. All who read these pages will, unquestionably, be pointed to Christ and find themselves greatly helped.” Steven J. Lawson, Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, AL “Al Martin weaves together personal tenderness and biblical teaching in this sweet book of comfort. He lifts up our minds to heaven to see the glory of the Redeemer and His beautified bride. He also brings insight and consolation to our experience here on earth. What a blessed gift to give to a grieving friend! Buy it and give it away, but make sure to get a copy for yourself too. We can never be too prepared for the trial of losing a loved one.” Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI “Occasionally, serendipitously, we stumble upon a rare finding: turning the corner and being met by a glorious moonrise, discovering a painter or musician who touches us in the deepest recesses of our being, or reading a special book. This little book by Pastor Al Martin has been such an experience for me; written from profound biblical insight, tested by experience, Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ is a delightful, edifying book you will want to read and re-read. Whether you are a pastor or counselor, one who is experiencing the pangs of grief, or a member of the church who wants to be useful to others, you need to read this book. Of particular use to me is how the book helps one to train his mind and emotions for the ‘rough door of death.’” Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., PhD, President, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Taylors, SC

“This tender book by a much-loved pastor, written after the death of his beloved wife, offers comfort to those in tears. Even our grieving should be disciplined by Scripture and governed by the motive to glorify God. Here we have a rare guidebook to teach us how to grieve with godliness. It is relevant to us all — if not for today, then no doubt for tomorrow.” Maurice Roberts, Minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, Scotland; author of numerous books, former editor of Banner of Truth magazine “For more than 50 years, Albert N. Martin has preached the Word of God with power. Now he does it in print. Nowhere in life is the truth of the gospel more real than when a loved one dies in Christ. That time, above all other times, is when the believer needs to experience the consolation of Christ in the gospel. In this tender, biblical, experiential, and even evangelistic book, Albert Martin brings his readers into a wonderful encounter with the Lord Jesus. He uses Scripture, pastoral wisdom, and the experience of his dear wife’s death to show believers how God sustains his grieving saints. This is a theologically solid and practically valuable little book.” Pastor Brian Borgman, Grace Community Church, Minden, NV, author of Feelings and Faith (Crossway) “I am thankful that Cruciform Press has undertaken the project of printing materials that flow from the wealth of experience that Dr. Albert N. Martin acquired from his nearly half a century of faithful and richly God-blessed pastoral ministry in one congregation in New Jersey. It is rare, indeed, to receive the benefit of that kind of ministerial understanding and wisdom. “In this book, Dr. Martin combines an understanding of the best of theology and biblical exegesis with all the pathos that a deeply sensitive redeemed man has as he experiences the death of a much-loved spouse. Channel that through the mind and heart of a pastor who senses his divine commission to minister to others what the Lord has taught him in the crucible of painful human experience,

and you will have the essence of this precious volume. For pastors and others who counsel, and for those who are going through bereavement themselves, here is balm of Gilead that has its source in the all-wise Father, the Wonderful Counselor, Jesus Christ, and the unique Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Read it to learn, to weep, and to rejoice in the great victory of the death-Conquering Savior!” Rev. William Shishko, pastor, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, NY “Pastor Martin’s instruction will enable you to grieve with overcoming faith, to experience the comfort of our triumphant Savior, and to turn the doctrines of the gospel into the victory of resurrection life, hope, and joy. Thank you, Pastor Martin, for instructing us how to grieve well in the Lord.” Alan Dunn, Pastor, Grace Covenant Baptist Church, Flemington, NJ “Combining simple exposition of important biblical passages with practical application and personal anecdotes, Pastor Martin has with the Lord’s help compounded a genuine balm for the wounded spirits of fellow sufferers. Here you will not find pious platitudes but solid evangelical truth delivered in an intensely personal manner. I recommend it heartily with prayers that the God of all comfort will augment the hope of his saints and introduce others to the risen Lord and Savior who alone is able to comfort them, too.” D. Scott Meadows, Pastor, Calvary Baptist , Exeter, NH “Pastor Martin reminds us that the death of a loved one is not just the end of an earthly course but also a beginning, both for the departed loved one and for ourselves. This is a book full of encouragement and sound counsel. In reading it and meditating on its contents, you will be greatly blessed.” Dr. Robert P. Martin, Emmanuel Reformed Baptist Church, Seattle, WA

Table of Contents
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Part One: Foundations One Foundational Perspectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Two Foundational Principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Part Two: The Intermediate State Three We Are Endowed with Moral Perfection . . . 31 Four We Enter Christ’s Presence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Five We Enter the Company of Saints . . . . . . . . . . 51 Six We Enter the Promised Rest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Part Three: Focal Points for Biblical Grieving Seven What Jesus Has Gained . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Eight What Our Loved One Has Gained . . . . . . . . 75 Nine The Shared Hope of Christians . . . . . . . . . . . . 79 Ten God’s Purposes in Us through This Death. . . 85 Eleven What We Have Gained . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91 Part Four: Encouragement Twelve A Word to the Christian Reader . . . . . . . . . . . 99 Thirteen A Word to the Non-Christian Reader . . . . . 107 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

PREFACE
The Rough Door of Death

It was an ominous day in September of 1998. Marilyn, at that time my wife of 42 years, had just been diagnosed with cancer. That diagnosis was followed by six years of scans, radiation, surgery, and multiple regimens of chemotherapy. God was pleased to use these means to add six more years to Marilyn’s earthly pilgrimage. After being in a coma for three days, on September 20, 2004, at 6:20 a.m., just as the sun was rising, Marilyn died. I saw and heard her expel her last breath. Although in many ways she had been taken from me incrementally during her battle with that wretched disease, the reality of the finality of death and the radical separation it effects swept over me. A few moments later, as I picked up her lifeless body, I found myself asking the question—What precisely has just happened to Marilyn? What has she experienced, and what is she experiencing now? Immediately I knew that if I would grieve as I ought, I had to be able to answer that question out of the Scriptures with absolute certainty.

7

Grieving, Hope and Solace

I had experienced much grief and shed many tears during those six years as my wife declined from a beautiful, youthful, healthy, and active 73-year-old woman to a bed-ridden invalid in a coma. Yet, when she actually died, I instinctively knew that I was now confronting grief of a new kind and of a greatly increased measure. With that realization there was born in my heart a passion that, just as I was being called upon to enter a new dimension of Christian experience, I would, by the grace of God, glorify him in that new experience. I felt very keenly the pressure of 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [including grieving the loss of a godly wife], do all to the glory of God.” This is a command, a positive injunction. There is also a negative directive concerning grieving found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, a directive given to the people of God that we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” I have been a pastor and a preacher my entire adult life, having the inestimable privilege of preaching and teaching God’s Word on thousands of occasions. Indeed, the preparation and delivery of sermons has taken up a substantial portion of almost every week of my life for some 50 years. Much of my own spiritual life has been both shaped and worked out through this regular discipline and privilege of prayer, study, and preparation. I make note of this so the reader will understand when I say that this book was born from sermons—

8

Preface

sermons which were themselves born out of my own experiences in the wake of Marilyn’s death. I desperately needed clarity and comfort for my own soul, so I sought it where I knew it would be found, in the infallible words of Holy Scripture and in prayer. I desperately wanted, by God’s grace, to study and learn what it means to grieve a lost loved one in Christ to the glory of God, to carry that out in my own life, and to share what I was learning with others. And so it was that four weeks after Marilyn’s death, I stood before the congregation of Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey (the sphere of my pastoral labors for 46 years), and began to preach a series of sermons that came to form the basis for the first six chapters of this book (a second series of sermons, which forms Part Three of this book, would come later). I had preached on suffering many times before, as well as on death and grieving and numerous related subjects. But now I was preaching from a new perspective—the perspective of a man who has held his wife’s dead body in his arms. These were the sermons borne out of my grief, my tears, my travails, my prayers, and my concentrated study of God’s Word during the previous four weeks. During that time, I sought to digest as much as can be found in God’s Word regarding the questions that had emerged so alive in my heart at the moment Marilyn died: What precisely had happened to her, where was she now, and what was she experiencing?

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

Those sermons were placed on the Internet, and on the basis of very encouraging feedback, it appears God has used them to strengthen and help a number of his people. In the last few years since Marilyn’s homegoing, as I have had opportunity to minister in many different settings, I have become increasingly convinced that God’s dear people often have fuzzy, imprecise, or even erroneous views of exactly what happens to those who die in Christ. These deficient views rob them of the ability to grieve the death of a loved one to the glory of God. These views also leave them vulnerable to doubts and fears as they contemplate their own inevitable death, should the Lord Jesus delay his coming. It is for the benefit of such, and for the confirmation of the well-instructed, that I offer this book. As I have indicated, the following pages contain the fruit of my honest effort to collate and explain those biblical passages, precepts, and promises that will enable us to grieve to the glory of God and to the benefit of ourselves and others. However, it would be unbiblical and pastorally irresponsible of me to give the impression that all godly grieving is of the same shape and color. Our natural God-given temperament, as well as the circumstances associated with the death of our loved one, will strongly influence how godly grief expresses itself. As the light of Scripture concerning the essential elements of godly grieving passes through the prism of our own God-constructed

10

Preface

individuality, our grief will find expression across a spectrum of colors that will often differ from one grieving soul to another. No one person’s expression of godly grief ought to be seen as the biblical paradigm. The Scripture instructs us, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). If you are reading this book in association with your own grieving process, be very careful how you seek to implement well-intentioned and even possibly helpful counsel. Never allow anything but clear scriptural directors to guide your conscience. The apostle John was given a command to write these words: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13). It is my prayer that God will use these pages to help the people of God to understand those things that make death the doorway into indescribable blessedness for everyone who dies in union with Christ. May the Spirit of God also use these pages in those who are not yet “in Christ.” If you, my dear reader, are such a one, may you be made jealous for the blessedness that can be yours when you die, if you will turn from your sin and flee to Jesus Christ as your only hope of life and salvation. Albert N. Martin Jenison, Michigan 2011

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

Part One

FOUNDATIONS

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One

FOUNDATIONAL PERSPECTIVES

If we will grieve as we ought when death shatters a cherished relationship, we must have a well-grounded and biblically informed understanding of two foundational issues. One issue involves the nature of human beings, and the other the nature of death.

The Dual Nature of Man
According to the Scriptures, human beings are uniquely created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). As such, we are created with two distinct components or entities: bodies, and spirits or souls. Our bodies consist in that part of us that is physical, corporeal, touchable, and visible. Yet we have a second entity that the Bible identifies as our spirits or our souls (for our purposes I will consider these two terms effectively interchangeable). Our souls are that part of us that is non-material, invisible, and truly spiritual. While the Bible everywhere assumes that human

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

beings comprise both bodies and souls, some texts of Scripture would amount to undiluted nonsense if this were not so. For example, Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 we have the record of Paul’s prayer wish for the Thessalonians, in which he states his desire that these believers would be sanctified completely and that their “whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul envisions that at the coming of Christ both their material and immaterial entities would be completely sanctified—that is, made perfectly holy in every respect.

The Essence of Physical Death
In the second place, we must have a biblically framed understanding of the essence of physical death as imposed upon mankind by God . According to the Scriptures, our physical death is nothing less than the radical separation of the two entities that compose us. In the experience of death, the body and the soul, which have been joined in one person from conception, are tragically and completely separated one from the other. James 2:26 contains an unmistakably clear affirmation of this fact. Using the reality of death in human beings to highlight another reality, James writes that “the body apart from the spirit is dead.” James assumes that anyone having any measure of rationality and

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Foundational Perspectives

any contact with biblical revelation would understand from these words that the essence of death involves the separation of the body and the spirit. Even the death of our Lord Jesus involved this radical separation of soul and body. We read in Luke 23:46 that Jesus called out with a loud voice, saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” His human spirit was taken into the presence of the Father, while his lifeless body yet hung upon the cross and was subsequently taken down and buried in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Concerning this separation which is the essence of physical death, two things need to be emphasized, especially in our almost totally secularized, mechanistic, and materialistic age: • Death is unnatural . • The separation of body and spirit, which is the proximate cause of death, is temporary .

Death Is Unnatural
First, we must understand that death is unnatural, the result of sin . Death is not a natural part of life. It is, rather, a violent and unnatural intrusion into human experience. In his very helpful book, The Promise of the Future, Cornelis Venema has written: Contrary to many modern myths about death— that death is a “natural” part of life, the cessation of existence, that there is a natural “dignity” in dying

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well—that the Bible paints its portrait of death with the most stark and sobering of colors. Nowhere in the Bible is death treated as something natural, as something that can easily be domesticated or treated as “a part of life.” No encouragement is given us in the Bible to minimize the terror and fearfulness of death, our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).1 Death in the human race began with the fall into sin. It is the divinely appointed punishment upon mankind’s disobedience in Adam. In Genesis 2:17, Adam is forewarned that if he eats of the forbidden tree, he will surely die. Formed from the dust of the earth and made a living soul through the in-breathing of his Creator, Adam became liable to death through his act of blatant disobedience. One of the more prominent passages in Scripture dealing with the subject of sin and death is Romans 5:12-21. In that passage, sin and death are inseparably linked. Therefore, as we think of the essence of death, that separation of the soul from the body, we must think of it as an unnatural separation of that which constitutes us, in part, as image-bearers of God.

The Separation of Body and Spirit Is Temporary
Second, we must always remember that this separation of the body and the spirit is a temporary reality and

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Foundational Perspectives

experience . All of history is moving to that moment when the Lord Jesus Christ, with the entourage of the hosts of heaven, and accompanied with the voice of the Archangel and the trump of God, will return to this earth in glory and in power. At that time, the souls and bodies of all men will be reunited in the general resurrection and face the subsequent Day of Judgment. Jesus stated this emphatically when he said, “for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). In order to grieve in a God-glorifying manner, we must first of all be clear on this sequence of truths: • We are creatures made in the image of God and composed of two entities—a soul and a body. • Physical death is the radical separation of soul and body. • This tragic and awful rending asunder of soul and spirit in death is both an unnatural event and a temporary experience.

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Two

FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES

We were not made for death. The experience tears us apart, literally so in the case of our own death, and emotionally when the deceased is a loved one. Yet when God allowed death to enter the world he also made provision for us to manage our grief and indeed, to glorify him in it. When my wife died, I wrestled with a burning question—How shall I grieve so as to bring maximum glory to God in the midst of my grief? —and it became clear to me that there were several foundational biblical principles that I had to internalize afresh by means of renewed spiritual disciplines. These principles focus on our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. After all, in Christ, I am no longer obligated to earthly thoughts and emotions, nor should I let them rule me: instead, I can be controlled and therefore contented by the truth of God.

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

Our Thoughts Are Under Our Control
God holds his children responsible for the control of their thoughts at all times. Two texts of Scripture clearly establish this first principle. Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Taking the clear command of this verse seriously, and applying it diligently to our minds, is essential to godly grieving. The verb rendered “think” means to consider, ponder, and force one’s mind to dwell upon the things identified in the text. In other words, you and I are responsible for the direction and focus of our thoughts, even in the midst of the crushing grief precipitated by the death of a dearly loved one. This directive is not suddenly suspended with respect to the man or woman who has been thrust into the cauldron of deep grief. To consider it suspended is not only to reduce our capacity to glorify God, it is to deepen the pain and poverty of our own spiritual and emotional condition. This command, like all others, is for our good. Colossians 3:1-2. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are

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Foundational Principles

on earth.” Once again, we see clearly that we are responsible for the things upon which we set our minds. We are responsible to direct and focus our thoughts upon specifically identified objects, even in the midst of grief and sorrow. In this text those objects are “the things that are above, where Christ is.” The idea here is not that if we truly obey these verses, we will no longer suffer the pain of loss. In my best efforts to fix my thoughts on the things above, I still felt the pain of my wife’s absence. Rather, in the midst of our grief—which can be painful, sorrowful, lengthy, and at times even debilitating—the kind of grieving that brings glory to God nevertheless includes a grace-motivated determination, in obedience to these verses, to direct our thoughts to the things above. This both glorifies God and helps to ease—not eliminate—the pain and sorrow of our grief.

Our Emotions Are Not Paramount
When Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, their emotional constitution, along with all their other faculties and capacities, perfectly reflected that image. Before their fall into sin, all of their emotions were sinless, never moving in any direction that did not fully mirror those of God himself. However, when sin entered the world, the entirety of the human person— including the emotions—was infected with that sin. As fallen creatures, we all feel things we ought not

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to feel, while we feel other things to a degree that we ought not to feel them. Even when we are regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our remaining sin influences the totality of our humanity, including our emotions. As new creatures in Christ, we need to have our emotions informed by the light of the Word of God, the pressure of gospel motives, and the dynamics of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our emotions need objective truth to guide them, and the subjective power of the Holy Spirit must harness and channel them in a godly way. Our current cultural climate affords little help to think biblically about this, so consider three texts of Scripture that prove this point. Ezekiel 24:15-18. God taught the people of Israel a vital lesson through the death of Ezekiel’s wife, by giving Ezekiel what might seem like a strange command not to mourn her loss: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead” (24:15-17a). Ezekiel responds in an amazing way: “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded” (24:18). I cite this text not to suggest that we are not to mourn when we lose a dearly loved one. Rather, I cite it to demonstrate that it is possible for our emotions to be brought under the control of the Word of God.

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Foundational Principles

Ezekiel was able to say, “I did as I was commanded” because he did not regard his natural emotions as having ultimate authority over him. 1 Thessalonians 4:13. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” In light of the death of their loved ones, Paul informs the minds of the Thessalonians so that what they know and believe will regulate and take precedence over their emotions. Paul obviously expects that the Thessalonians will grieve, yet he wants them to grieve in a distinctly Christian manner—one that will be patently different from the way non-Christians grieve. Again, we see that we must not regard our emotions as ultimate. Rather, the objective truth of the Word of God informing the mind regulates the activity of the emotions through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In giving this directive to all God’s people, the Holy Spirit does not insert parentheses, saying “Rejoice, (if you happen to be in a rejoicing mood)” or “Weep (if you happen to be in a weeping mood).” You may find yourself in a very exuberant mood, but when you come in contact with a brother or sister who is legitimately in a state of mourning, what should you do? You should recognize that your own present personal emotional state does not have ultimate authority over you. Rather, in Spirit-empowered self control, you can and should

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

direct your mind to the concerns that brought your brother or sister into a weeping state, and you “weep” with them. The same is true with respect to the mandate to “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” Without question, if we will grieve to the glory of God, we must understand this second foundational principle from the Scriptures: Our emotions were not created by God to have ultimate authority over us. Where we fail in this area, as in any other, our guilt and sin are covered by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Yet the difficulty of this command, and our frequent failure in seeking to obey it, does not alter our calling. We must use the power of the indwelling Spirit to make an ongoing, scripturally directed effort to reign in our emotions.

The Intermediate State Is Real, Yet Temporary
That period of time between the death of one who dies in the Lord and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory has been designated the intermediate state, but we do not know much about it. The Scriptures have much more to say concerning the final, glorified state of believers than they do the intermediate state. In fact, the Christian’s “hope” is always used in reference to the ultimate state of glorification, when our souls will be joined permanently to new, deathless bodies. Although the intermediate state is never identified

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Foundational Principles

as our hope, it always leads to that hope—it always leads necessarily and certainly to the final state. Moreover, there is sufficient biblical information regarding this temporary condition 1) to enable us to face the intermediate state for ourselves with confidence and joy, and 2) to assist us greatly as we grieve over the loss of a loved one. Indeed, it is this information about the intermediate state that largely accounts for our ability to grieve unlike “those who have no hope.” Therefore, the third foundational principle essential to godly grieving is this: We must know and firmly believe what the Scriptures teach concerning the present place and condition of our loved ones who die in the Lord . As I held in my arms the lifeless body of my wife, I asked myself this question: What has happened to her in the few moments that have passed since she breathed her last? The clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding that question profoundly influenced both the nature and the intensity of my subsequent grief. Scripture plainly teaches us four things about the present place and condition of our loved ones who die in the Lord, and we will explore them in Part Two of this book: Starting in the next chapter, we will learn something of the riches that constitute the immediate sequel for one who dies in union with Christ. Immediate sequel. I use the phrase “immediate sequel” quite intentionally. Each of the four things we will consider in the next section of this book become

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the experience of the believer the moment his or her spirit is separated from the body. There is not an instant of intervening time between death and the blessed experience of the four realities we will learn about. Inseparable from the death of every believer in Christ is God’s desire to have that dear child more tangibly near, and when this body of sin has been done away with, nothing stands in the way of God immediately fulfilling that desire. In union with Christ. I use this phrase primarily because I feel the pressure of Revelation 14:13 which says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” That little phrase “in the Lord” is a key phrase in the fully developed New Testament teaching regarding salvation. It underscores the fact that when one is brought to true repentance and faith by the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit, the penitent and believing sinner is brought into a vital and living union with Jesus Christ himself. Hence the terms “in Christ,” “in him,” and “in whom,” that we find scattered throughout the New Testament. Someone has counted more than 150 uses of this terminology in the writings of the apostle Paul alone. The predominance of this set of prepositional phrases underscores the truth stated in Ephesians 1:3 that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” This brief phrase is the most succinct and accurate description of what it means to be a real child of God. 2

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Foundational Principles

To Glorify God
Throughout Marilyn’s lengthy battle with cancer, she and I adopted many little rituals in conjunction with her multiple regimens of chemotherapy, her periodic CT scans, and her regular visits to her oncologist. I will rehearse one such ritual that has great significance in terms of how a spiritually healthy believer anticipates the approach of death. Marilyn and I had hammered out before God some very clear guidelines concerning the point at which we would accept the inevitable (barring a direct miraculous intervention of God) and desist from any further medical treatments. Marilyn had her CT scans taken at a local hospital on a Monday morning. The following day I would drive to the hospital and pick up both the films and the radiologist’s report. I would go out to the parking lot and sit in my car and read that report. Then I would call Marilyn on my cell phone and convey to her what that report revealed. On one particular Tuesday, in March 2004, the pathology report contained both good and bad news. When I called Marilyn and apprised her of that fact, she asked me to give her both the good news and the bad news. The good news was that the nodules in her lungs had not grown. The bad news was that there were now multiple metastases in her liver. When I read that portion of the report to her over the phone, her reflexive response, couched in words I shall never

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Grieving, Hope and Solace

forget, was this: “Well, dear, I am going home.” There was no hand wringing. There was no string of questions concerning God’s right to bring her to this place in her life’s history. Was there sadness in facing the fact that most likely in a few months she would leave me in the condition of a grieving widower? Of course. Was there sadness at the thought of leaving children, grandchildren, and deep earthly friendships and relationships? Of course. However, the overriding reality possessing the soul of that dear woman was the fact that God was going to use metastatic cancer in her liver as the rough door by which she would enter “home.” Marilyn embraced the fact that as surely as it was true for Peter, God had chosen for her “by what kind of death [she] was to glorify God” (John 21:19).

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JUMP TO

Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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INNOCENT BLOOD
Challenging the Powers of Death with the Gospel of Life
John Ensor Cruciform Press | Released September, 2011

To John Cissel. A man of integrity, generosity, and brotherly love. A partner with me in the good works God prepared for us to do together starting twenty years ago. A friend dedicated to the principle that the fragrance of Christ in us should emanate outward as the very aroma of life. Thank you. – John Ensor

© 2011 by John Ensor. All rights reserved. CruciformPress.com | info@CruciformPress.com

“God’s Word tells us to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope within us, and it also tells us that we should do this with gentleness and respect. This book does just that. With decades of experience and true wisdom, John Ensor beautifully shows us how our glorious God delights in our courageous fight for the innocent, and that he commands us to fight, not with the words and weapons of man but with the living and active Gospel of Jesus Christ as we depend on the Holy Spirit to change hearts, renew minds, and protect the innocent—for the sake of the precious innocent of all ages and for the incomparable glory of God for eternity.” Burk Parsons, associate pastor, Saint Andrew’s; Editor, Tabletalk “Innocent Blood brings Christians face to face with the horror of abortion and our responsibility to intervene. Better yet, by showing how our activism is to be motivated and fueled by the gospel, Ensor challenges us to devote our lives to magnifying Jesus Christ through seeking justice for the unborn.” Trevin Wax, author of Counterfeit Gospels and Holy Subversion, editor at LifeWay Christian Resources “Innocent Blood is a powerful indictment of those responsible for the abortion holocaust and those who have not joined in attempts to stop it. The author presents many biblical passages that should constrain our consciences and our actions. There are areas of theology about which sincere Christians can disagree, but this is not one of them. The Scriptures are as clear as they can be that God’s people have the responsibility to stop the shedding of innocent blood.” John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary

“Stellar! John Ensor provides a bridge between the defense of innocent human life and the proclamation of the gospel. His concisely worded thesis is theologically grounded, philosophically sound, and gives pastors the tools to engage the culture on the burning moral question of our day. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!” Scott Klusendorf, Speaker and author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Crossway)

Table of Contents
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Introduction and Summary Chapters Blood-Precious . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Christ Died for the Innocent Blood-Guilt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 God’s Response to the Shedding of Innocent Blood Blood-Atonement. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Christ’s Provision for the Shedding of Innocent Blood Blood-Earnest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Christ’s Courage to Stop the Shedding of Innocent Blood Blood-War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93 Satan’s Plan to Delay the Final Triumph of the Gospel Appendix Six Things You Can Do to Help Save the Innocent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

One Two

Three

Four

Five

I would love to talk with you about the issues this book addresses. Please come ask me a question or comment on my blog posts at: http://InnocentBloodCruciform.tumblr.com – John Ensor

LEST INNOCENT BLOOD BE SHED
Introduction and Summary

This book takes its cue from Deuteronomy 19:7-10. Therefore I command you, You shall set apart three cities. And if the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land that he promised to give to your fathers…then you shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you. Here, God commands his people to take extensive precautions and invest significant effort, even to the point of establishing cities, in order to avoid three terrible results: 1. The shedding of innocent blood 2. The resulting bloodguilt 3. The judgments of the Lord implied in the term bloodguilt

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Innocent Blood

The clear principle set forth in this passage is also developed throughout Scripture by numerous commands and examples—God’s people are called to prevent both the death of innocents and the bloodguilt that results. The purpose of this book is to explore, explain, and urge our obedience to this call. In what ways have God’s people taken this principle to heart and lived it out? Where they have been successful, how did they find the courage to prevent the shedding of innocent blood? These are some of the key questions explored in the following chapters. Finally, at the end of the book, I flip the script. Instead of trying to understand the will of God and calling us to be faithful in it, I look at the matter of shedding innocent blood and bloodguilt from Satan’s perspective. I have never spent much time trying to understand the mind of the Evil One. In doing so here I only seek to be faithful to what God has revealed about our adversary in Scripture on this matter. What I have discovered is sobering, indeed – Satan sees the connection between rescuing the innocent and bringing Good News to the guilty. Most Christians do not. Few of us today even take the time to consider whether such a connection might exist. Too many of us think, or simply assume, that rescuing the innocent and bringing Good News to the guilty are separate issues. Satan knows they are not separate. The people I present in this book know they are distinct issues, but not separable issues. These men and women represent a remarkable Christian heritage, a heritage in which courage is exercised and sacrifice is

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Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

embraced in order to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. My hope is that something in the following pages will spur on courageous, cross-bearing labor—labor that can turn this heritage into a legacy for the next generation.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed
One of the well-marked books in my library is Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The author, Phillip Hallie, writes, “During the four years of the German occupation of France, the village of Le Chambon, with a population of about 3,000 impoverished people, saved the lives of about 5,000 Jewish refugees. Most of them were children.” 1 I read this story for the first time nearly thirty years ago. I recently pulled it off my shelf to reread. I was stunned to see how heavily marked it was in my own handwriting: “Take note!”, “Our moral obligation,” “cf. Proverbs 24,” “Saw themselves as faithful,” “Living out PGS” (Parable of the Good Samaritan). I was digging out of their story something I was also observing in Scripture—there are occasions when courage is required of our faith. As Christians, we all know this in a general way. We love to tell the stories of those who proved faithful to God’s call and gave themselves to courageous living in spite of opposition and want. The men of Issachar are described as those “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). There have always been a few people like these, people who understood the challenges of their own day and how God would have them respond.

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Innocent Blood

The problem with quoting historical examples such as the rescuers of Jews in the village of Le Chambon, is that it is easy to see now what was at stake then. Everyone today can see how the faithful ones back then were marked by their courage. Everyone today can dismiss the moral cowardice and compromise of those who passively accepted what should have been openly and courageously opposed. I do not want to write a book that effectively has me standing on the corner with my arms raised, praying, “I thank you, Father, that I am not like those morally blind and cowardly leaders of the past.” Historical examples only have value if they produce self-examination. So we must ask, what is the inviolable principle that moved the people of Le Chambon to give so much, risk so much, and in some cases lose everything in order to be faithful to God’s command? In what form is this same principle under attack today? How must we fight the same battle as it is being reconstituted on our own watch? In this matter, is our theology and its application truly attuned to the specific circumstances of the present generation? But then we must probe our hearts and our theology further. Do we hold theologically elaborate, wellreasoned positions today that, in truth, simply protect and preserve a job, a position, the status quo? Does the theology that truly controls our life choices and daily actions summon us to cross-bearing labor? Or to something decidedly more self-focused? That is, are we keen to learn from Scripture and history when courage is demanded of our faith?

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Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

My Purpose and My Plea
My purpose in this book is to examine present-day situations in which courage is required of our faith, lest innocent blood be shed. These situations can arise seemingly by happenstance, by an escalation of tensions, or by public policy. My plea is that whenever we encounter such a situation we resolve not to accept it, rationalize it, bury it under allegedly higher priorities, or pretend we do not know it is happening. Instead, like those who came before us and who are commended for their faithfulness, may we fight the shedding of innocent blood with all our moral might and practical effort, on the spot and for the long haul. This plea gathers its force from four convictions: 1. God presents the prevention of the shedding of innocent blood as a matter of highest priority. 2. As Christians, we have accepted a false choice between the temporal value of human life and the eternal value. 3. There is a unique courage that comes from faith. 4. The shedding of innocent blood is and has always been central to the fierce and desperate strategy of the Enemy.

The Priority of Prevention
God always presents the shedding of innocent blood to his people as a matter of the highest priority. It comes to us in a way that knocks us off stride (or ought to). It messes with our schedules. It is arresting. It interrupts our normal

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patterns, at least temporarily. When life-saving actions are required to prevent the shedding of innocent blood, it falls particularly upon us, who believe, to suffer the imposition and take whatever preventive steps are necessary, lest innocent blood be shed and bloodguilt stain us all. Some years ago, rapid spring melting led to massive flooding along the Mississippi in the Quad cities area of Illinois and Iowa. Homes, farmland, livestock, and people were all in danger. My mother called to tell me she was dropping everything to drive west about 150 miles to help fill sandbags. The woman was almost 70! She was not going to be stopped. I thought, “Something bad could happen to her.” Then I reflected on how much Christ had changed her life and realized that this was normative risky behavior for someone who has come to love God and neighbor. If trouble comes by such behavior, it is the kind of trouble that glorifies God and the gospel. She did fine. The kinds of actions needed to preserve human life are interruptive by nature. That is how you can tell in a particular circumstance when someone values life—that person is willing to be interrupted to protect it. In most cases, we can easily tweak and juggle things so that the death of others, or the threat of their death, does not impact us directly. We can maneuver like this because the innocents in danger are often powerless people, marginal actors on the social scene, rarely the kind of people who can force our attention or compel a change of plans. They are hardly ever personal friends or potential partners, contributors, or clients—should these people come into the cross-hairs of death, no word from God is needed to compel us to look out for them.

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This raises a vital point: The commands of Scripture exist that we might be compelled to do what does not come naturally. The innocents whom God has commanded us to care about are precisely the kind of people we are apt to overlook—and would prefer to overlook. The psalmist states plainly, “Maintain the rights of the afflicted and the destitute….Rescue the weak and the needy…deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4). These people have little or no claim on our love or kindness. Their problems are not personal to us. They are usually strangers. But they are personal friends of our God. In their plight they have cried out to God for help. He has heard their cry. In response, God calls us to look for them and drop everything, if need be, to come to their aid. Lest innocent blood be shed.

The False Choice
My second conviction arises out of a false choice I see blowing in the wind. We who love God, cherish the gospel, and affirm the ultimate value of one’s eternal life (soul) must never, never, never neglect life’s temporal value. A biblically based, cross-centered commitment does not lead to a focus on eternal life at the expense of mortal life. It values both, each in their own way. If you see them in an either/or dynamic, consider how this is a false choice. If the shedding of innocent blood is not truly of central concern to us, then neither can the cross of Christ be our supreme concern. After all, what is it that elevates the cross to supreme importance? The shedding of innocent blood.

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This false choice between eternal life and temporal life is not just unbiblical. It is deeply unattractive. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus describes how the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan are all, in turn, confronted by the same instance of innocent blood being shed. The actions of the first two are distasteful, repugnant, offensive to the law of love. Love does more than bemoan murder. It stops it by all practical effort. When we stand witness to people, who claim to love God, ignoring the shedding of innocent blood in favor of “more important” things, Jesus doesn’t want us just to point out that it’s wrong. He wants us to feel something. He wants us to be morally offended. Loving God and loving neighbor are not separate choices. One flows sweetly from the other. Loving my neighbor will always mean a desire to help him or her find the grace of God in all its manifestations. Loving my neighbor will occasionally arrest me, and maybe even require me to help prevent someone from being murdered. Loving God and loving neighbor are never at odds with each other. Those who try to do one at the expense of the other offend both God and neighbor. I hope to prove this.

The Courage That Comes from Faith
The third conviction behind my plea is that the courage needed to oppose, if not stop, the shedding of innocent blood (suffering in the process, if necessary), is not something besides faith or other than faith or in addition to faith. It is a courage that flows from faith and is

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produced by faith. Believing in God works. By this I mean that belief in God produces good works. And one of the good works that faith itself generates is cross-bearing courage to rescue the innocent. This kind of courage, which is actually just faith acting under pressure, is also attractive and winsome to others. Christians down through the ages have known this is true. We write about it all the time. We herald it. We have been wooed and won by those who demonstrate it. When we are not writing or reading real stories of righteous, Godglorifying courage, we are making them up in novels. I dare you to read Hebrews 11:35-38 with fresh eyes and not experience the beauty of courage toward God. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Where does such strength come from? Where for example, did the midwives of Egypt find the courage to defy the law of the land and refuse to shed innocent blood? Where did Rahab find the courage to rescue the spies at risk to her life? Gideon, Samuel, the prophets and others “enforced justice” (Hebrews 11:33). Where

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did they get the courage to do this? “By faith, Rahab… welcomed the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). “Through faith… they enforced justice.” There is a courage required of our faith and supplied through our faith. The reason this is important is that when you are confronted with a situation in which a lack of action will result in the shedding of innocent blood and bloodguilt, you never know if your intervention will succeed or get you in trouble. That is why faith demands courage. Some were enabled to shut the mouths of lions (Hebrews 11:33). Others were sawn in two (Hebrews 11:37). Bad things can happen when you follow Christ. But they are bad things that are good for you. Avoiding them means that good things that are bad for you may be preserved. To me, that appears to be the take-away lesson of Hebrews 11. When you entrust your life to Christ and to his safekeeping, you can afford to risk it. This is why I say that courage is required or demanded of us who have saving faith. Thankfully, looking to God is how God supplies us the courage we need to be faithful. To be precise, it is not that we need faith plus courage. We simply need the courage that faith in God produces. As water can turn to ice, faith in God can turn into life-saving, death-defying action. Lest innocent blood be shed.

The Designs of Our Adversary
The fourth conviction giving rise to my plea comes from a trembling look at the enemy’s plans. Our adversary, the Devil, has a gospel-centered plan as well—he is fully committed to stopping its progress! He must stop the

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spread of the gospel and delay the fulfillment of the Great Commission to delay his own day of judgment (Revelation 12:12). One of his primary weapons of choice is the blunt instrument of child-killing—the most heinous form of the shedding of innocent blood. Look at how Satan has acted down through history. In Egypt. Not knowing whom God had elected to deliver Israel out of bondage, Satan employed the brutal weapon of mass child-killing to try to snuff out the life and work of Moses (Exodus 1). In the Promised Land. Satan enticed Israel into child-sacrifice (Psalm 106: 37-38) in a way that seemed to make God a perverse partner in the offense, for it was done in the name of pleasing God. I suspect Satan was trying to trap God in his righteousness, forcing him to destroy his own people out of his righteous indignation and thus destroy the work of redemption. At the incarnation. The inconsolable mothers of Bethlehem also bear witness that Satan was willing to use the blunt instrument of mass child-killing in his attempt to devour the One Child before he could grow up to rule as both Savior and Lord. In our midst. Satan continues to wield the same weapon today, devouring as many innocents as possible in an attempt to kill those who would otherwise grow up to advance and complete the cause of Christ among every tribe and tongue and nation (Revelation 12:17). So there you go. I have spilled the beans on all my conclusions. I have given you a few of the biblical markers

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that have led me down this path. As this book continues, you will see that I have found both glorious and shameful examples that add light to that path. These examples lead to places that will make you squirm (at least, they made me squirm) and put everything to the test. Will you look at the shedding of innocent blood in our midst today and find the courage, the courage that flows from faith, to run to the point of the spear? That is my invitation to you as you continue with this book.

I would love to talk with you about the issues this book addresses. Please come ask me a question or comment on my blog posts at: http://InnocentBloodCruciform.tumblr.com – John Ensor

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ONE

BLOODPRECIOUS

Christ Died for the Innocent

From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. – Psalm 72:1 There are no important divisions between human beings. The main distinction among people is between those who believe that those in need are as precious as they themselves are, and those who do not believe this. 2 – André Trocmé

The work that Christ accomplished on the cross is far more extensive than we often imagine. Christ did not only die for the guilty. He died for the innocent. Consider Psalm 72. In verse 14, the Psalmist looks to the suffering and death of the innocent and says, “Precious is their blood in his sight.” When blood is used this way in Scripture it refers to human life in the flesh, this temporary phase when our eternal being is housed in a mortal body. That life is precious to God. The same Psalm tells us that God “delivers the needy when he

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calls…He has pity on the weak…and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life” (72:12-14). Christians rightly look to and rely on promises like these from Scripture all the time. So it is only proper to ask, how does God deliver, save, and redeem the lives of people from oppression and violence? The direct means he uses from one situation to the next may vary widely but the unifying factor, the underlying reality that makes it all possible, is the same in each case. God delivers, saves, and redeems, whether temporally or eternally, because of and through the cross. Christ died for the innocent. Think it through with me.

The Power of the Cross for Temporal Salvation
By innocent, I don’t mean sinless before God. All of us are guilty before a holy God. I mean harmless, pure, or free from guilt before our fellow man or the laws of man. Babies and little children come to mind first when we speak of the innocent in this sense; they are harmless and without guile. But adults, too, are called innocent when they have done nothing wrong toward their neighbor. To punish them without due process, or on the basis of a false report, or because they are poor and have no proper defenders, or to please the wealthy or powerful, is to harm the innocent. So we read in Exodus 23:6-7, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” Rather, justice requires judges to acquit the innocent and condemn

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the guilty (Deuteronomy 25:1). And again, “Woe to those who… acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isaiah 5:22-23). And finally, murder itself, since it represents the unlawful taking of human life, is called the shedding of innocent blood. bloodguilt is God’s term of indictment for the shedding of innocent blood, and is usually expressed in Scripture as the “guilt of bloodshed” or the “guilt of innocent blood.” To return to our question, therefore, how does God save the innocent from oppression and violence? The cross is God’s primary means of accomplishing everything in history. All of God’s purposes find their holy impulse emanating from the cross of Christ. Even the goodness and mercy of God that is extended in no small measure to all of creation (this is what theologians call common grace) flows from the cross. All of God’s purposes regarding the weak, the innocent, and the oppressed are connected to the cross and flow from the cross—even if the weak, innocent, and oppressed aren’t Christians and will never become Christians. So, when I say Christ died for the innocent, I mean his death secured gifts of temporal deliverance (that is, in this life) for the weak and the innocent as well as eternal deliverance from our sin before God. Please do not hear me suggesting that the immediate focus of the cross is anything but our guilt before God. The apostle Paul calls it a matter of first importance that we understand “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Christ’s immediate view was suffering the just and full punishment due for each and all of our sins. All I am

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pleading for is that we also see that beyond this reconciling gift of substitutionary atonement, Christ saw multiple other gifts, resplendent in their own way, purchased by his blood. For now, I will just emphasize two of these: a clean conscience and a sacrificial heart. A clean conscience. In paying for our sins, Jesus satisfied the just wrath of a righteous God (Romans 5:9). This satisfaction secured a reconciling peace that flows back and forth between a holy God and those made holy through the work of the cross (Romans 5:1). That means Christ also died in part to cleanse our consciences. To be reconciled to God means we are fully convinced that Christ paid the full price due and that therefore nothing prevents us from drawing near to God (Hebrews 10:22). A sacrificial heart. Christ died to grant us the lifechanging work of the Holy Spirit and the endowment of many gifts that enable us to serve him. When Christ went to the cross, he saw how his death included the gift of regeneration by His Spirit, which would turn our hearts from ones that could care less about our neighbors into ones that are moved to sacrificial and life-preserving work (John 14:12). Christ died to make us look at the Good Samaritan and say, “I will go and do likewise.”

The Examples of Le Chambon and Job
God answered the pleas of women and children in the village of Le Chambon, France, who were fleeing death in the 1940s. He did it by dying on the cross for those in Le Chambon who believed, and by his Spirit turning those believers into death-defying Samaritans. Those innocent

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Blood-Precious

women and children would not have been rescued in 1943 if Christ did not have them also in mind in AD 33. Precious was their blood in his sight, before they were even born. The cross is behind tens of thousands of deliveranceand-rescue stories that have unfolded down through the ages in every culture. Even going back to ancient times, God heard the cries of the poor and rescued the innocent from the wicked in anticipation of his work on the cross. Job said of himself, I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth (29:12-17). The blind need borrowed eyes. The lame need borrowed feet. When you are caught in the fangs of the unrighteous, you will cry out for deliverance and hope that God sends a rescuer. Job was such a rescuer. Job was rich in mercy toward all these people because God was first rich in mercy toward Job. God did this gracious work in Job on behalf of the blind, the lame, and those about to be devoured, in spite of the fact that Job

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too was sinful and under his wrath. Nonetheless, God did this work of grace in and through Job. He did so based on the same work of Christ on the cross that lies at the foundation of our own good works. Do not get hung up on the fact that Job lived thousands of years before Christ. You and I live thousands of years after Christ. For God, time does not only flow in one direction. The cross justifies grace and transforms lives in both directions—after Christ and before Christ. Job (along with Abraham, Moses, David, and others) were saved and transformed by faith in the hope of atonement (19:25-26). We experience the same salvation and transformation by faith in the fulfillment of atonement. Either way we can say that we love our neighbors because Christ first loved us. 3 Telescoping the timing, Job lent his eyes to the blind and his feet to the lame, and he snatched the innocent from the jaws of death, because Christ died on the cross for Job.

Our Superior Position: God’s Valuation of Human Life
In stressing how Christ died for the innocent, I am trying to express the emphasis in Scripture on the value of human life itself. If the Holy Spirit had inspired the writers of Scripture to express emphasis with a yellow highlighter, we would see our first yellow mark early in Genesis: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). God created the earth and the seas, and declared it good (1:10). He created the sun and the moon, each to rule in their own way, and

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called it good (1:18). Then he created man and woman— human life—and he declared the whole package very good. Not until humanity was present in creation did good become very good, and that very is equivalent to a yellow highlighter mark. Human life is what God values most among everything he has made. Jesus said it this way: “You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). “More value” according to whom? Jesus spoke God’s own opinion here— the objective, ultimate truth about the value of human beings. I hope it makes you glad that God values your life as a human being above everything else in creation. It makes me glad. I know it made David very glad because he rejoiced at the thought: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:3-6)

Valued Because We Share His Image
In what sense is mankind crowned with glory and honor? Why are we of much more value than many sparrows? The Christian answer, uniformly affirmed throughout the ages, is that human life is precious to God because we are made in his image. “God created man in his own image,

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in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). This metaphysical assertion—that all people, male and female, are created in God’s own image—explains the entire history of courageous Christianity. It is conceived in the words created in his image. This is what gives human life intrinsic value, not just utilitarian value. Each human life, individually, is more valuable than many sparrows. Abraham believed this. The midwives of Egypt believed this. Rahab believed this. James believed this, which is why he said we must not even curse, let alone kill, our fellow man (James 3:9). Every person commended for their faith and courage in Hebrews 11 believed this. All the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and disciples believed this. Every person you admire for their Christian faith today believes this. If we took this reality to heart, we could end the book here and turn the world upside down.

The Christian Application of Man’s Valuation
The intrinsic value of every human life is the first truth and the primary impulse that explains why Christianity works so hard in the care of human life. Christianity was birthed into the cruelty of pagan Rome where human life was held in low esteem. Violent death was offered as public entertainment. Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were part of the culture. But everywhere Christianity grows, it acts like Job when it comes to the death of innocents. It breaks the fangs of the unrigh-

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teous and makes him drop his prey from his teeth (Job 29:17). Here are just a few examples of how Christians have effected gospel-centered change by responding to the world around them. 4 The young and helpless. Christianity creates orphanages and promotes adoption. In these recent times, Christianity has created the pregnancy-help movement. The elderly and sick. Because life has intrinsic value, not just utilitarian value, Christianity views the elderly and the sick as objects of care rather than as disposable items. So Christianity made taking care of parents in their old age a fundamental exercise of love (1 Timothy 5:8). Christians developed nursing care and hospice care. Christians invented hospitals and created the first emergency hotline. Christian faith drove us to understand disease and look for cures. It has always opposed the policies and practices of human eugenics and euthanasia. The oppressed. The intrinsic value of human life led Christians to improve the rights and dignity of women. It elevates human sexuality and works even today to deliver women and men out of sex trafficking. It decried slavery so hard and so long that institutionalized slavery is now gone forever. Out of the dust of slavery’s collapse, the intrinsic value for human life promoted education for everyone. It demanded fair labor laws and codified human rights in constitutions worldwide. It still does, for human beings made in God’s image are yet oppressed in many parts of the world today. The suffering. Belief in the intrinsic value of human life has created innumerable ministries to the poor, the

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homeless, the alcoholic and drug-addicted, the prostitute, the mentally ill, the blind, refugees fleeing war, and immigrants fleeing poverty. There are many good ministries committed to the various ways in which we might care for the rest of creation, but why has the history of Christianity been so consistently and radically consumed with the welfare of the innocent and helpless? Because our fellow man is more valuable than many sparrows. You may say that much of these good works were motivated by the gospel, a love of Christ and a passion to make his saving grace known throughout the world. I agree! All of these glorious efforts flow from the cross. Indeed, Christ died for the innocent. All of these are part of the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Life Is of God
If the gospel motivates Christians to do good works, what motivated God to bring forth the gospel in the first place? His intrinsic love of human life and his sovereign choice to be glorified in the gift of life. God is life. He breathes “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7) and “he is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:20). He says, “Whoever finds me finds life” (Proverbs 8:35). God gives life. “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). God loves life. He upholds life (Psalm 54:4), preserves life (Genesis 45:5), and restores life (Ruth 4:15). God is “the light of life” (Job 33:30) and the keeper of life

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(Psalm 121:7), the “fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27) and the redeemer of life (Psalm 72:14). Pursuing him is “the path of life” (Psalm 16:11), fearing him prolongs life (Proverbs 10:27), and living in unity before him is “life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3)! Therefore we cry with the psalmist: • • • • Give me life according to your word! (119:25) Give me life according to your promise! (119:154) Give me life according to your rules. (119:156) Give me life according to your steadfast love. (119:159)

Our Common Position: Life Is in the Blood
The well-being of mankind rests upon the truth that because human life is made in God’s image, it is chief among God’s affections when it comes to his creation. This is true despite the fact that we do not know precisely what it means to be made in God’s image. A number of reasonable suggestions have been offered, and I am persuaded that at least part of the answer is found in David’s words, “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3-6). God is sovereign and rightly rules over all things. In creating man in his image, he made us to rule over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28). At the same time, God gave us some common ground with other living creatures, the chicken as well as the lion. Our essential common ground is blood: everything in the animal kingdom has blood. Throughout

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Scripture this touchpoint of common ground—blood—is used to teach about the value of life itself. The first Passover. Just before the exodus, the Israelites were taught to take animal blood, specifically lamb’s blood, and put it on their door frames. This was the blood of the Passover lamb. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The Israelites did as God instructed. The lifeblood of the lamb was of great value. It saved their lives. The sacrificial system. After the exodus, God gave Israel further instructions about the blood of animals. Blood was to be handled with care and respect, as if it were precious. God did this to teach something of great value in the history of redemption. The key passage is in Leviticus 17: “Any one . . . who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (13-14). God thus inculcates into the people of Israel a respect for life. Blood equals life. Have a high regard for blood, God tells the people, even if it is just the blood of a game bird. Notice again the verbal yellow highlight. What God says with emphasis, he says twice: “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.” Human life is treasured above all else in creation, yet it holds in common with all other living animals the treasure of life itself. This common ground is blood. It represents the gift of life.

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JUMP TO

Cruciform Jimmy Davis

“But God... ” Casey Lute

Smooth Stones Joe Coffey

Licensed to Kill Brian G. Hedges

Grieving, Hope and Solace Albert N. Martin

Innocent Blood John Ensor

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