Monthly Archives: September 2015

Unthinkable

“The political goal of making abortion illegal has always been a truncate vision. The real desire has always been to create a world where abortion is not just illegal, but unthinkable. In such a culture, the physical, psychological, and spiritual dangers of abortion are common knowledge. In such a culture, commitment, compassion, and a sense of duty to aid and protect baby and child will be universal.” –David Reardon, quoted by John Piper in A Hunger for God

In A Hunger For God Piper rightly points out the main reason why our country is so permissive, in fact the most permission democracy in the world (Piper, 144), when it comes to abortion is because we have adopted a worldview that makes it so. The pro-life goal, therefore, can’t just be at the level of legislation or court rulings, but at the level of culture, which is what Reardon is getting at in the quote above.

What are some things that we can at the level of culture which could make abortion unthinkable?

  • Recognition of the baby in the womb as human life: The expansion of ultrasound technology has gone a long way in showing us this reality. So have scientific advances in our knowledge of the life of the baby in the womb. Babies in the womb, even at extremely young ages, feel pain, react to light and darkness, and even dream. It’s getting harder and harder for pro-abortion activists to fight against this stream of public knowledge and common sense. So, mothers-to-be, keep posting the status updates on the development of your baby. I promise not to get annoyed.
  • Recognition of all life in all its stages as precious: This gets at the heart of the issue, since it is still possible to believe that the baby is, in fact, a baby, and yet still argue that it is OK to kill it. It is thinkable to kill the baby only since its life is not see as precious. Christians believe that all life is precious and it is precious in every stage of life.
  • This means that those who are pro-life can’t only focus on the stage of life from conception to birth. We must make a commitment to come along mothers with unplanned/crisis pregnancies in order to come to their aid and partner with them in caring for the child, before and after it is born.
  • Caring for life in all stages and forms also means we show compassion to the poor, the homeless, the handicapped, the refugees, and those on the fringes of society. We must see the image of God in everyone we meet.
  • Promoting and living a culture of duty and self-denial: Abortion-on-demand is fueled by an individualistic vision of reality that places the needs of the autonomous self over the needs of others. As a nation we willingly sacrifice the unwanted in order to serve our own vision of reality, and not only in the area of abortion. As a nation we need to recapture the values of having a duty towards the weak and powerless, of being willing to say “no” to self in order to serve our neighbors.
  • This means holding young men accountable. We need men who are willing to say “no” to their own sexual desires and who will say “yes” to fatherhood. If we didn’t have a fatherhood crisis in America, it’s hard to imagine that we would have such an abortion crisis. Great dads would go a long way to making abortion unthinkable.

Finally, for Christians (though there are plenty of non-Christians opposed to abortion as well), we need a commitment to the Word. I’ll conclude with a quote from Francis Schaeffer:

“The only thing that can stem this tide is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people. And the only thing which gives us that is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God. We have no other final protection. And the only way we know people are made in the image of God is through the Bible and the incarnation of Christ.” –Francis Schaeffer, quoted by John Piper in A Hunger for God

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16 characteristics of a foreigner/stranger

“Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” Proverbs 25:16

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26

This is part of a continuing series on what it means for the Church to be a community of exiles and foreigners. The study this week is on Hebrews 11 and 13. I was short on time this week though, so instead of a full blog post I will just offer a list.

  1. They know that they are, indeed, foreigners and strangers on earth (11:13)
  2. They are grounded by faith in the eternal and unseen God (11:1)
  3. They are pulled forward into hope and obedience by the promise of God (11:10)
  4. They accept temporary living conditions (uncertainty) now for permanent living conditions later (11:9-10)
  5. They take the warnings of God seriously (11:6)
  6. They step out of a comfortable life in order to follow where God leads (11:8)
  7. They refuse to return to where they came from, because they know God has something better in store (11:15-16)
  8. They fear God more than they fear unjust rulers (11:23)
  9. They consider it better to identify with the oppressed people of God than to enjoy position and pleasure in the halls of power (11:24-26; also Proverbs 25:16)
  10. They trust in the salvation of God, through the sacrifice he provides (11:28)
  11. Despite their state of vulnerability, they experience God’s protection, either here on earth, or in the resurrection (11:32-37)
  12. They are willing to identify with the persecuted Church (13:3)
  13. They make holiness a priority (13:4-5)
  14. They identify with Jesus who suffered disgrace “outside the gate”, bearing the same disgrace that he did (13:12-13)…
  15. … knowing that God will vindicate them in the end (13:14)
  16. Therefore, their lives are marked by worship and good deeds (13:15-16)

See also:

The Church in Exile – A survey of 1 Peter

The Church in Exile

First of all, check out that cool graphic designed by Becki Watson. That is the graphic that is being used to promote the new Sunday Night series starting this Sunday night at our church and which has been the topic of several recent blog posts, and even a few old ones.

In the last post I reviewed the gospel of John, picking out all the places that identified Jesus as a stranger and exile on this earth. Today I am doing the same thing with the book of 1 Peter, looking at all the key verses that highlight the Christian’s identity as a stranger and exile.

Exiles and Foreigners

1 Peter is a letter written specifically to a church in exile. It is addressed to “God’s elected, exiles scattered throughout the provinces” (1:1). They are called to live “as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1:17). As “foreigners and exiles” they are instructed to “abstain from sinful desires” (2:11). Peter concludes his letter with a salutation from “she who is in Babylon” (5:13). I believe Peter uses this language on purpose so that his hearers might remember their identity as a people who are somewhat out of place in the world from which God had brought them. I believe he also does this in order to call to their minds the exile of God’s people in the Old Testament. The scattered church of Peter’s time finds itself in a position not unlike that of Daniel: a minority worshipper of God amidst a sea of paganism, in constant danger, but nevertheless a recipient of God’s special grace and provision.

They are made exiles because of a transfer of citizenship

Those to whom Peter writes were once “at home” with their surrounding culture. Peter reminds them that they have “spent enough time in the past doing what pagans chose to do” (4:3). Now, however, they have been redeemed from the empty way of life in which they used to live (1:18). They have received new birth in Christ (1:3) and have been born again (1:23). They who were once not a people have become part of the people of God (2:10).

How did the change of citizenship occur? It happened through the mystery of the sovereignty of God and the free response of man. They are the “elect” (1:1) and the “chosen” (1:20). They are also those who have responded to God’s faith. They believed the message of the gospel (1:21) and have “purified themselves by obeying the truth” (1:22). In doing this they have been sanctified (1:2) and set apart as God’s people, a chosen priesthood, a holy nation (2:9-10).

In other words, it was the gospel of Jesus, his death and resurrection, which set apart the Church as exiles in the world. They became a church in exile when they abandoned the false gods which they had previously worshipped and began to worship the true and living God through Jesus.

Despite the fact that this exile in the world leads to frequent danger and persecution this transfer was definitely in the best interest of those who responded in faith. They traded the perishable, dying, and empty for the imperishable, living, and enduring word of God (see 1:17-25). Note the similarities between this passage and Hebrews 11 which describes Abraham as looking forward to “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

As exiles and strangers, they are called to live holy lives

One the key attributes that will set apart the church in exile from its surrounding culture is the holiness of the people of God, especially in comparison to their pagan neighbors. Peter encourages the church to resist conformity to evil desires (1:14), to get rid of malice and deceit (2:1), to abstain from sinful desires (2:11), and to “not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires” (4:2). The sins that Peter has in mind have a striking resemblance to the “works of the flesh” in Galatians. Instead, like Paul’s exhortation, the people of God are to be primarily marked by a deep and sincere love for one another.

This commitment to abstention from sinful pleasures will set them apart as somewhat odd in their culture. Peter tells them that the pagan world is “surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living” and that this surprise will quickly lead to abuse and hostility (4:4).

Even as citizens of heaven, under a higher authority, earthly authorities are still to be honored

One might expect Peter’s sharp distinction between the people of God and the surrounding culture to lead to an oppositional attitude towards earthly authorities. Peter himself was thrown into prison on multiple occasions. He knew better than we that the authorities of this world often stand in opposition to the authority of God.

It might strike us as somewhat odd to read, then, Peter’s plea for, of all things, submission. Specifically, he encourages submission to various earthly “authorities”. Citizens submit to governing authorities (2:13). Slaves submit to masters (2:18). Wives submit to husbands (3:1). Younger people in the church submit to elders (5:5). (Aside: Husbands get an “in the same way…” clause in 3:7 indicating a decree mutual submission).

What we have here, especially in regards to governing authorities, is a recognition of dual citizenship. As it pertains to God, Christians are citizens of heaven and in that way they are to “live as free people.” In regards to their citizenship in heaven they have one single authority above all others: God. However, as strangers in a foreign land God is honored when they honor the authorities of that land. Obedience to the governing authorities ought to be the norm for Christians.

The authority of the civil government, though, has its limits. Peter himself disobeyed the authorities on occasion, because he recognized a higher authority. Daniel also serves as an excellent example. He went out of his way to honor the king in Babylon, but there were certain limits to his obedience. He would not give up prayer. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago would not bow down to the idol.

Nevertheless, those cases are rather extreme. For Peter’s message to the exiles, obedience to civil authorities is the normal way in which we honor God as strangers in a foreign land.

Exiles and strangers should expect opposition

The congregations to which Peter is writing are clearly in a state of active persecution and are expecting more to come. Opposition, hostility, and suffering are major themes in the book. Peter writes “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you to test you, as though something strange is happening to you” (4:12). For Peter, opposition is the norm of Christian life.

Opposition is the norm for followers of Jesus because they are exiles and strangers in the same way that Jesus himself was an exile and stranger (see study on John). If the world hated Jesus, the world will hate his followers. Jesus himself predicted this. Jesus is held up again and again as the example of how to endure suffering: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (2:21). Again in 4:1 “since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude.”

Why should Christians expect opposition? Four reasons might be given. (1) Identification with Christ (4:13, 14, 16). (2) Because they will not join in the immoral behavior of their unbelieving neighbors (4:4). (3) For doing good, or for no good reason (2:20; 3:14). (4) Because of immoral behavior (4:15). Peter does not commend those who suffer because of legitimate wrongs done. His emphasis in the letter, however, is on the first three.

How should believers respond to opposition? First there is an internal commitment. Like Jesus we are to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator (4:19). This Creator is also the one who is the judge of all things and will vindicate the people of God at the proper time, just as he vindicated Christ by raising him from the dead. He is also the God who has stored away for us a glorious inheritance and an enduring and sure hope. He is the one who is able to make us strong, firm, and steadfast (5:10). He is the one who holds the journey and the end of the journey in his hands.

Second, having committed themselves to God, exiles and strangers find joy and honor in opposition. “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” and “you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory rests on you” and “praise God that you bear [the name of Christ]” (4:13-16). Joy is set up as the opposite of the fear and fright which hostility naturally engenders (3:14).

Third, the exile and stranger patiently endures and refuses to take revenge. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing” (3:9). When the Christian responds with hope instead of fear and blessing instead of insult the natural response of the persecutor will be surprise. When the questions are asked Christians are called to always be ready with an answer and then respond with gentleness and a clear conscience.

Fourth and finally Peter encourages his congregation to avoid any unnecessary conflict by always doing what is right. Again, it is no benefit to suffer for doing wrong. To always do right would certainly deflect much of the unfair criticism. However, Peter is not optimistic that it would deflect all hostility. At its core, hostility against Christians comes from hostility against Christ. The inevitable hypocrisy of Christians adds fuel to the flames, to be sure. And, to be sure, Christians should always live with a clear conscience before God. Nevertheless, hostility towards Christians simply because of identification with Christ appears to be part of the normal Christian life in most places and ages.

Exiles and strangers don’t go it alone

A final and essential component of 1 Peter as it relates to exiles is the place of the church. Those who accept the message of the gospel have a transferred citizenship. This means a new ultimate authority (God) and a new life. It also means that they are part of a new people. Acceptance of Christ set the people apart from their still unbelieving neighbors. They became outcasts from the world’s perspective. But from God’s perspective they became part of an enduring community and a spiritual house (2:4). The cornerstone of this house is Christ, rejected by man but glorified by God. The house shares the same fate as its Cornerstone (2:4-9).

As a church in exile, made up of people scattered throughout the earth, the people of God have the privilege of being God’s special possession and of declaring the praises of God (2:10).

The people of God is to be characterized by love as a direct response to the gospel: “Love one another deeply from the heart,” (2:23) “love one another,” (4:8) “above all, love each other deeply” (4:8). In this way the church forms a sort of countercurrent to the current of the surrounding culture. Where the systems of the world are primarily selfish, the norm for the church is to be self-giving. Where the systems of the world are primarily prideful, the norm for the church should be humility. Where the systems of the world focus on self-love, the norm for the church seeks above all to honor and love the living and true God.

In this short Q & A from John Piper, Piper offers a great metaphor for the life of the foreigner and stranger. The foreigner should be like a dolphin and not like a jelly fish. The jelly fish simply moves with the current. The dolphin is able to cut across the current. Impacted but no controlled by the movement of the water. The jelly fish Christian simply moves along with the current of culture. The dolphin Christian is able to cut across culture, being counter-cultural where necessary, perhaps moving with the current when doing so honors God (all cultures are mixed bag). We can’t remove ourselves with culture any more than a dolphin can swim out of water, but we can develop the skills necessary to navigate it with Christ’s help.

This metaphor seems to jive well with the message of 1 Peter. Peter doesn’t call God’s people to escape from culture, but he does tell them to resist sinful desires, a command that will set them apart from their neighbors. He calls them to navigate a sometimes hostile world by relying on the gospel and committing themselves to God.

I want to conclude by expanding the metaphor just a little bit. The church, I believe, can function as a sort of undercurrent or counterculture amidst the ocean of culture and I believe that the church is called to such a task. The Christian is wise to seek out that undercurrent which is moving in the way of Christ. This is important in every day and age, but perhaps even more important in places and ages more openly hostile to the gospel.

Jesus: Stranger and Exile

And so continues by research into the question: What does it mean for Christians to live out their lives as strangers and exiles in the world?

Since we Christians take Jesus as our Supreme example in all matters of Christian living, it is fitting to ask the question: Was Jesus an example of what it means to be a stranger and an exile? One of my Bible dictionaries told me the answer was “yes” so I decided to explore it a bit more and underlined everything in the gospel of John related to the topic. Here is the fruit of that labor.

Journey motif

The journey motif is central to the idea of being a stranger. This is most obviously true of Abraham and Moses. One of the first things we observe in the gospel of John is the journey motif as it applies to Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, and ascension.

Jesus was “sent” by his Father into the world (3:34, 5:23, 24) and is described as the one who “came” into the world (1:11). In the other gospels Jesus is always seen traveling about. This is not as prominent in John but in one telling verse after especially strong opposition from the Jewish leaders, Jesus is essentially “exiled” to the village Ephraim in a region near the wilderness (11:54). In the synoptic gospels Jesus’ homeless status is made clear when Jesus states, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20, Luke 9:58).

If Jesus set out on a journey at his incarnation and lived as a transient during his time of ministry, he faced the ultimate “exile” in the crucifixion. But he was also a man with a destination. He knew that he would be returning to the Father (8:14, 21; 20:17) in order to prepare a place for those who would believe in Him (14:1-4).

Jesus’ relation to the world

It is not enough to say simply that Jesus was on a journey. To be a foreigner or an exile He must be in foreign territory. Was Jesus’ a foreigner in the world?

In one sense, Jesus was as far from being a foreigner as one could get. After all, the physical world, if it is anyone’s, is God’s. Jesus came to the world that He made (1:3) and He even came to His own people (1:11, that is, the Jewish people). When Jesus entered into the Temple and saw the money changers he was inflamed with zeal because of what had been done to His Father’s house (2:16-17).

But, though the world belonged to Jesus, as did the people to whom He came, as did the Temple in which he entered, he was rejected. He was like a King returning to his land to find that it had been conquered by an enemy force. It is his land but he finds nothing but enemies there. That king is on a mission, to free it from the hands of the enemy. This is what Jesus does in the incarnation, he comes into the world that, while it is his own, is under another power, filled with people loyal to that new power. Jesus is a man on a mission. He came to redeem and to win back what was rightfully his, but in doing so he takes on the position of a foreigner.

C.S. Lewis provided an excellent description of the incarnation that I think captures this same perspective, though with a different metaphor.

“In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity… down to the very seabed of the Nature he created. But he goes down to go up again and bring the whole ruined world up with him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He stoops in order to lift, he must disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles)

If this is the case the next question we must ask is: Why was Jesus rejected? What other power did Jesus come to rescue us from?

Why was Jesus rejected?

The gospel of John answers this question in several ways. Jesus (the Light) was rejected because men love darkness because their deeds are evil (3:19). He was hated because he testified that what men did was evil (7:7). At the root of their actions was a false religion. Jesus states on multiple occasions that He was rejected because his opponents did not “know” the Father (7:28) and because they do not “belong” to the Father (8:47). In fact, not only do they not “belong” to the Father but they have another father entirely, the devil, and so carry out his commands (8:44).

Once the true worship of God has been done away with we are able to see the false gods of Jesus’ opponents. One false god is the Law, particularly the legalistic rules surrounding the honoring of the Sabbath. It is because the Sabbath is worshipped instead of God, who made the Sabbath that the Pharisees failed to rightly judge Jesus (7:24). Another god is security. As Jesus gained popularity the Sanhedrin decided to step up their efforts to take him down because, they said, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (11:48, see also 19:15). A third false god was the praise of men. Many, though not outright opponents of Jesus, were afraid to follow him because they feared being put out of the synagogue, therefore losing the praise of men (12:43).

It is worth noting that those who most furiously opposed Jesus, and who Jesus associates with “the world” in the gospel of John, are not the so-called sinners. Instead, it is the most intently religious, those who most forcefully pride themselves on how well they keep the commands of God.

The World

Speaking of “the world”, some clarification on this point is due. On the one hand, “the world” is the object of God’s love and the reason for which Jesus came and willingly gave up his life. On the other hand, “the world” is that which opposes Jesus. Jesus can say to his opponents, “You are of this world; I am not of this world” (8:23). In fact he must “overcome the world” (16:33). His kingdom is a kingdom “not of this world” (18:36).

I think this apparent contradiction can be understood using the above metaphor of the returning king. Jesus is the king returning to his kingdom, the object of his love, and to the people of his kingdom. But there is another power at play which must be opposed (sin and the devil) which is so pervasive so that it might really be called “the world”. The people have been deceived into a false allegiance and, in fact, have become willing participants in an outright rebellion. Their sin (and again we must emphasize that it is primarily the sin of the religious people) blinded them to the Light of the world.

The Hinge

When Jesus comes into the world, then, he comes as a dividing force. His presence forces people to choose their allegiance. Will their allegiance be to the false gods of religious systems or will it be to the true King Jesus? This decision hinges on what they believe about Jesus. It is those who believe that have eternal life (6:47). The disciples stick with Jesus because they know that He is the Holy One and that he has the words of life (6:68, 69). It is through belief that Jesus’ disciples can receive living water (7:38). Those who believe enter into the kingdom under the allegiance of Jesus. Those who refuse to believe that Jesus is the Messiah hold onto their false allegiance and, Jesus warns, will die in their sins.

Jesus the Conqueror

If Jesus is the returning and conquering king, how does he conquer? How does he win? Certainly the disciples probably expected a real military conquest, but Jesus had no such plan in mind. He declares “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:31-32). This “lifting up” was not a description of his glorification, at least not immediately, but of his humiliation in his crucifixion. It was a description of how he would die (12:33).

In his death he offered his body as the true bread from heaven which could impart not momentary satiation of an appetite, but eternal life from God. It is a bread which can only be received through faith.

In conclusion, Jesus was a stranger on earth not because he was a “spiritual” being in a physical world but because He came from and honored Father God in a world that had turned away to false gods. He was rejected because the world had already rejected the Father.

Jesus’ disciples

Jesus’ disciples are “strangers” in this world like Jesus. Like Jesus they are not “of the world.” His disciples have been “chosen” out of the world (15:18-19; 17:6) because Jesus has “sanctified them with the truth” (17:14, 17). To be sanctified is to be set apart. Jesus’ act of sanctification, of selection, is a way that Jesus reconciles believers to himself but in doing so also alienates them from the world, from the worship of the false gods the world has turned to.

Jesus’ disciples should expect the same treatment as Jesus. They should expect a mixed reaction. Some will respond to Jesus and some will reject Him. Those who reject Him will also reject His disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus does not pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world. Instead he prays for their protection and their sanctification. It’s pretty clear from the rest of the gospel, and from the rest of the Biblical record, that this is not necessarily a protection from danger. Instead, in pairing it with a prayer for sanctification in John 17, it is clear that Jesus is asking the Father to protect them from sin and apostasy.

On this reading of John a particular phrase stuck out to me as never before. The phrase is translated in the NIV as being “put out of the synagogue.” After Jesus healed the blind man the Pharisees questioned the man’s parents but they did not want to answer because “they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (9:22). Some individuals believed that Jesus was the Messiah but would not openly acknowledge their faith “for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue” (12:42). Jesus warns his disciples that “they will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who killed you will think they are offering service to God” (16:2). Being “put out the synagogue” is a sort of religious exile, being cut off from the religious practices and community of the surrounding culture.

But the disciples relation to their world (and again, in John, “the world” actually equals the religious world which has rejected Christ) is not entirely antagonistic. The world is something which Jesus overcomes, but it is also the thing to which Jesus is sent, the object of God’s love. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples are sent “into” the world on a great mission. Their mission is to bear witness to Jesus through love and persuasion, and so bring others to believe in Jesus and thereby into eternal life (17:20-23). Jesus’ disciples are to live as strangers and aliens, set apart because of their faith in God and their true worship through Jesus, bearing witness to the Messiah.

In all this they live and act with great hope. As anyone on a journey they live with the hope of a destination. Jesus has gone before to prepare a place, and he will return one day in glory.