God

He loveth still

Sadly I don’t anticipate that this post will mark the beginning of a golden era of blog posts here, but I wanted to share this before I forget. Quoted below are two verses of a hymn I came across about a week ago. Take a minute or two now to reflect on the words, and what they say about God and us.

In Him is only good,
in me is only ill;
my ill but draws His goodess forth,
and me He loveth still.

‘Tis He who saveth me,
and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me,
I live because He lives.

From “I bless the Christ of God” by Horatius Bonar

Would you remove free will?

What would you do if you were God for a day?

I once spent a few hours asking people that very question. It was a question board I did with the Christian Union at university.

The premise of a question board is simple. There is a board with a question on it, passers by are asked to answer the question, those answers are stuck on the board using post-it notes. It’s a good way to quickly gauge opinions about something, and discuss them if people are interested in doing so. On this occasion the question put people in the place of God. How would people use the power? How would you?

Most of the responses I received have been lost to the mists of an imperfect memory, but one sticks very clearly in the mind. I remember it because I was shocked by it, and because it was by far the most common answer that the people I spoke to had.

I’d remove free will.

At the time I was totally unprepared for that answer. It had simply never occurred to me that people thought they had too much free will. Too little, maybe – after all, plenty of people seem to think of religion as a set of restrictive rules – but too much free will?!

I guess we can think of free will as being free to do what we want to do. I’m sure a philosopher could pick holes in such a simplistic definition (do leave comments to help me refine it), but it’ll do for my purposes. If I have a certain desire, can I satisfy it? Can I do the things which I most want to do?

Is this a type of free will which we have? It seems to me that people do have this freedom, but paradoxically are enslaved by it. We can do what we want, but I’m not sure we can do anything else! We always act according to our desires, and when we deny ourselves it simply shows we have found a greater desire. I may forgo the pleasure of some food, but only the greater pleasure (or at least, what I perceive as the greater pleasure) of losing weight. Or conversely, I might (and often do!) forgo the pleasure of fitness for the greater pleasure of laziness. We are constrained to follow our own free will.

Into this world, Jesus came and offered freedom. Freedom from what? From slavery to our desires which often go against God’s good desires for our lives. That is why Jesus calls you and me “slaves to sin”. How does Jesus give us this freedom? He changes our desires. He cuts right to the heart of the problem, and changes us from being slaves to sin to being slaves to righteousness. We are still constrained, but to live a completely different way. The way that God knows is best for us.

I assume that the people who told me they would remove free will had in mind that they would impose perfection on the world. I assume they would prevent people from doing things which cause suffering. Perhaps they would even force people to worship them. How different the God of the Bible is! Rather than making people act against their will, He changes people from the inside out. The Christian isn’t compelled to do good, but longs to do it. God doesn’t force us to worship Him, but shows us how wonderful He is and our worship flows naturally from it. What a gentle way of dealing with a race of sinful humans!

What would you do if you were God for a day? What do you think of the idea of removing free will?

The ground of salvation

I’m currently in the middle of a surprisingly busy fortnight, but I thought this quote I found earlier today at the gospel driven church was well worth sharing:

A young minister, while visiting the cabin of a veteran Scotch woman who had grown ripe in experience, said to her, ‘Nannie, what if, after all your prayers and watching and waiting, God should allow your soul to be eternally lost?’

Looking at the youthful novice in divinity, she replied, ‘Ah, let me tell you, that God would have the greatest loss. Poor me would lose her soul, and that would be a great loss; but God would lose his honor and his character. If he broke his word, he would make himself a liar, and the universe would go to ruin.’

The veteran believer was right. Our only real ground of salvation lies in God’s everlasting word.

—- Theodore Cuyler, “Wayside Springs”

What a reminder of the centrality of God’s character to everything!

Relay 2 summary

Following on from last week’s summary of the Relay 1 conference, this is my (less well connected) summary of what I learnt at Relay 2.

  • Malachi shows God’s condemnation of religiosity.
  • When we don’t care about sin we cheapen grace and reduce our view of God.
  • Half-hearted worship reveals we care about people seeing us look good, rather than caring about pleasing God.
  • Everyone worships. Mission is about showing why God is more worthy of their worship than their idols are, and pointing them toward praising Him.
  • Our motivation for mission should be knowing God is great and worthy of praise.
  • All of life is about making God’s name great.
  • We are not chosen by God because we are better than others, but because He displays His strength in our weaknesses.
  • We need to know what people think we are saying when we talk to them about Jesus.
  • It is Christlike to sacrifice comfort for the sake of others, not to expect them to become like us and enter our culture.
  • Any privileges we have are given to us by God for the benefit of others.
  • We engage with the world by thanking god for the goodness it has, rather than isolating it. We let blessings point to the Blesser, rather than making them an ultimate end in themselves.

Justice and grace

Last week a trailer was released for the upcoming film ‘The Grace Card’. It seems to be a ‘Christian’ film, but many things about it leave me far from convinced that it will accurately portray the Christian gospel. The worst of all was a line in the trailer which sounded like a pivotal moment in the film.

It’s not justice we need. It’s grace!It's not justice we need. It's grace!

What a horrible false dichotomy is introduced here! Are justice and grace mutually exclusive? This seems to be the suggestion of the film. I don’t want to be too harsh, given I’ve merely seen a trailer rather than the full film, but it strikes me that this quote undermines all that is good about the God of the Bible.

God doesn’t abandon justice in favour of grace. This would be a cheap form of grace, which would reveal an arbitrary and unjust god. This is not the God of the Bible. This is not the Christian God. Quite the opposite.

God does extend grace through Jesus’ death, but not at the expense of justice. If there was no need for justice, why would Jesus have died? Why not simply forgive everyone all their sins? That would show grace; but what a terrible, grotesque, unjust grace it would be! This is not the grace referred to in Ephesians 2:8, quoted in the NIV at the end of the film trailer.

For it is by grace you have been saved.

The grace by which Christians have been saved is a grace which includes justice. Romans 3:26 speaks of God not only as the justifier (by grace) of the one with faith in Jesus, but also the one who is just. The reason for Jesus’ death was to provide a means of grace which did not contravene God’s perfect justice.

It is indeed grace we need, but we also receive justice from God. Praise the Lord!

The totality of love

I’ve been in Bournemouth for a week so this week’s blog post will just be a short quote.

God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people. The ground of His dealings with us is love (though the occasion may be sin), the manner of His dealings is love, and the purpose of His dealings is love.

That’s a good thought to meditate on and chew over. Sorry I can’t remember where I first came across this. If you’re interested I’m sure google will help you out.

Nothing appealing

One of many differences between humans and God struck me over the weekend, while on the RUCU houseparty. The Bible talks were from Isaiah chapters 53-55, and in my personal devotions I was reading Romans chapter 5. Just a few hours apart I read both the following passages:

He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53:2-3

When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

Spot the difference? We looked on an unattractive Christ and, by nature, reject Him. God, on the other hand, looks upon an unattractive humanity and loves it. God comes and dies for sinful humanity. What is the result?

I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:12

Jesus, God the Son, is honoured by God the Father because He bore our sin. A just God punishes all wrong things, and Jesus took that punishment for us. What amazing love! No wonder Jesus is honoured!

Great movements of God

Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.

D. L. Moody

Today, Friday the 6th of November, marks the IFES World Student Day, a 48 hour period of solid prayer around the globe for the work of Christian students as they aim to live for God in their universities. RUCU‘s termly prayer week is this coming week, the 9th to the 13th of November, after which we head off for a weekend of fellowship and teaching at our houseparty. Some of my (few) readers are Reading students, some are not, but if you are a Christian why not join us in prayer this week? We will be praying for salvation on Reading campus and for God to make great movements in the lives of individuals, and through them great movements which impact throughout the whole world. Be part of it. Pray to God.