Hints of Fallenness

The events of Genesis 3 have a continued impact on us every day.  I think it is good to continue to study it closely.  We know that the Serpent engaged Eve in a conversation that led to disaster.  He started by introducing doubt about God’s word – “Did God really say…?” But let’s consider the Serpent’s second statement to Eve.  Remember how he discounted the promise of death and offered an alternative that captured her heart, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Her response to that offer, along with Adam, was not just a one-time thing.  Yes, that moment was critical.  But the temptation lingers for us all.  Humanity continues to pursue some corrupted form of godlikeness to this day.  We see it on narcissistic social media and in competitive work environments, and if we are honest, we can also see it in the mirror.  It is helpful to notice how easily Christians still fall for this temptation, and yet we do it in a sort of “sanctified” or “Christian” way.  Here are four variations that pull on us:

Be like God, knowing – Humanity has a hunger to be “in the know.”  We don’t easily feel settled in a position of humility, even as Christians.  Knowledge is compellingly attractive, especially when others don’t have it and we can feel superior.  Is there not some of this “insider knowledge” permeating the gossip addiction in many churches?  And what about the tendency many have to hold untested and uninformed positions as strong convictions?  Some people find personal security in their black and white views on various issues rather than having the courage and faith to grapple in the grey zones of complexity and humility.

Be like God, controlling – Humanity inherently hates the notion of a God on the throne.  This tension is clear in the moral rebellion of society, but it can still be there subtly in church world, too.  We humans dislike being out of control.  Whether it is sickness, or earning an income, or church decisions (don’t say “change!”), or whatever, don’t we tend to seek control?  And sometimes, while we are striving to control situations, we seek God’s endorsement on our situation management by praying for his blessing.

Be like God, ruling – Humanity longs for God’s position.  Pyramid climbing is the norm in the business world, academia, social gatherings – it is everywhere.  Perhaps you have experienced conversations where the other person vies for position and seeks to establish their superiority through various tactics.  Jesus has demonstrated our God’s self-emptying and humbling nature, and calls us to have the same attitude.  Yet we can jostle for position and engage in “Christian” rivalry.  We easily sanctify the act of climbing up our pyramids as long as it is for “godly influence” or “ministry.”

Be like God, alone?  The world’s way of pursuing the “be like God” dream always includes getting rid of God in some fashion.  It’s almost as if they know that there isn’t room for two “gods” and so must competitively dismiss all others to take their position.  Perhaps it is this move to aloneness that is most sad to behold.  We know that God is jealous of His unique position and glory.  And yet God is not self-absorbed and glory-grabbing – He exists in a communion of loving glory-giving.  He doesn’t pursue the subjugation of every person for the sake of His personal sense of security.  Rather, He gives His very best to win the hearts of a corporate bride for His Son.  He doesn’t exercise authority or dominion rashly, or selfishly; instead, He humbly pursues those who hate Him that His love might capture them.

But what about the throne?  He will, after all, not share his glory with any other god, right?  Right.  But the Bible also gives the stunning expectation that those in Christ will get to rule, to sit with Christ on His throne.  We will never be “gods,” for there is only one God.  Yet He has reached down, humbling Himself, that we might be lifted up to reign with Him, to know Him, to love Him.  The moment we compete with God, we push Him aside and find ourselves alone on our own throne.  We move away from such riches for so little.

The issue underlying Genesis 3, in one sense, remains our issue today.  Do we really know what our God is like and trust Him?

Let’s continue to read His Word and be gripped by who He really is and what He has done.  Then perhaps we wouldn’t need to “christianize” and “sanctify” a worldly pursuit of power, status, influence, knowledge, and godhood in our mini-kingdoms.  Instead, we could rejoice in the reality that far surpasses all our dreams yet inherently opposes all our fleshly pursuits.  The difference?  We are called to trust with humility, rather than haughtily grab. Be sure to keep your gaze on Him, even in church world!


Glen Scrivener: What is the Essence of Sin?

Glen-321AGlen is an evangelist and director of Speak Life. He is the author of 321 – The Story of God, the World and You and blogs at Christ the Truth. He lives in Eastbourne with his wife, Emma, and daughter, Ruby.  At our church we give away copies of 321 to  visitors, it really is a fantastic resource.  I am thankful to Glen as he launches this guest post series for Foundations.  (I will post complete guest posts here for most of the series, but would love for you to check out the book website, FourBigQuestions.com and so you will be directed there to finish this post – thanks!)


What is the essence of sin?

Is it “climbing onto the throne of your life”?
Is it “stealing the crown for yourself”?
Is it “shaking your puny fist in the face of God”?
Is it saying “Shove off God, I‘m in charge, No to your rule”

Well, yes. But is it deeper than that? You bet!

You see, if we define sin as “self-rule” what do we say to the Iranian refugee working his fingers to the bone, sending back every penny to the family?

What do we say to the woman serially abused by the terrible men she invites into her life?

What do we say to the drug addict whose only remaining desire is the hell-bent drive to throw his life away?

What do we say to the down-trodden mother who’s completely lost herself in her family?

What do we say to the self-harmer consumed by self-loathing?

All these people are sinners. But is their sin best captured by a definition of “self-rule”? Surely not. And the Bible knows this, which is why its teaching on sin goes far deeper than “self-rule.”

In the Bible we are . . . click here to see the rest of Glen’s post on FourBigQuestions.com


Preaching Holiness – part 3

Holiness2This week we are chewing on matters of preaching and true godly holiness.  I won’t review where we have been already, but please do go back to the first posts if you missed them.

10. People need instructing in holiness, but never in a sermon severed from the glorious good news of the Gospel.  There are plenty of instructional sections in the New Testament epistles, for example.  Don’t go joyriding in an Imperative Harvester, but instead keep the instructions firmly planted in the rich soil of Gospel content within the context of their own Bible book.  We might take weeks to preach an epistle, but the original hearers heard them in one sitting.  So make sure you aren’t plucking instruction and losing the rich theological setting for them.

11. The preacher’s personal holiness matters beyond words.  This is more than conformity to high standards of integrity.  It also shows in your love, your joy, your peace, your patience, your kindness . . . oh wait, I see what is going on here (it’s back to the tangible reality of the Holy Spirit again!)

12. Holiness is not merely movement away from something, it is movement towards someone.  False holiness will come across as a sour reaction against everything, whereas true holiness involves movement toward God, and out of ourselves toward others.  Christlikeness involves being like Christ, who was no sour hermit.

13. We must think root and not just fruit in respect to holiness.  If we ignore the appetites deep within, then we can give the impression that holiness is something people should pretend to like (while really only obeying through gritted teeth because they would much rather be sinning).  The new inner relish given by the Spirit results in genuine hatred of sin and delight in God’s holiness.

14. The world should not be allowed to define holiness … neither contemporary culture, nor your parents’ culture.  While some let contemporary cultural values shape their own, others let the cultural values of a previous generation do the shaping. Be Bible soaked so that it shows in your life, your personality, your attitude, etc.

(Probably) the final part of the series will go live tomorrow…

Preaching Holiness – part 2

Holiness2We are pondering God’s holiness and our preaching.  Let’s continue the list of thoughts:

5. The Gospel is not just a solution for the guilt of our un-holiness, it also includes a recipe to generate true holiness.  Often preachers offer a way to get rid of the guilt, but leave listeners feeling that the pursuit of holiness and their ongoing commitment to Christ’s cause is a burden planted firmly on their shoulders.  The Gospel isn’t simply about forgiveness of sin, it also includes the transformation of the human heart and the wonder of union with Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit).

6. The compulsion stirred in a Gospel-gripped heart is infinitely stronger than our most vehement tirade.  We will always be drawn to the notion that our pressurized guilt trip will bring about change, but only because we don’t fully understand humans or the Gospel.  Peer and preacher-pressure may manufacture diligent religious duties, but a delighted heart will give anything for the One loved.  Preach Him that others might love Him.

7. Show me a heart that truly loves Christ, and I will show you a life that is growing in holiness.  If the people in our churches could just catch a glimpse of the wonder of God’s pure love in Christ then the result would be incredible growth in holiness.  Our privilege is to seek to know Him more and offer Him more effectively.

8. True holiness momentum comes not from the pulpit, but from the stirred heart.  So preach and present the One who stirs hearts.  Our task is not primarily to instruct and constrain.  It is to present and invite.  Offer the most compelling Christ that you can and you will barely scratch the surface of the richness of the One who for all eternity has brought infinite delight to the heart of the Father in heaven.  We could always do better at preaching Christ.  Let’s stop wasting time and energy preaching performance and give ourselves to the Christian minister’s great privilege.

9. What spills from the preacher’s heart on Sunday must first thrill the preacher’s heart during the week.  If our lives are too caught up with the business of the church enterprise instead of prayer and ministering the Word, then we may give leadership speeches, but we won’t be preaching Christ out of the overflow of our own hearts.  In this sense, holiness momentum is generated via the pulpit, but the starting point is private delight in the wonder of Christ.

More tomorrow…

Preaching Holiness

Holiness2Holiness is a huge theme in the Bible.  It should be a huge theme in our preaching.  Sadly, what is often preached about holiness seems to fall woefully short of the richness of the biblical reality.

I remember hearing one preacher say confidently that what our nation needs is to be moralized.  I suspect he didn’t understand what he was saying.  Moralizing is a danger in preaching, not because we don’t want to see society transformed, but precisely because moralizing won’t do the job.  Pressuring people to conform to certain standards won’t generate holiness in our churches or our land any more than pressuring a tone deaf choir to sing in tune will lead to sweet music.

Here are a few key thoughts to ponder on holiness and preaching:

1. People don’t make themselves holy, God’s Holy Spirit makes people holy.  It is so tempting to pressure people to conform to some standard, but we must preach out of a conviction that God changes lives.  The clue is in His title, the Holy Spirit.  This reality should influence our pre-preaching prayer, our content and our manner in the pulpit.

2. When we only present holiness as being “set apart from” something, it can sound so sour and empty.  What passes for holiness in many churches is so sour and strange that it seems a million miles from the wholeness of life and love we see in Jesus as we read the Gospels.  True holiness is not pinched, it is fully alive.  True holiness is not a barrel of vinegar, it is a feast of true and abundant life.

3. God’s holiness is not sour, it is infinitely beautiful and attractive.  When we present God as a celestial killjoy, we misrepresent the God whose abundant heart created and infinite generosity created unfettered joy and vibrant life.  God’s holiness is not the sterile hygiene of an operating theatre, it is the fullness of the rich loyal love He enjoys within the Godhead…

4. God’s holiness is not balanced against His love – it is the reality of His loving Triunity.  Too often we offer strange balancing acts that seem somewhat foreign to the presentation of Scripture.  God is not infinitely loving, but only 50% that way.  It is not true that He is love (but also something else, with the “but” being an adversative).  God is love.  And that love is perfectly faithful, loyal, pure, just, righteous and holy.

The list continues tomorrow…

Gospel Dimensions 3

TapeMeasuresIn the last two days I have made some suggestions as to how a limited view of God and humanity will tend to undermine our preaching.  What about our view of sin?

1. When we see the problem as partial rather than total.  How often have we heard, or said, that if God’s pass mark is 50, then even a 49 is still falling short of the glory of God?  Therefore even the most “perfect” performer of self-righteousness can be caught out because they must have at least stolen a biscuit when they were small or a paperclip from work in recent years.  Perhaps we say imagine a perfect white sheet of paper, then put a dot of ink on it . . . no longer perfect.  Heaven is perfect, etc.  This is all true, but dangerously untrue at the same time.  Hypothetically a person could be a 49/50 performer, but in reality, nobody is.  To put it another way, we are all zero out of 50 because self-righteousness is not the goal.  Sin is not about independent performance according to a standard.  The standard reveals our independent performance and abject failure.  The independence is a huge part of the issue, so our paper is not mostly white, it is completely covered in blotched ink.  And that ink comes in two colours:

2. When we see the problem as naughtiness.  Naughtiness is like blue ink.  It is the colour of the younger son’s track record as he crawls back wearing swine deodorant from the far country.  But naughtiness is not the extent of sin.  It is one manifestation, but it is not the whole deal.  The Bible does not say we have all been naughty and fallen short of the performance levels of God.  Independent self-righteousness is red ink.  You may prefer red, but it still covers the white of the page when splashed liberally onto it.  Our righteousness is like filthy rags before a God who longs for hearts to not be far from Him.  Some human sheets are mostly blue.  Some are mostly red.  None have any white showing.  I am trying different ways to say the same thing: our sin is far worse than we realise!

3. When we see the problem as a hindrance rather than death.  Broken will?  Clouded uninformed mind?  Slightly marred record?  Sin goes deeper than all of this.  The heart of the human sin problem is the human heart.  That is where we are dead toward God, dead in our self-love, dead because life is found in relationship with God.  And we cannot fix our own hearts.  Fully dead in sin, and fully unable to do a thing about it.

If we present sin as petty naughtiness, then we will preach the good news that a petty God is willing to put up with our paperclip theft.  Hardly the gospel.  And if we preach a shallow or superficial portrait of sin, then we can very easily offer a gospel of heavenly benefits to people whose hearts remain far from Him.  Is this not an anti-gospel?

10 Biggest Big Ideas – 3. Sin

The 10 biggest ideas in the Bible?  We’ve considered God and His creation.  Now we need to probe the problem.

3. Our profound capacity for love has been perverted into a self-love that drives a charade of independent divine status, in mockery of and in sickening rebellion against the loving leadership of our good God.

Within three biblical chapters God’s perfect creation is corrupted to the core.  It is corrupted from the core.  And the story of God’s resolution to our relational rebellion takes the whole canon to fully resolve, leaving only two chapters for the briefest glimpse of a post-fall new creation.  This is the great tension in the grandest of meta-narratives.

Lovingly created for relational interdependence and trusting dependence, the human race is marred by love perverted and trust destroyed.  The manifestation of the fall, the fruit, if you will, was in the eating of the forbidden fruit.  Yet the core of the event was at the level of the heart, not merely a matter of rule-breaking.  The corruption was caused by a love turned inwards, by a rebellious spurning of God’s right to rule in love, and by a fatal distrust of His good Word.

A God-given capacity to love another, delight in another, live for another, trust in another and give to another was twisted, perverted and corrupted.  It became the horrific reorientation of the power of divine love into a love of divine power – shamefully manifesting in a love for self, delight in self, living for self, trusting in self and giving to self.

Now the god of a human heart is the perceived good of that same human heart.  Instead of lovingly trusting a loving and trustworthy self-giving God, the default wiring of humanity is to hate and despise Him, performing the charade of god-hood as if that is really about self-concern, independence and power.  Even the pathetic performance shows a profound corruption of God’s true nature.

Believing the lie, we present a lie.  Every person a theologian by birth, and every person profoundly wrong.  God is not self-concerned and power-obsessed – it’s not just the “who is God?” question we answer so badly, but also the “what is God like?” question.

Sin re-orients the heart, taints the mind and manifests in broken behavior.  Some shake their fist at heaven in acts of overt rebellion, demonstrating the horrific and grotesque nature of sin by the evil that they do.  Others shake their fist at heaven in an act of apparent goodness, diligently demonstrating their ability to do good in a self-loving independence from the God who alone is good.   Even righteous deeds are as filthy rags.  Whatever is of independent un-faith is sin.

Sin is the tension in every biblical narrative, and every personal narrative.  It isn’t a question about whether we can do good, or whether we can be empowered to do good.  It is a question about what or who can ever recapture our hearts and draw our incurved souls from addiction to self, to gaze on the truly lovely, the genuinely loving and the profoundly trustworthy God who made us for participation in His love.

So as we preach the Bible we must never miss the fallen condition focus of every passage, the context of sin in which every text swims.  Neither must we offer any sense of instruction for independent goodness, for that was the root of the issue.  Sin is pervasive and profound, and God’s solution is glorious beyond words.  Yet we preach.  We preach . . . you finish the sentence: “we preach . . . and Him . . . .”

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But They Know Actual People

It seems inevitable that a biblical ministry that brings the message of the Bible to people in this world will frequently have to engage with sin.  If you have figured out how to preach only positive messages, then you probably should preach from more than the first couple and last couple of chapters!  So as we preach we address sin.  Here’s my one point for this post, although much more could be said on numerous levels, of course: sometimes we can make reference to certain sins in the abstract, but f0r some listeners these things are not abstract.  We may speak about the sin, but they know actual people who engage in that sin.

For example, it is easy to zoom in on the sin of a certain addiction or behaviour.  From your perspective what you say is fine.  You are looking out at a broken world and speaking about it, hopefully using biblical support for what you say.  But some of the people listening aren’t working in the abstract.  They are wrestling with the issue themselves.  Or they have a friend or relative who is caught up in it.  They know the back story.  They don’t want to excuse the sin, but they feel for the person entangled in it.

What to do?  One approach would be to tread softly around all issues, never get specific, always speak happy thoughts in abstract and vague ways.  Doesn’t sound like the best approach when you’re reading the Bible and seeing God’s spokesmen in action, does it?  Perhaps the better approach is to address whatever issue and instead of saying less, say slightly more.  Sometimes just including an acknowledgment of listeners’ feelings and the complexity of sin makes all the difference.  For example, avoiding the obvious ones so we don’t get distracted from the point of the post, perhaps you are addressing the sin of eating peanuts (and have biblical support for your position!)  You might have said some things already about the prevalence of this addiction, but then maybe you include something like this:

“Perhaps you know someone who struggles with this.  You know what the Bible says, but you also know them and you care about them.  You know what they’ve gone through in recent years, or how they were hurt by that failed relationship, or the scar left by their absent father.  This is not some sort of abstract issue for you because as soon as it is mentioned you see their face.  I understand that.  We live in a broken and hurting world filled with real people with real stories.  Sin is real and it hurts.”

Then you continue with your point.  If the transition to this content and from this content is smooth, it won’t jar, but it will keep listeners with you as you touch on a subject that hits a nerve. Sin is always viewed differently when it touches close to home.  When you preach to a decent sized and diverse congregation, sin issues are always touching close to home for someone.  Be sensitive to them.  Win an audience for the Word.