John Stonestreet on Evil

In response to the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, John Stonestreet over at Breakpoint does a good job of quickly addressing the problem of evil at this post.

Evil is both a problem for academic philosophers who wrestle with God’s existence and a problem for individuals who wrestle with the pain and suffering they endure.  The two groups overlap (what academic philosopher has lived a life untouched by evil), but I have little patience for the academic problem. 

Many times when someone brings up a specific example of evil that he feels invalidates God’s existence, he admits that he is not personally trying to eliminate the very suffering he finds so repugnant.  It is difficult for me to respect that. 

In addition, as Stonestreet points out in his article, a person who uses the problem of evil as a philosophical argument must provide a rationale for the existence of evil.  In a materialistic world, what gives a person the right to say something is evil?  I am not asking about behavior; I am asking about rational justification.  The bottom line is that a person must borrow from the Christian view of the world in order to criticize the Christian view of the world.

The personal problem of evil moves me at an emotional level.  What Christian has never questioned the way God orders the events in his or her own life when pain and suffering come?  However, I will continueto hold a view of the world that allows me to call human pain and suffering“evil.” In Christianity, all people are made in God’s image.  All people have intrinsic worth.  Evil is “real” evil, not just imagined evil. 
This is a help to me emotionally.  Evil becomes an enemy that I can combat. 

Why does God allow evil in certain circumstances?  I have no idea.  I know that humans as sinners do not deservea painless existence.  I know that my own sins qualify me for nothing but hell if I face God on my own merits. 
However, the main balm to my emotional pain is the sufferingof Jesus Christ.  God in the Person of Jesus Christ came to earth with a mission to endure the greatest pain and suffering imaginable.  He suffered many of the specific types of pain that I have had to endure (rejection by friends, having people misunderstand Him because of the message He was to deliver, etc.).  He also endured the wrath of God the Father on the cross for the sins of the world (John 3:16). 

I know of no other religion that has a conception of a God who would suffer.  All other gods stand aloof from the world and never enter its pain.  The Christian God is one I respect.


Christ’s Work and Assurance

My last two posts have discussed antinomianism.  This one will help to point Christians to the one Person who can provide assurance of salvation in view of their remaining sin.

Assurance is Christian ‘shorthand’ for the knowledge that one will be in heaven when he / she dies.  I have treated the subject of assurance of salvation in otherposts.  This post will ‘plough some of the same ground.’ 

From John Calvin:

The consciences of believers, in seeking assurance of their justification before God, should rise above and advance beyond the law, forgetting all law righteousness…For there the question is not how we may become righteous but how, being unrighteous and unworthy, we may be reckoned righteous. If consciences wish to attain any certainty in this matter, they ought to give no place to the law. Nor can anyone rightly infer from this that the law is superfluous for believers, since it does not stop teaching and exhorting and urging them to good, even though before God’s judgment seat it has no place in their consciences (Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.2).

We must look to Christ, looking to Jesus,” the founder and perfecter of our faith,” both to save us and to provide assurance of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2).   What Christ has done for us is our only hope. 

The law is always present as a guide for the Christian, and the Christian will follow that guide as a basic pattern of life.  We follow Christ’s commands, but we are never saved by following Christ’s commands.  We can be confident of our law-keeping, but not confident in our law-keeping.


Piper on True Christianity

My last post discussed antinomianism.  The heresy of antinomianism teaches that true Christians do not necessarily perform good works.  This post deals with some of the logical out-workings of antinomianism.  True Christians will show their commitment to Christ in lives marked by good works. 

What are we to make of the oft quoted surveys of George Barna and others that show  Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians, nine percent of Christians tithe (give ten percent of their income as the Bible commands), 80% of those who take pledges to wait for marriage are sexually active outside marriage in the next seven years, and 20% of Christians do not think premarital sex is wrong?     Is it true that commitment to Christ makes no difference in a person’s life?  (Statistics as quoted in Finally Alive by John Piper, p. 13) 

Keep in mind that Barna and others define Christians based on what they say they believe.  In other words, they say a person is a Christian based upon a mere profession of belief.  This is no way to define a Christian.  Anyone can say they believe anything, even when they do not really commit themselves to those beliefs. 

John Piper, in his book FinallyAlive,  makes a strong argument that these widely quoted surveys are biased because they define Christianity based on a mere profession of belief and not a life lived differently.  Piper says that “[The New Testament] moves from the absolute certainty that the new birth radically changes people, to the observation that many professing Christians are indeed (as the Barna Group says) not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not born again” (p. 15).

True Christians are committed to lives of radical Christ-likeness.  They accept that a person cannot believe what Christ says about how to get to heaven without believing what Christ said about how to live their lives (John 3:12).  This belief in Christ’s commands will mean a life lived differently, not perfectly, but differently.  A Christian will do good works ‘as naturally as sparks fly upwards’ because he is thankful for what God has done for him inChrist.

Good works are always present in the life of a believer, but those good works are corrupted by the sin remaining in us (Isaiah 64:6).  Good works are always present, but they never save.  We can be confident of good works, but not confident in them.


Do all Christians do good works?

Antinomianism, crassly stated, is the idea that a person can be a Christian without doing good works.  It is a separation of good works from true Christian profession.  Sometimes called “easy believism,” the idea of antinomianism is common in some Christian circles today.

I have treated the necessity of good works in the life of a Christian in a post called “Faith + Works” on this blog.  In that post, I discussed John H. Gerstner’ s approach to antinomianism.  Gerstner teaches that people must necessarily do good works if they are Christians.  Those works do not earn them salvation, but they must be present in Christian’s lives. 

Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer, first used the term “antinomian.”  Luther wrote, “Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!” (“Holiness Wars: Antinomianism in Church History,” Mar.21, 2012 by Michael Horton)

Will Christians be perfect?  Of course they will not (Romans 7:7-25).  All Christians sin, and there is no sin that a Christian cannot commit.  But no true Christian makes a habit of sin without repentance. 

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