The Unforgivable Sin

Are there things we can do that God can’t forgive? Is there an “unforgivable” sin? What does it mean to blaspheme the Spirit?

These questions usually arise after reading Matthew 12:22-32,

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

The narrative here is pretty straight forward. Jesus healed a demonically-oppressed man and the religious leaders accused Christ of accomplishing the feat by the power of Satan (referred to here as Beelzebul). Jesus highlighted the ridiculousness of their accusation by asking why the Satan would want to thwart his own agenda. The reality was, in expelling the forces of darkness, Jesus demonstrated that he was establishing the kingdom of God. In short, Jesus was clearly the Messiah sent from God the Father. Christ’s entire earthly ministry up to that point – work the religious leaders witnessed with their own eyes – undoubtedly pointed to that truth.

So, it was in that context, in the middle of those undeniable demonstrations, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” (Matthew 12:31-32).

It appears Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were blaspheming the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Spirit’s testifying work about who Christ is.[2]Even worse, not only did these religious leaders reject the Spirit’s work, but attributed it to Satan himself. It was this specific blasphemy from which Jesus said there is no return. 

This should make some sense if you consider the greater context of the passage. When the Pharisees said Jesus was from Satan, they were rejecting the only path God offers humanity for forgiveness. Therefore, denying what is really the work of the Spirit in Jesus and attributing that power, instead, to Satan, is ultimately a product of unbelief. Simply put, the Pharisees’ stubborn rejection of Jesus and the Spirit’s testimony of him was a stubborn rejection of the gospel. This is what is meant by the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. As biblical scholar Graham Cole notes, “The blasphemy against the Spirit is that self-righteous persistent refusal to embrace the offer of salvation in Christ.”[3]

This is invaluable for believers to understand. Unfortunately, we hear Christians (and sometimes Christian leaders) warn the church about the “unforgiveable sin” as if there was something we could do as believers that would remove us from the family of God. Consequently, some get nervous wondering what sins might expel them from the kingdom. However, this is where we should remind ourselves of the context of this passage. Theologian and scholar R.T. France said, 

It is [the Pharisees’] diabolical opposition to the good purpose of God which is ultimately unforgiveable. The point needs to be emphasized, since the language of this saying has been incautiously applied to real or supposed offenses ‘against the Holy Spirit’ which have nothing to do with the blasphemy of these Pharisees, and serious pastoral damage has been caused. This saying is a wake-up call to the arrogant, not a bogey to frighten those of tender conscience.[4]

Frankly, some scholars wonder if this text can be applied today at all, thinking it unique to the Pharisees, if not limited to the earthly ministry of Jesus.[5]Others believe the specific blasphemy of the Spirit isn’t so much a doubting of the truth about Jesus, but a rejection of the Spirit’s clear and direct testimony the individual knows as true in head and heart but rejects it still.[6]Thus, while there may be differences in the particulars concerning blaspheming the Spirit, the general idea is that this sin is the unbelief and rejection of who Jesus truly is and what he does. 

Therefore, when others ask, “Can a Christian commit the unpardonable sin?” the clearest answer is “no,” because to be a follower of Jesus is to believe and accept the testimony of the Spirit – that Christ is Lord – which is the exact opposite of the Pharisees’ response. Thus, the sin of blaspheming the Spirit is one which a believer cannot commit. 

It is true that Christians should live lives that seek to flee from sin, yet when we do disobey, we ought not to be so distraught as to think we’ve committed an unforgiveable sin. The gospel reminds us that Christ’s cross has taken the penalty of all our sins. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 should encourage us at this point: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ is our righteousness. His redeeming work at the cross has forgiven us all our sins, where our trespasses aren’t counted against us anymore. For those who believe, there is no sin we can commit that is unpardonable. The gospel is bigger than the failure of all our sins. This is where our confidence should lie; not in us, but in Christ for us!

Theologian Louis Berkhof offers a pastoral thought for Christians who fear if they have committed the sin of blaspheming the Spirit, writing, “In view of the fact that this sin is not followed by repentance, we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it and worry about this, and who desire prayers of others for them, have not committed it.”[7]Cole offers counsel as well, saying, “Any Christian disturbed as to whether they have committed this sin needs to be encouraged to think that they have not. Rather, such warnings, I suggest, are used by the Spirit to recover the drifting Christian and to encourage perseverance in the faith. The tender Christian conscience is a sign of hope, not evidence for despair.”[8]

Follower of Jesus, rest well in Christ. He has obeyed for you. You are clothed in his righteousness. Your sins are forgiven. This is the good news of the gospel! Know that you can never blaspheme the Spirit and commit the unforgiveable sin. On the contrary, you live by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, and may you be continuously filled with the Spirit. 


[1]See also Mark 3:29-30; cf. Luke 12:10

[2]It could be possible that Jesus, seeing the trajectory the Pharisees are taking with him, is warning them not to commit this blasphemy.

[3]Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, Crossway, 2007, 29.

[4]France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, Eerdmans, 2007, 482-483.

[5]e.g., Chrysotom and Jerome.

[6]cf., Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, Baker, 2006, 156. See Louis Berkhof with almost exact statement in his Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1938, 253.

[7]Berkhof, 254.

[8]Cole, 34.

Gifts of the Spirit

We believe the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible aren’t meant to be exhaustive. However, we have compiled a list of spiritual gifts that are seen in operation at Clear Creek Community Church. 

Administration – working with and through followers toward achieving Biblical goals and organizational objectives.

Church-planting (Also named Missionary) – the Spirit-given ability to minister cross-culturally with the goal of planting churches.

Discernment – to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil.

Evangelism – to act as a productive instrument of God in people coming to faith in Christ.

Exhortation – to come along side another in need of encouragement, challenge or earnest advice.

Faith – to trust in the power and presence of God and to act on this trust.

Giving – to freely give for the Lord’s work.

Hospitality – to provide an open home to those in need of food, lodging and fellowship, and a refuge to a bruised individual.

Knowledge – to master God’s revealed truth in Scripture.

Leadership – to set goals and to motivate others towards their accomplishment in the Body of Christ.

Mercy – to aid the suffering or undeserving and to spare them from punishment or penalties justly deserved.

Prophecy – to report an insight brought to the mind by the Holy Spirit to assist in ministering to others.

Pastoring (Also named Shepherding) – to effectively guide, feed, and protect a flock of followers in Christ.

Teaching (Also named Preaching) to cause the authoritative word of God to shine by giving detailed understanding and application of Biblical truth.

Helps – to provide timely assistance that relieves other Christian workers for direct spiritual ministry.

Wisdom – to apply knowledge effectively.

Spiritual Gifts Online Assessments:

If you want to learn more about Spiritual Gifts, we recommend Discover Your God-Given Gifts by Don and Katie Fortune.

 

 

Does God Care About My Finances?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

God loves us unconditionally. He gave his son to pay the price for our sin – a price that you and I could not, and cannot ever, pay. God gave us this gift so that we would have an opportunity to give him our heart. Though he has equipped us each with our own unique set of abilities, personality, and passions, God is primarily concerned with our hearts. So, when Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”he was emphasizing the importance of our heart’s allegiance.

Jesus goes on to say, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). He warns us that we must be careful not to put our trust in money. We are inclined to tie up our hope, identity, and security in money since it can give us a sense of personal control. God does care about our finances, but more, he cares about our heart. He cares about the motives behind the way we use our resources. Therefore, there are some fundamental elements he lays out that show us how to handle our money or finances in a godly way.

First of all, we must acknowledge that God is the owner and provider of all things. King David says it this way in 1 Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”

So, what does the owner or provider of all things tell us to do with the money he has entrusted to us?  He says:

  • GIVE. God doesn’t want the leftovers, he wants the first and best. God wants to be a priority in our lives, and because our hearts are where our treasure is, there is a pretty simple way for him to see if he has your heart. God demands to be first. Make giving the first priority in your budget. (See: Proverbs 3:9-10, Exodus 20:2-3, Matthew 6:24)
  • SAVE. God wants us to save for the future. He makes it clear that saving money is a wise decision. And he wants us to think strategically about every area of our life, in order to glorify him with everything we have. Make saving the second priority in your budget. (See: Proverbs 21:20, Proverbs 21:5, Luke 14:28)
  • LIVE ON THE REST. After we have given back to God a portion of the money he has provided for us and saved some of that money for the future, we should live on the remainder. That means we need to manage our spending, our commitments, our desires in a way that we can pay for them with the money we have left each month. 

But, be warned, when we don’t live on the rest, we go into debt. Remember, God wants our hearts. He tells us that we cannot serve God and money. Regarding debt specifically, God says that being in debt is like being a slave (Proverbs 22:7). Avoid debt at all costs. If you find yourself in debt, develop a plan to get out of debt as soon as you can.

When we choose to honor God with our money, we become willing partners with him, storing up eternal treasure, and entrusting him with our lives, our futures, and our hearts.

Commit to develop a budget that allows you give, save, and live on the rest. Ask someone to hold you accountable to living on that budget and thank God every day for providing what you need.


The Parent as Primary Disciplemaker


At every park and backyard in America, parents mill around jungle gyms, monkey bars, and swing sets in order to keep an eye on their kids at the playground. But, invariably, accidents happen and kids get hurt. Maybe one skins his knee on the ground, bumps heads with another child, or has some other misadventure. What is the first thing he does? Instinctively he looks to a parent to see what reaction the mishap provokes. And, inevitably, there is the parent who looks horrified and shouts in a shrill voice, “Oh my goodness, sweetie, what have you done?” To which the child, now assuming he has five minutes left to live, begins screaming at the top of his lungs.

But, there are also the parents who, when given the same scenario at the playground, immediately, confidently, and calmly say to their children, “You are okay. Shake it off and keep playing.” What happens next? My sense is you already know the answer. You likely witnessed it time and again at the playground yourself. Most kids, as a result of a parent’s confident and assuring counsel, move beyond the irritation and discomfort of a minor injury and continue their fun day at the playground without shedding a tear.

THE POWER OF A PARENT
Ponder that scenario for a moment. How great an influence must a parent possess that a child will emotionally interpret what has happened to him or her merely by gazing at a parent’s response? Parents are their children’s biggest influences. Often our work ethic, emotional patterns, or even the way we talk are just a sampling of the innumerable attitudes and actions we display in adulthood that echo our parents’ example we witnessed in our childhood.

The reason this influence is so pronounced is not only because of the emotional attachment between kids and their parents, but also the sheer amount of time children spend with their families. The late seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, says that children in Christian families spend about one percent of time at church, 16 percent at school, and 83 percent at home. Even assuming these percentages shift as children move into adolescence, the message is clear: parents are the most influential human beings in the lives of their kids.

A parent’s influence not only helps kids with bumps and bruises, but, more importantly, in leading their spiritual development. Indeed, the home is the discipleship strategy God ordained, and why, from the very beginning, fathers and mothers are central to the spiritual formation of their children. Contrary to what some may assume, when it comes to role and responsibility of imparting the gospel to our children’s hearts, minds, and lives, Scripture focuses the spotlight, not on the church and its programs, but squarely upon parents and the home.

DISCIPLESHIP AND DEUTERONOMY 6
One of the foundational passages for this truth is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Did you see the strategy? According to this passage, Hebrew fathers and mothers are indisputably their children’s primary disciple makers. They are to teach [these truths about God] diligently to [their] children, and shall talk of them when [they] sit in your house, and when [they] walk by the way, and when [they] lie down, and when [they] rise.

THE NEW TESTAMENT STRATEGY FOR DISCIPLING KIDS
This home-centered strategy for discipleship continues in the New Covenant with the church. God’s plan for children’s spiritual formation continues in (not deviates from) the original discipleship path established in the Old Covenant. For example, Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When looking at the entire span of biblical revelation, the apostle Paul affirms the continuity of the parent as primary disciple maker in the days where the church has now become the people of God (cf., Heb. 12:9, 2 Tim. 1:5).

It is also worth noting that believers during both covenants had either priests, prophets, pastors, or someone whose primary designation within the community of faith involved spiritual guidance and teaching the Scripture. Yet, it is striking to see that even with these necessary, and God-ordained, individuals helping shape the spiritual formation of the people, the burden for a child’s discipleship remained primarily upon the parents. This only serves to highlight the truth that God’s plan has always been, and will always be, parents acting as the primary disciplers of their children.

This foundational biblical truth should also resonate with our experience, not only as parents, but as those who have been parented. Our personal patterns and habits that echo our parents’ influence on us merely confirm why there is no one better to impart to a child a love for Jesus. It is also why the parent as primary disciple maker is one conviction we must firmly hold. Unfortunately, many parents often leave the responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth with the church staff who lead children’s ministries on any given Sunday.

At first blush this church-only strategy seems natural because, like a teacher for educational development or a coach for athletic development, specialists often play a central role in the growth of our children. Therefore, it would seem the obvious strategy for our child’s spiritual growth would fall in bulk upon the pastor’s shoulders and the ministries of the local church. But we have clearly seen in Scripture that both Old and New Testaments testify this is not the case. The parent operates as their child’s first pastor, minister, and teacher. This does not mean our children should refrain from involving themselves with age-graded ministries of a local church. Far from it! However, it does mean those ministries are not a replacement for the parents’ critical position as primary disciple maker.

If this was the type of legacy you personally received as a child, make a break as a parent. If this is the legacy you are presently giving your kids, repent and give them something worth passing down. Remind yourself that, for better or worse, you are your kids’ primary children’s minister and their foremost student pastor. If that feels overwhelming, then welcome to the club. I have been in ministry for three decades, hold a couple seminary degrees, teach the Bible on a regular basis, and still feel overwhelmed as I look into the eyes of my three sons and wonder what their future holds. But being overwhelmed does not mean parents get a free pass from the Bible’s calling on us to disciple our children. Be encouraged! If God calls you to this role, it means you really can do it.

So, give it a try.

Let the church come along side you. And watch what God can do in you and your kids for his glory and your good!


What is Worship?

Before my freshman year of high school, my dad and I took a road trip together. We both enjoy baseball so we drove from Houston to Chicago and saw four baseball games in three different stadiums along the way. The trip culminated with us celebrating my dad’s fortieth birthday at Wrigley Field – a historic stadium on both of our sports bucket lists. Before the first pitch, my dad put his arm around my stadium seat, leaned over and said, “I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my birthday, or a better person to spend it with.”

It wasn’t just what we were doing that was special, it was that we got to do it together that elevated the joy of the occasion and made for a lifelong memory.

Theologians since the Westminster Catechism (and likely before) have argued that “the chief end of man, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our lives are intended to glorify – to worship – God. And not only are we created to worship him, but in doing so, we get to enjoy him; we take pleasure in his presence. Christian worship, and a life marked by it, is intended to be a joyful experience.

So, what is worship? Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Christian Worship

Worship is the expression of reverence and adoration of something. We all worship. The question is to what or to whom will we ascribe ultimate worship? We can worship money, sex, power, sports, and any number of false “gods.” Often our worship is shaped by our affections. We ascribe worth to what we love most. So Christian worship then, is intended to embed us in the story of God’s grace, allowing the story of his redemption and restoration to shape our affections for him. Therefore, Christian worship is the expression of ultimate reverence and adoration of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Worship is a Response

Notice worship is a response. God is the initiator of worship, meaning he moves first. He creates. He calls. He saves. He gives grace. We hear his call, are reminded of his grace, and then we respond with worship. This is why some worship services begin with what is known as a “Call to Worship.” We recognize that God, by his Spirit, initiated our worship gathering. He drew us to respond to the gospel initially, and is drawing us to worship him as a church. So, at the beginning of a worship service, someone will typically read a passage of Scripture, or initiate a call and response because it signifies God’s initiation of the worship gathering. Worship is a response.

Worship is Whole Life

If we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, our souls, our mind, and our strength (the greatest commandment), then worship must include our whole life. Our affections (heart), our spirit (soul), our intellect (mind), and our body (strength) are all involved in worshipping God. We use our minds to think about and engage the mind of God. We allow God to stir our affections – growing our heart and our love for God. When it comes to our bodies, our posture often reflects not only what we think, but what we feel about who God is, in worship. Thus, in a worship service, we may stand in reverence, kneel in prayer or submission, raise our hands in praise, close our eyes in reflection, or any number of postures that best communicates our worship.

This is why worship is about more than just the songs we sing. Although music can help shape our affections for God and give us words to help express our gratitude and praise for him, worship is more than that. Music is just one element of a worship service. Prayer, the reading of God’s word, giving, confession, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, all of these are habits we practice that shape our hearts to worship God the other 167 hours of the week. What we do corporately is intended to shape how we worship God individually.

Romans 12:1 makes this clear: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Christian worship is not a one-hour-a-week kind of worship; it’s a whole life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Who God Is and What He Has Done

Theologian Edmund Clowney once wrote: “The gospel is a call to worship, to turn from sin and call upon the name of the Lord.” Worship is an act of repenting and believing the gospel. When we embed ourselves in the gospel storylines, and remind each other of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we turn from our sin and repent. Repentance is not only turning away from an old way of living, it is turning towards God and, in doing so, ascribing worth to the only one worthy of it. Christian worship is a response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Worship is Joy-filled

When our lives are a living response to the gospel and we glorify God, we in turn, enjoy him forever. Worship is intended to be a joyful experience. Certainly, there are times where other emotions are at play. We can worship in times of grief or despair (see the Psalms for example). But remember: joy is not a temporary emotion. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 2:20) and is an orientation of the heart to be content, confident, and hopeful despite our ever-changing circumstances. In fact, notice how often the Psalms command us to pursue joy in God through worship:

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. (Psalm 32:11)

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. (Psalm 33:1)

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth. (Psalm 67:4)

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. (Psalm 100:1–2)

God created us to worship and in turn experience joy. When we delight in God, he delights in us (Isaiah 62:3-5). When we draw near to God, he draws near to us (James 4:8). And when the church experiences joy in worship together, it is a shared experience, where our joy is multiplied. This is not only true for believers, but when the church worships with unbelievers in its midst, and when the church passionately confesses the truths of the gospel with one voice, unbelievers must wrestle with the truth claims of God (Acts 2:42-47).

Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.


 

Resources on Faith & Science

This is a modest list of resources for further study into issues of faith and science. This is by no means exhaustive but hopefully a fair representation of the different interpretive views within orthodox Christianity. As previously stated in our ‘Faith & Science’ series, CCCC doesn’t hold to a specific interpretive position. With that said, the listing of resources here is not an endorsement (indeed, these works disagree with each other). On the contrary, we encourage you do the work both personally and in community in order to discover which of these resources makes best sense of the two books of God: his Word and his World. It should also be noted that descriptions were taken from other sources such as the publishers.

Faith & Science in General

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins is for believers, agnostics, and atheists alike. The Language of God provides a testament to the power of faith in the midst of suffering without faltering from its logical stride. Readers will be inspired by Collin’s personal story of struggling with doubt and faith and as well as his experiences as a genetics researcher with discussions of science and spirituality, especially centering around evolution.


Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion by Sir John Polkinghorne draws on discoveries made in atomic physics to make credible the claims of Christianity, and helps refine Christian perceptions through the knowledge that the new science brings. He discusses belief in God, chaos, evolution, miracles, and prayer, and gives an answer to the question: Can a scientist believe?


Science and Religion: A New Introduction by Alister McGrath. This popular textbook introduces readers to the central questions in the field of science and religion. Ideally suited to those who have little or no prior knowledge in either area, it examines the historical, theological, philosophical and scientific aspects of the interaction between religion and science. Takes a topic-based approach which fits into the existing structure of most courses, and includes explanatory material not found in other works of this kind, making it highly accessible for those with little scientific or religious background knowledge.

Interpretive Views of Creation

Literal View (Young Earth Creationism)

Gap View

Day/Age View

Literary Framework / Ancient Near East View

CCCC’s “Understanding Creation” Presentations

Other Faith and Science Resources

Conversations Between Different Viewpoints

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah B. Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer. Presents the current “state of the conversation” about origins among evangelicals representing four key positions: 1) Young Earth Creationism – Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), 2) Old Earth (Progressive) Creationism – Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), 3) Evolutionary Creation – Deborah B. Haarsma (BioLogos), 4) Intelligent Design – Stephen C. Meyer (The Discovery Institute). The contributors offer their best defense of their position addressing questions such as: What is your position on origins – understood broadly to include the physical universe, life, and human beings in particular? What do you take to be the most persuasive arguments in defense of your position? How do you demarcate and correlate evidence about origins from current science and from divine revelation? What hinges on answering these questions correctly?

Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos by Kenneth Keathley (Editor). Christians confess that God created the heavens and the earth, but they are divided over how God created and whether the Bible gives us a scientifically accurate account of the process of creation. Representatives of two prominent positions – old earth creation (Reasons to Believe) and evolutionary creation (BioLogos) – have been in dialogue over the past decade to understand where they agree and disagree on key issues in science and theology. This book is the result of those meetings that touches on many of the pressing debates in science and faith, including biblical authority, the historicity of Adam and Eve, human genetics and common descent, the problem of natural evil, and methodological naturalism. Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? invites readers to listen in as Christian scholars weigh the evidence, explore the options, and challenge each other on the questions of creation and evolution. In a culture of increasing polarization, this is a model for charitable Christian dialogue.

Intelligent Design

Discovery Institute website

Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe helped to launch the intelligent design movement: the argument that nature exhibits evidence of design, beyond Darwinian randomness. It sparked a national debate on evolution, which continues to intensify across the country. From one end of the spectrum to the other, Darwin’s Black Box has established itself as the key intelligent design text — the one argument that must be addressed in order to determine whether Darwinian evolution is sufficient to explain life as we know it.


 

The Signature in the Cell by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Meyer presents a convincing new case for intelligent design (ID), based on revolutionary discoveries in science and DNA. Along the way, Meyer argues that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as expounded in The Origin of Species did not, in fact, refute ID.


Evolutionary Creation

Biologos website

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science by Applegate and Stump (Editors). Many evangelicals have come to accept the conclusions of science while still holding to a vigorous belief in God and the Bible. How did they make this journey? Here are the stories of 25 people who have come to embrace evolution and faith, including Francis Collins, Scot McKnight, John Ortberg, James K.A. Smith, Jennifer Wiseman, and N.T. Wright.


 

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science by Dennis Venema and Scott McKnight. Genomic science indicates that humans descend not from an individual pair but from a large population. What does this mean for the basic claim of many Christians: that humans descend from Adam and Eve? Leading evangelical geneticist Dennis Venema and popular New Testament scholar Scot McKnight combine their expertise to offer informed guidance and answers to questions pertaining to evolution, genomic science, and the historical Adam. The authors address up-to-date genomics data with expert commentary from both genetic and theological perspectives, showing that genome research and Scripture are not irreconcilable. It should be noted that some readers found Venema’s first half of the book sounder than McKnight’s conclusions in the second half.

Sin and Playing the ‘Don’t Judge’ Card

Don’t judge others, Jesus didn’t judge others.

It’s an easy statement to make – ubiquitous on social media.  Folk use it to defend politicians, athletes, celebrities, or anyone else’s behavior that the New Testament clearly defines as sin.

The advantage being leveraged is the ignorance of Christians who don’t know what the Bible says about judging (and the different uses of the word) combined with the corrosive power of a shame culture that loves to embarrass, cajole, and marginalize people who don’t toe the latest societal line. That’s why its common when professed Christians essentially make statements like “God loves everyone as everyone, so everyone can do what everyone wants to do” to be met either with virtual silence from Christians who know better or supported with cheers by others who don’t.

To actually look at the context of Jesus’ warning in Matt. 7:1-2 to “judge not, that you be not judged,” is to realize that Christ isn’t prohibiting the identification of something as sinful but the hypocrisy of legalistic religion that thrills in doing so before first sincerely examining potentially greater sin struggles in one’s own life (e.g., the speck/log contrast). This seems to be the definition of judging Jesus is using in this oft-quoted, oft-misapplied passage. The point Christ makes is that singling out the lesser sin struggles of others while hypocritically holding onto greater transgressions is the kind of religious hypocrisy that is the opposite of the kingdom of God. Ahem, please note that Jesus even “judges” his listeners in this very passage by calling them hypocrites (v. 5)! Therefore, we have an admonition for Christians to keep growing in the gospel so they would be quicker to examine their own hearts for sin struggles and slower to criticize other believers for theirs.

However, slower isn’t the same as not at all.

The idea it’s automatically unloving or un-Christian to properly call someone’s sinful behavior as sin is far afield from what Jesus said or did. Furthermore, it’s far afield from what his apostles did and said in the rest of the New Testament.

For example, in 1 Cor. 5, the Apostle Paul writes in the local church at Corinth, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” 1

If this were written in 2019 some might be shouting Paul down on Facebook as unloving or give him a Twitter “clap back” shaming him for “judging” others (ironically, both judgments in themselves) because God accepts everyone as they are, or that love is love, or some other bumper sticker platitude that gets you likes and attaboys on the social network echo chamber.

But the apostle not only says what this self-professed Christian is doing is sinful but also that the community of faith should respond to this situation. Interestingly, Paul adds that the Corinthian church isn’t to include non-Christians in this kind of accountability. Dealing with the sins of someone in this communal way applies only to those who consider themselves to be a part of the community of Jesus (v. 11, “anyone who bears the name of brother”). Paul then sums up the principle in vv. 12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”

It’s illuminating that the apostle’s expectation for the world and the church are completely different. He knows unbelievers aren’t compelled to follow kingdom ethics (e.g., sexuality, stewardship) nor should Christians expect them to follow Jesus as King or see God’s Word as authoritative and binding on their lives. Thus, the community of faith has no accountability with “outsiders” in those matters.

However, the tune changes when it comes to those within the community of faith.2 While the gospel should shape our addressing any sin with grace, humility, and a keen awareness of our own shortcomings, make no mistake, it also creates a community where sin can be not only identified but also, if need be, confronted. That’s why the expected answer of the question, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” is “Yes” provided the kind of judging is the kind Paul has outlined and not weighing into someone’s eternity as if we were God the Judge.

Neither Jesus nor the rest of the New Testament knows anything of the idea that calling something sinful the Scripture considers the same is somehow the sin of “judging others.”3 It’s merely just agreeing with what God’s Word says. Just make sure if you are agreeing with what God’s Word says about any kind of sin, you also do it with the understanding that the only reason you are a follower of Jesus is because God in his grace redeemed you from the same sinful situation as everyone else. And that were it not for the Cross and the wondrous love of God in Christ, we would all be far from him.

This should also help us see that followers of Jesus fall into a spiritually dangerous situation when they erroneously play the “don’t judge others” card in refusing to acknowledge sinful behavior in other professed Christians. This sets them up at some kind of quasi-authority who knows better than the New Testament ethic (and likely Christian orthodoxy throughout the last two millennia) and leads some scrambling to Google any and all other articles or videos of professing believers that would agree with them. But this kind of strategy only parallels, in a sobering way I might add, Paul’s words to the Romans, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:32). Talk about judgment!

It’s more likely that people who play the “Don’t judge” card do so because they’ve confused acceptance with endorsement. They want to rightfully love/support their person in question and think that in order to do so they must wrongfully endorse everything that person does without hesitation. But acceptance is different from endorsement. Contrary to the cultural forces that say differently, you can accept someone for who they are without endorsing everything they do.

To not endorse certain behavior in believers (because it’s sinful) isn’t unloving or unkind. In fact, it’s the most honest kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus gave to the woman caught in the act of adultery. Once again, Jesus pushes back on the hypocrisy of the religious leadership when he says to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”4 But, after they leave, Christ turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”5 Jesus’ love is one that takes her where she is but doesn’t leave her where she is. This woman, after meeting Jesus, is to seek obedience from this time forward. So while Christ’s love fully accepts, it doesn’t fully endorse. He doesn’t say, “I love you for who you are so do whatever you choose,” but the opposite, “I am for you. You know what is right and wrong. Seek to obey.” Jesus loves this woman best because he is honest with her about who she is and what she had done. This is grace and truth, not grace or truth. Together they’re helpful, but offering one without the other is damaging and dangerous.6

Unfortunately employing the “Don’t judge” trump card retards our real growth in the gospel because it keeps us from being honest about sin and sinners. It’s grace over truth, not grace with truth. As much as arrogantly, pridefully condemning others reveals a lack of knowledge about the truth of the gospel so does endorsing sinful behavior in other believers while telling everyone else how wrong they are for calling sin a sin.

May Jesus tutor us all as his followers into what loving other believers (and unbelievers) looks like for our good, their good, and his glory!