Through the Glass

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: ~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire:
~ Ecclesiastes 6:9

Sometimes we need a shift in perspective.

Every preacher worth his salt, and probably many who aren’t, get asked questions frequently. One common question is in the form: Is it wrong to do X? People are not usually asking this in contemplation of murdering their neighbor or stealing his car. They ask, Is it wrong to play the lottery? Is it wrong to watch that movie? Is it wrong to listen to this music?

The questions are seldom of some theological import or about some passage they have been wrestling with to understand. They are usually not all that serious. The older I get, the more I esteem the wisdom of George Washington. He was not highly educated and had a keen sense of it. However, he was continually sought after for advice. Though he wrote some seventeen thousand letters in his lifetime, he seldom gave advice. He said that he had come to see that those who most sought advice least wanted it. Insightful.

I have found that many who ask the is-it-wrong questions are those who are going to do or continue to do what they’re doing regardless of anything you might have to say or show them from God’s Word. They just want a quick justification or affirmation. At best, they wait for your mouth to stop moving so they can say, “Yeah, but…”

A Better Question

Perhaps there is a better approach when dealing with more difficult questions. There is something to be said about circumstances. There is something to be said about strong and weak consciences. There is certainly something to be said about moderation, but maybe we should consider something else first.

One of the results of maturing in Christ is growing in discernment between things that are good and things that are evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). If you want to ask if something is wrong to do, let me first ask you some questions about your growth in wisdom.

  1. How committed are you to the regular reading and studying of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; 119:9; Acts 17:11)?
  2. Are you in a sound church under the sound preaching and teaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:25)?
  3. Are you praying regularly for wisdom and seeking it tenaciously (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:1-5)?
  4. Do you have wise, godly companions who edify and encourage you in a good way (Hebrews 10:25; Proverbs 13:20)?
  5. Do you receive correction and instruction when it is given (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9)?

If you answer, No, to any of those questions, then asking if it’s wrong to wear a certain article of clothing or go to some event is the wrong question. You’re starting at the wrong place. If you’re not using any of the means of growing in wisdom that God has instructed and provided for us, then you’re probably not going to receive good counsel when it is given. You’re also ill-equipped to discern between good and bad counsel.

A better question to ask in this regard is the question of expediency. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Expedient means helpful or beneficial. He wrote this in the context of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. As he reasons through it, you can see it’s more complicated than yes or no. If you are interested in this verse in more depth, you can go to a past article I wrote about it here.

Rather than asking if something is wrong, you should ask if it’s expedient. Is it helpful, beneficial? How is doing this going to affect my closeness to God? There are things that stir our thoughts and affections for God and there are things that stunt them or kill them cold. How something affects you is a question that others can’t really answer for you, unless you’re walking with wise friends who know you and see you over time. Then they can help, but they still don’t know fully what is going on within.

Solomon taught that the relentless pursuit of entertainment is folly (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Everything in life doesn’t have to be a sermon to be beneficial but you do have to have wisdom to have the good kind of enjoyment of the things of earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7; Proverbs 5:15-19).

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 6

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 6

If you’ve read this far, then you have considered some things that many people don’t want to think about. The real issues of life and death and the state of a person’s soul are serious matters. Many want to put it off until someday later. Many are flippant and not concerned. Some are serious and want help, so they turn to the world around them and find many answers to their questions and many ways are put before them.

In the last chapter we looked at Paul’s warning to the Colossians concerning false philosophies and vain deceits. Though people will acknowledge that deception is possible, most think they’re not deceived and that they can’t be deceived. Before we move on from the false solutions, I want to consider some of the most common deceptions I’ve encountered.

How do people solve the problem of sin, guilt, death, and judgment? Some try to ignore the problem and others try to reason the problem away. To ignore these serious issues, many give themselves over to something to occupy them. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves. They may pursue adrenaline or pour themselves into their work. These things can keep the mind and body busy but they don’t solve the problem. They are what Solomon referred to as a “vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14), which means a grasping of wind.

Many others take a different track with this problem. They want to reason the problem away. Rather than solve the problem, they seek to remove it. Reasoning there is no God and that we humans are merely one iteration in an evolutionary process makes life meaningless. If this were true, there would be no such thing as sin or judgment. Of course, this still doesn’t explain guilt or death. This kind of thinking is identified in the Bible as the thoughts of a fool (Psalm 14:1) and one flattering himself that he is not a sinner (Psalm 36:1-4).

You can deceive yourself into playing or working your life away. You can drink or think your life away, but you cannot change the reality. You cannot assuage your guilt. You cannot avoid death. Death came into the world because of sin.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
– Romans 5:12

Sin and death are ours by inheritance. There is no escaping it. After death comes judgment: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We can deceive ourselves that this isn’t real, but it is and we will find out one day. We know these solutions are not true because they are “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). They are not after the way that Jesus Christ taught and they are not centered and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Some more readily acknowledge sin and guilt. They live with misery, but they seek to deal with it through pain. There is a masochistic element in the world that seeks atonement through afflicting pain and suffering on themselves. This is the dark, grim root of the body modification movement—multiplied piercings, coverings of tattoos, self-tortures, surgical alterations, drugs, etc. They are deceived into thinking they can redeem themselves if only they can suffer the right amount of pain. No doubt, this has played a part in some of the human sacrificing throughout history.

This is also a “vain deceit” that is “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Jesus taught about a man who died and went to hell in Luke 16:19-31. When the man died, he immediately opened his eyes in hell and was in torment by the flames. His pain was so great he requested only a drop of water for his tongue, which he could not and will never get. This man suffers in an infinitely greater way than we can ever inflict on ourselves, and yet that suffering does not make atonement for his soul. He hates the consequences of his sin but does not hate his sin as a transgression of God’s law and an offense against God’s holiness. You will notice from the account that his suffering will never make him love God and he will never be reconciled to God but will suffer just punishment eternally because he died without faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:21, 24).

Perhaps the most popular false solution is religion—a devotion to religious rituals and morals. It’s a common thought that people can ultimately be saved by being sincere in their religion, whatever that religion may be. I’ve heard two popular illustrations of this thought. First, some say it is as though God sits atop a mountain and the world is at the bottom around the mountain. Various religions are the various paths up the mountain. Some are steep. Some are rocky. Some are straight and some are winding. But all paths lead, one way or another, to the same place: God at the peak. Second, some say it as though God sits in the center of a large house with many different doors and windows in its exterior. The world is outside around the house and the different openings are the different religions. Some are tall ways. Some are narrow. Some are high and some are low. But again, all ways lead into the house and ultimately to God.

Perhaps you have heard or even thought this way yourself. It’s appealing to us to think that as long as a religion teaches love and acceptance and results in good that it should be sufficient to justify us before God. When Paul was at Athens in the first century, he encountered a society of people that were extremely religious. In fact, Acts tells us the “city” was “wholly given” to religion (Acts 17:16). They were so religious they tried to pay homage to all religions. They had multiplied shrines and temples and even devoted an altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23). Paul did not console them and congratulate them for their sincerity. He did not assure them that everything would be all right because they were devoted. Rather he told them they were “too superstitious” and they worshiped ignorantly (Acts 17:22-23). He told them they should repent of their religion (Acts 17:30) because a day of judgment is coming (Acts 17:31).

Conversely, Paul did console and comfort the Thessalonians because they had repented of their religion and turned to serve God alone.

For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
– 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

False religion is “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8), and is no way to God.

The last way I want to write you about is akin to the previous one. The most prevalent philosophy I’ve encountered is the hope that good works will get a person reconciled to God. I said it was akin to the previous one because sometimes it’s motivated by religion but it can also be completely detached from any religion. The basic philosophy is to do enough good works to outweigh your bad works so that you gain entrance to heaven.

We have already considered the teaching of Christ that shows this is a false philosophy. Everything we do without faith in Christ is counted as sin against us. There is no work good enough or amount of good works enough to substitute for complete trust in Jesus Christ and His work to save us. The Bible teaches that “every one” is ready to proclaim his own goodness (Proverbs 20:6), but we’ve already seen that we are not competent judges of ourselves or our works.

There is also a logical hole in this philosophy. It we are counting on our good works to outweigh our bad works, we have two problems that cannot be overcome logically. The first is that we never know the score. If you are really trusting the eternity of your soul to doing more good works than bad, how can you ever know where you are in the tally? The second problem is close to the first. What is the standard determining good from bad? Most everyone thinks they are a good person but each one has a different definition of what being good is. If we go to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) in the Bible and walk through them, no one has kept them. There is not one of us that can truthfully say we have kept them.

We know this is a false philosophy “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Jesus never taught to do the best you can and try to do more good than bad. He did teach us to repent of all our works and believe in Him alone (Mark 1:15).

We cannot possibly cover every false way. I don’t have space, time, or knowledge enough to point out every single false way in existence. What we need is a test, a standard of measure by which we judge every way we encounter. That is what we will consider in the next chapter.

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 5

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 5

Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). This speaks of the internal corruption of our hearts and minds. It points to where sin comes from within us. Jesus taught that we are defiled from inside out and not outside in (Matthew 15:11). It’s not our environment or outside influences that make us sin. Jesus taught that sin starts in and proceeds out from our own hearts (Matthew 15:19-20). Sin begins in our hearts where evil thoughts, lies, and lusts are. We sin as those things work out from within and that is what makes us sinners all. This is our inherent natural condition.

The Bible teaches:

  • Every man and woman is a sinner from their conception in the womb (Romans 3:9-10; Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Colossians 2:13). No one is excluded nor are there exceptions to this (Romans 3:23; 1 Kings 8:46; 1 John 1:8).
  • Every one of us are incapable of ourselves of exercising faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:11). Of ourselves we cannot hear with faith (1 Corinthians 2:14; John 10:26), nor can we come to Christ in faith (John 6:44, 64-65; 3:19-20).
  • Everyone of us naturally rebels against God and cannot do good (Romans 3:12-18). As we have previously seen, everything a person does apart from God is sin (Romans 14:23) because we naturally do not love God (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), believe God (John 3:18), or glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Therefore, every man and woman of themselves deserve the condemnation of eternal punishment (Romans 3:19-20). Man by nature only merits death (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

This is what is meant by a natural state of sinfulness. This is our native condition before God. Our hearts and consciences are defiled by sin. This is also why we are such bad judges of ourselves and our sinfulness. After the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, then president, Bill Clinton, referred to the act as evil. He didn’t mince words in denouncing Timothy McVeigh. However, three years later in his impeachment hearings when he was faced with the reality of some of his own sins, he justified himself by quibbling over technicalities, asserting a major difference between public and private life, and even questioning the definition of the word is. He was quick to denounce McVeigh’s actions as evil but just as quick to parse his own actions very carefully and refuse any admission of guilt.

This common human hypocrisy comes from within our deceitful hearts. We readily see the wrong in others but have a thousand reasons for the same or worse in ourselves. This internal deceit gives an important clue in finding the solution to the trouble, the judgment, we’ve been thinking about. We will one day face an objective and just judgment of our every thought, word, and deed and the solution, or escape, obviously cannot come from within us. We need to be delivered from sin, from ourselves and we need a deliverer.

I must begin with a warning though. There are numerous false solutions presented to us daily. Paul warned the Colossian church against such in his letter to them.

Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
– Colossians 2:8

He called them to beware, or be aware. He urged them to look carefully after their way unless they would end up being spoiled. Spoil means to carry off as in a spoil of war. He was concerned that they might be carried away or taken captive by false philosophy. Philosophy itself refers to the love and pursuit of wisdom and can refer to truth or falsehood. Paul is not condemning knowledge, thinking, or pursuing truth. His concern is the center and ground of the philosophy.

He paired philosophy with a vain deceit. Deceit means a trick and vain means empty. The emptiness is the key because that is where the trick lies. The deceit promises a way to God but is an empty trick because it cannot deliver what it offers.

Paul points to two false grounds of philosophy—tradition of men and rudiments of the world. Tradition refers to something given over or passed on, like something handed from person to person, or generation to generation. Rudiments are elements of teaching, or things in a row, i.e. a series. Paul means systems of instruction more rigorous than tradition. He warns against both and they are identified as false if they are “not after Christ.” Any tradition or teaching that does not teach the one way Jesus Christ taught and is not centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a false way.

We encounter both forms that Paul warned against in the world around us all the time. We encounter traditions in common thoughts about life that are perpetuated from generation to generation and we encounter rigorous systems of teaching that may be presented as a religion or presented as something else. Regardless of popular support, any notion or teaching that would intend to get men reconciled to God that is not after the teaching of Jesus Christ and is not founded on His work, is false.

Before we proceed, I want to take the next chapter to consider some common ways people believe will get them to God. Will they hold up to the test Paul gave the Colossians? Are they after the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world? Or, are they after Christ?

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

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