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The Origin of Life

Saturday, May 04, 2024

How should Christians think about the origin of life, species and humanity? Obviously, Genesis 1-2 and John 1 must shape our views on the matter. But because Darwinian evolution has entrenched itself in our culture, religious people have taken three different positions on the origin of life.

Position #1: Theological Liberalism — Some people take much of the Bible to be mythical, coming from a scientifically ignorant age and thus irrelevant on scientific matters. They believe that the first eleven chapters of Genesis should not be regarded as history but merely as inspiring (but fictional) narrative. If we are to remain faithful to biblical inspiration and authority we must flatly deny this view. The Bible, properly interpreted, is true in all it affirms, whether statements about the nature of God, salvation, morality, history or the creation and design of the universe.

Position #2: Theistic Evolution — Others claim that while the Genesis account is true, it was not meant to speak of science but only to the “who” and the “why” of creation. Science, on the other hand, speaks to the “how” and the “when” of creation. Therefore, they claim, Christians should reinterpret the creation account in light of Darwinian evolution; God used the Darwinian mechanism to bring about the various species and the eventual evolution of human beings. Accounts of the Garden of Eden and a literal first couple should be taken as poetic and not historical. The Fall is not a literal event but a failure of the first evolved humans to meet God’s conditions for flourishing.

Theistic evolution teaches that God created the universe and let the inherent properties of the universe produce the first life and subsequent species naturally, without any direct evidence of a designing intelligence. As such, theistic evolutionists accept abiogenesis (the evolution of life from non life) and Darwinism as an adequate account of the development of species. Christians must also deny this view for several reasons:

First, the scientific evidence does not support Darwinian macroevolution or abiogenesis. Small changes within species (microevolution) can be explained by Darwinian mechanisms, but not the origin of all species (macroevolution or speciation).

Second, this interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is troubled. Genesis presents God as directing the natural order, not merely letting it evolve on its own. God creates animal’s according to their “kind,” indicating differences in nature between discrete forms of life, as opposed to a fluid development where one kind evolves into another. More importantly, God’s creation of human beings stands out from the rest of the living world because they are directly fashioned in the image of God. There are many texts besides Genesis that refer to the first couple as a literal, historical reality.

Third, it is inconsistent for Christians to believe that God supernaturally intervenes in history after evolution has done its role but that God fails to leave evidence of his design in life itself. Also, why should Christians adopt a view of life that Darwin formulated specifically to write off a Creator? Darwin wanted to eliminate the need for faith in a Creator by accounting for the development of life according to natural law and chance.

Position #3: Scientific Creationism — A coherent Christian worldview attempts to bring “the book of nature” (Psa. 19:1-6) together with “the book of Scripture” (Psa. 19:7-10; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). This is how leaders of the scientific revolution understood it. God is the author of both the Bible and creation, and since God is the God of truth, these two books will not contradict each other. When both books are interpreted correctly according to the appropriate principles, they only affirm and strengthen each other. This view can be summed up by the following:

  1. God created the universe out of nothing. (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3)
  2. God created each “kind” of creature specially, not through a long naturalistic process of macroevolution. (Gen. 1:12, 25)
  3. Species may change and adapt to their environment in various limited ways, given the natures God has given them (microevolution).
  4. God created human beings uniquely in his image, not through a long process of naturalistic evolution. The first human couple existed in space-time history and sinned against God, leading to a broken world which God has promises to redeem through his Son.

What we think about the origin of life matters because it shapes how we view and treat ourselves, our neighbors, our world and our God. May God help us to see his fingerprints in the natural world, turn to him in humble, obedient worship and help others to see his glory.

Seven False Teachers

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Christ’s church has always been threatened by Satan’s attempts to destroy her. The enemy sometimes uses governing powers to frighten saints or the cultural zeitgeist to entice them. Many times, however, he works from within through “false teachers” to deceive. These false teachers take many forms. Consider a few.

The heretic — Peter warned of those who “bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). They teach what blatantly contradicts God’s word but wrap their message in attractive packaging. Usually they are gregarious and naturally charismatic. Their tampering with “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd. 3) is subtle and requires a trained mind to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The charlatan — Paul warned Timothy of those who imagine “that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). These religious hucksters are only interested in the faith to the extent that it can enrich them personally. Their primary motivation is greed and they seek prominence only so that they can live in luxury; they are not afraid to exploit the vulnerable and gullible to do so. They are spiritually descended from those who “devour widow’s houses” (Mk. 12:40) and those ancient shepherds of Israel who only feed themselves (Ezek. 34:2ff).

The prophet — John warned against believing every spirit but taught us to be discerning, “test[ing] the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). Such people boldly claim that God speaks through them bringing a fresh revelation outside of Scripture—new authoritative words of prediction, teaching or encouragement. But God has spoken fully and finally in Scripture and warned that anyone who adds or takes away from it is in serious danger (Rev. 22:18-19). Their ‘prophecies’ come not from God but from “their own hearts” (Ezek. 13:2).

The abuser — Both Peter and Jude warned about those who “follow their sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2) and “pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (Jude 4). These abusers use their positions of leadership to take advantage of others. Under the guise of tending souls they seek to feed the lust of their bodies, then turn around and threaten anyone who would expose them. Rather than grace leading them to holy living they twist it into a license to pursue illicit pleasure.

The divider — Both Jude and Paul warn of those who “cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to” the gospel (Rom. 16:17; Jude 19). While claiming to stand for truth, they leave destruction in their wake in the form of broken churches. Through their insincerity they generate factions, create discord and undermine leadership. They fail to give others the benefit of the doubt and are both quick to take offense and quick to judge others’ motives. They do not “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11) and make a mockery of “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) which the Lord Jesus died to create.

The people-pleaser — Paul warned Timothy that some will only tolerate “teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Instead of telling saints what they need to hear, these people-pleasers only preach on what is deemed acceptable and popular. In leaving out sin and judgment they preach an empty gospel to a packed house. As in Jeremiah’s day, they say, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). In diluting the truth, they gain a wider audience only to lead more souls away from the Lord.

The speculator — The author of Hebrews warned of those who are obsessed with originality and speculation, what he calls “strange teachings” (Heb. 13:9). Both Paul and Peter warned of those who “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). The speculator rails against ‘tradition,’ grows weary with the old truths and pursues novelty instead. They are akin to those in Athens who “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Paul calls such teachers contrary, irreverent babblers (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

Jesus was well aware of these dangers his church would face and sought to arm us against them. He knew that Satan’s greatest ambassadors often come from within like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Acts 20:29). Their attacks are deceitful and effective but predictable to those who remain vigilant. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Mt. 7:15-16a) Let’s be discerning and follow the voice of our Shepherd.

Love: A Stalwart Guardian of Unity

Saturday, April 20, 2024

“Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.”

Proverbs 10:12

Our fellowship with one another in Christ is sacred and beyond price. God made peace only through the blood of the cross (Eph. 2:11-22). Therefore unity is no achievement of ours but a costly blessing from God. This is why Paul urges Christians to strive to maintain that priceless unity Jesus died to create (Eph. 4:1-3) and speaks so severely against those who would disrupt it (Rom. 16:17-18). “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psa. 133:1)

How does division occur within the church? Sometimes it is caused by valid doctrinal disagreements. But many other times division can traced back to certain people and the cause of strife is due mainly to attitudes not issues. Hence the proverb, “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” (Prov. 22:10)

Usually strife within the church can be traced back to someone with a contentious spirit. If that person is removed, suddenly there is peace. The challenge and command of God is that we would be the kind of people who have the opposite, positive leavening effect on the church. We want to refresh others, not drain them; to build up and heal, not tear down and destroy; to encourage, not demoralize others. The primary way we do this is through loving one another as God loves us. Love is the stalwart guardian of our Christian unity.

Consider Proverbs 10:12 above. The proverbs in the Bible are written using poetic parallelism where the second line of the proverb reinforces the first. Proverbs 10:12 uses antithetical parallelism where line A and line B are opposites. Line A tells us what hatred does while line B tells us what love does instead.

How does love “cover” sin? Certainly not by hiding sin through deceit nor by ignoring sin through neglect (1 Cor. 13:6). To understand the proverb, consider Psalm 32:1 which communicates the same concept in a slightly different way: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” David uses synonymous parallelism here: transgression being forgiven (line A) is synonymous with sin being covered (line B). Therefore, love “covers” sin through forgiveness. Let’s bring that reasoning back to Proverbs 10:12. Whereas hatred looks for trouble and investigates the weaknesses of others and broadcasts their faults, with love there is a willingness to forgive others their faults and show mercy.

The apostle Peter quotes Proverbs 10:12. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) Peter says our love for one another must be a muscular, diligent, thorough and committed love (the word translated “earnestly” was used of athletes straining toward the finish line). When we love one another “earnestly” we refuse to allow sin to divide us through hatred, bitterness and resentment. We will deal with sin in a discrete, kind and merciful way. In other words, we will “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us].” (Eph. 4:32). Any grievance we have with each other is insignificant compared to what we’ve already been forgiven by God (Mt. 18:21-35).

James also quotes Proverbs 10:12. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19-20) When we seek to restore the spiritually wayward we are demonstrating what love covering a multitude of sins looks like. Leading a soul back to the Lord and being a peacemaker is the most loving and Christian thing we could do: Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10).

Years ago a Christian family from Kentucky lost their son in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. The parents, overwhelmed with loss, went to every court hearing of the man responsible until the husband finally realized his hatred was consuming him. He decided instead to meet the man and offer to study the Bible with him. To his surprise, he agreed and as the studies progressed, the man was receptive and converted to Christ. He served his sentence in prison but when his time was up he had nowhere to go. Amazingly, the very family who had lost their son through the sinful actions of this man welcomed him into their home. They sought to bring good out of a disastrous situation and their love covered a multitude of sins. We need this kind of faithful love if we are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Heavy Hearing

Saturday, April 13, 2024

“Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”

1 Samuel 2:30

Sometimes the biblical authors give us little clues, inconspicuous literary nudges, to help us understand what the text is about. There is no shortage of this kind of thing in the artfully composed book of Samuel. Let’s focus on just two examples.

The first example is found in 1 Samuel 15. This is the story of king Saul’s rebellion against God’s commands that led to his being rejected as king. God, through his prophet Samuel, had instructed Saul to defeat the Amalekites and to “devote to destruction all that they have.” This meant they were to utterly defeat the enemies and were not permitted to keep any of the spoil of battle for themselves (see Achan’s sin in Joshua 7). Saul roundly defeated the Amalekites but spared the king and the best animals. The people devoted to destruction “all that was despised and worthless” but kept the rest (1 Sam. 15:7-9). The Lord revealed Saul’s actions to Samuel and the prophet went to confront the errant king early the next morning.

The text repeats the alternating words of “listen/hear” and “noise/voice.” When Samuel gave his instructions to Saul for the battle he told him to “listen to the voice of the Lord.” (15:1)  God told Samuel that Saul had not listened to his voice (15:11). When Samuel confronted Saul the morning after the battle Saul assured him that he had listened to the voice of God (15:13). But Samuel hears the noise of the livestock (15:14) and says that Saul has listened to the voice of the people instead of the voice of God (15:19-24).

Another example of this subtle wordplay is found in chapters 2-4. A single Hebrew root conveys both the literal idea of “weight/heaviness” and the metaphorical idea of “honor/glory.” We sometimes use the word “gravity” to speak of one’s significance, nobility, importance, heaviness or clout.

Eli the priest gave “honor” to his sons instead of God by allowing them to fatten themselves on the best parts of the meat from the sacrificial offerings (1 Sam. 2:29). Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, showed they didn’t know the Lord by treating his sacrifices with such contempt (1 Sam. 2:12, 17). Eli tried to rebuke them but it was a case of too-little-too-late. God said to Eli: “those who honor me [ascribe weight to me] I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed [considered light].” (1 Sam. 2:30) Later, when Israel was defeated in battle, the news came back to Eli at Shiloh. When he heard the report of his sons’ deaths and the capture of the ark by the Philistines, “Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy.” (1 Sam. 4:18) The loss of the ark, the symbol of God’s presence with his people, prompted the naming of Eli’s grandson Ichabod (“the glory is no more”; 4:21).

There are many other examples we could site from Samuel but why did the author include them? We must understand that these are not just little Easter eggs hidden in the text for Hebrew scholars to enjoy. These are powerful, if subtle, literary devices to grab the attention of the careful reader. They invite us to ask ourselves, “Am I listening to the voice of God?” The Hebrew word for listen includes the idea of obedience. Are we really hearing him? Or are we like Saul who gave only partial obedience, which is really disobedience? They invite us to ask ourselves, “Am I honoring God in my life?” Do we ascribe to the Lord the weight, the glory, the significance his name deserves? Our priorities in life, the decisions we make, and what we are willing to put up with—they all tell on us. Eli’s failure to discipline his sons led to their destruction and his sorrow. These verbal clues in the text aren’t always apparent in our English translations but if we are willing to study we will see them. The only question is when we see them will we learn from them?

Faithful Planning

Saturday, March 30, 2024

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
    “who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;

who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!”

Isaiah 30:1-2

We all make plans to achieve our goals. We all have plans that fill our calendars. But a question worth asking is, “Do my plans harmonize with God’s plans?” God challenged ancient Israel with this question. They had made their plans, they were weaving their web, but all without ever consulting God. Their vision of the future was out of step with God’s Spirit. They were ready to move before asking God for directions.

In their case, they were headed south to Egypt (of all places) to make a military alliance to shield them from violence in the north. They sought “refuge” and “shelter,” not under the protective wings of the Lord, but from Pharaoh. In resting their hope in a brittle human empire, in making flesh their strength (Jer. 17:5), Israel had spurned the God of their salvation in the process.

So the Lord calls them “stubborn children.” I wonder if sometimes the Lord doesn’t say the same of us. We make plans. Do they harmonize with the Lord’s? (Prov. 16:1, 3, 9; 19:21) We enter into partnerships. Do those alliances agree with God’s Spirit? (2 Cor. 6:14-18) We usually make plans and strike deals with others to secure our future, to give us some sense of peace, to find refuge. Upon what basis are we seeking protection? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses” (Psa. 20:7), others in politicians, business moguls, retirement plans, spiritual gurus or nuclear armaments.

When our plans are not rooted in the Lord’s will, we soon “go astray in spirit” and sin is so easily added to sin. We’ve all been there. What should we do then? In the preceding verses, Isaiah 29:23-24, God prophesied that Israel would eventually turn back to him.

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

When we’ve gone astray in spirit, we must come back to square one: God is God. Therefore we must stand in awe of him, sanctify his name, seek to understand his will and accept his instruction. When our plans lead us into darkness we must reorient ourselves according to the light of God’s purpose.

It’s not that we shouldn’t make plans or enter partnerships to achieve goals but that we must do so according to God’s plans and God’s goals, “if the Lord wills” (Jas. 4:15). God reveals his plans for our individual lives, our marriages, our carriers, our relationships, our families, our congregations and our futures in his word. We exclude him to our own peril. If we build on any other foundation, our plans won’t stand (Mt. 7:24-27). Ask for his direction, seek shelter in his shadow, take refuge in his protection: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him!” (Psa. 34:8)

So make your plans but remember it’s God’s plans before ours, God’s name above ours and God’s will not ours.

(This article is derived from Jason Hardin's article "You Who Carry Out a Plan But Not Mine")

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