Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”
It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.
To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”
It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.
The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.
The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:
“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”
When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.
If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.
My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:
“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”
About the smug heart, I have written previously:
Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!
Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.
That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.
I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:
1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
16 But I say, vwalk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify wthe desires of the flesh. 17 For xthe desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, yto keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are zled by the Spirit, ayou are not under the law.
This love is not optional. It is commanded. And it is very radical: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we are called in our freedom to desire and seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own. But if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.
Paul’s answer to this discouragement is found in Galatians 5:16–18. The secret is in learning to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). If the Christian life looks too hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves. We must live it by the Spirit of God. The command of love is not a new legalistic burden laid on our back; it is what happens freely when we walk by the Spirit. People who try to love without relying on God’s Spirit always wind up trying to fill their own emptiness rather than sharing their fullness. And so love ceases to be love. Love is not easy for us. But the good news is that it is not primarily our work but God’s. We must simply learn to “walk by the Spirit.”
So I want to build today’s message around three questions: What? Why? And, how? What is this “walking by the Spirit”? Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? And, how, very practically, can we walk by the Spirit?
What Is Walking by the Spirit?
First, what is this “walking by the Spirit”? There are two other images in the context which shed light on the meaning of “walk by the Spirit.” The first is in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” If Paul had said, “If you follow the Spirit you are not under law,” it would have been true, but in using the passive voice (“If you are led”) he emphasizes the Spirit’s work, not ours. The Spirit is not a leader like the pace car in the “Daytona 500.” He is a leader like a locomotive on a train. We do not follow in our strength. We are led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the divine source of power and go wherever he leads.
The second image of our walk in the Spirit is in verse 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” If our Christian walk is to be a walk of love and joy and peace, then “walk by the Spirit” must mean “bear the fruit of the Spirit.” But again, the Spirit’s work is emphasized, not ours. He bears the fruit. Perhaps Paul got this image from Jesus. You recall John 15:4–5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So “walk by the Spirit” means “abide in the vine.” Keep yourself securely united to the living Christ. Don’t cut yourself off from the flow of the Spirit.
So in answer to our first question, What is this walking by the Spirit? we answer: It is “being led by the Spirit” and it is “bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is emphasized, yet the command is for us to do something. Our wills are deeply involved. We must want to be coupled to the locomotive. We must want to abide in the vine. And there are some things we can do to keep ourselves attached to the flow of God’s power. But before we ask how to walk by the Spirit let’s ask . . .
Why Is It Crucial to Walk by the Spirit?
Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? The text gives two reasons, one in verse 16 and one in verse 18. In verse 16 the incentive for walking by the Spirit is that when you do this, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. The RSV here is wrong when it makes the second part of verse 16 a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” All the other major versions are right to make it a promise because this particular Greek construction has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated, for example with the NASB, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So the first reason we should walk by the Spirit is that when we do, the desires of our flesh are overcome.
In recent messages I’ve tried to define the flesh as Paul uses it. Most of the time (though not always, see below) it does not simply refer to the physical part of you. (Paul does not regard the body as evil in itself.) The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness and uses the resources in its own power to try to fill it. Flesh is the “I” who tries to satisfy me with anything but God’s mercy. Notice Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare with this Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20, “flesh” is used in its less usual meaning referring to ordinary bodily existence, which is not in itself evil (“I now live in the flesh”).
But the important thing to notice is that in 5:24 the “flesh“ is crucified and in 2:20 “I” am crucified. This is why I define the flesh in its negative usage as an expression of the “I” or the “ego.” And notice in 2:20 that since the old fleshly ego is crucified, a new “I” lives, and the peculiar thing about this new “I” is that it lives by faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness but loathes the idea of satisfying it by faith, i.e., by depending on the mercy of God in Christ. Instead, the flesh prefers to use the legalistic or licentious resources in its own power to fill its emptiness. As Romans 8:7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law.” The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, “I’d rather do it myself.”
It is not surprising, then, that in verse 17 there is a war between our flesh and God’s Spirit. It is a problem at first glance that there is a lively war between flesh and Spirit in the Christian, according to verse 17, but the flesh is crucified in the Christian, according to verse 24. We’ll talk more about the sense in which our flesh is crucified when we get to verse 24. For now, let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that both are somehow true, and focus on this war within: our flesh versus God’s Spirit.
God’s Spirit Conquers Our Flesh
Verse 17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” The main thing to learn from this verse is that Christians experience a struggle within. If you said to yourself when I was describing the flesh, “Well, I have a lot of that still left in me,” it does not necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian. A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit.
Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!
But when you take verses 16 and 17 together, the main point is not war, but victory for the Spirit. Verse 16 says that when you walk by the Spirit, you will not let those bad desires come to maturity. When you walk by the Spirit, you nip the desires of the flesh in the bud. New God-centered desires crowd out old man-centered desires. Verse 16 promises victory over the desires of the flesh — not that there won’t be a war, but that the winner of that war will be the Spirit.
In fact, I think what Paul means in verse 24, when he says the flesh has been crucified, is that the decisive battle has been fought and won by the Spirit. The Spirit has captured the capital and broken the back of the resistance movement. The flesh is as good as dead. Its doom is sure. But there are outlying pockets of resistance. The guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their arms, and must be fought back daily. The only way to do it is by the Spirit, and that’s what it means to walk by the Spirit — so live that he gives victory over the dwindling resistance movement of the flesh. So the first reason why we must walk by the Spirit is that, when we do, the flesh is conquered.
God’s Spirit Creates Law-Fulfilling Fruit
The second reason to walk by the Spirit or be led by the Spirit is found in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” This does not mean you don’t have to fulfill God’s law. You do. That’s what verses 13 and 14 said, “Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Romans 8:3–4 say, “God condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Therefore, not being under law does not mean we don’t have to fulfill the law. It means that, when we are led by the locomotive of the Spirit, we cruise on the railroad track of the law as a joyful way of life and are not left to climb it like a ladder in our own strength from underneath. When we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the punishment or the oppression of the law because what the law requires the Spirit produces; namely, love. Notice verse 22: the first and all-encompassing fruit of the Spirit is love, which verse 14 says fulfills the whole law.
And to confirm that this is just how Paul is thinking, he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 23 with the words, “against such there is no law.” In other words, how can you be under the oppression or punishment of the law when the very things the law requires are popping out like fruit on the branches of your life? So the second reason to walk by the Spirit is really the same as the first. Verse 16 says, do it because you get victory over the flesh when you walk by the Spirit. You nip temptation in the bud. Verse 18 says, do it because then you are free from the oppression and punishment of the law, because the fruit the Spirit produces fulfills the law. The Spirit is the fullness that overflows in love. Therefore it conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh, and it spills out in acts of love which fulfill the law.
How Do You Walk by the Spirit?
But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, “Let the Spirit lead you,” or, “Allow the Spirit to control you,” and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way,You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
Here’s the fivefold evidence from Galatians. First, Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Genuine faith always produces love, because faith pushes out guilt, fear, and greed and gives us an appetite to enjoy God’s power. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith — a happy resting in the promises of God is the pipeline of the Spirit.
Second, notice Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” How do you wait for Jesus “through the Spirit”? “By faith!” When you keep your heart happy in God and resting in his promises, you are waiting through the Spirit and walking by the Spirit.
Third, look at Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law.” The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” How, then, shall we seek to be led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God’s promises until our hearts are free of all fretting and guilt and greed. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads.
Fourth, see Galatians 3:5, the clearest of all: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?” The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to hear the delectable promises of God and trust them, delight in them, rest in them.
Finally, consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit. As 4:6 says: The Spirit of God’s Son has been sent into our hearts. And how, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God, frees his life from guilt and fear and greed, and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, and put our souls at rest in God. The Spirit will work the miracle of renewal in your life when you start meditating on his unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. (See also Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4, and Isaiah 64:4.)
The Secret of Walking by the Spirit
Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. I was in Pasadena, California, standing in the kitchen of my beloved teacher Daniel Fuller talking to his wife Ruth. One of the things I will never forget about that kitchen is that over the sink are taped four tremendous promises of God typed on little pieces of paper. Ruth puts them there to meditate on while she works. That’s how you walk by the Spirit.
I keep a little scrap paper by my prayer bench, and whenever I read a promise that can lure me away from my guilt and fear and greed, I write it down. Then in dry spells I have a pile of promises to soak my soul in. The fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. And the fight of faith is the same as the fight to walk by the Spirit. He works when we are resting in his promises. George Müller wrote (Autobiography, pp. 152–4):
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.
George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises.
Hudson Taylor had learned it too. He received word one day of rioting near one of the inland mission stations. In a few moments George Nichol, one of his evangelists, overheard Taylor whistling his favorite hymn, “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting in the Joy of What Thou Art.” Hudson Taylor “had learned that for him, only one life was possible — just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while he dealt with the difficulties inward and outward, great and small” (Spiritual Secret, p. 209).
I say to you, brothers and sisters, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. You will have victory over temptation and know the guidance of the Lord if you keep your heart happy in God by resting in his promises.
The Glory of God in the Problem of Evil
Atheists often argue against God’s existence from the problem of evil. Their argument goes as follows: If God is all loving, He would have prevented evil from entering the universe; if God is all powerful, He could have prevented evil; evil exists, therefore there is no such God.
On the contrary, I will argue as follows: If God is all loving, He would allow evil to enter the universe; If God is all powerful, He could allow evil without being guilty of evil Himself, and He could make evil work for the greatest good; therefore we have great reason to praise the God who exists!
Clarifying the Issue of Evil
There are two errors that must be avoided concerning the problem of evil. The first error would be to believe that God is the source of evil. This terrible error would blame God for evil and hold that evil was produced by God out of His own nature. The second error would be to believe that evil occurred apart from God’s sovereign plan. This position would hold that evil entered the universe because God was helpless to prevent it, and thus it overthrew the purposes of God. The position the Scriptures seem to teach is that mankind is to be blamed for and is the source of evil, while nonetheless the entrance of evil into the universe was ordained by God as part of God’s plan from the beginning. God could have prevented evil from entering into the universe had He desired to, but chose not to prevent it for wise and holy reasons.
Let’s probe this issue a little further. God is not the author of evil because He created the universe good. In its original state, there was nothing evil or sinful in the universe. Evil first entered God’s creation as a result of the disobedience of the angels who rebelled. Evil then entered the physical universe and human race as a result of mankind’s sin in Adam. God is not the source of evil or sin; evil is a result of the disobedience of God’s creatures. For these reasons, God cannot be blamed for the existence of evil–all responsibility for the presence of sin and evil in the human race falls upon mankind. All responsibility for the presence of evil in the spiritual realm falls upon the angels who rebelled.
But in order to have the full picture, we cannot stop here and conclude that God was powerless to prevent evil. Since God is sovereign and He “works out everything in conformity with the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), none of His purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Therefore we must conclude that evil did not occur apart from the purpose and plan of God. The ultimate reason that evil occurred is because God planned it, not because His creatures are able to overthrow His plans. These two truths we must hold together even if we cannot fully understand how they fit: man is responsible, yet God is absolutely sovereign and controls all things.
Last of all it is necessary to understand that evil is not permanent. It was defeated at the cross and will be quarantined in hell for eternity at the final judgment. Then God will create a new heavens and new earth where only righteousness and purity will dwell forever.
A Loving God Would Allow Evil
We are now in a position to ask the question, Why did God willingly choose to allow evil into the universe? How is this consistent with His love? Without claiming to exhaust the mystery here, I offer this answer: God allowed evil because the temporary presence of evil in the universe would result in the greatest glory to His name. And since God’s glory is what most benefits His people, it is loving for God to seek His glory to the highest extent in all that He does. Therefore it is loving for God to allow the temporary presence of evil in the universe. Let’s examine these points more closely.
Those whom God has chosen for mercy He loves to the fullest possible extent (John 13:1). Thus, God seeks to fully reveal the greatness of His glory upon them. The glory of God is the shining forth of the splendor and greatness and infinite value of His perfect character. When God glorifies Himself, He is not making Himself more glorious (that is impossible), but calling attention to and displaying His infinite greatness. How does evil seem to fit into God’s plan to glorify Himself? Part of the answer seems to be this: many of God’s attributes can be more clearly and brightly displayed to us if there is sin and therefore evil in the universe.
For example, God’s mercy is His goodness and help shown to those who are in a miserable plight. But God could not show mercy if there was no sin and evil in the universe, because then there would be no one in a miserable plight to need mercy.
In addition, the greatness of God’s mercy is highlighted by the fact that those whom God chooses for His saving mercy are saved out from the most awful and terrifying situation possible–being under the almighty wrath of God. Dr. Daniel Fuller asks us this question: “How could God’s mercy appear fully as his great mercy unless it was extended to people who were under his wrath and therefore could only ask for mercy?” God’s mercy is magnified by delivering us from under His wrath.
Mercy Eternally Magnified By Being Set in Contrast to Wrath
Furthermore, “It would be impossible for them to share with God the delight He has in his mercy unless they saw clearly the awfulness of the almighty wrath from which his mercy delivers them.” Therefore, God prepares not only vessels of mercy, but also vessels of wrath so that the vessels of mercy can fully see and understand the awfulness of the wrath they have been rescued from. For all eternity, God’s mercy will be placed against the backdrop of His wrath in order to fully magnify and display the greatness of His mercy. Through this those who are chosen for mercy can fully share with God the delight He has in His mercy and fully praise Him for what He has done for them.
God’s Justice, Wrath, Power, and Holiness More Fully Displayed
So we see that in the just punishment of sinners, God’s mercy is fully highlighted to those whom He chooses to save. The punishment of sinners (which could not have happened if God had not allowed evil) is also an occasion for God to glorify Himself through the vindication of His justice, demonstration of His wrath, display of His power, and purity of His holiness which will not tolerate sin. This also works to reveal the riches of God’s glory to the vessels of mercy: “What if God, in order to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory…” (Romans 9:22, 23, RSV. cf. Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil”).
God’s wrath and holiness are related. The wrath of God is the righteous assertion of His holiness against sin. If we could not see that God is so holy that He hates sin and thus reacts against it with His wrath, we would not know as fully the purity and zeal of God’s holiness. For only in contrast to sin (and thus His holiness reacting against this sin as wrath to vindicate His righteousness) is the purity of God’s holiness most intensely highlighted. If there were no sin upon which God could pour His wrath eternally, He could not assert the full range of His holiness because He could not show that, in His holiness, He hates and despises all that is unholy.
Hell Makes the Infinite Value of God’s Glory Crystal Clear
God’s judging of sin and reacting in wrath to punish it eternally in hell demonstrates the infinite value of His perfections. Why? Because the infinite penalty of attacking God’s glory–eternal punishment in hell–reveals the infinite value of the glory that was attacked. Thus, hell is ultimately an eternal display of the infinite value of God’s glory. While this certainly does not mean that God delights in the sinner’s suffering in and of itself, He does delight in it in the sense that it is a vindication of His righteousness and display of His power. This is how Ezekiel 33:11 (“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked”) fits with Deuteronomy 28:63 (where God tells Israel that if they disobey He “will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it”).
A Loving and Righteous God Would Most Magnify His Worth
Having seen that God’s decision to allow sin was for the purpose of fully displaying the greatness of His perfections to an extent that He could not otherwise have done, we are led to look at the next question in greater detail: Why must God display the full range of His character?
This is because doing so most magnifies His worth. If God did not display, for example, His mercy, then He would not be fully magnifying His character because there would be some of His character that is not expressed. And if God did not magnify His character to the fullest possible extent, God would not be acting in perfect righteousness. Why is this? It is because God is the most precious, valuable being in the universe. Therefore, He must delight in and value Himself above anything else. From this it follows that if God did not seek to display His honor and perfections above all else, He would not be placing infinite worth on what is infinitely valuable. He would be putting something before Himself, which would mean putting something less valuable before the more valuable, which would be unrighteous.
Why It Is Loving for God to Magnify His Worth
In fully displaying His glory (which, we have seen, requires sin), God is being most loving. Why? First, if He did not do this, we would not know Him “fully, just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13). Put simply, we wouldn’t know God as well if He did not display who He is to the fullest possible extent. And it seems that it would be most loving for God let us know as much of Himself as He can.
Also, it is truly loving of God to seek His praise to the highest possible extent (which, as we have seen, would require the brilliance of His mercy highlighted by demonstrating His wrath). Why is this? In our lives, there is a pattern that we see: We tend to praise what we prize. Enjoyment of something overflows into praise. Go to a great movie sometime, and when you leave the theater, what are you usually talking with your friends about? How great the movie is! You are praising it. It also seems as if our enjoyment of something is not complete unless we are able to praise it. If your friends said, “Be quiet, I don’t want to hear about it,” your enjoyment of the movie would not be complete. So praise is necessary for full, complete enjoyment.
If God did not seek His praise from us then our enjoyment of Him would not be made full — it would be incomplete since it wouldn’t overflow into praise. The way for God to win the most praise from us is to fully display His character. So if God wants us to fully enjoy Him and prize Him, He must seek His own praise through us so that our enjoyment of Him will overflow into praise and complete our joy. John Piper summarizes these truths well: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” So even in our enjoyment (and resulting praise) God is glorified. Thus, God seeking our good and God seeking His praise are really one and the same pursuit, since our good/joy yields praise to His name.
The Sovereign Freedom of God
Further, in order for us to truly value God’s great mercy and gift of eternal life, it is good for Him to highlight the unconditional freedom He has in bestowing mercy. His unconditional freedom makes it absolutely clear that He owes mercy to no one. If everyone got saved, He could not show His unconditional freedom in showing mercy and it might seem as if we were entitled to salvation. If you think you are entitled to something, it is hard to see it as a free, undeserved gift. And it is hard to be grateful and thankful for it if you think it is owed to you. God’s freedom in mercy rebukes our sense of entitlement and thus evokes gratitude.
Exodus 33 declares the sovereign freedom of God in showing mercy. In this chapter, Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says (among other things) that He will show His glory and that “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” This is a Hebrew expression called idem per idem which stresses the absolute freedom of the agent in doing the action–He can do it however He wants, constrained by nothing outside of himself. Thus, God is saying that one aspect of His glory is absolute freedom to grant mercy constrained by no reason that is outside of His own will. He will give mercy in whatever way He wants. Then God says that He will pass by Moses and proclaim His “name.” To the Hebrews, one’s name was who they were. It was your very identity. When God proclaimed His name, He said that He was “abounding in lovingkindness and mercy.” So one aspect of God’s character, His glory, is that He is merciful. But this also draws us back to 33:19–where it says that God is absolutely free in His bestowal of this mercy. Thus, it is God’s glory and essence to be absolutely free in His giving us mercy by not being constrained by anything outside of His own will. His will alone determines who gets mercy, and therefore His mercy is unconditional.
If God gave mercy to all, it seems that He would not be displaying that His essence is to be absolutely free in giving mercy. And as we’ve said, God’s freedom in giving mercy rebukes our entitlement and evokes gratitude, thus causing us to value heaven as a true gift of grace. Lastly, as we saw earlier, in order for there to be mercy, there must be people in a miserable plight to need it, which requires sin.
Thus, we have seen how God’s love and goodness would cause Him to allow Evil into the universe, for in due time this will lead to truly the best of all possible worlds where God’s attributes are most displayed, God is most glorified, and eternity is truly valued. Perhaps some may be troubled by the fact that even evil, in the long range, results in glory to God. It may be troubling to think that such a terrible thing as evil was permitted by God for His glory. But look at the other option–that evil ultimately worked to defeat the glory of God. Wouldn’t evil truly have the upper hand if God was unable to overrule it for His greatest glory and His people’s greatest good?
Something caught my eye as I was reading newsclips from around the nation. A small item from the Watertown Daily Times (NY). It read:
A Watertown man was sentenced to state prison Thursday after admitting in Jefferson County Court that he violated his Drug Court contract. Paul L. Arndt Jr., 44, was sentenced to 11⁄3 to 4 years in prison for violating terms of the substance abuse rehabilitation program that is designed to serve as an alternative to incarceration. He was referred to the program in April 2009 after admitting he violated probation. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in May 2007 to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for taking radiators that had been stolen from a Watertown business and selling them at a Syracuse recycling center. Information about how he violated Drug Court was not available.
Putting aside the issue of whether the probation violation in question was a particularly serious or dangerous one, I would suggest that sending a drug court participant to prison for a substantial term is almost never good criminal justice policy, good use of government funds, or good rehabilitation &/or treatment strategies . There are more than a few drug courts, that quickly fail drug court participants and spirit them away for substantial prison terms. It may be time to revisit the rationality behind such scenarios. Unless the new offense is one involving violence or the threat of violence, is prison ever a sensible response to a drug court violation?
Specialized “reentry” courts provide a new tactic to reduce the number of repeat offenders and decrease the cost of handling offenders. In such courts, treatment is based in the community. Drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts are examples of specialized docket courts. Over the last decade, these courts have been scrutinized by independent and governmental agencies and have been found to produce better results than traditional approaches, including incarceration.
Q: What is a reentry court?
A: Built on specialty courts research and experience, a reentry court is a specialized court for offenders who leave prison early and “reenter” society. Its purpose is to make the transition from incarceration to tax-paying citizen more likely.
prisons are at 133 percent of capacity and hold more than 51,000 inmates. Many prisoners have drug and alcohol issues. Unlike those diverted into other types of specialty dockets, those who are incarcerated have a higher risk of reoffending due to untreated emotional and family issues, as well as a lack of education or poor employment history. A significant number of inmates have not graduated from high school and many have learning disabilities.
Reentry courts use an individualized plan and work with each defendant to deal with the underlying issues. The program takes one to two years to complete and requires the offender to take full responsibility for his or her life.
Ninety-seven percent of those incarcerated will be released at some point, and that most will come back to the community where they were first arrested. When higher-risk offenders return to society on parole or post-release control, more than 40 percent return to prison. Overall, between 35 and 40 percent of prisoners released in Ohio, with or without supervision, will return to prison. Reentry courts were created in an attempt to reduce the number of offenders who return to prison.
Q: How does a reentry court work?
A: During the program, the offender is closely supervised by case managers and the court. In the initial phase, the participant reports to court once a week to inform the judge of his or her activities. Thereafter, the participant reports regularly and as necessary, appearing in an open court before the judge and the other program participants.
An offender who violates a program rule is expected to report to court without a lawyer. The offender must accept responsibility for the behavior and receive a sanction. Punishments progress in severity, ranging from community service or increased treatment to jail time or re-imposition of the prior prison sentence.
Q: How does the court determine who is eligible for a reentry court?
A: Not every person in prison will be judicially released into a reentry court. Each sentencing judge has the right to decide if an individual will be released early. Judges will consider efforts the prisoner makes toward improvement while in prison, as well as any write-ups or sanctions he or she has been given. Statements from victims regarding the impact of the crime also are considered. (These are called victim impact statements.) Judges are interested in using reentry courts for prisoners who appear ready to return to society and who have demonstrated good behavior in prison.
Q: Have reentry courts been working?
A: The purpose of reentry court is to intercept offenders before they enter the revolving door back to prison. Early judicial releases with traditional supervision return to the penal system about 45 percent of the time. In contrast, those who successfully graduate from the Summit County reentry court program have a recidivism rate of about 20 percent, based upon the statistics collected since the court was created in September 2006. The cost per participant is in the range of $3,000 per year, which is considerably less expensive than a prison bed, which costs more than $24,000 per year.
The second act of the national debate over same-sex marriage began this week with a focus on religious liberty.
The Liberty Institute framed Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage as actually a victory for religious liberty. The assessment was somewhat surprising, given that the group had gathered the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Religious Broadcasters, Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, Eric Metaxas, Charles Stanley, and other prominent conservative Christians to file an amici brief opposing the court’s approval of same-sex marriage.
But Kelly Shackelford, president of the Plano, Texas-based group, referred to the decision as a 9-0 statement of support for the rights of religious believers.
He pledged to use laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make sure the Supreme Court’s promises are heeded.
“We will not allow people of faith to be silenced or censured because of their religious beliefs, and we appreciate that the court unanimously recognized the importance of protecting religious liberty in this area,” Shackelford said in a statement.
In his comments, Shackelford quoted from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the case.
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” Kennedy wrote, “and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
Other Christian legal groups were more skeptical.
The Christian Legal Society (CLS) pointed to dissents by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who warned the court’s decision could have dire consequences for religious supporters of traditional marriage.
“We hope that the justices mean what they say and will protect religious liberty for all Americans – especially those whose religious beliefs adhere to a traditional view of marriage,” CLS said in a statement.
Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, said that the majority opinion acknowledged that their decision would be controversial. But they fell short in endorsing religious liberty, he told CT.
“As several of the dissenting opinions pointed out, though, the majority opinion did not very strongly affirm the religious freedom of persons and organizations that for religious reasons believe in the historic conception of marriage,” said Carlson-Thies. In a written analysis of the positive and negative aspects of the ruling, he noted:
There is good reason to be concerned that many outside and inside of government will be working to override the freedom for people and organizations to live consistently with their commitment to traditional marriage. Yet there is no good cause for despair. The history and principles of the United States strongly uphold freedom of religion, speech, and association.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) stated the ruling “creates immediate and perhaps far-reaching concerns for nonprofits and churches who remain opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.” The ECFA recommended resources for churches and ministries by CLS and Alliance Defending Freedom. “While the effects of this ruling on churches and religious nonprofits could take years to become fully evident, it is crucial for organizations which oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds to take proactive steps to prepare for the challenges ahead.”
“Private institutions that dissent from today’s reformulation of marriage must be prepared for aggressive legal attacks on all fronts,” Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University Law School, told Inside Higher Ed for its exploration of the consequences for Christian colleges. Meanwhile, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities emphasized Kennedy’s nod to the First Amendment, stating the “full protections for religious individuals and organizations to exercise their beliefs privately and publicly are not diminished by expanded marriage rights.”
A few states have already taken action to address religious liberty concerns raised by same-sex marriage:
• In North Carolina, the state legislature passed a new law allowing magistrates and other officials to turn down gay couples, if those officials have a religious objection to performing a same-sex wedding. “Court officials who disclose a religious objection must stop performing all marriages for at least six months,” reported The New York Times.
• In Texas, clerks who have religious objections can refuse to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with support from that state’s attorney general.
• In Alabama, state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore said that officials are not “required” to issue licenses for 25 days. That statement was based on an order from the Alabama Supreme Court, issued this spring, which read: “As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman. Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”
Some lawmakers in Alabama tried to go even further. A bill which passed the Alabama House of Representatives would ban the state from issuing any marriage licenses.
About half of Americans would support a split between civil and religious marriage, according to a poll from LifeWay Research.
More than 500 pastors have signed a pledge, organized by First Things magazine earlier this year, saying they would no longer sign marriage licenses. The pledge is still online, but the magazine has yet to decide whether to make new push to promote it.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), considered the First Things pledge but didn’t sign it.
He said that pastors can sign marriage licenses without endorsing the state’s view of marriage.
“There have always been marriages that the state has allowed that the church would not,” he said before the ruling was issued.
Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor who directs the University of Illinois’s family law and policy program, told CT she is wary of unwinding the ties between civil and religious marriage.
That could have a harmful affect for couples who lose the protections that state-sanctioned marriage offers.
“If we unwind civil and religious marriage as a way to solve the conflict in legal and religious understandings, we will have reduced that couple to mere cohabitants, with crappy remedies if the couple breaks up,” she said.
John Inazu, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, was doubtful that protests against the Supreme Court’s ruling would accomplish any good.
“My own sense is that CT readers would be best served by focusing on the practical work of strengthening relationships within the church and acts of service and neighbor love outside of the church,” he told CT before the ruling was announced. “It’s not clear to me that protests or symbolic divorces help anyone, and they will further alienate many of our neighbors.”
Inazu doesn’t believe pastors would be in any danger of having to perform same-sex weddings.
“We’re a long way from pastors being forced to perform civil ceremonies, and there are strong constitutional protections already in place that would prevent that from happening,” he said. “On the other hand, there will likely be increased cultural and legal pressure on the membership and leadership boundaries that traditionalist institutions draw around questions of sexuality and same-sex marriage, and these institutions would be wise to anticipate these challenges.”
The ERLC’s Moore agrees that churches should be prepared. He says that pastors and church leaders should make their beliefs about marriage and family clear.
“We can’t compromise on the Gospel and biblical authority,” he said. “We can’t negotiate away a Christian ethic of sexuality without betraying Jesus.”
Carl H. Esbeck, an emeritus law professor at the University of Missouri who gathered the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and other groups for an amici brief, believes that “specific religious-liberty protections” will be needed for churches, religious believers, and religious organizations. But the focus on religious liberty is “largely defensive,” he said.
“That said, if the churches do not take the opportunity now to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ why same-sex marriage is wrong for everyone (i.e., harmful to children, to the couple, and undermining of a culture of marriage), religious people should not expect to find a lot of sympathy for their right to exercise their religious freedom to dissent from same-sex marriage,” Esbeck told CT. “In other words, church leaders no longer enjoy the luxury of not teaching biblical marriage, as much as large numbers of the laity don’t want to hear it. It is not religious liberty or marriage culture. It is both, or we likely have neither.”
And let me be clear, the Hispanic community is very religious, traditional and family-oriented as well. An ill-conceived assault against the church — a rallying point across the minority communities — could bode dismay for the liberal progressives of the Democrat party heading into the 2016 election year. It could be a policy issue that works against the left and galvanizes those who support traditional marriage.
I know there are folks on the liberal progressive left who frequent this website. So here is my message. The Christian church community is a lot bigger and more powerful than you think — they kept a Republican from winning the White House. And these aren’t just old white men – there’s a growing young Christian constituency. You can criticize the Christian right all you want, but surrendering one’s faith principle for political gain is not a viable proposition. And in the case of prosecution of the Christian church, there could be a rallying of churches, regardless of race, the likes of which this nation has not seen.
The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage is not about the issue itself — it is about individual religious freedom and the imposition of the State’s will against faith. After all, it is the original reason why the Pilgrims fled England. And since there is no place for men and women of faith to retreat — they will make a stand. This ain’t first century Rome.