Cheap Grace, Cheap Politics

Bad theology always leads to bad application in life. One of the worst theological mistakes is something called “cheap grace,” and this year we have seen the cheap grace theology rear its ugly head in the promotion of “cheap politics.”

What is meant by cheap grace? The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, in chapter 5, lays out the wonderful news that God’s grace has abounded even in the midst of sin. Where sin increased, he informs us, grace has increased all the more.

But lest he be misunderstood, in what we now call chapter 6, he went on to warn against what he knew would be one obvious misunderstanding:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . .

Our old self was crucified with Him . . . so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Many Christians then use chapter 7 of the same book to bolster the idea that Christians continue to sin all the time. I don’t agree with that interpretation. I believe Paul is speaking about his past life and the state of all men before becoming Christians.

Why do I believe that? At the end of that chapter, he declares, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Read chapter 8 and you will see that he goes on to talk about the victorious Christian life.

cheap-graceEven if you disagree with my interpretation, are you really going to promote the idea that Christians can constantly sin and that a transformation of life is not necessary? That is bad theology indeed.

I believe God calls us to holiness. I believe we are to have compassion on those caught in sin, but must at the same time hold up the moral standard and call people to faith in Christ to achieve that standard.

I don’t believe we should put people in positions of authority whose lives are walking testaments to supreme egotism and selfishness.

When I hear Christians say about political candidates, “Well, no one is perfect and Jesus isn’t running for president this year,” my spirit sinks when I contemplate the low moral bar we are so willing to accept.

Because I maintain that there are levels of imperfection in candidates and that some have crossed the line to the extent that we should never support them, I’ve been called a Pharisee, full of pride, and a Hillary supporter. Never mind that I hold Hillary to the same standard as Trump, and they both fail the test.

Whenever I’m accused of being a Clinton advocate, I simply remind people of the book I published back in 2001 that dealt with Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In that book, Mission: Impeachable, I gave the Republican congressmen who argued for his removal from office a platform to make their case. I have long been aware of the moral turpitude surrounding both Clintons. I have been writing and speaking about their multiple lies and corruption for years.

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So please spare me the insult that I somehow want this woman in the White House.

I’ve also been ridiculed as someone who uses conscience as an excuse. Well, excuse me, but I will not willingly violate what I believe God is speaking to my conscience. It’s not an excuse; it’s a conviction.

This goes further. Throughout this campaign, people like me have had to constantly endure the disdain of those who lecture us that we have to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Well, excuse me again. I have never, throughout my lifetime voting experience, ever chosen the lesser of two evils. I have never deliberately, knowingly voted for evil.

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1972, having reached the ripe age of 21. Some might say I voted for evil because I cast my ballot for Richard Nixon. Keep in mind, though, that this was prior to all the Watergate revelations.

In all succeeding elections, not only at the presidential level, but at the state and local levels as well, I have sought to vote for the better candidate without a thought that the person I was voting for was a “lesser of two evils.”

In 2008, I cast my vote for John McCain. He was not my first choice, and I considered him a less desirable nominee than some of the other Republican candidates, but I never thought he was evil.

The same can be said for my 2012 vote for Mitt Romney. I had qualms about some of his policy positions in the past, but I didn’t perceive him as an evil person. His character stood the test for me.

This year has been entirely different. Both Hillary and Trump are on the other side of that moral dividing line, in my opinion. Trump is no less a liar than Hillary, and his character should have been a disqualification from the start.

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What’s interesting is that most evangelicals agreed with my assessment for many months. Then something changed.

My blog is not widely known. I’m not a big name in the nation (for which I am actually grateful). The highest number of “likes” I had ever received for a blog prior to this year was 811 back during the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality.

Then, this year, right after the South Carolina Republican primary, which Trump won apparently with evangelical support, I wrote about how that was incongruous with Christian faith. That particular blog post blew all others out of the water, amassing more than 4,500 “likes.” If you want to go back to that one to see what I said, click on February 22, 2016, on the calendar to the right of this page.

I was encouraged after writing that post because it seemed as if evangelicals were united in decrying the type of candidate we had in Trump.

Then Trump won the nomination and I’ve been assailed ever since for staying the course with my views on his unsuitability for public office, especially an office as significant as the presidency.

good-evilA survey of evangelicals now shows that 72% have no issue with an immoral politician holding this high office. That number used to be 30%.

Oh, for the good old days of Bill Clinton when evangelicals actually cared about character. I see hypocrisy all around. What was decried and condemned in a former president on the Democrat side of politics is now excused in a candidate with a similar character only because he has an “R” by his name and he is running against another Clinton.

Some Christians are proclaiming that Trump is God’s anointed. One even told anti-Trumper Erick Erickson that his wife has cancer because he has spoken against Trump, and she would be healed if only he would change his mind.

We’re told Trump is the new Cyrus who will be God’s chosen vessel. I like Erickson’s response to that when he quoted Scripture himself, noting that Paul warned,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.

Get rid of that itch, please. Even if you believe you have no other option but to vote for Donald Trump, don’t be his cheerleader, and don’t twist Scripture to try to rationalize that he’s God’s anointed.

If you are going to vote for him, please do it with eyes wide open to who he really is, and could you do it with some measure of reluctance? That would be at least one step closer to the Biblical standard we are all called to uphold.

Those who are true Christians at heart (not just the cultural kind) need to reject cheap grace and the cheap politics that comes along with it.

The Moral Majority?

My main reason for writing this blog—its only real purpose—is to bring the Christian message to the forefront as we contemplate the state of our culture and the society in general. Within me resides a hope, which I trust comes from the Giver of All Hope, that what I write can aid, in whatever small way, in restoring a Biblical pattern of thinking that will, in turn, strengthen the foundations upon which our society is built.

I believe there are two chief impediments that are making it difficult to make progress. The first is a misperception that guides some of us hoping for societal restoration; the second is a profound personal failing on the part of those who claim the name of Christ.

What is that misperception? We seem to think that there is a silent majority out there just waiting for the re-emergence of Christian culture. What we fail to understand is that we are living in a post-Christian nation. Whereas, in decades past, most Americans would have subscribed to some type of Christian morality, we are now a nation bitterly divided over the nature of morality—or indeed whether such a thing as morality even exists.

Jerry Falwell, as he attempted to get Christians involved in politics back in the early 1980s, started an organization he called The Moral Majority. It rested on the assumption that most Americans believed in Biblical morality.

That was the case at the Founding of the nation; even those who cannot be classified as Christian believers lived in a culture that expected people to adhere to the basic moral teachings of the Scriptures.

The onset of evolutionary theory severely undercut that consensus, which eventually led to the holocaust of abortion, the drive for same-sex marriage, and a general philosophy of postmodernism, where each person constructs his own concept of morality. Polls seem to indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans rarely gather in a church on Sundays.

Yet we continue to act as if what we promote is generally accepted by the society at large. No, it is not. Promotion of the homosexual lifestyle shows up in nearly every television program, in one way or another. It is just assumed by the media that couples live together and engage in sex routinely before marriage. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence to bolster their assumption.

The myth of the moral majority must be shattered before we can make any real progress. We have to see reality for what it is first so we’ll know how to proceed.

The second problem, though, is deeper, and it’s the primary reason we don’t have the kind of influence we seek. It has to do with personal holiness. Now, I know that word—holiness—has become a turn-off. It reeks of past attempts to focus entirely on externalities: don’t wear makeup, don’t watch television, etc. Christians have been their own worst enemy by making holiness into a repellent idea.

True holiness, though, is beautiful. It simply means one’s love for God inspires our thoughts and actions. Holiness is an attitude of the heart that seeks to please God in all we do, and it’s a joyful thing. Yes, a heart for God will lead to changing our external actions, but not because we follow a list of rules. We change because we want our lives to honor the One who brought us out of darkness into His light; we change because it connects us to His heart; we change because it brings harmony and His love into the lives of others with whom we associate.

Christians who live holy lives are attractive; they draw others to them, thereby providing an opportunity to deliver the message God has placed on their hearts: personal salvation first; societal salvation as a result of the permeation of Biblical principles into the society.

My concern is this: too many people who claim the name of Christ don’t portray the Christ they claim to know. I’ve been a Christian now for many decades. I’ve seen true holiness in action; it does exist. Yet it is not the norm. We don’t talk much about sin anymore; it’s an embarrassment to mention the word in our culture. If we mention it, we’re accused of being judgmental.

But I want to say something very direct: sin is killing us. I am saddened almost daily by “Christians” who don’t act much differently than the world around them, whose language is filled with the same crudeness that we say we deplore, whose attitudes show forth in gossip, slander, and revenge.

Those who name the name of Christ have no problem with “shacking up,” accepting homosexuality, or allowing the government to become God. They are endorsing the very sins that are sending our nation into spiritual darkness. Is it any wonder we hardly make a dent in the culture?

I am grateful for those who stand for righteousness; they do make a difference. But far too many who say they want to make a difference are not different themselves. That will never work. What we need is this reminder from Scripture:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. …

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.

Those are not my words. They come from Another. My job today is simply to deliver them. Your responsibility, if you say you are a Christian, is to ponder them and act upon them.

Finney: Partial Holiness Is Nonexistent

HolinessWhat does it mean to be holy? What is Biblical virtue? Can we be holy as God is holy? We’re commanded to be. Some people may misunderstand that. Since we are not God, there is a difference. Charles Finney comments in his Systematic Theology,

It is a well-settled and generally admitted truth that increased light increases responsibility, or moral obligation. No creature is bound to will any thing with the intenseness or degree of strength with which God wills it, for the plain reason, that no creature sees its importance or real value, as He does.

Yet that doesn’t mean, Finney argues, that God settles for some kind of half-holiness. That would be an absurdity. We are to live up to the knowledge we have, and we are to be holy, according to the light we possess. It’s a full holiness, not partial, which is something that doesn’t really exist. He explains further:

Virtue and moral perfection . . . are synonymous terms. Virtue is holiness. Holiness is uprightness. Uprightness is that which is just what, under the circumstance, it should be: and nothing else is virtue, holiness, or uprightness. Virtue, holiness, uprightness, moral perfection—when we apply these terms to any given state of the will—are synonymous.

To talk, therefore, of a virtue, holiness, uprightness, justice, right in kind, but deficient in degree, is to talk sheer nonsense. It is the same absurdity as to talk of sinful holiness, an unjust justice, a wrong rightness, an impure purity, an imperfect perfection, a disobedient obedience. . . .

That which is not entirely conformed to the law of God is not holiness. This must be true in philosophy, and the Bible affirms the same thing. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

God expects a whole heart in obeying Him. Anything less is not real obedience.

Finney: The Motive for All of God’s Actions

Why does God do what He does? Is He aiming at something in all His actions? Is there a “good” at the end of His actions or is whatever He wills “good”? While this may sound rather picky, it does affect our view of God’s character. Charles Finney believes,

Lord Is GoodGod’s ultimate end, in all He does, or omits, is the highest well-being of Himself, and of the universe, and in all His acts and dispensations, His ultimate object is the promotion of this end. All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty. This intention or consecration to this intrinsically and infinitely valuable end is virtue, or holiness, in God and in all moral agents. God is infinitely and equally holy in all things because He does all things for the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being.

Theologians who promote the idea that the will of God is what is ultimate make a fatal error, according to Finney. Think carefully about his objection here:

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He could, by willing it, change the nature of virtue and vice, which is absurd.

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He not only can change the nature of virtue and vice, but has a right to do so; for if there is nothing back of His will that is as binding upon Him as upon His creatures, He has a right, at any time, to make malevolence a virtue and benevolence a vice. For if His will is the ground of obligation, then His will creates right, and whatever He wills, or might will, is right simply and only because He so wills.

If the will of God be the foundation of moral obligation, we have no standard by which to judge of the moral character of His actions, and cannot know whether He is worthy of praise or blame.

Upon the supposition in question, were God a malevolent being, and did He require all His creatures to be selfish, and not benevolent, He would be just as virtuous and worthy of praise as now; for the supposition is that His sovereign will creates right, and of course, will as He might, that would be right, simply because He willed it.

I hope you followed the logic because I think it is an accurate assessment. God is not an arbitrary being whose will can make good evil and evil good. Instead, He chooses to do that which is the best for everyone in His created world. We never need to worry about His character; His aim is always to promote the highest good for each of us.

Sin, the Church, & the Nation

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The New Mexico Supreme Court rules that a Christian photographer who didn’t want to photograph a homosexual wedding has to do so. Her faith was not as important as the right of the couple to force her to be their photographer. Her faith has to accommodate to their wishes because anti-discrimination is more essential than religious liberty.

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A bakery in Oregon refuses to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding. The business now faces an anti-discrimination lawsuit.

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Officials in Pennsylvania and New Mexico defy the laws of their states by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Pennsylvania’s attorney general states she will defy the same-sex marriage ban. The attorney general is supposed to be the chief law enforcement officer in the state.

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A lesbian training squadron commander in the Air Force punishes a sergeant who believes homosexuality is a sin. This occurred after he defended another sergeant who had shared his religious views on homosexuality in a classroom setting.

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On a day in which Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is memorialized, President Obama includes in his remarks comments about how gays are experiencing the same discrimination blacks have historically experienced, thereby equating the two.

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The lead singer for the popular Christian band Building 429 says that he doesn’t like to throw stones, that homosexuals are in a human rights fight, and that they should have the same rights as a traditional married couple. Although he says he believes homosexuality is a sin, it’s not all that big a deal because he sins “1000 times a day.” He’s not comfortable chastising people and telling them they may go to hell.

This is America, year 2013. We are a nation on the edge of moral ruin. The rule of law is breaking down. Even many who call themselves Christians can’t bring themselves to stand for Biblical truth. One of the biggest problems, in my view, is that our theology is off-base. If you sin a thousand times a day, are you really a Christian?

Hebrews HolinessWe are hesitant to judge. We don’t want to be seen as holier-than-thou. We want people to love us. Yet we are told in Scripture to speak the truth in love. Yes, we reach out to people, even to those caught in the ugliest of sinful bondage, but that outreach must begin with the truth: you can only be set free by repenting of the sin and receiving God’s forgiveness. Another part of the truth is that God now expects you to live a life free from sin. Holiness is a requirement; you no longer sin a thousand times a day.

So while I’m disturbed by the drift in this nation, I’m more disturbed by the drift in what is ostensibly the Body of Christ. And the connection between the two is evident. As the church goes, so goes the nation. If we want the nation to change, we must begin with ourselves. God will definitely hold us accountable.

Finney: Understanding the Dynamic Atonement

Charles Finney 3Charles Finney had a definitively non-Calvinistic view of how the atonement of Christ worked to take care of the sin problem in man. For the record, I believe he has provided a great corrective to the usual explanation. We have to begin with certain questions.

What does God, the governor, do when people who break His law and are bound for eternal punishment are truly sorry for their disobedience? Can He simply say that their sorrow is sufficient and He will negate the consequences of the broken law? If He winks at their disobedience and allows them eternal life, what is He saying about the value of His law? If He sets aside the penalties, and exercises mercy instead, might not He send a wrong message? Might not His subjects begin to believe they can ignore His law and receive mercy regardless?

Whenever someone breaks the moral law, he has invaded the rights of others; penalties are expected. God, who is righteous and just, and who has the highest good of all His subjects in mind, cannot simply ignore His own laws and overlook the consequences of sin on the community.

Finney, in showing how the atonement of Christ works to free men from their sins, approaches the doctrine from a truly governmental view, explaining it from the perspective of public justice, which, he says,

consists in the promotion and protection of the public interests, . . . as is demanded by the highest good of the public. It implies the execution of penalties of law where the precept is violated, unless something else is done that will as effectually secure the public interests [emphasis mine]. When this is done, public justice demands that the execution of the penalty shall be dispensed with by extending pardon to the criminal. Retributive justice makes no exceptions, but punishes without mercy in every instance of crime. Public justice makes exceptions, as often as this is permitted or required by the public good.

AtonementFinney believed that the substitutionary death of Christ effectually secured public justice: it showed that God respected His own law and that sin brings consequences; it revealed the character of God, not only in His righteousness, but also in His mercy; and it was sufficient to humble men and lead them to sincere repentance and future obedience. Indeed, Finney felt that the atonement produced “a more efficient preventive of sin, and a more powerful persuasive to holiness, than the infliction of the legal penalty” would have done.

Christ’s death, then, allows God the Father to show mercy to sinners who are genuinely repentant over their sinfulness. By substituting Jesus’ suffering for the penalty that should have been carried out on sinners, God has demonstrated to the world that sin is awful [Jesus died for sins], that His law must be upheld, yet He can justly forgive the penitents who will now be humbled by what Jesus has done for them, and who will seek to obey God and please Him the rest of their lives. The public will have little to fear from people who now walk in newness of life.

I love this explanation, which transforms a typical explanation of the atonement from some kind of official and sterile “transaction of a payment of debt” into a heartfelt forgiveness based on Jesus’ personal suffering and a sinner’s changed life. Many theologians portrayed the atonement in this way earlier in Christian history, but few do today. I think we need to return to this dramatic and dynamic understanding of the most significant event in human history.

Finney: False Hopes

HolinessSome people rely on very flimsy rationales for assuming they are right with God. Charles Finney relates this story in his autobiography, a story that has been repeated endlessly in different forms in all times and places.

During that revival my attention was called to a sick woman in the community, who had been a member of a Baptist church, and was well-known in the place; but people had no confidence in her piety. She was fast failing with the consumption; and they begged me to call and see her. I went and had a long conversation with her.

She told me a dream which she had when she was a girl, which made her think that her sins were forgiven. Upon that she had settled down, and no argument could move her. I tried to persuade her, that there was no evidence of her conversion, in that dream. I told her plainly that her acquaintances affirmed that she had never lived a Christian life, and had never evinced a Christian temper; and I had come to try to persuade her to give up her false hope, and see if she would not now accept Jesus Christ that she might be saved.

I dealt with her as kindly as I could, but did not fail to make her understand what I meant. But she took great offence; and after I went away complained that I tried to get away her hope and distress her mind; that I was cruel to try to distress a woman as sick as she was, in that way—to try to disturb the repose of her mind.

She died not long afterward. . . . When this woman came to be actually dying, her eyes were opened; and before she left the world she seemed to have such a glimpse of the character of God, and of what heaven was, and of the holiness required to dwell there, that she shrieked with agony, and exclaimed that she was going to hell. In this state, as I was informed, she died.

A sad story, to be sure. I’m reminded of the Scripture in Hebrews: “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. . . . Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”