Dignity, Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

dignityBy now you might have heard of the recent controversy surrounding Christian apologist and pastor, James White, concerning a Facebook post, which is now removed, which he made comments about the disrespectful behavior of a black teenager toward law enforcement. Some thought his comments were rooted in racism and others found his comments justifiable and truthful. Initially, I was of the former and expressed my initial thoughts here, but I also want to add additional thoughts as I’ve had time to pray and further think about the the situation in light of Scripture.

Earlier this year, as I was making my way through my yearly Bible reading plan, I was reminded by something in Leviticus that I’d forgotten. Unfortunately, Leviticus seems to be one of the books that often defeats those who have committed to read the Bible. Meticulous laws about Israel’s religious culture discussing the slaughtering of animals and the spilling of blood as well as their civil/social culture about how to deal with leprous people, bodily discharges etc. doesn’t exactly sound like exciting reading on the surface. However, when we understand that through those laws God was revealing more of His identity to them as well as revealing their identities, establishing them as a holy nation and preparing them for entrance into the Canaan, it all makes sense. God was establishing and preparing Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the Gentiles.

Dignity

Under the Old Covenant, Leviticus 19:9-18 instructs the people how to deal with their neighbors. The instruction for Israel was that they were to love one another. They were to be benevolent and just with one another; not malevolent and unjust. The basis for this command is primarily rooted in Genesis 1:26-27, which states that mankind, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has inherent dignity simply because he/she is an image bearer of God. And as image bearers, we’re called to relate to one another in ways that manifest that dignity and bring glory to God. As we read further in Leviticus, that dignified treatment wasn’t to be based on sex (Lev. 19:29), age (Lev. 19:32), economic status (Lev. 19:15), nor ethnicity (Lev. 19:33-37). Furthermore, Leviticus 19:33-37 is not only about ethnic differences, but also about religious differences. The term ‘stranger’ in these verses means people from other ethnicities who were outside the covenant community of God. As Israel would be situated by pagan worshippers, God forbade unjust treatment of them when they would sojourn in the land of Israel. Treating people with dignity simply is an expression of love, which is the essence of God’s law (Exodus 20).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ response was You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). In Luke’s gospel this conversation is given more detail with the lawyer seeking clarification about who his neighbor was because he was trying to justify his actions (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) in which Jesus didn’t directly answer who was a neighbor, but rather Jesus instructed the man to be a good neighbor, which wasn’t to be bound by ethnic or religious distinction. In this parable, the Samaritan was the outcast of society because of his ethnicity and his religion, yet was commended for showing the most love to the man who had been robbed.

Under the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul and James both reiterate Jesus’ teaching that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom.13:8-10; Jam. 2:8) among believers and toward unbelievers (John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21). We are to show dignity toward others by loving them, which is a sign that we are truly the children of God, redeemed by Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

After White’s comments were made public, he was initially confronted by several brothers who objected to his unfair generalization about the teenager’s upbringing – that he was probably fatherless, and also about his future – that he would likely father several children by different women and concede to multiple abortions. As the dialogue continued White was offered a chance to discuss these concerns face to face and he declined charging the concerned brothers with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism says that one ethnicity ( i.e. white) is disallowed to speak to, or about, another ethnic people (i.e. black) or their experience since they’re (i.e. white) not of that ethnicity (i.e. black). Essentially, White was accusing several people of filtering the gospel through ethnic lenses rather than filtering ethnicity through a gospel lens. To be fair, the former can happen and proof of this is Black Liberation Theology (BLT) purported by James Cone. BLT or any form of Liberation Theology rewrites the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture and reinterprets it through the perspective of the oppressed, which distorts the gospel altogether. Those who confronted White weren’t doing that, so the charge is unfounded. What they were doing was expressing the illegitimacy and unfairness of White’s comments about that teenager and holding White accountable to the gospel that commands us to love others – even those outside of the New Covenant. Essentially, there was an attempt to help White actually see that teenager through gospel lenses.  Gospel lenses looks with hope, grace and mercy toward others because of the reconciling and transforming work of Christ. 

Gospel lenses ought to compel us to see the dignity of all people, even when they’re behaving in an undignified manner, because they’re image bearers. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to be burdened for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to pray for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to share the good news of the gospel with the unredeemed. Had White thought about this or done this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Instead, White said this:

“So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads. As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.”

As stated in my previous article, White refused to engage in further dialogue with brothers who were trying to help him understand his misstep and hold him accountable to gospel love. Gospel lenses help us to be slower to speak and quicker to hear, especially when someone is trying to tell you how you’ve caused damage. Gospel lenses don’t refute the possibility of error, but humbly seek to see where error might have occurred. Gospel lenses don’t point the finger back in retaliation, but entrusts all judgment to the Father.

In a reply, White stated that he was not a racist and he meant no harm by his words, but rather he was merely citing statistics. I’ll take him at his word – he wasn’t trying to offend. However, his choice of words, his highly defensive and sarcastic responses on his show and toward other Christian brothers seeking to help him see his error and understand how to better apply the gospel in light of the racism narrative, seems to be a huge blind-spot for White. Only gospel lenses will give him the sight he desperately needs. But there is hope, because our God is a living God committed to see His children conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Questions for White

1. Why did you initially post what you posted, Mr. White?

2. Do you think your post and subsequent responses were more encouraging or discouraging?

3. Do you think your post was necessary?

4. Do you think your post was more helpful or less helpful concerning the Great Commission?

5. Do you think your response to the brothers’ concerns was Christlike?

6. Do you think you can learn anything in the area of racism from African-Americans and how to apply the gospel to racism?

Introspection

I am convinced that the LORD doesn’t waste anything. All of this served to remind me that we all have blind spots because we’re still being sanctified. I need to be wary of being incapable of being corrected. I need to consistently pray for a humble and teachable heart.

At the same time, I am hopeful. God will accomplish His will in and for His people for His glory! Nothing can stay His hand! He has never ceased to fail to accomplish His will!

Grace & Peace,

d.

 

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Philippians 2:5-8

The Humility of Christ: Pt. 1

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The constant battle we all fight is an unjustified preoccupation with self. We fight for our rights. We live for our purposes. We seek to satisfy our desires & our pleasures.  Even our prayers are tainted, at times, with selfish ambition.  We, by nature, are full of pride.  Theologian, John Stott said, “Pride is more than the first of the deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.”1 It has been said that pride is the contention for supremacy with God.  At the core, pride is nothing more than self-glorification.  C.J. Mahaney has rightly said, “The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.”2

As the essence (or root) of all sin, pride manifests itself most clearly in the context of relationships.  If we have a high view of ourselves we will try to advance ourselves, look down on others, discount their desires or thoughts, grow easily irritated with others, display harsh behavior, become easily offended when others have wronged us and exact revenge.  James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 tell us, among many other places in Scripture, that God opposes the proud.  Mark 9:34 gives us a great example of the self-aggrandizement of the disciples.  Mark 9:35 gives us a great example of self-abasement.

33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he (Jesus) asked them (disciples), “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9)

This is precisely the same point Paul is making in Philippians 2:1-4. Paul is exhorting the Philippians to demonstrate their new birth by caring for one another, which can only be done when their hearts are not consumed with selfish ambition or pride.  Looking for and doing what will bring about the most amount of good for others requires humility.  This is the fight of sanctification every believer will fight until the day of glorification.

The basis of Paul’s exhortation, as previously stated, were the realities of the justified position the believers in Philippi stood. (2:1)  The mission behind Paul’s exhortation is the advancement the gospel. (1:27) Christ accomplished the mission (Mk. 10:45) that we’re called to proclaim with every fabric of our being.  The ultimate example in which the believers in Philippi could fix their gaze and take their cues from was Jesus Christ. Believers are being fashioned by God’s Spirit to bear the image of Christ. (Rom. 8:29) Paul demonstrates two distinct ways in which Christ humbled Himself – (1) identifying with humanity (vv6-7) and (2) the manner of death in which he subjected Himself. (v8)

To understand the depth of Christ’s humility we must first call attention to His glory as God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  From everlasting, Jesus Christ is God. He’s always possessed the same attributes and privileges as the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father:

5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

δοξῃ [doxēi]) is the Greek word for “glory” in the verse above and it is referring to the majestic and divine state of the pre-incarnate Christ.  Clearly, Jesus says He possessed this glory before the world existed and through His death and resurrection, He returned to that same glory.

Paul confirms the deity of Christ by saying he was in the form of God. This simply means that Christ was the external appearance of God and it carries the same idea of Jesus’ words to Phillip in John 14:9.  Paul goes on to say that Jesus didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped.  Although, He was fully God, for the sake of the mission of redemption, He didn’t hold on to all of the privileges of being God for His own selfish advantage. Instead, He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Christ subjected Himself to the finiteness and limitations of humanity in a sin riddled world so that we could be freed from the power of sin and the wrath of God.  2 Corinthians 8:9 says:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Christ is not only our example of perfect humanity, but through His death and resurrection and by the power of the Spirit, we too can be humble and repent of pride.  If we’re too concerned about ourselves and building our “kingdoms”, we will never understand the wonderful plan of God’s redemption nor display His excellencies to a dark and dying world. For the sake of His fame and your joy, seek the good of others and ultimately their joy in Christ.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Luke 14:11)

 

  1. John Stott, “Pride, Humility & God,” Sovereign Grace Online, September/October 2000.
  2. C.J. Mahaney, Humility, (Multnomah Books, 2005), 32.

Philippians 2:1-4 : Part 2

A Call to Unity & Humility: Implications of the Gospel

“1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of your look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

Having seen the five realities of the Philippians’ relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit and to one another as the church, Paul expresses that his joy would be satisfied seeing the implications of these realities demonstrated in their lives.  These implications are:  (1) being of the same mind, etc. – v2, (2) the absence of rivalry or conceit – v3a, (3) considering others more significant than themselves – v3b and (4) being concerned about the interests of others – v4.

When we read these exhortations, it should be readily apparent that Paul is calling for the demonstration of unity by way of humility displayed through selflessness or being others-centered.  Also, it should be apparent that these exhortations are linked to one another for a glorious reason.

As previously mentioned, redemption not only reconciles believers to God, but also to one another.  We are members of one body (Rom. 12:5), where Christ functions as the head (Eph. 4:15).  Redemption also calls us away from autonomous rebellion and into loving submission to Christ and the mission of God, which is to call a people to Himself through the proclamation of the gospel.  The church is a product of God’s mission and is also called to be His agent of mission until the 2nd advent of Christ. If the church is going to carry that out by the power of the Spirit, and manifest the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10-11) and the Lordship of Christ (Phil. 2:11), then we must understand the significance of Paul’s exhortation to be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, being united in spirit and intent on one purpose.

Countering his positive command in verse 2, Paul offers a negative command at the beginning of verse 3.  To fulfill Paul’s desire, the Philippian church is also called to move away from their natural propensity to be self-absorbed.  For rivalry, Paul used the Greek word eritheia, which carries the idea of promoting oneself as in a political election through unfair means.  For empty conceit, the Greek word kenodoxia literally means a groundless vain opinion of oneself.  These two sins are nothing more than two types of pride.  The former being destructive and the latter being deceptive.  How can the church be effective in its mission if we are more concerned about promoting ourselves, demoting others and insistent on thinking unjustifiably more highly of ourselves than we do of Christ?  Posturing oneself for personal glory is antithetical to the faith. Essentially, it’s satanic.  For this is what ushered the fall of man – a desire to be like God.  James’s epistle gives us some added insight to rivalry as the same Greek word is used in 3:14 and 3:16 for selfish ambition.
 

14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

 

How sobering is this? Selfish ambition is unspiritual, demonic and the source of disorder and every vile practice.  Wherever we see the lack of fruit in our lives or in the church collectively, be sure that selfish ambition is a reason.  Wherever we see a pattern of sin in our lives or the in the church collectively, be sure selfish ambition is a reason.  When we have set our faces against God in rebellion, a host of rebellions will surely follow. This is why James says that that kind of “wisdom” is not from above and this is why Paul is exhorting the Philippians to not conduct themselves that way.  Instead, wisdom from above looks like James 3:17-18 and shows itself not standing in contradiction to the the sum of the Law, but identical to it.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matt. 22:37-40)

In carrying out these two commands by the power of the Spirit, we will not be rivalrous or conceited, but indeed make manifest the beauty of the gospel.

Grace & Peace,

d.

Philippians 2:1-4 : Part 1

A Call To Unity & Humility: Implications of The Gospel

“1Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 NASB)

The church is described in many ways in Scripture.  Three ways it is figuratively described are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12-12-27), the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32) and a building/holy temple (Eph. 2:19-22).  We would do well to notice how these references always point to some sort of relationship between members.  The word church is derived from the Greek word ekklesiaEkklesia is a combination of two Greek words: the preposition ek, which means out of and kaleo which means to call.  The church is an assembly people who have been called out of sin and into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  This reality points to the fact that the church is in a reconciled relationship with God (Col. 1:19-22). It is on this basis of this reconciled reality that Paul continues his exhortation to the Philippians and to us in chapter 2.

In verse 1, Paul names five realities of this reconciliation that form the foundation of his exhortation. These five realities are things that the Philippians have experienced having been reconciled to God. The first two deal with Christ and the last three deal with the Holy Spirit. They are encouragement, consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion.  To grasp the full weight of these verses, the word “if” is better rendered as “because” or “since” according to Greek grammar rules.  Literally it means, “Because you have encouragement in Christ, because you have consolation of love….”

The word for encouragement is the Greek word paraklesis. Paraklesis is composed of two Greek words, para which means beside or near and kaleo, which we’ve already seen means to call. So we can see that paraklesis means to call beside or to call near to oneself. We see a fuller picture of this word when we consider that the Holy Spirit was referred to as The Comforter (Paraklete) by Jesus in John 16. Consolation is the word paramuthion. Paramuthion literally means to speak tenderly or encouragingly toward or cheerfully toward for encouragement. This is the picture of how Christ relates to us because of our union with Him. He’s called us near to Himself and he constantly encourages and lovingly comforts us.

The next reality is fellowship of the Spirit. Fellowship is koinonia which means intimate communion or a sharing of one self. Understanding the work of the Spirit in the life of a believer helps us to understand what Paul meant by this. As believers, we are regenerated by the Spirit, indwelt and sealed by Spirit, enabled and empowered by the Spirit for service. He also intercedes for us and produces Godly character in us. Affection and compassion respectively mean deep seated and tender mercies for. Christian, this is our reality! These five realities are true for us as they were for the Philippians. This is a cause for rejoicing!

The goal of these spiritual realities is to see the same attributes displayed in the life of the Philippians. While Paul sincerely rejoiced (1:4) in the way the Lord was working in their lives (4:10-16), his joy was not complete because of internal strife between two women Eudoia and Syntyche(4:2). While we’re not sure what their disunity was, we know that whatever it was was an issue enough for Paul to call for their harmony. The reason why Paul calls for harmony was so they could rightly display the gospel and to advance the gospel with locked arms. This would complete his joy that he mentioned in verse 2.

Prayer: Lord, help us to think more deeply about these 5 spiritual realities we have experienced and because of that, may we consider how these realities are being demonstrated in our lives for the sake of the gospel.

d.

The Grace of A Rebuke

We currently live in an age where truth is projected as a fleeting fantasy or it’s reconstructed as an oppressive notion.  The ideas of our postmodern age, sadly, have infiltrated and contaminated the professing church through enemies of the cross and undiscerning ears.  It is because of the failure to adhere to truth that the church exhibits stagnation and retarded growth.  The failure of adhering to truth is not of a theoretical issue alone, but a practical one.  We do the truth of the gospel no good when we fail to exhibit it practically.  We bear the fruit of postmodern theory when we fail to walk in truth.  So what does it mean to walk in truth? Psalm 86:11 says this:

 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

First, walking in truth involves understanding His ways, His commands and precepts.  So there is an instructional aspect.  Next, the Psalmist prays for the effect of the LORD’s instruction: to obey His truth.  The Psalmist is praying for comprehensive obedience.  And this comprehensive obedience is for what end?  To deliver him from the duplicity resident in his heart.  We must have undivided, right and reverent affections, with the chief affection being the glory of His name.  This is what it means to fear His name.

But let’s be a little bit more specific. I am going somewhere with this!

What does walking in truth look like in the relational dynamic of the brotherhood, which is united in one Spirit?

To put it simply, we are to walk in love toward one another for the advancement of the gospel for the glory of Christ.

Let us not be naïve to think that this love is a cocktail of warm thoughts, nice gestures, and complimenting words.  It is much more.  It is much harder. Why?

The core of our relationships with one another is about the glory of Christ.  I believe this should be the primary focus of our relationships, which takes grace from God to comprehend such a blessed reality. (Philippians 1:27)  But the precursor to that is to see the beauty and perfection of Christ Himself to rejoice in such a privilege.  Such is the reason for our sanctification.  We were predestined and saved to be His image bearers. (Romans 8:29) And in the wisdom and love of God,  He’s designed for that sanctification to happen through relationships, which involves transparency, honesty, humility, and at times painful rebukes. Yes, rebukes!

It angers me that it seems like the church (at least in America) thinks it’s above being reproofed.  As long as we are on this side of glorification, biblical reproofing is to be done when necessary.  It is the foolish and prideful person that refuses to take heed of his sin.  It is also the  jaded individual who accuses the reproofer of being uncharitable.  That is severely unbiblical!  In fact, Scripture tells us that discipline is an expression of love.   The writer of Hebrews says to Israel:

 “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

That’s grace!!  The purpose of reproofing is that we may turn from sin, share in His holiness which leads to the peaceable fruit of righteousness.  It would be highly unloving of God to not discipline His children and instead let them persist in sin and reap the damaging consequences thereof.

There will always be a constant fight to preserve our self image versus abandoning ourselves humbly to the obedience and glory of God.  Abandoning ourselves to God involves a constant tearing down of the high place of self-idolatry.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in me…”

I can guarantee that before we go to be with our Lord, we will find ourselves on both sides of this issue.  When we see the need to rebuke someone, let our motivation be love for our brother or sister, their repentance and God’s glory.  When we find ourselves on the receiving end,  let us respond humbly understanding that this a practical demonstration of the love and grace of God toward us.  That is walking in truth!  That is walking in the fruit of the gospel of grace!

 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
   let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
   let my head not refuse it.

Psalm 141:5

Lord, continue to give us the grace to not be practical postmoderns and soften our hearts to receive your correction when needed.

Grace & Peace,

d.