Archive for May, 2010


Receiving or Doing?


     There has been some discussion about the story of the rich young man in the comments after my last post.  In this post I would like to make a point that hasn’t been made in that thread yet.  And that is the placement of this story in Mark’s Gospel. 

     One aspect of Bible study that is often neglected is seeing the structure and flow of the individual books of the Bible and how each part relates to other parts.  This is something people often don’t see especially when it comes to the four Gospels.  Without giving it much thought, many people think that the four Gospels are just individual stories and parables of Jesus strung together without much structure.  But nothing is further from the truth than that.  Each Gospel writer wrote with a specific purpose in mind.  Each carefully structured his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Each placed the individual stories in their Gospels as carefully as a jeweler places each gem in its setting.

     We see Mark doing that in the placement of the story of the rich young ruler.  He significantly placed it right after the story of Jesus’ blessing of the little children.  As such it stands in bold contrast to it especially Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:15.  “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  As one commentator pointed out, children are not like adults who don’t want anything given to them.  Rather they eagerly and ashamedly receive things as gifts. This is all the more striking when we say that Luke reports that the little children being brought to Jesus were infants.  (Luke 18:15)  The point is little children, especially infants, don’t do anything.  They receive things. As Jesus says, “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

     What a striking contrast then is offered by the rich young man!  The topic is the same:  entering the kingdom of heaven.  (Compare Mark 10:15 with verses 23-24.)  But the approach is so much different.  The young man wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  As has been stated in the comments on the previous post, if “doing” is the question, then there is no room for talk of the Atonement – then there is no room for “trying”.  It’s all about doing.  That is the level Jesus answers him.  In effect Jesus says, if you don’t want to receive it as a small child but want to earn it, then you had better do everything.  That’s why Jesus tells him to sell his possessions. 

     This, however, is something no one can do.  “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)  Jesus makes that same point to the disciples when, after the young man left, he said: “With men it is impossible.” (v. 27)  Man can’t do what needs to be done to inherit eternal life.

     But what man can’t do, God did.  “with God all things are possible”.  Jesus did do everything that was commanded and he did it for us.  Jesus paid the full price for every one of our sins.  Jesus did it all so that God can give us eternal life in his kingdom, living in his mansions, freely as a gift

       That’s why little children, and not hard-working adults, are to be our role models.  That’s the clear lesson Mark is teaching us by contrasting these two stories.


Human Potential

    Here and elsewhere there is a lot of debate about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  One thing causing these differences is that they often start in different places – they begin with different presuppositions.  When that happens, most of the time, you are going to end up in drastically different places. 

     One example of that is how each views the human race.  That in itself is a broad topic so I would like to narrow it down to human potential after Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin.  The Bible does not paint a very pretty picture.  Immediately after their Fall, the Bible describes Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother Cain.  Already in the sixth chapter of the Bible we hear this damming indictment of the human race:  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Gen. 6:5) The phrases “every imagination” and “only evil continually” don’t leave any wiggle room.  That clearly states that man was totally depraved.

     Therefore God sent the Flood.  It would seem that we could breathe a sigh of relief because now mankind can start all over.  But not so fast.  Immediately after the Flood,  before Noah and his family did anything but sacrifice to God, we read:  “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Gen. 6:21) Although the Flood changed the physical world it didn’t do anything to man’s heart.  Both before and after the Flood it is described as “evil”. 

     This theme carries throughout the rest of the Bible.  One of the more common descriptions of man’s spiritual condition is that of being spiritually dead.  Other descriptions include being spiritually blind and hostile to God.  Taking these passages at face value, the only potential that the Bible ascribes to man after the Flood is the potential to act on the evil that resides in his heart.  That is the force of “every imagination” and “only evil continually”.

     Mormonism, however, begins at a different point.  It teaches that man has a lot of good in them.  It stresses its doctrine of agency – everybody’s ability to choose the right.  (How is that reconciled with being spiritually dead and blind?)  In short, Mormonism has a much more positive view of mankind.  This fits well with American optimism but it doesn’t fit well with biblical teaching.

     As I said before, when you start at different places, you usually end up in different places.  So also here.  Because of its dim outlook on man’s potential, the Bible turns people away from thinking they contribute anything to their living with God for all eternity.  Salvation, according to the Bible, relies entirely on Jesus’ saving work.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans3:24-25)  According to the Bible, salvation, including living for all eternity in the Father’s mansion, is entirely God’s gift.

     This even includes conversion.  According to the Bible, man doesn’t need to be spiritually rehabilitated he needs to be spiritually resurrected.  That is why it speaks of conversion in terms of rebirth and creation.  That is why it talks about God enlightening the spiritually blind, reconciling to himself the spiritually hostile.  From first to last, in the context of salvation, the Bible has God doing the work.

     Because Mormonism teaches that man has much more potential, it naturally demands that people contribute to their living with heavenly Father.  Salvation, according to Mormonism, is a combination of God’s grace and man’s works.  Where people spend eternity is conditioned on their keeping the commandments.  All of this is a logical outgrowth of where it starts – of its presupposition that there remains a lot of good in people.

     You start in different places you are going to end up in different places.  Many of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity exist because they start in different places when it comes to their view of man after the Fall.


X-Ray Vision

     How often hasn’t an X-Ray or a CAT scan found something seriously wrong in a person who outwardly looked good and even felt good?  We all probably know at least one person like that – who was shocked to learn, after undergoing a routine procedure, that they had a serious problem.  After the shock, comes thankfulness, especially in those situations where the problem was caught in its early stages and can be addressed. 

     Just as X-rays see things we can’t see, so also the Lord.  “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  That is sobering especially when we see that Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all defilement. 

     The Pharisees had criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating with ceremonially unclean hands.  Jesus not only rebuked them for laying aside God’s commands for human traditions, he went on to explain how foolish it is to think that defilement comes from outside of us.  “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15)  A few verses later he expanded on this to his disciples:  “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:  All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”  (Mark 7: 21-23).  As Jesus here emphasizes, the important thing to God is what lies within us – for he doesn’t look at the outward appearance but instead he looks at our hearts.

    That’s very sobering – because it doesn’t take much reflection on my part to realize that my heart’s X-ray doesn’t look good.  Even though I often can refrain from acting on them, evil thoughts still arise within me.  Before I even know it, I get angry thoughts about the driver ahead of me.  Or an unclean thought about the woman who walked by.  Or some unsavory pride as someone compliments me.  Or an unhealthy fixation on money as I view my bank statement.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of self-evaluation to realize how embarrassing it would be if somehow a video of my last day’s thoughts could be broadcast for all to see.  That would not be a pretty picture.

     What is even more distressing is that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t completely quash those evil thoughts.  In fact, some days I wonder if I can even make a dent in them.  And if I do succeed one day suppressing one type of them, they seem to come back with a vengeance the next day.  For example, I wake up determined to work hard on having loving thoughts about everyone including any driver ahead of me.  I might even do a pretty good job for a day. But then something happens the next day, and it all flies out the window.  When I examine my heart I identify with St. Paul who said, “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. . .O wretched man that I am!”  (Romans 7:19, 24)

     As I said this is sobering especially in light of the biblical teaching that sin, no matter what it is, carries the death penalty.  “The wages of sin is death.”   When the police pull me over for speeding, I can’t argue that I don’t deserve a ticket because I followed the law by stopping at the stop sign.  No, it doesn’t matter if I had followed every other traffic law.  If I was speeding, I broke the law.  Likewise it doesn’t matter if my heart contains one evil thought or a million.  “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)

     Because my heart is so riddled with evil thoughts, because no matter how hard I try I can’t rid myself of those evil thoughts, I shudder to direct the Lord’s attention to anything I do as a reason for him to accept me.  Because, as he traces everything I do or say back to the source, my heart, there’s a whole lot there that he isn’t going to be pleased with.  That’s why I want him to only look at what Jesus did for me.  When he looks there, he will be well-pleased – for there he will see perfection.  The last thing I want to do is contaminate his perfection by mixing in my imperfections. 

     Why is Heavenly Father going to welcome me with open arms into his presence for all eternity?  Only, solely, totally, completely because of what Jesus has done for me.  He gets all the credit – all the praise – all the glory.


Personal Revelation


     I recently received the May issue of the Ensign (the official magazine of the LDS Churchh) which contains the talks from last month’s General Conference of the LDS Church.  This is an important issue because General Conference talks are so important.  How important?

     Elder Mark E. Petersen, said:  “A general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far more significant than most people realize. . .

      . . .it is one of the most important events of the present day.  Many do not regard it, even among the Latter-day Saints.  But for those who appreciate its true significance, it is of transcending importance, for in it PROPHETS OF GOD SPEAK, living prophets.

     When God gives a message to mankind, it is not something to be lightly cast aside.  Whether He speaks personally, or through His prophets, He himself said, it is the same.

     And in this conference HIS PROPHETS SPEAK!”   (Teachings of the Living Prophets, p. 63)

     Ezra Taft Benson said, “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one living in our day and age. . .Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is that of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece.  That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications.” (Teachings of the Living Prophets, p.19)

     Because of the importance Mormonism places on these talks, I take extra time reading them.  I have just read the first few talks but what has already struck me is how much emphasis there is on the Holy Spirit and on receiving personal revelations from him. Mormonism teaches that personal revelations come through feelings and impressions and a person has to be worthy to receive them.

     For many Christians, this has always been a puzzling aspect of Mormonism because feelings are notoriously fickle.  How many times haven’t people, even with the best intentions, done something because it felt right, only to discover that it was the wrong thing to do?  Over the years I have asked numerous Mormons how they can determine if what they feel is truly from the Holy Spirit.  Has a feeling, which they thought was a personal revelation, ever led them astray? 

     The responses have been interesting to say the least.  Some have said their feelings have never led them astray.  Others admitted that their feelings had led them astray, but the problem was with them.  It has been interesting to see this topic being discussed on Mormon blogs with again differing reactions.

     More than one Mormon has told me that they felt sorry for me because the only revelation I had was the Bible.  I, however, would much rather rely on it.  It is perfectly sufficient for me. It especially reassures me that Heavenly Father considers me worthy to live eternally with him, not because of what I do, but because of what Jesus did for me.  It emphasizes that the temple work that needed to be done to live with Him was already done for me by Jesus when he was sacrificed for me.  It gives me great guidance for life.  It comforts me with tremendous promises of the Lord’s protection and provision.  I receive revelation not through feelings, but through His Word.  For me, that is much more solid ground to stand on.

May 2010

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