Category Archives: Grace

Why Are the Poorest Countries Poor?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Not enough education, not enough access to credit, not enough foreign aid, not enough access to contraception. Nope. According to a paper written by political scientists Gary Cox, Douglass North, and Barry Weingast, the root cause of poverty is violence.

Cox, North, and Weingast write:

Indeed, we show that violence is surprisingly common throughout the developing world, including the richest developing countries. The median number of years between violent regime changes in the poorest half of the world’s countries is seven years; at twelve and a half years, it is not much higher in the richest developing countries. In contrast, the median number of years between violent regime change in the richest decile of countries is sixty years.

If you take the poorest half of countries in the world, their governments are violently overthrown every 7 years! The richest 10% of countries in the world only experience violent government overthrow every 60 years.

The authors continue:

Many scholars and practitioners of development associate the problem of violence mainly with failed states, such as Somalia or the Congo. Unfortunately, the problem is far more widespread; violence and violence potential are endemic to all developing countries.

The authors argue that stable governments are able to coordinate and mobilize large amounts of capital and coordinate large numbers of people to establish economic conditions that can enable a nation to prosper, but if government leaders are always under threat of violence, then they will never work to create these conditions. Basically, the threat of violent regime change paralyzes them.

In thinking about this conclusion, that violent regime change is what holds back economic prosperity in developing countries,  I can’t help but recall the words of Paul in Romans 13:1-5:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

God has decreed that human governments are a tool to keep peace and to bring justice. Stable governments, as a component of God’s common grace, help ensure that violence is minimized, that people aren’t constantly fearing for their lives.

For those of us who are blessed to live in the upper 10% of countries who have experienced only peaceful regime changes over several decades, we must thank God. Even though we may not particularly support the policies of those in leadership, they are there to keep the peace. Remember that God is using them.

Would God Let Hitler in Heaven?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I find that many non-believers are hopelessly confused about salvation by God’s grace.  This confusion was amply illustrated the other day on an Unbelievable? podcast when the atheist debater challenged the Christian debater with the following: “Isn’t it true that the Christian God would have allowed Hitler into heaven if he had repented and trusted in Christ on his deathbed?”

The  atheist questioner clearly believed that Hitler, based on his numerous evil deeds (I still don’t understand how atheists can say that Hitler did anything objectively evil, but that’s another issue altogether), did not deserve to be accepted by God, and the fact that the Christian God would accept Hitler under any circumstances was simply unacceptable.   He (the atheist) could never believe in a God that would let Hitler into heaven because justice would be denied if this were to occur.

One can sympathize with this point of view if we are dealing with the God of Islam, who weighs everyone’s good deeds and bad deeds on a scale to determine where they will spend the afterlife.  It is hard to imagine that Hitler could ever get into heaven under that system, but that is not how the God of Christianity works.

The Christian debater correctly pointed out that nobody deserves to be accepted by God, but that through Christ’s work on the cross, God will accept those who have placed their trust in what Christ did for them.  God will apply Christ’s atoning sacrifice to every person who desires it by dedicating themselves to their Savior.  Christ paid the penalty for all of mankind’s sins, including Hitler’s.  If Hitler had truly repented and trusted in Christ before he died, like the thief on the cross, he would have been welcomed into paradise by God.  There is no reason to believe that he ever did this, so this is a purely hypothetical exercise meant to illustrate a point.

That is why Christians are always talking about the grace of God.  God offers us eternity with him, but only because of Christ.  God knows that if a scale of justice were applied, every single one of us would be condemned for our thoughts and our deeds.  According to the Bible and to anyone who has really looked within their soul, we are a million miles away from the goodness that God expects of us.  The scale, after all, is calibrated to weigh our deeds against the standard of the righteousness of God.  Does anyone really believe they can stand before God on their own merit?

I thank God that I will never have to, and if you’ve trusted Christ, neither will you.

What Is the Difference Between Religion and the Gospel? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have just completed reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, which has provided me much material for the blog in recent days.  In one powerful section of the book, Keller carefully draws out the distinction between one definition of “religion” and the Christian gospel.  Today I pick up the discussion where I left off in Part 1 of the series.

Keller gets back to the issue of divisiveness that we touched on a few days ago.  Those who are “religious,” who believe that God accepts them because of their good deeds, inevitably imagine themselves to be more advanced, of higher rank, than members of other faiths.

Religion and the gospel also differ fundamentally in how they treat the Other—those who do not share one’s own beliefs and practices. Postmodern thinkers understand that the self is formed and strengthened through the exclusion of the Other—those who do not have the values or traits on which I base my own significance. We define ourselves by pointing to those whom we are not. We bolster our sense of worth by devaluing those of other races, beliefs, and traits.

If we understand that God accepts us because of Christ, our views toward others change radically.

This gospel identity gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements. A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance). That means that I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do.

Keller continues:

Since I am not saved by my correct doctrine or practice, then this person before me, even with his or her wrong beliefs, might be morally superior to me in many ways. It also means I do not have to be intimidated by anyone. I am not so insecure that I fear the power or success or talent of people who are different from me. The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God’s valuing of you in Christ.

Since one of the most fundamental characteristics of being human is feeling defensive about ourselves, we can know how much progress we’ve made as Christ-followers when these feelings come under control, when they start to subside.  They may never completely go away, but the more we come under the Kingship of Christ, the less we will see those who do not believe as we do as enemies, but as people Christ died for.

What Is the Difference Between Religion and the Gospel? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have just completed reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, which has provided me much material for the blog in recent days.  In one powerful section of the book, Keller carefully draws out the distinction between one definition of “religion” and the Christian gospel.  First, Keller clarifies what he means by “religion” in this particular context:

In the broader sense, religion is any belief system of ultimate values that shapes our pursuit of a particular kind of life in the world. This is the reason that it is quite fair to call secularism a religion, and Christianity as well. However, virtually all religions require to one degree or another a form of self-salvation through merit. They require that people approach God and become worthy through various rites, observances, and behaviors. This is also what most people think of when they think of religion, and in this sense Christianity as presented in the New Testament is radically distinct. That is why for the purposes of this chapter we will speak of Christianity as distinct from “religion.”

According to Keller, religion “operates on the principle ‘I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.'”

The operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey.”  This is what the concept of grace is in Christianity, that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done, not because of our own efforts.  Thus religion and gospel play out quite differently in people’s lives.

Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of two radically different motivations, in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives.

The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don’t obey we are going to lose God’s blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.

The distinction between religion and gospel also plays out in our own personal identity – what we think of ourselves.  Here Keller reminds us that the person who believes that God accepts them based on their deeds feels superior to everyone else, whether they are liberal or conservative.

Another difference has to do with our identity and self-regard. In a religious framework, if you feel you are living up to your chosen religious standards, then you feel superior and disdainful toward those who are not following in the true path. This is true whether your religion is of a more liberal variety (in which case you will feel superior to bigots and narrow-minded people) or of a more conservative variety (in which case you will feel superior to the less moral and devout). If you are not living up to your chosen standards, then you will be filled with a loathing toward yourself. You will feel far more guilt than if you had stayed away from God and religion altogether.

In part 2 of this series, I will continue to examine Keller’s thoughts on the differences between religion and gospel.

What Is the Cause of Our Salvation?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This question first came to a dramatic head in the church in the fifth and sixth centuries.  There were four main protagonists.

Augustine of Hippo argued that salvation is totally and causatively of God’s grace.

A contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, argued that salvation is totally and causatively of man’s free will.

Following these two was Cassian, who argued that salvation originates in man’s free will, but then proceeds as a cooperation between both man and God.

Finally, we have the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529), a group of bishops who argued that salvation originates in God’s grace, but proceeds as a cooperation between both God and man.

The position of the Council of Orange (commonly called semi-Augustinianism) became the quasi-official position of the church until the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Reformers, especially John Calvin, felt that the church had drifted, since A.D. 529, to the position of Cassian (his position is commonly called semi-Pelagianism), and wanted to bring the church all the way back to the Augustinian position, rejecting the semi-Augustinianism of Orange.

This debate continues today in the Protestant world among Calvinists who are closer to Augustine, and Arminians who are closer to Cassian.  There are also those who reject these two views and land in the middle; these moderate Calvinists would be closer to the position that the Council of Orange took.

What do you think is the cause of our salvation?  Which of these four positions do you think is closest to being correct?

Why Don’t Mormons Have the Peace That Passes All Understanding?

Post Author: Darrell

God has given believers of Jesus Christ the promise of “a peace which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). What a wonderful promise! This peace does not come from anything the world can give us. Rather, it comes from having a relationship with Christ, being forgiven, and knowing that our salvation is assured. In fact, our salvation as believers is so certain that God has told us we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16).

While a member of the Mormon Church, I never experienced this peace.  In fact, during my time as a Mormon I often wondered about my salvation.  I wondered if I had done enough to merit God’s grace and if I would be able to spend eternity with Him in the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon version of what Christians call Heaven).  Coming into a true relationship with Christ opened my eyes, and I now understand what is meant by the “peace that passes all understanding” because I have it!

My experience in Mormonism is not uncommon.  Over the years I have had several LDS friends confide in me and their experiences are very similar.  This is due mainly to the works based salvation that the LDS Church teaches. Mormonism teaches Christ’s atonement opened the doors for salvation to us; however, we have to earn the right to receive this salvation by our works… faith in Christ is not enough. In a 2001 Ensign article, James E. Faust, then counselor in the First Presidency of the Mormon Church, had this to say:

Many people think they need only confess that Jesus is the Christ and then they are saved by grace alone. We cannot be saved by grace alone, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” . . . All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt.  [Emphasis Mine]

It is only after we do all that we can do and after we completely repent that Christ’s sacrifice comes in to help us.  Since true, sincere, and complete repentance in required, what must one do to repent? has this to say about repentance:

Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). We must maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that we will never repeat the transgression. . . . Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into our lives .

Until one completely forsakes a sin, they have not repented. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can think of several sins that, try as I might, I can honestly say I still struggle with.  Sure, I may be able to point to the big sins (adultery, fornication, murder) and say I am okay. But what about the standard Christ set?  He said if we get angry with someone unjustifiably that we have committed murder in our hearts.  By this standard I think we can all say we are murderers.  Christ also said that if we look upon someone to lust after them that we have committed adultery in our heart. Sounds like we are all adulterers!

Have you completely forsaken the sin of unjustified anger? Can you honestly say you won’t ever look upon someone of the opposite sex again? If not, then according to the Mormon Church, you have not sincerely repented and your sins are not forgiven. In fact, according to D&C 82:7, if you recommitt a sin you have supposedly repented of, all the times you have committed it return and you will be judged for each of them.  Does this sound like a gospel that provides a “peace that passes all understanding?”

All praise be to my great God and Savior Jesus Christ! For He, and He alone, has atoned for our sins.  Praise Him that we can know with confidence we have been forgiven!