Monday, April 08, 2019

What, me worried?

Everyone's favorite reading:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
This is a strange passage in that it is most frightening to those for whom it is not targeting in its condemnation. The warning is quite clearly intended for those who are attempting to buy a staircase to heaven with their good works. Furthermore it is aimed squarely at those who have given some manner of intellectual assent to the basic facts of the existence and deity of Christ, but they lacked a saving faith. In short, the Christianity of this group is distinguishable only in unimportant base claims from all other world religions. For it shares a common form and practice (try to be a better person and do good deeds) with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc. (You can even throw secular humanism into the mix.)

When someone takes aim at that nasty old Christian exceptionalism by saying “all religions are basically alike” they are correct to the extent that this is the “Christianity” they had in mind. Actual Christianity, however, springs from a supernatural, sovereign decree of conversion resulting in a new heart and the gift of faith, perhaps even prior to intellectual assent and even rudimentary gospel knowledge. 1 Actual Christians (yes, there is a subgroup of self-identifying Christians that are True Christians) have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And while we are never totally freed (OK, I’m speaking for myself) from a vestigial salvation by knowledge and works mentality, we have a growing, albeit in fits and starts, desire to conform to the ideal of Christ.

It seems to me that there is something of a dilemma that this passage presents to those who emphasize that Jesus was a really cool moral teacher, but just a man. If that were the case, you would think there would be no lesson, such as this one, along the lines of “you can do what is morally right, but, in the end, it’s not going to help you.”

I want to say something pithy, like “you should only be worried if this passage doesn’t make you worried,” but I can’t, because it doesn’t (any longer) make me worried.

So, should I be worried?

1 Although likely not the norm, but certainly for the case of elect infants, if no one else. Personally I do believe it is for others 2, although I can’t prove it from scripture. I just believe that scripture allows for (and is consistent with) the case of a missionary arriving on the scene and finding (although he/she may not recognize it) some already converted people who are totally lacking any head knowledge related to the gospel. The job of the missionary is not just to prepare people for their conversion, but to give the already converted a context to understand the supernatural gift they have received. Now you may want to tell God he can't do that, that's against the rules, but I'm not going to say it.

2 Before you scold me too much about that, you can’t even prove from scripture that there is such a thing as elect who die in infancy. Yet we all believe it to be so (if you don't, you're a monster) based on God’s mercy and sovereignty.

3 You know something? I think the salvation by knowledge (or doctrine) distortion of the gospel is more insidious and of comparable in magnitude to the salvation by works. Just less popular to acknowledge.

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