Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18



“I Was Meant To Do This”

“I was meant to do this”.

I admit that over the past few summers my lunchtime entertainment has been watching the television show America’s Got Talent. One of the things I have observed after seeing hundreds of hopefuls perform is a recurring sentiment, the claim that “I was meant to do this.”

This reveals something interesting to me about people. That is that most people at the end of the day do not have any problem with an impersonal, sovereign force. Fate, if you will. People talk about existing for a purpose when their worldview would affirm that they really have no purpose. They deny the existence of God or at least they deny the idea of a God who is sovereign and “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Yet, when they reach their goals they are eager to attribute their success to some deterministic “meaning” for their life.

Despite this almost innate openness to the idea of fate, even many so-called Christians reject and are downright offended by a God who determines their destiny. But if not God then what? A materialistic universe has no plan to execute. So tell me, if you were meant to do something, then who meant it? If you believe there is a God who has “a plan for your life”, then how will he bring it about? Who formed you with your skills and talents?

What this shows us is that when people speak of how unthinkable the idea is that God is sovereign over everything, their problem isn’t with determinism, but with the person behind it. People have no problem with the idea of something setting the course of their lives. People make determinism out to be the big issue, but it isn’t the big issue. They aren’t troubled with the logic of how free choice interacts with “destiny” when they step on the stage or when their fate hands them their dreams. The problem they have is not an impersonal, determining force – but a personal one. A being that chooses their destiny for them – and not always the destiny they want.

The problem people have with a divine sovereign is because “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21 ESV) People embrace the idea of fate, but put God as the power behind the fate and they deny it. This is because in our sin we do not “honor him as God”, instead we bring him down to our level. And who wants an equal determining their destiny? A friend can’t even tell me what to do!

There is a selfishness behind this that is clear. For when people’s dreams come true they say “I was meant to do this” or “I feel this is why I am on earth.” But when our dreams crash and burn we turn to the God we ignore and ask “why?” or we simply say “This isn’t how life was supposed to go.” So in our sin and self-idolatry what we want is an impersonal force choosing a brilliant destiny for us where we are successful and happy – where we are a god. We want a universe that serves us as god, rather than seeing ourselves as part of a universe that was made to serve God.

Christians do this as well. I meet so many Christians who despise “Calvinism” and by that they mean the idea of total sovereignty, yet when facing the unknown they take comfort that God “has a plan” for them. But when things go bad they don’t respond with “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” instead they either ask, “God, why would you let this happen?” or if they are more spiritual, yet want to retain their best-buddy view of God they say, “The devil did this”.

A charge sometimes brought against the total sovereignty of God by Christians is that this belief leads to passiveness in our Christian lives. In response to that charge it should be noted that even those that deny God and are pursuing their “destiny” actually use their belief in an impersonal, sovereign force as an impetus to pursue their dreams. They pursue their dream because they believe it is their destiny to reach their goal.  Likewise, as a Christian my destiny is to be conformed into the image of Christ, that is the goal. The knowledge of that, if I have a new heart, should be a sufficient impetus to pursue what I was “meant to do”. To labor to the end that I would reach my destiny! If that logic works with wanna’be pop-stars, why not with us as well who have the promises of God to boot?

I know this is a very scattered post, so let me condense my point. People don’t have a problem with sovereignty, they have a problem with a sovereign God. Why? Because if they want a God at all, they want one whose plans to coincide with theirs. Today our rejection of God’s sovereignty is a manifestation of our rebellion, as it was for Adam and Eve in the garden when they despised the idea of a God who would choose their destiny for them. It is my desire that many would come to see the folly of their logic, that I would see my own, and that we would honor God as the sovereign God that he is and embrace the destiny he has chosen as good and right, even if understanding it is beyond us.

Abortion & The Sovereignty of Man

The pro-choice ideology, the idea that a woman has the right to abort the life growing in her womb, springs from the natural result of the belief that man has the right to self-sovereignty, the right to choose. This idea was birthed in the western context both from homo-centric enlightenment ideology and the theological traditions that range from Palagianism to Arminianism. The exaltation of the sovereign choice of man over the sovereignty of God begins in very innocent, optimistic, idealistic forms leading from one implication to the next until babies are being murdered on the basis of a right to choose life or death – a choice that belongs ultimately to God alone.

    It is God who alone has the right to give life and to take it and it is presumptuous for man to wrest that right and apply it to himself. It is said that man has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. This view is untenable for those with a Christian worldview, but it is the view from which the “right” for abortion comes. For what happens when an unexpected pregnancy gets  in the way of the life you want to live or the liberty that you enjoy? What happens when you have a feeble relative in the nursing home who is getting in the way of your pursuit of happiness? What happens when your 5-year plan is interrupted by the diagnosis that the baby inside has Down’s Syndrome?  We are so quick to latch onto ideas that sound right and noble without following those ideas through to their logical end when applied to a mankind that is depraved and futile in their thinking.

   Life is a gift from God, both physical and spiritual, at it his work that brings it about.  Beware of the fruit of exalting the sovereignty of man (his right to make choices divorced from an objective standard of truth) against the sovereignty of God. Ideas are seeds and they always bear fruit that are proof of their origin. The fruit being born in America is not foreign from what was planted by its founders despite their intentions. America is reaping exactly what was sown.

The Potency of a Thought

For all of the fallacies that were in the hit film Inception (2010) I was struck by something that was the main premise of the movie and where the title came from, which was the idea that in the science-fiction world the film presented that if thoughts could be extracted from someone’s mind that perhaps a thought, a simple thought which would lead to a chain of actions, could also be placed with subtlety into a person’s mind; a simple thought or impression that would change the course of a person in their decision making process. I was struck with how true this is, how a person can have such simple thoughts put in them that over time they deviate in their perception of truth and thus their conduct from day-to-day.
This has been seen to happen throughout history, seemingly innocent fallacies and exploratory mind-sets that set the course of civilizations. The Enlightenment period of history began, without committing blatant blasphemy, to exalt man, giving us among other things an idea of inherent rights of divine origin that mankind has. This idea seemed innocent enough and was embraced by much of Christendom, but the problem is that the road such a thought led down did not lead to a cross-centered, Gospel-oriented way of thinking and reasoning over time but to subjectivity, humanism, and arrogant exaltation of the rights of man (namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness/property) over a sovereign God who has so mercifully worked redemption for men that according to their nature had sold their rights for a piece of bread and retained no rights except to rightfully perish. It is no small wonder that the root of secular humanism is in a thought, the mere tweaking of perspective.
That is why we leaders, whether in the church or at home, should with humble reliance on God’s grace seek to be free from all thinking that is not rooted in Gospel. I have heard many messages from many pulpits over my few years, some of them have held obvious error, very few of them were rock-solid Gospel truth, and a great many of them had a little something in them that was not rooted in Bible. I think that the later often came from preachers who were very well-meaning, but just not very careful. Here are some observations of why and how this may be happening:

1. The one speaking, whether in a small group or before a large congregation, means well and is well grounded in truth. In preparing for the message he hears a quote or comes up with an observation or anecdote that in his mind packages the truth quite well. The problem is that though where he is coming from with this thought may be clear to his well-grounded and mature hearers, it may be something that someone who is shaky in doctrine or a baby in the faith will hear and run with in a different direction than the speaker intended. Fathers should also consider this when leading family devotions as to which books they should use or what curriculum their children should be exposed to.

2. Another issue is perhaps when by the fear man, and this can often occur in cross-cultural, pioneer church planting, one will be tempted to articulate or avoid Biblical truth in such a way that will not offend, rather than in such a way as to make it most clear. This is wrong for many reasons and most who have been involved in the work mentioned above have probably been guilty of this at some point. The long-term result, if you are even succesful in planting a church, will be an eventual breakdown in the doctrine of the church.

3. One of the worst scenarios is that the teacher, with sin in his own life that he is seeking to justify, may decide (perhaps unwittingly) to tweak the paradigm behind a teaching and then feed that to his flock as a way of easing his own conscience as he sees the nodding heads of relieved audience members and they then will walk away feeling like, “Here is what that passage says, but Pastor —- says…. Isn’t that comforting that our Jesus is like that?” One of the biggest warning signs that we as teachers may be doing this with a passage is if we find ourselves inserting into one of our sermons a line like “…now I am not saying that it is wrong to….” or “God doesn’t expect you all to go out and….”

4. Many of us need simply a good dose of the Gospel and careful study of God’s word to combat the influences of the world. Much teaching goes awry simply as a result of the “inception” of thoughts contrary to God’s objective truth that have been planted in our minds over the years (via errant teaching, friends, education, entertainment, etc). Our struggle as leaders in this world is to be constantly combating lies.

A thought is a potent thing and most often it is a subtle thing because usually a cocktail of thoughts produces a perception, a worldview. If one of those thoughts is contrary to real, objective truth then it produces a weak link in our thinking process. No one is immune to this and at this moment every one of us has a number of weak links in our chain of reason, but this should not lead us to the subjective, fatalistic mind-set that “Well, no one has it all together” or “No one has perfect theology”. This is a dangerous thought in of itself! Instead, knowing that as fallen people that we have weak links, we should with great humility and vigor approach God’s word and seek a life of combating lies with truth, For, as potent and powerful as a false thought is (partial truth is false) truth is even more powerful for the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth.

The bulk of this has been addressed to those that teach on some level, but sadly there a not many faithful teachers, though many mean well. The implication of this for the rest of us as hearers is that we learn to be careful, God-centered, truth-saturated hearers. The Bereans in Acts were such and we should aspire to be as they were, ever studying the Word to see if what is being taught is true. Glorify God in your hearing by seeking out faithful, truthful teachers for yourselves and not ones who will “tickle your ears”. Here are a couple of pitfalls for hearers:

1. How often I have heard a preacher say something that sounded good and seemed true, but the wording and reason behind it if followed did not lead to truth or agreement with the whole council of God’s word. I have often latched onto things like this, only to discard them by God’s grace at a later date.

2. Emotions. A sticky one that is tied to the first. We will believe something to be true because it resonates with our heart and feels right or we will interpret what we are hearing based on our emotional inclinations. A huge pitfall that will lead to the ruin of many. Our passions and emotions are poor discerners of truth. We should use Scripture to teach us what is true about what we are feeling or in spite of what we are feeling and not our use feelings to verify what is true. When we ride the wave of emotion we often fail to see the rocks and reefs lying beneath the foamy surf waiting to dash us to pieces.

3. The last of many warnings that could be written is the call to not harden your heart by grasping for words and teachings that will authorize the false peace that you are speaking into your heart in the midst of unrepentant sin.

4. All of this has so far been in the context of teaching and preaching but it should be noted that some of the most potent thoughts that are placed in our mind are placed there by sources outside the church which eventually leak inside. One primary avenue is entertainment. Through entertainment we are presented with a myriad of thoughts that run contrary to sound doctrine and we eventually find ourselves desensitized to these ideas. Beware of what you watch and read and what you allow your family to watch and read. It is not maturity to say “I am mature so I can discern what in this film should be discarded from my mind” for a truly mature person recognizes his fallen tendency to gravitate towards lies and with sober vigilance recognizes and rejects untruth. Flee dangerous thoughts, exposing them for what they are before they become rooted in your mind and lead to a course of action that ends in ruin.

Pastors, take care. Fathers, take care. Children of God, take care. Satan would wish to perform “inception” on you. To place a thought, however small, in a man’s mind is a powerful thing that shapes civilizations! It is not very often that we will overnight decide to deny the deity of Christ, reject total depravity, deny the exclusivity of the Gospel, etc, but with the right thought we might down the road and if not us then our posterity will. The Enemy can be very show great patience about these things, subtlety is after all one of his primary attributes.

There is much more that could be said, but I would like to close on a positive note. We can do war against the untruth that has bled its way into our hearts. By the grace of God, the light of His word, and the help of the Holy Spirit we can begin to replace the weak links in our chain of reasoning with unbreakable links forged of the unchanging, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God Almighty. Our God is faithful to keep his elect in the truth, so with that knowledge we should fill ourselves with the truth, knowing that he will root it in us. We can praise God that as the years come and go and lies arise and perceptions decay, that we have a sure standard of truth that we can always look to. If you look to God’s word and see where you have been in error, humble yourself, repent and return to the truth.

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