I noticed this when I read Genesis 3 in preparation for a discussion at church yesterday. I found it noteworthy that the serpent did not tell a complete lie to Eve. There was actually some truth in what he told her: “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (vv. 4b-5). The first part (that they wouldn’t die) was a lie, but the second part was actually true–the part about knowing good and evil. God Himself confirms this later on, in v. 22: “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.”

It reminds me of used car salesmen. They’ll never tell you the things that are wrong with the car; they’ll tell you only the good things about it. Only afterward, when you drive the car off the lot and have it for a while, do you notice the problems: oil leak, engine trouble, etc.

The enemy will always mix truth with lies when he tempts us. He’ll attract us with the good things about sin–for example, that it will be fun and thrilling. And that is usually true; but he won’t tell us the negative consequences of that sin: hardness of heart, wounding our conscience, grieving the Holy Spirit, and more.

It’s not just Satan, either, that we have to watch out for. We can deceive ourselves, deliberately blocking out of our minds the negative consequences of the sin we’re contemplating and thinking only of the fleeting thrill it will give us.

We need to be like Job, who, even in the face of great loss and sorrow, which must have tempted him to curse God, “did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22).

Bible verses from the New American Standard Bible

With Thanksgiving past and the Christmas season fast approaching, I remembered this old post of mine from about five years ago. I decided to repost it now (with some edits) because it is my firm conviction that its message should be read and heeded by Christians everywhere.

It cannot be denied that this time of year holds a special place in most people’s hearts. The tinsel, glitter, Christmas trees, gift wrap, exchange of presents, good food, and everything else that our culture has made the indispensable ingredients of the holiday fill our hearts with warm, positive feelings. What is striking, however, is the overemphasis that is placed on these aspects year after year.

As a Christian who understands and values the origins of the holiday, I have long felt an aversion to this overemphasis. Too much focus is placed on these cultural misinterpretations of this very important and meaningful holiday, while too little emphasis is placed on the One from whom the holiday derives its name. I know plenty of others have already lamented the way our culture celebrates Christmas: “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in Christmas” have practically become proverbs among Christians. I stand in a long line of people who have spoken out against these errors, so it would seem that my dissent would be just another disgruntled voice. This is not the case, though, because I believe that these past criticisms have overlooked the root of the problem: suppression of the truth.

The first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans goes into considerable detail about this. In it Paul describes the downward spiral of human depravity and the reasons for that downward spiral. He wrote:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:18–23, NASB)

Without the grace of God, when people are presented with clear evidence of God’s existence, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Not only do they suppress that truth, but they then seek to replace it with a “truth” of their own making. In Romans 1, it is false gods, worshiping creation rather than the Creator.

Our culture’s way of celebrating Christmas is really just another way that fallen humanity suppresses the truth—in this case, the truth that Jesus Christ’s birth was to rid humanity of sin and reconcile a rebellious, fallen human race to a holy God. As Charles Wesley so well put it in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

This final stanza is seldom heard, and given Paul’s description of humanity in Romans 1, it is easy to see why. Angels and shepherds are nice, but the idea that people are spiritually dead and in need of a Savior does not appeal to the world. Fallen humanity does not want to hear that it is helpless to save itself, that it is guilty of sin and headed for judgment, and that God mercifully provided a way out of this enormous mess. As a result, this crucial aspect of Christmas is not made clear during the holiday season. What is made clear, however, are precisely those things that have nothing to do with the incarnation of the Word for the salvation of mankind. As nice and quaint as Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees, ornaments, bright lights and all the other popular holiday paraphernalia are, don’t they actually suppress the truth of the holiday? Don’t they actually exchange the truth for a lie? If you don’t think they do, then why isn’t the real reason emphasized just as fervently as these other things? Why is there such a lack of emphasis on Jesus and why he came to earth? How many Christmas cards emphasize this not-so-pleasant reason for Christ’s advent—or even say the word Christmas for that matter? Many cards now avoid using that specific name and instead use deliberately vague expressions such as holiday or season. It is all too clear that Jesus Christ’s relevance to Christmas is suppressed in favor of things that are more palatable to the carnal man.

The definition of any word has essential attributes, without which it ceases to be an accurate definition, but the popular icons our culture has come to associate inseparably with Christmas are actually nonessential attributes. Would the omission of Santa Claus from the holiday eliminate the reason to celebrate it? What about Rudolph and the other reindeer? What about Christmas trees? You may think that these things are necessary to define Christmas, but the fact of the matter is that they are not.

Now I have to say that most of these things are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. Giving gifts is not intrinsically sinful, and neither are Christmas trees, ornaments and tinsel. But if we emphasize these things so much that they end up overshadowing the truth, then they become tools of suppressing the truth. What we value is made clear by what we emphasize; what we devalue is made clear by what we deemphasize. Do we push Christ into the background while leaving commercialism, materialism and the other nonessential holiday paraphernalia in the foreground?

It is long overdue for Christians to rethink our celebrations at this time of the year. If our celebration of Christmas is no different from that of the world, we need to ask ourselves: Are we helping the world in its suppression of the truth? Let’s celebrate Christmas the way God would have us do so: not by suppressing its underlying truths but by upholding them for the world to see.

The doctrine of Limited Atonement—the teaching that Christ died only for the elect—has been disputed in Christianity for a long time. Some call it Definite Atonement or Particular Redemption, but regardless of what it is called, the doctrine could have some serious implications for the gospel. To be specific, I have thought lately that if one took Limited Atonement to its logical, necessary conclusion, one would have a very weak gospel or no gospel at all—either for oneself or for others.

If you really believe that Christ died only for the elect, then when you share the gospel with someone, you cannot honestly say to that person, “Christ died for you.” In fact, you cannot even say that to yourself, since you cannot know with complete certainty that you’re one of the elect. After all, lots of people have shown great promise in the Christian life only to turn away from Christ later.

Thus, the most that honest adherents of Limited Atonement can say to themselves or others is this: “Jesus might have died for you, so believe in him, and you have a chance that you’ll be saved.” That, of course, is no gospel. What good news is it if the message promises only the possibility that Christ died for me and not rather the certainty that he did? The gospel is good news only when it assures me that Christ died for me personally. On the other hand, if I have no assurance that Christ died personally for me, then how could I personally trust in him for my salvation? There would always be doubt.

Therefore, if you believe in Limited Atonement and are consistent with that belief, it is highly doubtful that you have any good news to share with others, let alone with yourself.

The phrase personal relationship has become a very common buzzword in our culture, appearing in various venues, from the military to business to religion. Not surprisingly, it has also crept into Christianity, particularly evangelicalism.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with personal relationships. What is problematic, however, is when the concept is elevated too high.

One example of this is the popular evangelical emphasis—or, more specifically, the overemphasis—on having a personal relationship with God. It’s not the idea of a personal relationship per se that is troubling. The idea of having a relationship with God can be found throughout the pages of Scripture. God is very personal. He stoops to our level to reveal Himself to us in various ways: through both special and general revelation. His ultimate condescension to us was in Christ, who was the ultimate revelation of the Father: Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, ESV). In fact, as one radio talk show host once rightly commented, everyone has a personal relationship with God; the question is whether God is near to you in wrath or in friendship.

What concerns me is when the concept of personal relationship is emphasized so heavily to the exclusion of objective realities, like Scripture, doctrine and the sacraments. It’s not uncommon for those who are enthusiastic about having a personal relationship with God to also frown upon what they call “religion”: doctrine, liturgy, creeds, councils, and so on. For such people, it seems their personal experience is all that matters and is, in fact, their final authority for determining truth. It’s the elevation of the subject over the object, making one’s own subjective experience the measuring rod for determining what constitutes genuine religion. That is always dangerous.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Charles Spurgeon, and others after him, have confidently proclaimed that Calvinism is actually the gospel. When this is said, what is meant by “Calvinism,” of course, is the TULIP, aka the 5 points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. According to those who make this claim, one cannot preach the gospel truly and accurately unless these truths are also communicated. According to this unusual, innovative view, if you don’t talk about total depravity, unconditional election, and/or the other points of the TULIP when communicating the gospel, then you haven’t really preached the gospel.

At this time, I am reexamining these 5 points—in particular I have grave doubts about Limited Atonement—but even when I accepted them all without question, this kind of dogmatic statement never sat right with me. Nowhere in the New Testament (NT) is the TULIP ever equated to the gospel message. For example, in the accounts of gospel preaching that are recorded in the NT, the apostles never spent time explaining these doctrines of grace.

I can almost hear the objection that will immediately come from those who disagree: “You’re wrong! Paul explained Unconditional Election in great detail in Ephesians 1.” Yes, he did. There is just one problem with this objection, though: He explained these things to established churches, not to people on his missionary journeys to whom he first preached the gospel. There is a vast difference between these two activities. To preach the gospel to people who have never heard it is one thing; to provide pastoral counsel and instruction to those who are already Christians is quite another.

At one point I took an online course in systematic theology at a Reformed seminary. I distinctly recall Joel Beeke warning against interpreting the Scriptures to fit our system of theology. To illustrate this error, he recalled a time when a sermon was preached (either by him or someone he knew) on the basis of a biblical text, and afterward one of his listeners objected by saying something to this effect: “Too much free will in there.” The man who objected in this way was evaluating a statement about a biblical text on the basis of a theological system he held near and dear. In other words, he was subjecting the biblical text to a theological system, not the other way around.

Ever since hearing that, I have been mindful of avoiding that pitfall because it equates a man-made system with an indispensable message of the Bible, conflating the biblical text with the system. Any responsible Bible interpreter will think twice about doing such a thing.

Before anyone objects by saying that Calvinism is not man-made but is biblical, allow me to explain my meaning. I am not saying that all the doctrines are man-made but rather that the system is. Doctrine and system are not necessarily the same because the latter is a human attempt to interpret the former and consolidate it into a harmonious, consistent system of thought.

Now let’s look honestly at how Paul described the gospel:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:1–8, NKJV)

It’s vital to note that Paul makes it a point to say that he actually received the gospel he describes. This means that the description that immediately follows has divine origin. It is the true, authoritative gospel, and even a quick reading of the apostle’s description shows clearly that it does not even hint at the TULIP. These facts alone should give anyone who claims that Calvinism is the gospel serious misgivings.

If that is not enough, though, those who make this outrageous claim should turn to the following important warning by the apostle Paul:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8–9, NKJV)

When someone says that the doctrines of grace are the gospel, but those doctrines of grace are not even hinted at in a biblical, apostolic description of the gospel, one has to wonder if those who proclaim such dogmatic things are in danger of being accursed.

If you don’t understand the significance of the sarcasm in this meme, it’s time to brush up on church history:

If we test/verify everything by Scripture, how do we verify the list of 66 books using Scripture alone? To ask it another way: Since the table of contents in our Bible is not inspired, it must be what we, as Protestants, would call a man-made tradition that must be tested by the light of Scripture. But what purely Scriptural test can we perform on that table of contents to determine that the books listed there belong in the Bible? If we cannot verify it using Scripture alone but must go outside the Bible to verify it, aren’t we just accepting a “man-made tradition” as infallible without Scriptural proof?

Having said that, I will point out that in spite of this issue with sola Scriptura, I am not prepared to jettison it. The alternative to it is to head to Rome, but there one will find countless volumes of church teaching and canon law and, therefore, even more questions—not to mention a “gospel” that shifts the burden of salvation from Christ to the individual believer. The situation would not be much better if one went to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

annunciation2And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. (Luke 1:28, Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

Although this translation renders the angel’s greeting in Luke 1:28 with the words, full of grace, the underlying Greek conveys a meaning that is perhaps quite different. In this passage, the underlying Greek is a single word: κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitwmenei), a perfect passive participle that means one having been favored. If the angel had really meant “full of grace,” then surely we would see the more precise phrase, πλήρης χάριτος (pleireis charitos) used in John 1:14 to describe Jesus:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full [πλήρης] of grace [χάριτος] and truth. (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

It seems clear that the Greek text underlying the description of Mary indicates something entirely different. Since the word πλήρης (full) does not appear in that description of Mary, there is no indication that the author intended to describe Mary as being “full” of grace. We can definitely conclude from that text that she was favored. We can even conclude from the context that she was highly favored, since she was to be the mother of the Lord—truly a unique, special role—and that she should be honored. We can also conclude from the perfect tense that the favoring had begun at some point in the past and had continued to the present time (from the standpoint of the speaker).

Perhaps it’s true that Mary was “full of grace,” but I’m not so sure that it can be proven from Luke 1:28.

There seems to be no shortage of evangelistic methods that people devise and hold up as the most preferable technique. Some claim it is friendship evangelism, others say it is engaging others in question-and-answer dialogue, and still others insist it is showing love and doing service for others. It is likely that there are others as well. No matter what the method is, they are sometimes presented and/or embraced as a “silver bullet” solution, that is, the single solution that will work where all others have failed. Consequently, it is not unusual to hear their creators or defenders try to persuade others of their worth with arguments that tend to sound like this: “Here’s why our evangelism is usually ineffective, so do this method, and your evangelism will be effective.”

Unfortunately, what they don’t seem to realize is that no evangelism is ineffective if it includes proclaiming the gospel and is devoid of unnecessary offenses. What is ineffective is the human heart’s ability to respond favorably to that message about Christ.

As good as their intentions may be, these toolmakers of evangelism seem to miss another important fact: The Bible doesn’t give us various methods and procedures for evangelism; it speaks only of proclaiming the gospel message. In fact, if the Bible upholds any particular method of evangelism at all, it is the verbal proclamation of the good news. From the parable of the sower to Paul’s descriptions of his own ministry to recorded events in the book of Acts, Scripture consistently emphasizes one evangelistic method: proclamation. That is the “silver bullet” of evangelism. Consider these passages:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16, ESV, emphasis added)

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18–25, ESV, emphasis added)

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, ESV, emphasis added)

For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16b, ESV)

This is not to say that any of the aforementioned methods are wrong simply because they do not appear in Scripture. In fact, some of these approaches may be useful in certain situations. The problem happens when they are lifted up to the same level as gospel proclamation and seen as equal to it in efficacy, as though gospel proclamation were optional—just one method to choose out of many. Thus, it is wrong to see any one of them as the single, long-sought-after silver bullet that will slay sin and resistance to the gospel once and for all. These various techniques are specific tools to stow away in one’s evangelistic toolbox, not as one-size-fits-all techniques but as implements to be retrieved when a particular occasion requires them and as support for the verbal communication of the gospel.

In all our methods, tactics, techniques and procedures, we need always to keep at the forefront of our minds this biblical truth: The gospel message is the method. It is the gospel that has power (Romans 1:16, James 1:18), not the various methods that we devise. We must always remember that.

Many people contrast the portrayal of God in the New Testament with that of God in the Old Testament and conclude that they were two different deities. They feel that the God portrayed in the Old Testament was harsh, cruel, judgmental and quick to anger, whereas the God of the New Testament is fatherly, loving, tender and merciful. This is actually a false dichotomy. Ironically, it is in the very act which we rightly see as the greatest act of mercy—Jesus hanging on the cross and bleeding for our sins—that we see the same Old Testament holiness, severity and judgment. Christ’s self-sacrifice was the result of both unrelenting judgment and the tenderest compassion: God’s holiness and justice required that the full penalty due humanity for their sins be satisfied, and He gave up His own Son compassionately to accomplish that. Mercy and justice are both seen on Calvary’s cross, just as they are both seen in the Old Testament. God did not change between Malachi and Matthew.

One day that stern holiness of God will break out against sin forever. It will be the unleashing of a righteous hostility toward evil that will never end—like a massive flash fire that suddenly breaks out and whose fury never ceases. Christ’s shed blood on the cross, however, is a complete satisfaction and appeasement of that righteous anger toward sin. When God sees that blood applied to a believer in Jesus, He has no wrath whatsoever toward that person: “Whoever believes in him [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18, ESV).

The God revealed in the Old Testament is exactly the same God revealed in the New: loving and merciful and kind, yet also fearful and terrifying in His wrath. He is not to be trifled with. Don’t make light of Jesus’ death and suffering on the cross. If you reject it, you have nothing to look forward to but an eternity of suffering God’s holiness breaking out against you in hell. Repent and come to Christ now!

About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.