Archive for September 2011

Detecting Evil   2 comments

The problem of evil has confounded philosophers since time immemorial. One would think that our age’s rationalistic bent and tendency to steer clear of moral judgments have finally led us to abandon this concept, shelving it together with everything else that our enlightened Western minds find hard to believe in, such as the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, the resurrection and the tooth fairy.

Yet, unlike the above, the problem of evil stubbornly refuses to be denied. Kosovo, Cambodia and Nazi Germany serve as grim reminders, to name but a few.

One person who found that he could no longer deny the facts is noted psychiatrist and personality expert Dr. Michael H. Stone from Columbia University. Some time ago a New York Times article reported that Stone is now urging psychiatrists and forensic specialists “not to avoid thinking of the term evil when appraising certain offenders.” It is time, Stone said, to give their behaviour the “proper appellation.” According to the article Stone drew his conclusions after years of research and having examined hundreds of killers.

The same article quotes another scholar and professor of psychiatry, Dr. Robert Simon from Georgetown Medical School, as saying: “Evil is endemic, it’s constant, it is a potential in all of us. Just about everyone has committed evil acts.” Simon recently published his own findings in a book with the telling title “Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream.”

When we can no longer deny the reality of evil in our world, perhaps we shall find reason to reconsider the reality of the cross. The cross is God’s response to the problem of human evil and sin, and no less a myth or invention. When we come to terms with the problem, it should only follow naturally that we come to terms with the solution.

Posted September 27, 2011 by naturalchurch in Bloemnuus Columns

The Power of Grace   Leave a comment

Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? May it never be! Romans 6:1

The man who wrote most of the New Testament had to defend the notion that his radical message of grace could give people an excuse for sinning. That says something about just how extreme Paul sounded to some of his hearers. It also tells you what you can expect if you preach grace as shamelessly as Paul did.

Grace does not lead people into sin, Paul says. On the contrary, it leads them out. But it has to be true grace, not the cheap counterfeit that masquerades as God’s forgiveness. False grace is what Satan offered Eve when he told her that she can sin, and that everything will be all right. It’s what Esau relied on when he sold his birthright and thought he could get it back. It’s what Saul had in mind when he disobeyed God and expected to be excused because of his intention to sacrifice later. False grace is a deception, a sanctified justification, a fake alibi.

True grace does not provide an excuse for sinning, but a motive for never sinning again. Read the rest of Romans 6 and see Paul’s reasoning: Christ did not only die for us. We died with him. No one can receive God’s grace without becoming a new creation in the process. God’s grace does not only pardon sin. It transforms the sinner. People who have encountered it are changed people. God’s will is no longer something they have to do. Rather, it is something they want to do.

There is only one legitimate motivation for obeying God, and it is not fear or legalism. It is the very motivation that characterises the new creation in Christ, and that refutes the notion that grace may lead us into sin. In the words of none other than Jesus Christ himself: “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”

Posted September 23, 2011 by naturalchurch in Bloemnuus Columns, Grace & Law

Christ the End of the Law   5 comments

My conversion had an interesting effect on me. It left me with a knot on my stomach. You know that feeling you get when you hear your puppy has been run over? Well, that’s more or less what it felt like. For four, long torturous years.

I had to do something, and so I sought help from fellow Christians. There were, of course, quite a few who were more than willing to comply. At the first Bible college I attended, two of the lecturers decided I needed deliverance from the knot, and so they invited me to one of their sessions after hours. I happily obliged, and before long found myself on a chair in a deserted classroom, with a bucket strategically placed in front of me. The bucket was for vomiting, you see, which happened to be the way many deliverance sessions were going in the early eighties. I now suspect Linda Blair had more to do with it than the gospels, but back then I knew nothing. And so I really tried, but I could only produce a few feeble burps. These initially encouraged my would-be deliverers, one of whom was assisting with rhythmic back-pats. But in the end we all just gave up. The knot did not end up in the bucket. Instead, it responded by giving itself an extra tight twist, leaving me with the distinct impression that it knew exactly what I was trying to do.

The knot made me backslide quite regularly. It had a rather nasty habit of untying itself whenever I gave myself up to sin. But whenever I repented, which became a dramatic serial habit of mine, the knot would reappear out of the blue. And it would stay, until I gave up again and fell headlong into sin. Of course this made absolutely no sense to me. Why on earth was I tortured whenever I wanted to please the Lord? And why was it such a blessed relief to simply give in and let my depraved nature take over? I simply could not figure it out.

And then there was the excommunication. During one of these seasons of knot-free depravity I did something that outraged a high official of the denomination that I belonged to. In an effort to conceal the evidence of a night of sin, committed on the property of the denomination’s headquarters (where I was living at the time), I gave an unsober friend of mine directions to a fence from where he could dump the whole foul lot onto the pavement of a Johannesburg back street. To this day I don’t know how he did it (or didn’t do it), but when he finally stumbled onto a fence and fulfilled his mission, it was not the fence I had in mind. The next morning the General Secretary of the denomination awoke to find the sordid sight of the previous night’s debauchery amongst his roses. And so I was told to pack my bags. Even the gentle Dutch pastor who had baptised me a few months earlier expressed his disappointment. I left the sacred grounds and moved in with the family of a girl that I had met at the games arcade down the street. The knot was gone. At least for a while.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not proud of the above, nor am I boasting about sin or making light of it. I am simply relating the tyrannous hold that the knot had on me. It would not allow itself to be exorcised. Or church-disciplined. Or counseled (inner healing through the healing of memories, but I’ll spare you.) Prayer did not help. Neither did fasting. Listening to many sermons proved futile. The more I tried to get rid of it through some or other spiritual effort, the more it hit back with a vengeance. I even had Reinhardt Bonnke lay hands on me, and I fell backwards, believing it was the power of the Holy Spirit. But as I lay there, the only real thing was the knot.

When I joined the Army, as all young South Africans had to do at the time, the knot made me preach the Word in the week and smoke marijuana over the weekend. It finally caused me to go on AWOL, get busted, end up in military prison, repent behind bars (I still have the confessional letter I wrote) and get horribly drunk soon afterwards.

It was during the autumn of 1984 that it happened. Miraculously. I was reading the book Turn Your Back on the Problem, by Bible teacher Malcolm Smith, when the lights went on and revelation flooded my soul. My mind was blown, and so it has remained for 27 years.

What was the revelation? Simply this: I have been trying so hard to live the Christian life all these years. I have been trying. I…

That was the problem: I. I had tried to live the life of God, a life that he alone could live. The second I realized this the knot gave me a beautiful smile, bowed gracefully and disappeared, never to return.

I was my own greatest enemy. I tried to do what God alone could do. Of course! I was never supposed to do it. That’s why Jesus Christ came to earth. To do what I could never do! Christ gave us his life because we needed it, because our lives were not, could not, work themselves out. In a flash I saw it: Christianity was the great exchange. I had to lay down my life and take up his. Christianity was not effort, effort, effort. It was resting in the completed works of God. It was allowing him to live his life in me. It was accepting his grace, and not trying to earn it. Over and over I said: “We are first forgiven, then transformed. Not first transformed, then forgiven!” Within a matter of weeks I was freed from the addictions and instability that had plagued me for so long. Naturally, for I allowed Christ to start living his life in and through me.

In the unbelievable sovereignty, mercy and providence of God, the next book that I picked up and started reading was Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life. Here I found the theological explanation of the revelation that I had discovered in Smith’s book. I was a changed man, and I decided there and then to commit my life to spreading this simple message of the cross, a message that not a single one of the pastors, lecturers, counselors, deliverers, prophets and traveling evangelists gave me. “How can this be?” I thought. How come none of them told me?

This is what I have been doing since then, but that’s another story. The reason behind the testimony above is that I learned about the ministry of a fellow South African, Andre van der Merwe, during the past week. His website warmed my heart and stirred up these memories. You can visit it at www.NewCovenantGrace.com.

With his kind permission I post one of his articles here, which captures exactly what I have been trying to say about living under grace rather than under the law.

Did Jesus End The Law or Not?

Scripture: Matt 5:17-18. Let’s settle this issue!

Many people that still believe they have to live according to the Old Covenant Laws have thrown Matt 5:17-18 at Grace Preachers to try and prove their case. Let us now therefore look at what the Bible really says about living under the law, and if we are still bound to it, because all scripture has to be interpreted by scripture. First off, let’s start with this week’s main scripture:

Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

Peter Ditzel from http://www.wordofhisgrace.org explains these 2 verses as follows: “Jesus is giving us two either/or conditions here: The law cannot pass until heaven and earth pass OR the law cannot pass until all is accomplished. One or the other can do it. Heaven and earth have not yet passed, so we will leave that aside. But what did Jesus mean by ALL being accomplished? He was referring to what He had just said in the previous sentence: the fulfilling or completing of the law AND the prophets. Once He had completed the law and the prophets, the law could pass. Why is it that so many people who accept that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies have a hard time understanding that in the same way, He fulfilled the Old Testament laws — all of them?”

When you are under a contractual obligation to someone, and you fulfill all the requirements of the contract, the contract is finished & over. But if you simply destroy the contractual agreement before you have fulfilled its requirements, you are not released from its obligations, which is why Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law. But the moment you do fulfill it you are set free from it! In exactly the same way Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but He fulfilled it, see verse 17 above again. Jesus was in all ways 100% obedient to the law for his entire life (isn’t that amazing???), thereby fulfilling its requirements. Let’s look at more verses (and there are many more than the ones below) that prove the law has passed.

Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Because all the righteous requirements of the law have been fulfilled in Jesus, and since we are given the righteousness of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit as a free gift when we put our faith in Jesus, it means that in Christ we have fulfilled the requirements of the law as well, therefore the law has ended for us as well. Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Matt 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. The entire law and the old testament prophets spoke of the coming of the Messiah who would forgive the sins of the whole world. The law was our tutor (schoolmaster), teaching us “right living” until we should put our faith in Jesus and begin to live by faith. Now that we put our faith in Jesus, we don’t need the tutor of the law anymore. Gal 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Luk 16:16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” This verse implies that if you still preach law-based living, you are NOT preaching the Kingdom, because you are preaching the things that ended with John the Baptist over 2000 years ago – read the verse again. How much clearer can it get??

Gal 3:16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And also Gal 3:19 What then is the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions, UNTIL THE SEED SHOULD COME to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. This verse says that the law was given because of transgressions UNTIL THE SEED should come (and if you will read the story of Israel in Exodus you will see it was specifically the sin of self righteousness). Then when the SEED (Christ) came, the law was fulfilled and we are not under it anymore.

Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. This verse says that if there were such a thing as the “court of heaven”, that the law & prophets would have stood up as witnesses, pointed their fingers to us who put our faith in Jesus and said: “This person is righteous!”

We are now not under the law anymore, but instead we live by faith. And here is a shocker, something that will no doubt shut the mouths of those who still try to be justified by obeying the law. Lets look at 2 verses first: Gal 3:12 And the law is not of faith… and also Rom 14:23b … for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Can you see what it says when you combine these 2 verses? Can you see it??? Since the law is not of faith, and since anything that is not of faith is sin, then it means that those who try to be justified by their own good works and try to live up to some moral code (the law) are actually living in sin!!

Lastly, look at what Jesus said just after this week’s 2 key verses: Matt 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. The Scribes & Pharisees prided themselves in how well they kept the laws of Moses, it’s what they did for a living! These laws included all the rituals & daily sacrifices, not just the 10 commandments. In fact most people who try to live up to the Law of Moses today would pale in comparison against your average Pharisee. No, the righteousness that Jesus was talking about was not about us trying to live more obedient or more holy, He was talking about a righteousness that comes from God, given to every believer as a free gift at the point of salvation when we put our faith in Jesus, the exact same moment where Jesus is given our sin & transgressions and we are given His perfect righteousness: 2 Cor 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe

Posted September 12, 2011 by naturalchurch in Grace & Law, True Christianity

Why We Have the Poor   Leave a comment

“You will always have the poor among you…” John 12:8

Why?

The answer may be simpler than what we think. God has a strange habit of coming to us in disguise, and He does it for a very specific reason. Only those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” can comprehend Him. They are the ones who do not see an ordinary carpenter from a middle-class home, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords posing as one. They do not see a field, but a hidden treasure. They do not hear senseless parables, but coded messages from another world. They do not see a human being as a “pack of neurons” or a “vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules” (as Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, describes us), but as a spirit being created in the image and likeness of God. They do not judge by “mere appearances” (as Christ accused the Pharisees of doing in John 7:24), but by that which lies beyond appearance. In short, they possess the mystery of faith: The ability to see the unseen, and to think and live accordingly.

I suspect that is why we have the poor. They are in our midst as a modern parable, and the way we treat them is an indication of our ability to discern spiritual reality, to see beyond the veil. Matthew’s gospel tells us that on the Day of Judgment the poor man will take off his disguise, reveal himself as Jesus, and then judge us based on how we treated him on earth. Of course this does not mean that we will be saved by our humanitarian efforts, but that the true saving grace of God manifests itself in the grace we show others. Those who have received freely will give freely.

And so the way we treat the poor is an indication of our love for God, and the degree to which we have come to terms with his love for us. How badly we need such an indication, not on the day of judgment, but well ahead of time!

Posted September 7, 2011 by naturalchurch in Bloemnuus Columns

The Mark of a Good Book   6 comments

My dad was a very wise man who taught me a number of unforgettable lessons. One that stands out is “If you want people to believe a lie, print it!”

I have seen the truth of these words confirmed again and again. Books have an air of authority around them, which explains why people are oftentimes disappointed when meeting an author.

In reality there is no difference between the authority of the printed and spoken word, no matter how popular the former may be. As Robert Boston has wisely pointed out: “How a book sells is not an indication of its merit. The … public has a seemingly bottomless appetite for nonsense, as evidenced by the countless tomes about astrology, aliens from outer space, quack diets, and UFOs that have regularly graced best-seller lists over the years. Some books that sold millions have later been exposed as hoaxes. A slot on the best-seller list tells you exactly one thing about a book: that a lot of people bought it.”

The same goes for Christian books. In fact, a Christian book’s fame may oftentimes be an indication of its shallowness (The road leading to perdition is broad, remember?). A Christian bestseller list is an indication of a book’s popularity, never of its theological soundness.

The single most important criteria for judging a Christian book is never its popularity, relevance, practical usefulness or readability. Rather, it is the degree to which the centrality of Jesus Christ dominates the book.

That may sound a bit abstract, so let me assist by listing a group of Christian authors whose books fall into this category (There are many more): Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, A.W. Tozer, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Major Ian Thomas, T. Austin Sparks, Jessie Penn Lewis, Oswald Chambers.

Start reading these authors and you will know exactly what I mean.

Posted September 4, 2011 by naturalchurch in Bloemnuus Columns, Recommended Reading

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