Jesus’ foremost mission was the salvation of sinners, not social justice. While the marginalized and oppressed tended to be the most receptive to Jesus’ message, his message was for all people because all people need to be saved.

What about Jesus’ healing ministry? While Jesus surely had compassion on the sick, His miracles had a bigger purpose than just helping the destitute and needy. They were intended to reveal His identity and confirm His message.

Jesus never raised money for the poor or went on a campaign to liberate the oppressed. If those things could be done, great, but that was not Jesus’ mission, and it’s not the church’s mission either. Our primary mission is to preach the gospel and call sinners to repentance. If we can help their lot in life along the way, all the better, but we must keep the Great Commission the central mission of the church.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason recently wrote an article related to this topic. He debunks the idea the myth that Jesus was a social justice warrior championing the cause of the poor and oppressed. Check it out.

When it comes to evangelism, some of the hardest people to work with are those who are apathetic toward spiritual things. They simply don’t care whether God exists. This is often a conversation stopper. If you want to press on a bit more, however, there are some tactics for doing so. I’ve offered some thoughts on this in the past (here and here), but as I was reflecting on this the other day again, I came up with another tactic you might find helpful.

When Mr. Apathetic says he doesn’t care if God exists or not, ask him what he does care about. Often, what he cares about will be tied to the existence of God in some way. Tactically speaking, our job is to help him see the relationship between (1) what he cares about and (2) God’s existence in hopes that this will raise his interest in the latter.

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Check out my latest article, “How divine appearances and the angel of YHWH can illuminate the meaning of ‘the form of God’ and shed light on Jesus’ prayers.”

My conclusion sums it up best:

The human-like appearances of YHWH in the OT, including His appearances as the angel of YHWH, help us understand what Paul meant when he said Jesus existed “in the form of God” prior to the incarnation. He was identifying Jesus as the YHWH’s visible image in the OT, similar to Jude’s identification of Jesus as the angel of YHWH who led the Israelites in the wilderness.

These divine appearances also provide an analogue to the Father-Son communication in the NT. We see a distinction between YHWH’s invisible and visible modes of existence, and yet YHWH visible is still identified as the one and only YHWH. YHWH was active in both His invisible and visible modes simultaneously. Invisible YHWH could even communicate with visible YHWH, illustrating the possibility of communication between two modes of YHWH’s existence.

This phenomena is similar to what we see in the NT. Invisible YHWH (Father) communicated with visible YHWH (Son) and vice versa, even though the Father and Son are both YHWH. In the same way we would not say YHWH was talking to Himself in the OT, we should not think YHWH was talking to Himself in the NT. Jesus’ prayers, and the Father-Son communication generally, is due to God’s assumption of a human nature in the incarnation. When God became a man, He assumed a human nature, allowing Him to be a human being and function as a human being, including a genuine human psychology. In Jesus, YHWH is conscious of Himself as a human being. He has the mental life of a human being. In such a state, communication with the Father is not only possible, but expected.

People often misunderstand and misapply the term “hypocrite.” A hypocrite literally refers to an actor. They are pretenders. In the realm of morals, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be moral. They tell you not to do something, but have no intention of following their own commands. They are people who do not think their own rules apply to them. They might pretend to keep these rules, but secretly they flout them.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the moral commands they preach to others apply equally to themselves, and they do their best to live up to those moral ideals. However, they fail to do so perfectly or consistently. When they fail their moral standards, they regret it and repent. These people are not hypocrites. They are simply fallen humans doing their best to do what’s right, but failing to do so perfectly.


It’s official! I have renamed the blog from Theo-sophical Ruminations to Thinking to Believe.

I raised the possibility of a name change back in March. At the time, I was considering changing it to Theogetical Rumanations. This was a mouthful and was no more memorable than my original name. Thinking to Believe has been the name of my private ministry for many years now, so it only made sense to use it as the name of my blog. It reflects my conviction that thinking and believing are bedfellows, not enemies. Thinking, when done properly, will lead one to faith, not away from it.

This is also the name of a podcast I will be launching very soon. More to come on that!

The new blog URL is https://www.thinkingtobelieve.com. If you have the old URL saved, please update it. However, a forwarding address has been added to ensure that old links to the blog will continue to work.

If you don’t know why those who believe different than you believe what they believe, then it’s hard to be dogmatic about what you believe. After all, they may know something you don’t. You may be wrong and don’t know it.

That’s not to say you have to thoroughly examine all positions before being justified in taking a position and believing it to be true. You can take a position based on the evidence you have seen, but in the absence of knowing how others justify their positions and their arguments against the position you hold, you should not be dogmatic about your position.

It seems to me that most Christians have chosen to ignore Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. I realize that the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is not crystal clear, and that even conservative Christians hold to a number of different interpretations of the Biblical teaching. That said, I think it’s abundantly clear that Jesus only permitted divorce and remarriage in a very narrow set of circumstances.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Mt 19:3-10, ESV)

It’s pretty clear that Jesus opposed no-fault divorce, which is tantamount to our modern “irreconcilable differences.” Jesus only provided one justification for divorce, and it has to do with some kind of sexual sin (opinions differ as to what constitutes this sin). Unfortunately, I would venture to say that most confessing Christians get a divorce for irreconcilable differences as opposed to sexual sin.

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I saw a car the other day with a bumper sticker that read “celebrate every color.” On the one hand, this is a fine message since it attempts to treat all people equally. However, I find the concept of “celebrating color” to be troubling. Why should we celebrate the color of our skin? Why don’t we celebrate every eye color? What about every hair color? Why just skin?

There are all sorts of external differences between humans, but we don’t tend to form identity groups based on those. We come in a variety of hair colors and eye colors but we don’t group people by such things. We don’t identify with others because they have the same eye color as us. We don’t have government reports that distinguish the crime statistics of blondes versus brunettes.

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I have long been concerned by the modern, therapeutic view of forgiveness. On this view, forgiveness is primarily about ridding oneself of anger toward those who have hurt us, and this can be done completely independent of the sinner. He does not need to repent, and he does not need to know we have forgiven him.

In the paper linked at the end of this post, I argue that Biblical forgiveness is about restoring relationships that have been fractured by sin (Mt 5:24; 18:15; 2 Cor 5:19), not ridding ourselves of anger toward those who hurt us. Forgiveness is an act whereby we release the offender from his moral debt against us and choose to treat him as if he had never sinned. If we are no longer angry at our offender, but have not reconciled the relationship, then we have not forgiven. If we reconcile the relationship, however, treating our offender as we did prior to their sin, then true forgiveness has been achieved – even if we still feel anger toward them. Feelings typically follow actions, so our feelings of anger will typically subside as we begin to treat our offender in a loving way.

Forgiveness is not something that can be done from afar, privately affirming our forgiveness to God in prayer. Forgiveness is something we grant directly to our offender, letting him know that we agree to restore the relationship. Of course, this requires that the offender seek to restore the relationship through repentance for his sin. Biblical forgiveness is not automatic or unconditional. We can only forgive those who have repented of their sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:3-4). If they do not repent, they cannot be forgiven. We may release our anger against them, choose to love them, and determine to live peaceably with them, but the relationship cannot be restored to its pre-sin state until they repent.

Forgiveness – The Misunderstood Virtue

 

Euphemisms can be helpful. They allow us to talk about difficult topics in a sensitive way. They lessen the emotional impact. That’s why we have euphemisms for sex, excretions, and death.

However, sometimes, euphemisms are created to deceive. They are meant to make something that is evil sound good. They are distortions of language. The Nazis were masters at this. “Special treatment” meant execution. The “final solution” meant killing all Jewish people.

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I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

While most people rightly understand the baptism of the Spirit as a reference to regeneration, there is no shortage of interpretations of what the “fire” refers to.

Some understand this as referring to two separate Spirit baptisms for believers: the baptism of the Spirit is for salvation (regeneration), while the baptism with fire is an empowerment for ministry. Others agree that “fire” refers to anointing and empowerment, but only see one baptism in view. When we receive the Spirit, we experience both salvation and ministry empowerment simultaneously. An appeal is often made to Acts 2:1-4, where fire appeared over the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit.

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I recently spent many hours copying and pasting every single blog post I have ever written into a Word doc so I would have a back up of my life’s work. I’ve been blogging at Theo-sophical ruminations since February 19, 2006. That’s over 15 years!

In that time, I have written 1,525 posts. The content filled nearly 1300 pages of a Word document, clocking in at nearly 718,000 words. I’ve had nearly 1.1 million visitors to the WordPress version of this blog (I moved from blogspot to WordPress in 2012). It’s hard to believe.

I offer a sincere thank you to all of you who have read this blog over the years. If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be much reason for me to continue doing this. Thank you!

Christians will often point out to atheists that if there is no God, then there is no objective meaning and purpose to life. Atheists will typically respond by saying that they create their own meaning in life. They find meaning in what they do, in family, etc. There are at least four problems with this, however.

First, they are substituting subjective, proximate meaning for objective, transcendent meaning. When people ask what the meaning and purpose of life is, they are not asking for advice concerning what meaning and purpose they should invent for their life. They are searching for something transcendent. They are looking to discover something that is already there, not invent something new. By substituting objective, transcendent meaning for subjective, proximate meaning, the atheist is referring to an entirely different understanding of meaning.

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I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:5-8, ESV)

What is the “gift of God” that Paul enjoined Timothy to fan into flame? Many interpreters, including Pentecostals, tend to view this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. I’ve heard a number of messages about stirring up the Holy Spirit inside of me, based on this verse. It’s not hard to see the connection. The laying on of hands is associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6, and this experience is intimately connected with “power” being given to the believer (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 4:33; 6:8; 10:38).

While this is a plausible interpretation, I do not think it is the best. Let’s consider other possibilities. (more…)

About a year ago, I explored the notion that Republican-led states (known for being more relaxed in the area of Covid restrictions) were experiencing a higher rate of Covid-19 deaths than Democrat-led states (known for being more stringent in the area of Covid restrictions). Specifically, I wanted to see if there was a correlation between the severity of a state’s Covid restrictions and their death rate. I found that there was not. Some of the strictest states had higher death rates, and some of the freest states had lower death rates.

A lot has changed since last July, and now that the pandemic is essentially over, I wanted to re-run the data and see how the states fared at the end of the day. This time, I added an additional data set to the mix. We know that the majority of Covid deaths occurred in elderly populations, so states with a higher percentage of elderly people would be expected to have a higher death rate than states with lower percentages of elderly populations. Is that true to experience?

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If you think “God just wants me to be happy,” you are going to be very disappointed in your Christian life, and inclined toward sin and doubt. False expectations never end well.

The notion that God just wants us to be happy has led many believers to question God’s existence when some evil befalls them or their life is not working out the way they wanted. It has led others to disobey God’s Word, reasoning that God can’t possibly require them to do X since X does not bring them happiness. I see this all the time when it comes to matters of sexuality and divorce/remarriage.

This isn’t to say God wants us to be sad, but merely that God’s purpose for our lives is not our personal happiness per se. His purpose is that we live our lives for His purpose and that our character be conformed to His image. He is primarily interested in our obedience, our dedication, and our faithfulness – not our happiness. While obedience often leads to happiness, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it leads to loss, sorrow, and personal difficulty.

No, God does not want you to be happy. He wants you to obey Him. He wants you to take up our cross and follow Him. Doing so will always bring ultimate fulfillment, but not always ultimate happiness.

If you had to guess, how many white people would you say have been killed by the police since the beginning of 2020? Based on media coverage alone, you might think it is fewer than five, or perhaps even zero. Now, how many black people would you guess have been killed by police during the same time period? Thousands? Hundreds?

Perceptions vs. Statistics

While most people can name several black people that have been killed by police since 2020, very few could name even a single white person who was killed. Why is that? It’s not for lack of white blood. Per the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, cops have killed 580 white people since last year, compared to 314 black people. How many of those were unarmed? Thirty white people and 22 black people.[1]

If you’re not wondering why all of these unarmed white men killed by the police didn’t make national news, you should be. The media is pushing a particular narrative, namely that the police are racist and targeting black people. To that end, they choose only to feature the stories that fit (or are forced to fit) that narrative, and ignore those that don’t. Unfortunately, this media bias is causing Americans to think cops are nilly-willy gunning down black people simply because they are black. The narrative is that policing is systemically racist. (more…)

When it comes to Biblical interpretation, some tend to think that they don’t need to study or engage in deep thinking on the Scripture. God will simply tell them what the Bible means. On the other end of the spectrum are those who tend to think that they don’t need any spiritual illumination of the text. They can discover the meaning through study and deep thinking alone.

Paul rejected both of these approaches to Scripture. He told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). Paul didn’t see it as an either-or, but a both-and. We must do our best thinking on the words of Scripture, and Jesus will help us understand Scripture in the process.

There’s no question that systemic racism existed in this country in the form of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the like. However, all forms of systemic racism have been made illegal since the 1960s. Systemic racism does not exist in America today. That’s not to say there are no racists left in America. Surely there are, but they are few in number. To say systemic racism no longer exists in America is to say that racism is no longer embedded in society’s systems. There are no institutions or laws that are explicitly or implicitly based on racist ideology, nor policies that treat people differently based on their race.

Many disagree with this assessment. They will agree that there are no institutions, laws, or policies that explicitly treat people differently based on their race (racism proper), but they argue that racism is still implicit in our institutions, law, and policies as evidenced by racial disparities in outcome. Black people are arrested at higher rates, have a higher incarceration rate than whites, earn less income than whites, etc.

While such racial disparities could be the result of implicit systemic racism, they could also be due to other factors as well. Racism must be proved, not assumed. If the racial disparities can be explained by differences in personal choices or behaviors, then there is no reason to think racism plays any major factor.

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Based on my research, if you have been infected with COVID-19, there is no good reason for you to get vaccinated. Getting Covid provides you with a natural immunity to future reinfections that is thousands of times more effective than the immunity conferred by the vaccines. Also, the vaccines fare no better than natural immunity at preventing the transmission of Covid. Let me explain.

Personal protection

Studies have shown that those who become infected with Covid develop a natural immunity that lasts for at least 7-8 months, and most likely, years to come. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded a study that was published January 6, 2021 in Science.[1] Speaking of this study, the NIH writes: “But, promisingly, their levels [of antibodies] remained fairly stable over time, declining only modestly at 6 to 8 months after infection. …. 95% of the people had at least 3 out of 5 immune-system components that could recognize SARS-CoV-2 up to 8 months after infection.”[2] A decline in antibodies does not mean that immunity is diminishing rapidly over time. Immunologist Scott Hensley, of the University of Pennsylvania, notes that “[i]t doesn’t mean that those people no longer have antibodies. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have protection.”[3]

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