Category Archives: Sin

Does God Hide His Face from Us?

In Psalm 27, David begs the Lord to not hide His face from him. In the context of the psalm, it appears that David is being attacked by his enemies, he has been praying to God to deliver him from these enemies, but God has not yet answered his prayers. Thus, to David, God is hiding His face. What are we to make of this? Goes God really hide from us?

Christian blogger Josh Fults has written an insightful article on this topic. First, Fults reminds us what God’s relationship was with mankind at the beginning:

We must remember, when God created mankind he walked among them. Instead of a game of hide and seek, we find in Genesis that God ‘walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.’ So apparently, at the onset of creation, man and God enjoyed fellowship in a direct sense. Then sin entered the world, and who is it that we find hiding? God doesn’t hide. God doesn’t remove Himself. Instead we see Adam and Eve have made the decision to hide. It was man that hid initially and broke this extremely intimate connection between God and humanity.

Sin, then, has a direct bearing on God’s relationship with us. We cannot possibly answer the question of whether God is hiding without remembering this crucial point. In a fallen world, evil, pain, and suffering are regular occurrences. We certainly see David suffering many times in his life.

However, just because God is not saving us from all this pain and suffering as soon as we pray about it does not mean that He is hiding from us. This simply does not follow. In fact, David comes to realize this as well. At the end of Psalm 27, he states, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

But if God is not always answering our prayers in the ways we want our prayers answered, then how is He communicating with us? Fults answers this question:

God reveals Himself expressively in His written word. ‘Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:27). God also revealed Himself explicitly to mankind through Jesus Christ. ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). We also see God make Himself known through nature.  ‘For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). We also see that God communicates through His Spirit to us if we are willing to hear. ‘He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth’ (John 14:16-17).The Spirit of God draws us to Himself. We also find that believers in Christ also reveal God to those around them, as we see in Acts 1:8 that Christians ‘will be My witnesses.’

So God does indeed reveal Himself in many different ways to us. Although we may feel like He is hiding from us, we must realize that it is sin, ultimately, that causes this feeling. Once we are in Heaven with God, we will never have this feeling again.

Was Jesus Sinless and Does It Matter?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Yes, he was, and this is an essential doctrine of Christianity. I was quite surprised several years ago when I was talking to a friend of mine at work about Jesus, and he asserted that obviously Jesus was not sinless because he became angry.

My response to him was that anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is good to be angry about sin. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

But what disturbed me even more was his further claim that Jesus’s sinlessness, as far as he knew, was not taught in Scripture, and that it really didn’t matter anyway. Is that the case? Does it matter whether or not Jesus was declared sinless in Scripture?

First, we need to establish whether the Bible claims that Jesus was sinless. That is pretty easy to do, as there are several passages:

  • In 1 Pet 1:19 Jesus is referred to as a “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
  • In 1 Pet 2:22 Peter applies the prophet Isaiah’s words to Jesus: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
  • In 1 John 3:5 John proclaims about Jesus that “in him is no sin.”
  • In 2 Cor 5:21 Paul reminds us, about Jesus, that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”
  • In Heb 4:15 the writer explains that in Jesus “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

So it seems clear that the New Testament writers stated unequivocally that Jesus was sinless. However, it wasn’t just Jesus’s followers who claimed he was sinless. His enemies, likewise, found no fault in him.

  • In Mark 14:55 we read, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.”
  • In Mark 12:14 the Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”
  • In Luke 23:22 Pilate asked, “What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.”

But why is it so important that Jesus is sinless? Why is this an essential doctrine of the Christian faith? Theologian R. C. Sproul explains in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

The sinlessness of Christ does not merely serve as an example to us. It is fundamental and necessary for our salvation. Had Christ not been the “lamb without blemish” He not only could not have secured anyone’s salvation, but would have needed a savior Himself. The multiple sins Christ bore on the cross required a perfect sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be made by one who was sinless.

Sproul adds:

It was by His sinlessness that Jesus qualified Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. However, our salvation requires two aspects of redemption. It was not only necessary for Jesus to be our substitute and receive the punishment due for our sins; He also had to fulfill the law of God perfectly to secure the merit necessary for us to receive the blessings of God’s covenant. Jesus not only died as the perfect for the imperfect, the sinless for the sinful, but He lived the life of perfect obedience required for our salvation.

In summary, only the sinless God-man could bridge the gulf between God and man.

What Should Be Our Response When We Fail God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Failing to obey God is something that every Christian does, and repeatedly.  Every one of us sins, but how should we react when we sin, when we fail God?

Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, in his book Prayer For Beginners, takes some lessons from Brother Lawrence’s little classic The Practice of the Presence of God.  Brother Lawrence says, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying ‘I am used to doing so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.’ If I fail not, then I give God thanks, acknowledging that the strength comes from Him” (Conversation 2).

When he considers Brother Lawrence’s advice, Kreeft says:

You may think this sounds too easy, too cavalier, almost indifferent. But why?  To be “sensible” of our faults but not “discouraged” by them is not indifference, it is patience.  Not to be sensible of them, or not to confess them, is the road to pride.  But to be discouraged by them is the road to despair. . . . How can we attain this state, of being sensible of our faults but not discouraged by them?  By seeing our faults but also seeing farther than our faults; by framing our faults by our faith, which is not faith in ourselves but faith in God.  No fault, no sin, no failure can exhaust God’s power to forgive.

Kreeft then compares the way Satan wants us to think about our sins versus the way God wants us to think about our sins.

God wants us to worry about our sins before we sin; the devil wants us to worry after we sin. God wants us to feel free after we repent (for we really are free then); the devil wants us to feel free before we sin, as we are choosing to sin (for we really are not free then; the devil is a deceiver). The devil tempts us to cavalier pride before we sin and worrisome despair afterward, since pride and despair both separate us from God, and anything that separates us from God is the devil’s friend and our enemy, while anything that brings us closer to God is the devil’s enemy and our friend. But what is our friend at one time can be our enemy at another.

Kreeft concludes with these thoughts:

What our Heavenly Father wants us to do about our spiritual failures is like what our earthly father wants us to do about our earthly failures.  When we fall off the horse, or the bike, or the high road to Heaven, we must simply climb on again as soon as we are aware of the fact that we have fallen off, rather than sitting there stewing in self-pity or self-hatred.

And remember to thank God for the awareness of the fact that you have fallen off the “horse” of awareness of his presence, for that, too, is his gift, not your achievement.  If he did not give you the grace to notice that you have forgotten his grace, you would not only forget his grace, but you would also forget that you had forgotten his grace. And then your state would be without hope.

Can We Judge God’s Intentions When People Suffer?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Bad things happen to people all the time.  They happen to you and to me, in places nearby and in places far away.  Sometimes when we see a person or persons suffering, and we don’t like their worldview, their moral beliefs, or lifestyle, we Christians do something that we need to stop doing.  We look at the people suffering and we think to ourselves, or even say out loud, “God is punishing them because they are unrighteous.”

There are infamous examples of Christians proclaiming judgment after hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes kill multitudes of people.  Those examples are bad enough, but I want to also call attention to the daily judgments we sometimes make about people who are suffering – people who we confidently believe are being punished by God because of their immoral actions.

Why should we stop judging God’s intentions in this manner?  Because we don’t know, in a given situation, what God’s intentions are.  He simply does not tell us and we need to stop acting like he does.  In addition, and more importantly, Jesus himself denies that we should judge those who suffer or die as more sinful than we are.

In Luke 13:1-5, Luke records the following conversation:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus first refers to some Galileans who were killed by Pilate as they sacrificed.  He flatly rejects the idea that these Galileans are worse sinners than others because they were killed.  Jesus then refers to eighteen people who died when a tower collapsed on them.  Again Jesus denies that these eighteen were more guilty than everyone else.

John Martin, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains these verses:

Jesus taught the crowds that calamity can happen to anyone because all are human. Jesus cited two common instances about destruction. The first concerned some Galileans who were killed by Pilate while they were offering sacrifices. The second concerned 18 seemingly innocent bystanders in Siloam who were killed when a tower … fell on them. Jesus’ point was that being killed or not being killed is no measure of a person’s unrighteousness or righteousness. Anyone can be killed. Only God’s grace causes any to live. This point is brought out in verses 3 and 5—unless you repent, you too will all perish. Death is the common denominator for everyone. Only repentance can bring life as people prepare to enter the kingdom.

Next time you think you can judge God’s intentions when people suffer, think again.  Remember that even Jesus refused to make these kinds of judgments.

Why Are We So Divided?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A couple of years ago, I asked one of my good atheist friends what he thought the biggest problem facing mankind was.  His answer: our propensity to form exclusionary groups.  He explained that everywhere he looked, people were grouping themselves and casting everyone not in their group as “the enemy.”  He especially felt this to be a problem with religious people, as he was excluded from these communities because he was an atheist.

I’ve often thought about his assessment of the human tendency to exclude and to label outsiders as enemies.  Recently I encountered some thoughts on this human predisposition, captured by Tim Keller in The Reason for God.  Keller’s answer is drawn from the great theologian Jonathan Edwards.

In The Nature of True Virtue, one of the most profound treatises on social ethics ever written, Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love.

How so?  Can’t we dedicate our lives to our family, to our nation, to our own interests?  Keller continues:

If our highest goal in life is the good of our family, then, says Edwards, we will tend to care less for other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic [Bill’s note: the Nazis dedicated their highest love to national Germany]. If our ultimate goal in life is our own individual happiness, then we will put our own economic and power interests ahead of those of others.

So how does making God our highest love solve the problem?

Edwards concludes that only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general.

Since God created each of us in his image, since we are all equally valuable in his eyes, since he desires that every one of us spend eternity with him, it is easy to see how the proper Christian response to every man, woman, and child, regardless of race, nation, or creed, is love, not exclusion.

Maybe you’re not convinced that setting our sights on other things cannot bring unity and break down divisions among people.  Can’t politics or ethnicity or socioeconomic status or tolerance or morality fit the bill?  Aren’t these worthy objects of our highest love?

If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly proud of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious. And so on.

There is no way out of this conundrum. The more we love and identify deeply with our family, our class, our race, or our religion, the harder it is to not feel superior or even hostile to other religions, races, etc. So racism, classism, and sexism are not matters of ignorance or a lack of education. Foucault and others in our time have shown that it is far harder than we think to have a self-identity that doesn’t lead to exclusion. The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.

I think Keller and Edwards are right.  The solution to my friend’s problem is to make God our highest love; everything other answer is a dead end.  I hope that some day he will agree with me.

Can Man Save Himself?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If there is no benevolent and omnipotent God, then man seems to be the only viable solution to solving man’s problems.  We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps because there is nobody to help us.

Nowadays it seems laughable to think, after all we’ve been through in the last hundred years as a race, that we will create a paradise on earth by ourselves.  In the early 20th century, however, there were those who thought that mankind was on the brink of something wonderful, that we could solve all our problems.

Take the famous author, H. G. Wells.  Here is an excerpt from his book, A Short History of the World, written in 1937.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state…form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do.

As Christians, this viewpoint is ruled out by Scripture.  Man cannot pull himself out of the quicksand he is in – we need a divine hand to reach down and pull us out.  The sin nature that resides in each person renders Wells’ assessment of the abilities of man hopelessly naive.  Man has boundless capacity for evil when given the power to do so, and there is nothing we as a race can do to completely eradicate this propensity.

After Wells witnessed the atrocities of WWII, he came to understand how far he had misjudged mankind:

The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether…“Homo Sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. — A Mind at the End of Its Tether (1946)

If you are a Christian, you not only know that we need a divine hand, you know that we are getting it.  Victory over sin is certain.  Rather than placing our hope in the violent heart of man, we place our hope in the Prince of Peace.

 

Can God Be in the Presence of Sin? – #3 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Bible clearly teaches that God is morally perfect and holy, that he hates sin.  Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is too pure to look on evil.  Christians often say that God cannot allow any sin in his presence.

But, this is not the whole story.  There are also several instances in the Bible where Satan and other demons are said to be in God’s presence (e.g., Job 1:6; 2 Chron. 18:18-21; Rev. 12:10).  In addition, the prophet Isaiah, himself a sinful man, was in the presence of God, as recorded  in Isaiah 6.

We also know that God is omnipresent, which means he is present everywhere.  “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord.  ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:23-24).  If he is present everywhere then he cannot but be in the presence of sinful creatures.

So what are we to make of all this?  I think the simple answer is that Habakkuk 1:13 is a commentary on God’s moral perfection and holiness.  It is not meant to be a statement about his physical presence.  In fact, the full rendering is, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.”  But we know God does not literally have eyes!  God is spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a physical presence.

The Bible teaches that God is opposed to sin and evil, that he is holy and righteous.  We know that eventually he will quarantine evil from good when he creates the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21).  At that time, God will physically separate those who love him from those who don’t.  Those who love him will no longer be in the presence of sin from that point forward.

Until then, God tolerates the presence of sin in order to accomplish his purposes with mankind.  Thank goodness, because if God truly could not be in the presence of sin, none of us would be here!

Why Does a Good Creature Choose Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Since the Fall, we know why people choose evil – we are all born with original sin that saturates our soul.  The Fall, however, does not explain why Adam and Eve, or even Satan, used their free will to choose evil, to reject God.

This question may never be answered this side of heaven with any certainty, but William Dembski offers some interesting thoughts about the subject in his latest book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World.  Here is Dembski’s stab at this persistent mystery:

Perhaps the best we can do is offer a psychological explanation: Precisely because a created will belongs to a creature, that creature, if sufficiently reflective, can reflect on its creaturehood and realize that it is not God.  Creaturehood implies constraints to which the Creator is not subject.  This may seem unfair (certainly it is not egalitarian).  The question then naturally arises, Has God the Creator denied to the creature some freedom that might benefit it?  Adam and Eve thought the answer to this question was yes (God, it seemed, had denied them the freedom to know good and evil).

As soon as the creature answers yes to this question, its will turns against God.  Once that happens, the will becomes evil.  Whereas previously evil was merely a possibility, now it has become a reality.  In short, the problem of evil starts when creatures think God is evil for “cramping their style.”  The impulse of our modern secular culture to cast off restraint wherever possible finds its root here.

Interesting thoughts.  The creature, in effect, thinks that God is holding out on him, that what God has offered is not as good as what it should be.  Out of humanity, only the man Jesus was ever content with what God gave him, which is why he is the model we are all to emulate.

Did Jesus Fail to Address What’s Wrong with the World?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I was conversing with a skeptic of Christianity who was explaining why he had become a skeptic.  One of the most significant reasons was that he was greatly disappointed that the New Testament, and Jesus in particular, did not address a particular social institution which he considers to be particularly evil.  In his view, a God who did not address this issue at that time in history is not worthy of worship.

Other skeptics I’ve met have said similar things.  Jesus should have introduced life-saving technologies, he should have revealed the laws of physics, he should have taught people how to grow more food.

Most of the Jews of the first century were greatly disappointed in Jesus because he failed to free them from Roman occupation.  If he were the real Son of God, surely he would throw off the Roman yoke.

Why didn’t Jesus address all of these issues?

A Christian friend of mine explained to our skeptical friend that Jesus did not come to address social institutions as much as address the condition of each person’s heart.  If men’s hearts are repaired, then social institutions will inevitably be repaired as well.

You see, in God’s program, social injustice, lack of technology, and lack of scientific knowledge are secondary to the primary mission of Jesus.  That mission was to reconcile men to God, who is the source of all good.  Jesus came to deal with each person’s sinful nature; without addressing the depraved heart within each person, nothing else matters.

Abolishing a social institution or teaching someone about physics, without first addressing their heart, is like trying to treat cancer with an aspirin.  It might take away the pain for a little while, but it does not treat the underlying problem.  Something more radical must be done to save the person.

We, of course, have abundant evidence of Christians improving the world through science, technology, and charity, of Christians promoting laws that protect life and freedom.  The Christians who advanced these projects did so because their sinful natures were addressed by Christ first.  The incredible progress of western civilization over the last 2,000 years is a testament to the Christians who had heart transplants.

The skeptic who is disappointed that Jesus didn’t address their particular issue is basically failing to understand the root problem of mankind – we are separated from an all-good God because of our sinful nature.  Man’s root problem is not technology, is not lack of scientific knowledge, is not even social injustice.

In the early 20th century, The London Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme “What’s Wrong with the World?”  Famed author and Christian G. K. Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

Until a person can answer like Chesterton, they won’t understand Jesus.

Are All Sins Equal? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

So we’ve seen that the Bible does teach that some sins are more serious than others and that some virtues are greater than others.  There is a moral law hierarchy.  But what does this practically mean?

First, let’s look at debates over public policy.  When determining where to focus your efforts on a particular law, you must consider its seriousness.  A great example is abortion.  Many Christians focus on the abortion issue because it is such a serious moral failure in our country.  Abortion kills over a million lives every year.  Taking innocent human life is pretty high up the moral law measuring stick.

Some people ask why Christians aren’t more outspoken about global warming.  My answer to that question is, “The death of millions of innocent babies today is far more serious a moral issue than the possible rise in temperature of the earth over the next 100 years.”  The consequences of global warming are surely speculative and uncertain, as any future prediction of ultra-complex climate activity must be, whereas we have a definite problem, abortion, staring us in the face today.

We have to make these kinds of decisions all the time.  What are the most serious moral issues of the day for our nation?  If we just say that all moral issues are equal, we are unable to focus our efforts on what matters more.

Second, what about the Christian life in particular?  In this life, the worse we sin, the more out of touch with God we are.  As my wife likes to say, “God keeps us from sin, and sin keeps us from God.”  If you, as a Christian, are engaging in adultery, then clearly this sin will have greater effect on your walk with God than if you once neglect to call your mother to wish her “Happy Birthday.”

Paul taught that a particular kind of sexual immorality (a man having sexual relations with his father’s wife)  should cause the expulsion of the man committing this sin (1 Cor. 5), but he didn’t write a letter demanding expulsion for someone scrawling graffiti in the streets of Corinth.  Graffiti may be a sin, but it is less serious than sleeping with your father’s wife.  Different sins demand different punishments.

There are also rewards in heaven for the Christian, based on her moral behavior in this life.  In 1 Cor. 3 Paul teaches that the good works we bring to God after we die determine our rewards in heaven.  Some of our works will be so worthless that they will be “burned up.”  Those works of high quality will survive the flames.  The kinds of moral actions we pursue in this life matter for eternity.  The Bible seems to teach that the quality of our good works on earth will determine our ability to enjoy heaven.  Again, our sins and our virtues matter for eternity.

So, how can we summarize?  All sins are equal in that they condemn us before a perfect God.  This is an important point to make when we are evangelizing the lost.  But all sins are not equal when it comes to public legislation, temporal punishment and praise, sanctification (our walk with God where we become more like Christ), and eternal rewards.  When we talk about sin, let’s make sure we consider the situation and apply the correct teaching.