Posts Tagged ‘decisions’

Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

© C. O. Bishop 2012. THCF 11/18/2012 revised 2019

Introduction:

We are presented with so many choices in the world today; some of them clearly good…perhaps some clearly bad, but very few regarding which we can say “This is ultimate Good—there is no evil in it!” When we read the news, we are hard-pressed to tell who are the heroes, and who are the villains. When elections come around, we feel that we are offered only a chance to choose between deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom is clearly a “Good Choice”, but of whom neither is so clearly a bad choice that everyone sees it that way. Few today are even willing to admit there is such a thing as intrinsically “good or bad; right and wrong”. We are expected to see everything through the lens of public opinion, and its collective “morality” or lack of such.

What about History?

In the beginning, God presented things to Adam in a world of living color—thousands of varieties of plants, all of which were edible and healthy; a host of animals, none of which were dangerous; and only one rule; but that one rule was Black and White: obey or don’t. Live or die.

We may scoff at such a story from our “so-sophisticated,” modern point of view, but the fact remains that there are only two possibilities regarding that story: it is either true or it is not. My believing it does not make it true—your disbelieving it does not make it untrue—it is either true or not true, on its own merit. This statement is applicable to every bit of God’s Word, the Bible.

The Creation story is either true or untrue. If we hedge, and say, “Well, it’s partly true…”, then we are really conceding that it is a lie… no better than folklore, or mythology. Or we must declare ourselves wise enough to discern which parts of the Bible are true, and which are not.

When Noah entered the Ark, there were only two locations: inside or outside. All inside the ark were saved by virtue of their position inside the Ark. All outside were doomed by virtue of their position outside the Ark. Nothing else really mattered at that point… the folk aboard the Ark might be seasick, terrified, regretting the choice to go aboard, afraid of the dark, the noise, the movement—but they were safe, whether they felt safe or not. Those outside might be educated or ignorant, noble or base, old or young, sick or healthy, strong or weak—but they were all doomed. The matter was essentially reduced to “Black and White” by their own choices.

The Genesis Flood either covered the whole earth or it did not—the Biblical account is either true or it is false. The continents either broke up after the Flood, with human witnesses, as recorded in Genesis 10, or it did not. The Biblical account is either reliable or it is not. Isn’t it interesting that Moses recorded the fact, after the breakup of the super-continent by about a thousand years; about 1500 years before Christ…and modern science took until the last century or so to even notice it, and until the last fifty years or so, to prove it!  But it was recorded by human witnesses when it happened, according to Genesis 10:25.

Either Moses took the Israelites, 2-1/2 million strong, across the Red Sea, as Exodus 14:29 says, with the waters “a wall to them, on the right and the left”, or he did not. And either the Egyptians were drowned by the returning waters, or they were not. It is a “Black and White” choice.

Either God has shielded Israel during the last 4,000 years of history, or He has not. The attempts by enemies, to wipe them off the face of the earth, have been plentiful…and have failed every single time! These things all can be checked in secular history. Humans like to put a “naturalist” spin on things, and “explain” God out of the picture…but the Bible has an immaculate track-record of historical accuracy—and of prophecies being fulfilled to the letter.

So, What about Prophecy?

The prophets are very clear regarding the nature of God’s Word—it is either true or it is not:

When the prophet Elijah, in 1st Kings 18, gave his challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah, he did not offer any middle ground. He said, “…if Baal is God, then let him be God! If Jehovah is God, then let him be God…don’t hesitate between two decisions! Choose a side! Make a choice!”

He gave the 850 men who claimed to be prophets of their Gods the first opportunity to prove their actual status as the mouthpieces of a deity: they ranted and chanted, pranced and danced, cut themselves and howled to their God. But there was no answer! The test had been agreed upon: the real God had to send down fire and burn up the offering. And their Gods didn’t seize the opportunity! There was no answer! When Elijah finally took his turn, he called once, and God answered in a torrent of supernatural flame that burned up the stone altar as well as the offering. There was no middle ground. Either God would respond, or he would not. But He did!

The prophet Micaiah, in 2nd Chronicles 18, effectively gave himself a death-sentence, when he prophesied the death of King Ahab. He was immediately put in prison, to await the return of the angry king. The king disguised himself and went into battle incognito, but was killed in spite of his deception. He never came home to carry out his wrath. There was no “gray area:” either an angry king was coming home for vengeance, or a dead king had fallen under the wrath of God.

When Jehoshaphat was king in Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20, he was given notice that an invading army (several nations together, actually) was about to attack. He knew he was not able to defend against such a host, and went before God in the temple to ask His protection. He called on all of Judah to fast and pray with him. A prophet (Jehaziel) was sent to tell him the news that God was taking full control of the battle—the king and the people of Judah were not required to fight, but only to watch. Jehoshaphat believed God, and responded by banding the people together, with the temple singers in the lead, praising the beauty of holiness. When they began to sing, God ambushed the invading army, and they began to fight amongst themselves, with the supernaturally-complete result that not a single one of the invading troops survived the melee. Now, if the prophecy had been false, Judah would have been doomed—they had no “plan B”. They were utterly dependent upon the promise of God. Either the promise was true, or it was false. “Black and White!” But, like the God who gave it, the promise was good!

What about other Choices?

Before he died, Joshua told the people to make a choice—to follow the Lord or not—but that he and his household would follow God. There were only those two choices. The decision was Black and White.

In the instances we already listed, the men and women of God chose to trust God’s Word, and obey. They were declared righteous by faith, but their faith resulted in obedience, and, in those particular cases, obedience saved their lives.

We can trace through the Biblical history and see that Israel, as a nation, was constantly faced with Black and White choices which they inevitably blurred into Shades of Gray…and when they did, they eventually were confronted by God with the fact that they had simply chosen to disobey. There were no “Shades of Gray,” except in their own imaginations! They deliberately blurred the truth until it was unrecognizable by reasonable people, and then they loudly advocated a “progressive” path away into darkness, idolatry, rebellion, and spiritual blindness. (Does that sound familiar? Have we seen a nation doing something similar today?)

But think back: who was the first to “blur” the Black and White Truth of God’s Word into a multi-shaded gray mirage that turned out to be a deadly lie? It was Satan, speaking through the serpent in the Garden: He said, “Hath God surely said….?” Then he misquoted the truth so as to “paint it gray.” Eve tried to answer truthfully, but she was not familiar enough with God’s Word to give a clear answer. (We are not told why Adam did not speak up, though he was evidently there, too.)

But, once the doubt had been sown, the Deceiver proceeded to flatly contradict God. The trap was set: the two innocent people must either retreat into God’s Word, and walk away from the temptation, or continue to flirt with death. They did not flee to God: they believed the tempter, and chose to disobey God. And we see the results daily in the news and in our own lives, today.

So, with what choices are we confronted, daily, in our lives today? They really can be just as “Black and White” as the choices we have listed, if we see them in the light of God’s Word. Sometimes they certainly seem to be in various shades of Gray—but are they really?

Some Choices are very clear:

  • Either Jesus’ blood is sufficient payment for my sins or it is not.
  • I will either place my trust in His atoning death, burial and resurrection or I will not.
  • Either God has established one way of salvation through Jesus Christ (as Jesus himself so clearly stated) or He has not.
  • If there truly are “many ways to God,” then Jesus is not even one of the ways, because He himself said that there is only one way, and He himself is it. There is no plan B! So that would make Jesus a terrible liar, and not even “a” way to God.

Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve had only one way they could disobey God and be lost… and that ever since that moment, there has only been one way to obey God and be saved?

What about my daily decisions as a believer? Well…I will either love my neighbor as myself, or not. I may choose to see it in a whole spectrum of “Shades of Gray,” but God calls it Black and White: I either commit myself to the good of those around me, or I choose to ignore them, and meet my own needs to the exclusion of theirs. Does that enslave me, then, to the whole of humanity? Are my needs to be completely ignored; never to be considered? The answer to both questions is “No! I am to serve God, and to be available for His use at all times. When he says “go” I must be listening—when he says don’t go, I also must be listening. God does say to feed his sheep. He does not say “break down the fence and invite a herd of wild pigs into the garden.” In fact, he gives certain boundaries to giving, and to service. We might see that as “Shades of Gray”, but the real question is still Black and White: “Will you—or will you not—obey God?”

For example: when God says that you should daily be feeding on His Word, and desiring the sincere milk of his Word, and maturing to feed on the strong meat of His Word…hiding his Word in your heart, that you might not sin against Him…do you choose to daily feed on His Word, and work at memorizing at least some key passages? Regardless of the reason why; if you choose not to do so, you are choosing to not do what He said you needed to do. That is a Black and White decision. One by one, day by day, we set aside the choices God asks us to make, and we use up the time He has given us in which to serve Him.

Sometimes it may be difficult to know exactly what to do. We tend to say, “Well, now, there is a ‘shade of gray’ for you!”—but is it? If both choices are potentially good, then perhaps it really echoes the host of “living-color” choices that were offered to Adam. He had millions of things he could do, and was given a free choice as to what he wanted—except in that one forbidden thing. We are given countless choices, too—and many of them are perfectly acceptable. God does not dictate a single path as “His will for the believer.” He gives a general direction, and, if we are willing, He will frequently lead us step by step—but if we are refusing to do the things he commanded…which are NOT optional, then why should we expect the “direct leading of God” in the comparatively inconsequential things of life…or in anything at all, for that matter?

If you know that God has commanded you

  • to study your Bible,
  • to pray continually,
  • to rejoice evermore,
  • to give thanks in all circumstances, and
  • to offer eternal life to those around you, by sharing the Gospel with others:

and you are not doing those things, then it seems a bit unreasonable to expect God to lead you step by step in the regular and common trials of life. You already demonstrate that you really are not interested in His will. You would like to know it, so that you can consider doing it, but you are not committed to doing it no matter what it may be, because you are not doing the things you already know are his will. You have “painted” them all in Shades of Gray, and are choosing not to see the Black and White issues of God’s authority. I know this, because I have done it too!

What about Repentance?

How can we change our patterns, then? Are we doomed to continue our bad choices? God says that we can start with confession. 1st John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That’s pretty Black and White, don’t you think? If you see that God is correct in pointing out the error of your ways, then agree with Him! That is what confession is! Agree with God, concerning your sin, and accept his forgiveness. Then begin again to search his Word daily, to feed your new nature on the sincere milk of God’s Word; to pray continually, and to apply the scripture to your daily life. God is pleased by the mere effort, and will meet you in your attempt, and help you to walk with Him.

Conclusion:

Down through all the ages, God has called for his people to turn to him in prayer, in repentance, in confession, and renewed obedience. He is still calling today: Don’t be distracted by the World around you. In 1st John 2:15-17, God says “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

Whether you know it or not, the world is passing away, and the only thing that will stand is God’s Word, and those who believe it. The only thing that is eternally relevant is his Word. The bottom line in our choices must not be “is it convenient, is it financially or socially profitable, is it popular, etc.”, but “Does it honor God?” And, “Is it in keeping with my God-given job as an ambassador of Christ?”

Please think carefully about the choices you are making. They are not really Shades of Gray. Some choices are “living color”, as God has given you free will to choose most things in life. But the rest of them are Black and White!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, and allow us to see the clear choices you put before us every day. Help us to choose to serve you with our lives, and not to be deceived by the Enemy.


The Bad News, Part 1

The Bad News, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 8/7/15 THCF 8/9/15

Romans 1:18-32; 2:1

Introduction:

We began our journey through the Epistle to the Romans a few weeks ago, and saw that the theme of the book is the “Gospel of God’s Grace”. We also saw that the “Good News” of the Gospel is good news, primarily because of the bad news that it addresses. We could see that the only reason, for example, that the Salk vaccine was such good news when it was first developed in the early 1950s, was that the ravages of Polio were such horribly bad news.

The Bad News of the Gospel, in a word, is Sin. We can talk about Sin as a concept. We can examine the origin of Sin, from a biblical perspective. We can bemoan the results of sin in our society…but ultimately, we need to realize that Sin as a principle is the whole source of our problems as a society, and our lostness as a race. Jesus came to free us from that Sin…in every sense. That is the Good News. But we need to understand the Bad News, before the Good News will really be “good news” to us personally. And we need to see it from God’s point of view:

God’s Perspective

In verse 18, Paul begins a dissertation on the overall slide of the human race into sin and perdition that runs all the way from 1:18 to 3:20. He is not singling out any particular group— by the time he is finished talking, in chapter 3, the whole world is condemned in sin. And he is not being judgmental at all—he is simply stating facts.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Paul first states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness. He is not “OK with some sin, but hell on the bad stuff”. God hates all sin. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why?

Consider a company, in which a serious accident (or several) has occurred, due to equipment operators being under the influence of intoxicants of some sort: We are not surprised when such a company adopts a “zero tolerance” policy toward drug abuse, including alcohol. Or a parent whose child (or children) have been lost to the drug trade…how do you think he or she would feel toward street drugs and those who promote them? We are certainly not surprised when they passionately hate the drugs and those who promote them.

Now, how much worse, when something has killed every single one of your kids, and separated from you those you loved the most? That is where God stands. Adam and Eve died spiritually the moment Adam ate the fruit in the garden…and we all died with them. Jesus said that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning”: Who do you suppose he killed? The answer is: he killed you!

God hates sin, because it has murdered the whole human race. Every sin, no matter how small, is a facet of that death-dealing disease we call Sin. God loves the sinner, but he hates the sin. And He is never confused about that distinction, though we sometimes find it very confusing.

Further, he states that his wrath is revealed against those who “hold” or “suppress” the truth in unrighteousness. When I first read that passage in the King James Version, I thought that perhaps his anger was reserved for those that ‘hold” the truth, in the sense of “having it”, but refuse to respond to it. When I looked up the Greek word I discovered that it means to “hold down” or “hold back”—to suppress. It is not a matter of possessing but not responding to the truth, though that is addressed later…the issue is that our unrighteousness seeks to suppress and shut down the truth of God. The fact of the matter is: we don’t want to hear it.

But There are No Excuses

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

In verses 19 and 20, Paul states that no one is fully excused, because everyone has, built into them, the awareness of a Creator. He says that much of what can be known of God is revealed “in them”. We learn (sometimes very early…in my case, before I was 8 years old) to turn a blind eye to the evidence in creation (Psalm 19:1-3), and particularly our own construction…(compare Psalm 139:14) and so we turn a deaf ear to the call of God, with the result that some of us (myself once included) arrive at a place where we arrogantly (or bitterly) declare that “there is no God.” But the evidence was there, and still is. In fact, the only reply God has to those who say “there is no God” is that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Notice, however, that it is in reference to a people who once knew God: it is regarding the whole human race, or a nation, say, that had its beginnings in faith. Not so much an individual, as no one starts off “knowing God” and regresses to being lost: it’s the other way around.

The human race, as a whole, once “knew God”…there was a time when every single human on the planet knew God personally, but not all were in a right relation with him…and it went downhill from there, as history tells us. By the time of Noah, the world was irreparably evil.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

They definitely knew who he was, as the Creator, and they did not glorify him, but turned their backs on him. We profess ourselves to be wise, apart from the wisdom of God.  We are sure that we, ourselves, the wonderful human race, can solve all the world’s problems. We even think that if we could get our hands on another planet, orbiting another sun, we could “terra-form” it, thus recreating our own world, and providing a new home for humanity.  What incredible arrogance! We can’t even fix the world we live on! Our so-called wisdom is unspeakable foolishness, and, year after year, it is shown to be so with every tragic mistake we make as the human race.

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

As a race, we have turned to idols; we used our imaginations and creative skills to produce images to which we ascribed the attributes of Deity. We made images of men (say, Buddha, for example; ironically, he hated idols, but there are more idols made in his likeness than in that of any other deity), and birds (some of the Egyptian deities, as well as North American Native deities, among many others, had bird attributes), and four-footed beasts (The golden calves, for instance), and creeping things (there are Hindu temples in India dedicated to the worship of rats and serpents.) In today’s world, we have deified Science and computers, and we are sure that together they will save us all. Men like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and others have become the “priests” of the religion of Science. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a social outcast; not simply misinformed. (That is a characteristic of religion, as opposed to simple facts.)

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Paul says that because Man turned his back on the real God of the universe, the Real God has turned Man loose to experience the result of his arrogance. The results are strange, as, to my mind, they seem to have little to do with the spiritual sin…but evidently the immorality of Man is directly linked to the unholiness of Man. Corruption at a spiritual level begets corruption at a physical level, and finally at a social level. He says that the immediate result is that they began to “dishonor their own bodies” between themselves. as a result of their own lusts. The sin nature bears sinful fruit; hardly surprising.

 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Many people today try to deny that the New Testament condemns homosexual behavior. As you read these verses (24-27), what other interpretation could there possibly be? He is specifically describing homosexual behavior, and declaring it to be one of the direct results of abandoning accountability to God, and worshipping and serving created things instead of their Creator. Please notice that that particular sin is not given a special category: it is simply listed along with all the rest: disobedience to parents, and envy are listed right along with murder and adultery.

The Problem is that We Don’t Like God

Remember that, in the Garden of Eden, God came seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve…and they ran from Him. It was not the other way around.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Don’t use this to try to create a “hierarchy” of sins by which to decide that some sins are really despicable, while others are just “kinda cute”. God does not agree with our estimation of the relative worth of sin. He says his wrath is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness.

32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Paul’s conclusion is that we not only do these things in full knowledge that those who do such things are worthy of death, but we give approval to those who do them. Today we give that approval by making box-office hits of movies glorifying adultery, murder, debate, deceit, disobedience to parents…etc. The fiction section of a library or a bookstore (even a Christian bookstore) is always the most popular, as we prefer fiction to reality…we prefer fiction to truth. There are perhaps 20 would-be fiction writers for every would-be non-fiction writer. And we glorify novelists far above mere journalists and technical writers. It all seems to fit, I think: Jesus said that when Satan speaks a lie, he is speaking his own language, because Satan “is a liar and the father of it.” I am not suggesting that creative writing is wrong. But we are addicted to it.

We, as a race, are addicted to fiction, and, increasingly to fiction that caters to our lusts. Things that were once unmentionable are now common fare: things once fully condemned as grossly pornographic are so widely available that even Christian parents frequently allow their children access to them. I recall hearing a young child of a professing Christian couple gleefully telling of the erotic scene he had viewed the evening before in his parents’ home. And that was nearly thirty years ago. It is far worse now.

We celebrate the authors of such books and screenplays, as well as the actors and producers of the movies. We hail them as great artists. We give approval to those who do the very things God condemns. We encourage others to do the same. Yes…it all seems to fit.

2: 1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

We tend to robe ourselves in the rags of our self-righteousness and reject someone else because of their perceived sin…But God says that in so doing we admit our own guilt: You see, that list he gave us in verses 24-27 is a list of examples of the sin God condemned…not an exhaustive list of things he calls sins. And it is certainly not a hierarchy of sins in some particular order of importance.

Sin always breaks fellowship with God. Hold your finger here in Romans, and turn to Proverbs 6:16-19 (16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.)

Notice it doesn’t list drug abuse or sexual immorality? That isn’t evidence that such things are approved, it simply gives us notice that the things God hates have to do with the sin of the heart…the self-centeredness that makes us arrogant, foolish and violent. That sin is the same source as the sin that drives every other social ill in the world. The wrath of God is upon all of it.

So, what are our options?

  1. We can deny it all, and say that sin doesn’t even exist—that there is no such thing as right or wrong—that it is only our perceptions and social norms that drive such a concept. But the problem with that is that every single culture in the world recognizes right and wrong, though they disagree wildly about what it means.
  1. We can deny the importance of sin, and claim that God is such a “sugar-daddy” that He doesn’t condemn sin at all: he just loves everyone so much that we can do anything we want, and we will never face consequences for our decisions. The problem with that is that we all have an inborn sense of justice, as well, which tells us that there should be consequences for bad behavior and reward for good.
  1. We can admit the existence and importance of sin, and admit the holiness and justice of God, but then suggest that human effort (doing lots and lots of good things to make up for the bad things we have already done) can somehow earn a right standing with God. (Virtually all the world’s religions teach this, by the way.) The problem with this is that we are trying to carry out flawless works with very flawed hearts. Our motives will always be questionable. Everything we touch is tainted by who we are. When I confess that I am a sinner, it does not mean that “I got something on my shoe”…it means that my character is such that I break God’s Law. In fact, even if I am allowed to make the rules myself, I will break them (which is why I gave up on New Year’s resolutions many years ago.)
  1. The last option is what the Bible teaches: Sin is real, and it matters! God is holy and just, and He will judge sin. And, finally, there is nothing I can do to undo the sins I have already committed. But where does that leave me? It leaves me lost… and needing a Savior.

Then, What is God’s Solution?

That is why Jesus went to the Cross: He provided full payment for all my sins: past, present and future: In fact, if you think a moment, you will realize that when He died for me, all my sins were future. He paid for them all, knowing everything I would ever do; all the ways I would fail him as a Christian, as well as all the vile ways I despised Him, as an atheist, before I was saved. And he says in John 5:24 that all he asks me to do is believe it.

Conclusion:

Paul says I have no excuse…and he is right. But, in the next few chapters, he will introduce God’s solution for sin: the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of God’s Grace.

Lord Jesus, help our unbelief: we fail in so many different ways to trust your Grace, and believe your Word. Train us to be your followers, in Jesus’ name.