Judge Righteously and Love Mercy

As children of God and followers of Christ, our goal is to be more like the Father and his Son. We should desire to be transformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and to be holy like God (1 Pet. 1:15). In Romans 2, Paul speaks of God as a judge with two important attributes that govern how he deals with humankind—he is both righteous and merciful. If we are to be more like God when we deal with people, it is important that we learn how to judge righteously and to be merciful.

Judging Righteously

We must aspire to have the ability to discern between right and wrong and to guide those who are not inline with God’s moral standard. However, we need to be careful when we do this, because when we judge others, we could condemn ourselves. After exposing the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1, Paul accuses the Jews of practicing the same sins. He says in verse 1, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1 NKJV). The Jews condemned the Gentiles for practicing sin, yet they indulged in the same behavior. Sin is sin in God’s sight, and he does not excuse anyone’s transgressions based on any distinguishing factors, such as heritage. He simply “renders to each one according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:17). The Jews were just as guilty as the Gentiles, and therefore when they judged the Gentiles for their sinfulness, they condemned themselves in their hypocrisy.

Jesus taught on this principle in his sermon on the mount. He said, “judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). The measure that we use to judge someone will be the same measure that is used on us. If we judge others according to their sins while practicing the same, we are considered hypocrites. We must remove the sin from our lives before we attempt to correct the behavior of others (Matt. 7:2–5).

God does expect us to judge. He does not want us to become desensitized to sin to where we do not even notice it in our own lives. We should not call evil good, and good evil (Isa. 5:20). However, we must judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). When the people sought to kill Jesus because he had healed a man on the Sabbath, he accused them of being hypocrites. They wanted to condemn him, but yet they had no problem circumcising on the Sabbath. They showed partiality in their judgment, and they considered the good work of Jesus Christ an evil thing (cf. Matt. 12:12). We must be careful not to oppose what is good and to support what is wrong.

23It is not good to show partiality in judgment. 24 He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” Him the people will curse; Nations will abhor him. 25 But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them (Prov. 24:23–24 NKJV).

When we judge others without recognizing our own faults, we excuse ourselves, and thus show partiality. The same is also true when, in the appropriate circumstances, we fail to point out wrong behavior. If we strive to be more like Christ, we must learn to discern between good and bad, know when to point out what is wrong, and be able to recognize our own errors.

Loving Mercy

The other trait seen in God is mercifulness. Although God is impartial in his judgment, he also delights in mercy and withholds punishment when we indeed deserve it (Micah 7:18). He is forbearing and longsuffering (Rom. 2:4). God gives us several chances to get things right. This attribute of God is what should lead us to be the same way; that is, because he has been merciful to us, we should be merciful to others (Matt. 18:33).

We read in Matthew 12 that when the disciples were walking with Jesus through the grain fields on the Sabbath, they became hungry and began to pluck the heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees saw this and questioned Jesus on why they were doing an unlawful thing on this holy day. Once again, Jesus’ response pointed to their hypocrisy, because knowing that David entered into the house of God to eat the showbread, which was unlawful, the Pharisees did not find fault in him. Nor did they find fault in the priests who offered sacrifices on the Sabbath.

What the disciples did was not unlawful; however, the Pharisees desired to twist the law in order to condemn them. Jesus therefore quoted Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” That is, holding fast to the law is worthless if one does not show mercy toward his fellow man. James says that mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas. 2:13). Although judging with righteous judgment is essential, God also requires us to love mercy (Hosea 6:7–8):

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

When we find ourselves in a situation in which we are required to correct a brother or teach a non-Christian, it is important that we examine ourselves first to see if we are in error. Furthermore, we need to remember that God is a forgiving God who shows mercy, and therefore we must also do the same.

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The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

Love Those Who Hate You

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God is merciful, gracious, and patient. Even though we don’t deserve it, he blesses us anyway. He makes the rain fall and the sun shine on the just and the unjust, and he expects us to be like him in this respect. Therefore, we can’t love just the people that love us; we also have to love those that hate and persecute us, which is the real challenge. Christ came to this earth to die so that we all could have the opportunity of salvation and be reconciled with God, and he did it even though we were his enemies. Since he did that great work for us, we should learn how to forgive our enemies and love them even when they hate us. I pray that God would help us through his word to learn how to be merciful, gracious, and patient with others.