Archive | Grace

Don’t Hold Your Hair Back when You Throw Up – Transparency and the Christian


About the Title

The title of this post may be self-evident to some of you. Others clicked on this post just to know what I mean. The latter is confused by this cultural phrase “Hold your hair back when you throw up.”  What does it mean? It is simple. When girls have too much alcohol to drink, they may throw up (i.e. vomit). In ideal cases, you have a good friend that will come to your rescue and hold your hair back so you don’t get any puke in your hair. It would not only be gross to look at and smell, it would stain your character as others would see that you cannot hold your liquor. If you don’t have that good friend by your side, you have to hold your hair back yourself. Just remember the two main components: throwing up and hair back.

Well . . . What am I doing here? I am encouraging you not to hold your hair back at all. People need to see the gross stuff, the ugly stuff, and the puke . . . in your life. I am getting ahead of myself.

Who Do You think You Are?

An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.” It simply means that who we are is determined by the opinions of others. We are so concerned about what others think about us, that it dominates who we believe we are. This is false.

Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church!”

Do we know who we are? Or do we keep our real selves a secret known only to us? Often we live lives so guarded that we, ourselves, don’t even know who we are. We are so scared of what people will think of us that we hide everything ugly, everything dishonorable, everything that stinks . . . or just all the puke in our hair. We throw up and remove all evidence that it ever happened. We are too scared to be transparent.

Martin Luther On Transparency

Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless. Therefore, when you sin, sin boldly and let it be known (don’t hold your hair back).

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Four Characteristics of Legalism


Legalism is something we all lean toward in one way or another. Humanity has been plagued by this from the very beginning as we see in Job’s friends. Why is this? Well, we like to have everything under control. We don’t like risk. We don’t like it when things get uncomfortable. And showing grace, to ourselves and others, takes the ball out of our court. Rule, laws, and lists of requirements are so much easier than grace and freedom.

These characteristics of legalism that I am going to list here are not to mean that anyone who ever does any of these things is a legalist. Think of legalism as a sliding scale. Some of us practice legalistic tendencies here and there (I know I sure do). Some can find themselves practicing more of these on a regular basis and are more legalistic. Some can be full-blow legalists in all of these areas.

Here are the four characteristics of legalism (and I have more coming):

1. Legalists Condemn People for Minor Sins while their Lives are Filled with Bigger Sins

One time when I was at church, I was fellowshipping with a group of people. A guy came in and had a confused look on his face. We began to talk to him. As it turns out, he had never been in church before and was seeking some help. He began to tell us about his life and his current difficulties and he thought he might find answers in a church. The problem was that as he was telling us his tragic life story, he started letting out f-bombs left and right. People began to leave one by one. The last lady got up and verbally said, “I can’t take this anymore.” She left. It was only he and I left. He was confused. “Where did they all go? Did I do something?” He should have been confused. The Christians departed and left him. Why? Because he cursed. Whether or not cursing is objectively bad is not the issue. The issues is that some people abandoned their obligation for mercy, love, and evangelism because a guy cursed.

Jesus talked about this tendency many times:

Matt. 7:3:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matt. 23:24
You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Legalists are able to ignore their own camel sized sins and complain about your speck sized sin. This is characteristic of a legalist. I ask you this: which is worse, the sin of offensive language or the sin of being without mercy and love?

Book Recommendation: Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

2. They focus on sins of the flesh and ignore the sins of the heart

This is similar to the first, but it needs a category of its own. Legalists are notorious for recognizing sins that can be seen, not the hidden sins of the heart. These sins that can be seen can be called sins of the “flesh” (although Paul has a broader understanding of what “fleshly” means (1 Cor. 3), we will use it in the more narrow sense). Sins of the flesh could include drunkenness, gluttony, fornication, adultery, prostitution, drug abuse, and homosexuality. These are all real sins, some more serious than others, but sins nonetheless. Sins of the heart would include pride, hatred, unforgiveness, bitterness, greed, envy, being without mercy, prejudice, etc. Sins of the flesh quickly deteriorate the body. Sins of the heart quickly deteriorate the soul.

Christ says to the Pharisees (the legalists who focused on the sins of the flesh while ignoring their sins of the heart):

Matt. 23:27
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

And there is the sin of hypocrisy that is always tied to this kind of attitude. Paul follows Christ here in this thought:

Rom. 2:1-3
Therefore, any one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. 2 We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. 3 Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment?

Paul also alludes to this flesh/heart distinction here:

1 Tim. 5:24
The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.

The point is that some people can and do have so many sins in their heart, even though they may not have many sins of the flesh. Sins of the heart are easy to hide. Sins of the flesh are not so easy to hide. Because of this those with sins of the heart normally don’t get a scarlet “A” on their shirt. And because of this, they feel as if they can draw attention to other people’s sins while ignoring their own. How much would the world change if we all walked around with all our sins printed on our shirt. At the very least, humility would abound.

As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither. (Book 3, Part 5)

3. They Separate from You When you Don’t Conform

Legalists are normally separationists when you don’t conform to their demands.

I know a Christian guy who loves the Lord dearly and has a body filled with tattoos. They are all about the Gospel and are designed to walk people through the Bible. Yet his Christian sisters (biological) have not talked to him for more than a decade because they told him to have the tattoos removed (since, to them, it was not Christian to have tattoos). They have separated from him because he did not conform to their standards.

I know a girl who was told by members of her church that she had to quit smoking or she could not come to their Sunday School class anymore. She left, but often tries to call them. These formally good friends won’t talk to her anymore because she smokes and they told her to quit. They said they won’t sit by while she destroys her body.

It is typical among legalists to separate for anything and everything. This is the way it has been from the beginning. These type of people believe that their opinions about your life have authority over your life. If you don’t abide by their demands, they just won’t fellowship with you anymore. In the end, you have to tip-toe around them, letting them know as little about your life and problems as you can in fear that they may demand change or leave.

Book Recommendation: Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

It is little wonder that people sometimes steer clear of Christians. They have been hurt too bad, lost too many friendships and family members to this kind of judgmentalism. I heard about a missionary who was in England attending a missionary conference. The one he was going to was a very conservative Christian conference. But down the street was a liberal missionary conference. When he found out, he bowed his head and in shame went to the liberal conference. Why? Because he wanted to go some place where he could be himself. You really can’t be yourself around legalists. There is too much fear they will judge you. And there is too much fear that they will leave. We don’t like to be left.

4. They would never be called a friend of a sinners

Christ was accused many times of being a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). He hung around tax-gatherers, prostitutes, and drunkards. He did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners (Luke 5:31-32). So who would you expect him to be friends with? It is not as if the Pharisees were righteous and did not need to repent; they just did not recognize it since it is so easy to hide the sins of their heart. If the Pharisees would have recognized their depravity (as some did—John 3ff), then Christ would have come to them . . . and still been a friend of sinners!

I don’t know where I heard this, but, on average, Christians lose all their unbelieving friends within two years of their conversion. My experience says this is true. This is not following Christ’s example. Christ was a friend of the lost. In just about every area, he did what all the legalists thought was taboo. Though Christ would call all to repentance, he would do so at the right time.

Legalists do not have friendships with unbelievers. If they see you hanging out with unbelievers, they will accuse you of the same fleshly sins that they are engaging in or they will say you are condoning their sin by befriending them. At the very least they will say you are “walking the line” of compromise and are sure to give in.

But what the legalist does not realize is this: not only are they following Christ more in befriending sinners (so long as the intension is to be Christ to them), but if they were to come back to the “fold” of the legalist, they would be befriending worse sinners. The only reason Christ did not hang out with the Pharisees is because they did not know how sinful they were and were not falling on their face saying “Have mercy to me, a sinner” (Luke 8:13).

Who do you think Christ would hang around today were he here on earth? Legalists or drunkards and homosexuals? Let me ask you this probing question: Have you ever been accused of being a friend of sinners? If not, why?

Further Reading: “Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism”


7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian

Handling a Depressed Christian

As many of you know, I’ve been depressed for almost five years now. I had a major break in March of 2010. It came out of nowhere and has been a frequent uninvited guest in my home ever since.

I won’t go into it now, but almost seven weeks ago I came out of the depression. I think I know the triggers. But I often tell people not to get too excited. I can never be sure which “me” is going to wake up tomorrow. Will it be joyful me? (who I love) He’s the one who sees life positively and has no time for worry (too busy serving God)? Or will it be broken me (who I hate)? He can’t dwell on anything but the bad and sees no hope in life (and doesn’t even act like there’s a God)? 7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian But while I have my thoughts straight, I’ve been able to dwell on so many positive things. One of these is the subject of this post. I’ve accumulated a list of seven things depressed people (Christian’s especially) are told. They’re meant to help them out of their depression. I’ve even had these things said to me. But these things are wrong.

Please Note: None of these things necessarily come from evil intentions. These come from people who sincerely want you to recover. However, they do come from the evil flesh that dwells in all of us: judgmenalism. I hope this becomes clear as you read.

Further Reading: Dealing With My Depression #1: Muffling Its Voice

“Just Snap Out of It”

I don’t know how many times I said this to my depressed sister before she took her life. “Just snap out of it, Angie.” From my perspective, I thought you could. I thought that being depressed or happy was an act of the will. If you just make the right decision, you can think your way out of it. But more often than not, depression is not an act of the will. It is an interplay between the mind and the brain that you can’t snap out of. Don’t you think that people who are depressed would “Just snap out of it” if it were that easy? Remember, they don’t want to be depressed. It is the worst torture that one can possibly imagine.

“Think Positively”

Again, this might seem right. Please realize that most of the time a depressed person can’t think positively. That’s why they’re depressed. If I were to tell you there’s a giant elephant in your room, would you believe me? What if I said that all you have to do is close your eyes and trust it to be true? You’d probably say, “I can’t!”Telling someone who’s depressed to “think positively” completely misses the problem. They can’t think positively any more than you can believe there’s an elephant in the room. They don’t want to think negatively. They just can’t stop.

Further Reading: Depression – When We Want to Die

“Confess Your Sins”

Trying to find a sin trigger in the life of the depressed is a hard proposition. There may be some evident sin in their lives that they need to deal with, but consider this:

1) Everyone Sins But Not Everyone’s Depressed There is evil in everyone. According to Martin Luther we’re all, simul justus et peccator which is Latin for “at the same time just and sinners.” Additionally, according to the Gospel of John we have to admit to sin in our lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

All to often a lengthy (and often judgmental) assessment of every sin the depressed person has takes place. Once they’re identified they’ll try to get rid of them one by one. This is both impossible and can cause deeper depression. The depressed may believe you and think getting rid of all these sins is the answer. When they realize that this cannot happen this side of heaven, the depression deepens.

2) They Can’t Change the Past Sometimes the sins that led to depression are from a years of lifestyle choices. They build up over the years. It’s usually the little ones that end up getting us. However, bringing this to the conversation with the depressed does little good. They can’t back up and change their choices. If they could, they would.

3) They Already Know They’re Sinners The depressed person likely knows if it’s sin that’s causing their depression. If it’s alcohol, drugs, etc. bringing this up early will only harden the person. It will make them defensive. If sin is causing the depression (and that’s a big “if”) tact and prudence should be used in abundance. This will allow them to recognize their sin without becoming defensive.

“Get On Some Meds Immediately!”

I am no Tom Cruise. I believe that psychiatric medications are often the answer and are a gift of God. I believe that there are many out there who are not taking due to a taboo or stigma attached to them that should be. However, the use of mind altering drugs also needs to be considered very deeply. I also think that they are prescribed too easily without a plan of attack.

Briefly, I believe that some people need to go through the darkness without an immediate way out. Many of the Psalms might not have been written had these drugs been available to David. His ups and downs would have been leveled by a script from the doctor. But we needed David to go through his mental bipolar disorder (if that is what it was). The same might be said of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. He definitely needed to be on something! However, God used his mental anxiety for great things.

Book Suggestion: Genius, Grief, & Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering & Success (Biography of great saints of the past who suffered greatly, but were used greatly.

For some people—as hard as it is to hear—God wants you to go through this darkness. But this is not for everyone. These drugs are a blessing of God when used properly. For some, they can get you over the “hill” of darkness and are only needed for a short time. For others, they are needed permanently for the stability of the mind.

All I am doing is asking you to consider that the depressed person may be a David or a Luther to the church. Don’t immediately demand that they get on these drugs.

“I’ve Been Through Worse”

I had a relative say this to me with absolute resolve and conviction in her voice. She said, “Michael, whatever you have gone through, I have been though worse! So don’t try to give me your sob story.” She meant well, but this is not something to say to a depressed person. It may be true that you have been through worse and been able to get out of it. What you mat not know is that this is meaningless to the depressed for two reasons:

  1. Once you’re in the black hole of depression, the hole itself is the worst thing you’ve gone through. The tragic events that might have brought you there often pale in comparison.
  2. Suffering is relative. There are always going to be people who have it worse than you. This isn’t the issue. It’s how you perceive and internalize your suffering relative to who you were before. For some, the loss of a job can make them suicidal. For others (who live in harsher climates of society) even the loss of a child is expected and absorbed with less depression.

So depression is a very relative thing. Letting people know that you’ve been through worse—while it might be objectively true—can be both unwise and irresponsible. It will only harden the person in their depression.

“God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

This is in my top ten things of what the Bible does not say that Christians often quote as Scripture. There is nowhere in the Bible that says God will not give us more than we can handle. It does say that he will in temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executors. Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt this can be helpful.

“Depression Is a Sin. You Should Have Joy In Your Life”

This always comes from the person who has never experienced real depression. Once you have, you would never say something like this again. Unfortunately, this often comes from those who feel that it’s their job to deliver us from this evil. But is depression a sin? I don’t think so.

Matthew 5:4 says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning should not be thought of as some temporary bout with suffering. It’s not purely circumstantial (like mourning for the death of a loved one). The Greek word for mourn (pentheo) is a present active participle. It is actually the best word to use for “sadness” or “depression.” Christ is saying that those that are always (present, active) sad and down, will be comforted. The comfort, in the context, does not come in this life, but in the life to come.So far from being a sin, depression is often going to be the progressive state of the “blessed.”

How You Bear the Burdens of the Depressed

So, if these are the things you don’t do, what do you do? If you have a loved one who’s depressed, it is hard to handle. It can cause depression in you if you are not careful. All you want to do is solve it. Please understand, it’s not your job to solve the depression. You may be able to be a great influence in getting the depressed to feel better, but God has not given you the responsibility to deliver a loved one from depression. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t make yourself responsible for something you cannot do. Though you may be used by Him to bring the depressed to wholeness, you are not the Holy Spirit.

Most of what you “say” will only cause more depression, as shown above. This was the mistake of Job’s friends. They stayed silent for seven days (Job 2:13). They should have stayed silent for good. After seven days they couldn’t take it any more and made all the mistakes we’ve looked at.

Silence, with your arm around the depressed is the best advice. There may be a time for verbal inquiry, but this needs to come naturally and without judgement. You’re not given a podium to preach to the depressed; you’re given arms to hold them. Even if this doesn’t “work” your goal should not be to bring them out of their depression. Your goal should be to be there for them their entire life if necessary. It is a terrible burden to bear when this is a loved one, I know. But this is how we bear the burdens of the depressed.

“Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.” – Margaret Runbeck

When someone is there for you without all the answers and requiring you to follow their advice “or else…”, you have a true friend. And, unfortunately, these friends have been rare from the beginning of time.

Purchase on Amazon: Now That I’m A Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus

I Can’t Live According to Your Lists


To the legalist, almost everything is black and white. There are no grey areas. The Bible calls these “disputable areas” (Rom. 14:1). The historic church has called them adiaphora. Simply put, grey areas are things of which the Bible does not approve or disapprove that we have cautious freedom to participate in. Legalists love to focus on these grey areas, just waiting to rob you of your freedom. They have their “scruples” and if you don’t live by them, watch out! Their lists are long and varied.

Let me calm down for a moment. All of us have our “scruples,” including you! I remember at seminary one of my professors had problems with mixed bathing (girls and guys swimming together). I had a guy at Credo a couple of day ago whose church believed that men could not have a beard. Three days before, I was with two people who came from a tradition that said they must have a beard! I, personally, have a problem with people who asked for raised hands in church when evangelizing (“I see that hand”). Oh, I have my reasons, but I can’t really justify them as being biblical or the act as sinful. They are just scruples. These are things I don’t like, make me uncomfortable, and make me squirm. But they are things about which the Bible is indifferent.

The lists are long.

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking anti-depressants
  • Smoking
  • Going to the movies (or even having a television)
  • How one dresses
  • Dancing
  • Colorful language
  • Where you go to church
  • When you go to church
  • If you go to church (in this case, people require you to be in a church building once a week—in other words, church is always a building you go to rather than something that you do.
  • Celebrating Halloween
  • Playing Santa Clause with your kids
  • Starting a church in a bar
  • Driving a Camaro (okay, now this one is objectively right!)
  • Having breast implants
  • Wearing make-up
  • Living in a very large house
  • Standing on the side of the road begging for money
  • Seeing nudity (remember, in the Bible lust is the issue, not nudity—there are societies of people who don’t wear much clothing at all)
  • How often one has communion
  • Baptizing in a pool
  • Tattoos
  • Being too involved in politics
  • Not being involved in politics at all!
  • Styles of worship music
  • Eating meat
  • Head coverings
  • Listening to rock and roll

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Why Country Music is So Popular (and What the Church Can Learn From it)


This month was the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. In memorial of this time, I have been catching up on my country music. I had not been able to listen to any country since my dad died. My dad loved country music. I was raised on it. And (even though I know I may lose a lot of readers saying this), I love country music. Hank Jr, George Strait, Tim McGraw, George Jones, Blake Sheldon, and Toby Keith are all good friends who minister to me through this genre of tunes that often baffles me.

Last month (from what I understand) marks the first time that a country music album entered the Billboard 100 at number 1. In fact, from what I saw, this happened twice last month. Country music is not limited to a fringe few of us in the south, but seems to be progressively catching on.

What is Country Music?

Asking the question What is country music? is a bit more debated than you might think. It is not that “I know it when I see it” is the best answer, but there are people who would disagree about what makes a song a country song. One definition I saw was that country music is the blues sung by a white guy. Conversely they said that the blues is country music sung by a black guy. While an emphasis can be placed on the lyrics containing somber blues, I am not sure that this is a sine quo non of country.

There is an old definition of country music though a joke:

What do you get when you play a country song backwards?

You get your dog back, your wife back, your truck back, and you sober up.

As I have thought about it over the years, I think there are four main elements that contribute greatly to a good country song (and none of these are a fiddle and steel guitar):

1. You can hear the southern accent (most other music causes accents to be lost)

2. The song leads to a simple catchy chorus (usually by the end of the song you know it)

3. The lyrics tell a story that can be easily followed and, more often than not, are tragic

4. There is this definite affinity toward the southern contradiction of trust in God while being overwhelmed with sin, confusion, and pain (with lots of drinking at bars) Continue Reading →

Why I Still Defend the Doctrine of Imputation

I have explained and confessed my belief in the doctrine of imputed sin, which is not a popular doctrine these days. It is one of the many doctrines that are being “rethought” by even the most conservative Christians. Why? Because it seems to fly in the face of everything we feel is just and suggests a characteristic in God that we would rather not be present.

Here is the situation that was concluded from the last post: We are born with a propensity, bent, or inclination to sin. Because of this bent, we sin: It is our nature. When we do act according to our nature and sin, we are held guilty by God and ultimately condemned to eternal punishment. Not only this, but we are already condemned for the sin of another—namely Adam—before we commit any personal sins of our own. This is imputed sin as it is “imputed” or credited to our spiritual bank account before we have a chance to sin. We are held guilty for something someone else did. I can understand why so many are saying “check please” to this doctrine. I did not vote for this. I did not ask to either have this sin nature, or whether or not I approved of what Adam did. I never had a chance. I am sorry, again, this just seems unjust.

It is not hard to see why unbelievers scoff at such a foreign and seemingly cruel proposal. Similarly, it is not difficult to see why believers would decide to either remain agnostic concerning these issues, or change their theology to look more Pelagian. Seriously, this is not an easy subject. We must understand how absolutely shocking this doctrine brings to the table. As Pascal put it, the flow of guilt seems unjust.

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Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

Perhaps John Calvin defines Original Sin most concisely as “The deprivation of a nature formerly good and pure.” More specifically, from a Reformed Evangelical perspective, it refers to the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence and purity to a state of corruption and guilt (distinguished later). It is the cause of man’s translation from a state of unbroken communion before God to one of spiritual death and condemnation.

The term “Original Sin” is not found in Scripture; Saint Augustine coined it in the 4th century. The primary passage used to defend the doctrine of Original Sin is Romans 5:12-21. Most specifically, Romans 5:12 gives us the most explicit reference to this concept: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” The “one man” is Adam. The “all men” is all of Adam’s posterity—the entire human race.

J.I. Packer clears up a possible misconception and further defines Original Sin:

The assertion of original sin means not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it (God made mankind upright, Ecclesiastes 7:29), nor that sin is involved in the processes of reproduction and birth (the uncleanness connected with menstruation, semen, and childbirth in Leviticus 12 and 15 was typical and ceremonial only, not moral and real), but that . . . sinfulness marks everyone from birth . . . it derives to us in a real . . . mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.

This concept is not only hard to understand, but, as I alluded to earlier, it is also quite disturbing. From the perspective of traditional Evangelicalism as it finds its roots in Augustine, the west has believed that humanity is condemned for Adam’s sin. To state that we are condemned for the sin of another is not only offensive and unfair, but in the mind of most it is also ludicrous. It is because of this that Pascal (who accepted the doctrine) wrote the following:

Without doubt, nothing is more shocking to our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has implicated in its guilt men so far from the original sin that they seem incapable of sharing it. This flow of guilt does not seem merely impossible to us, but indeed most unjust. What could be more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than the eternal damnation of a child, incapable of will, for an act in which he seems to have so little part that it was actually committed 6,000 years before he existed? Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine . . .

It certainly does seem unfair for us to be blamed for the sin of another. My daughter used to commit various misdemeanors such as messing up the living room. She would find solace in her younger sister, who was not yet able to speak and defend herself. She would blame her for the mess that she had made, which, of course, was not right. Unfortunately, she got away with it many times before we caught on. Because of this, her sister was punished for crimes she did not commit. Is it the same with Adam and humanity? Are we being punished for a sin that we had nothing to do with?

Death, Paul says, is passed down to us from Adam. But there is more to it than that. As Bob Pyne puts it, “We have no problem affirming that all people die, but what did Paul mean when he linked death to sin?” Furthermore, physical death is not the only consequence of Adam’s sin that we inherit. Romans 5:18 states that the transgression of Adam resulted in our condemnation. So then, we are not only destined to die physically because of Adam’s sin, but we are also condemned to eternal death.

Was the sin of Adam transferred to us? If so, how? Are we condemned for the sin of another? Are Pascal’s concerns valid?

Let’s get some basic terminology down so that we can surf this wave with more balance. Continue Reading →

The Resistibleness of Irresistible Grace

As a Calvinist, I don’t think grace is irresistible. Don’t get me wrong . . . I believe in all the “doctrines of Grace” that make one a certified Calvinist. All the doctrines presented by the ol’ TULIP acronym are fine and dandy. But the “I” for Irresistible Grace is unfortunate and creates more misconceptions than that memorable flower is worth.

Let me put it plainly: the saving grace that God gives to us is resistible . . . at least in theory.

Wait a minute. I suppose there is a context in which the word “irresistible” might work. Let me try:

I met my wife 19 years ago at a bar called the Dugout (She hates for me to tell this story . . . I, on the other hand, love it!). I was sitting at a table with all my buds when this new waitress walks up to take our order. Now, I was a regular at the Dugout. So much so, I think they still have a seat with my name on it. I knew all the waitresses (some better than I should have). But this night we had a new waitress who was working the bar. Once she caught my eye, it was over. I could not quit staring at her. It was like we were the only two people there. Now, of course, it was “drown night” and I had begun to go overboard with the five dollar all you can drink Milwaukee’s Best. But sober or intoxicated, I could not resist this gal. She was over-the-top, beyond all hopes, beyond all my dreams, and beyond any definition of beautiful I had ever known. She was perfect. I grabbed her as she walked by and the first words I said to her were “Before I get drunk, I want to tell you I love you.” Now, to tell you the truth, I was already drunk. But (thankfully) she was a bit naive. We ended up talking all night. It turned out that she loved Christ too. I was trying to get out of that lifestyle and she would be by my side over the next few years, as it happened. All of this is to say that Kristie was totally irresistible to me. I could not help but look at her. I could not help but love her. I could not help but think of her every moment. I could not help but grab her as she walked by. I could not help but ask her out. I could not help but marry her. And I cannot help but see her as irresistible today. Continue Reading →