Principles are Better than Laws Part 14, Do Not Covet

Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

We are considering some of the most important biblical laws as principles by which to live. Once again, and for the last time, since this ends the series, the fact that God has given us these commandments is plenty enough reason to obey them. But because I am realizing that our good Father gives us no arbitrary laws that don’t also produce abundant life when we live by them, I am looking at them as principles. They are principles, and I truly believe that God wants you to have a better existence, even on this fallen planet in this age, by following him and keeping his ways. It brings him glory and pleasure to see his children walking in light.

The prohibition against coveting falls into the same category as many of the others. We have learned that God loves life. We have learned that God wants us to live and not die. This was the choice set before Adam, the Israelites, and now it is the choice set before us. As Christians, we know we are saved, not by our good choices, but by Jesus’ choice to give himself for us and for our sins. But, in general, the quality of our life on earth will be largely based on our individual choices. Apart from the things that are outside our control, there are a million choices we make through the course of a lifetime that are in our control.

Each man or woman has a right to this choice. They have a right to their life. That is why it is such a horrible thing to murder someone. That’s obvious. Slightly less obvious is that the same principle applies to theft, and even to bearing false witness. It applies to theft, because a person’s possessions are considered part of what is making their life possible. To steward something for God by ownership is to take responsibility for it, and the purpose is the furthering of one’s life. To take one of my things is to take from my life. To be sure, I should learn to hold my stuff with an open hand, remembering that it all belongs to God, but none of it belongs to anyone else but me. That is why God protects private property.

Coveting taps into the same sinful tendency as the desire to take someone’s life, or at least to take from someone’s life. It also tells God that you don’t like your own life, that God should have given you what the other man has, instead of giving it to him. To covet is to not trust God. It is also to prioritize things in your own life that should not be a priority. James says,

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God (Ja 4:1-4)?

Coveting and murder are in the same category here, because the above statement shows that they both take from someone else’s life. This is why it is considered by James to be a root cause of “wars” and “battles.”

So, on principle, do not allow yourself to covet another man’s (or woman’s) possession of anything. It’s a trap of Satan and an invitation for demonic torture.

It tricks you into looking away from the facts of your own life, which is where your attention needs to be.

What is happening with you; why do you not already have this thing that you think is so important? How can you use the facts of your life to see where you are, where you could be, and how to get there? To keep this principle is to trust God. To go a step further, practice thankfulness for what you have, awareness of what you could have and where you can grow, and focus on doing those things that will move you toward a greater faithfulness in your stewardship.

Do not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s.

Principles are Better than Laws Pt 13 Don’t Bear False Witness or Lie at All

I was watching a short clip on YouTube by Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christiansen on religion and capitalism in America. He was recounting a conversation with a graduate student from China who had come to America to study capitalism. When Christiansen asked him what was the most surprising thing he’d learned from his time studying in America, the man said something to the effect that he had not previously understood the role that religion played in the success of capitalism in America. What he went on to say was that it was remarkable that Americans are more or less honest. They pay their taxes usually without the police coming to beat them up. He (rightly) attributed this to an inherent fear of God baked into the culture. He said (rightly) that the attempt to impose capitalism and democracy on other countries has failed because of a lack of similar foundations. 

This series of posts is about the idea that we should not only reverently obey the laws of God, but we should also see them as principles, following which will lead to the best possible life we could be living on earth and beyond. Having now arrived at the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness,” I must distinguish briefly between bearing false witness, that is, perjury, and plain old lying. Both are wrong, but the first is worse. 

Lying is bad. It warps reality, and warping reality is a kind of chaos that leads to destruction. But bearing false witness is worse, because it means that you are deliberately lying about a person in order to do them harm. This puts it up there with murder, because it is an assault on the person’s LIFE. And life is sacred.

As a straightforward command, this works pretty well. To see this as a principle, we can go deeper into the “why” behind the prohibition against false witness. The problem with perjury is that it is injustice. Someone goes to jail, because someone lied under oath. The wrong man paid for the crime. The fabric of society depends on justice.

To bear false witness or to lie in any way is to give in to unreality. If you live according to anything except truth, your life will become disintegrated. You will come apart little by little. Everyone knows that to pull off a lie requires more than just that lie. You have to lie about lying. You have to lie about lying about lying. You have to remember who you lied to and remember what the lie was and to keep the lie going. You have to lie to yourself that you are not a worthless person, at least in practice. You may have worth as an image-bearer of God, but you add nothing to that by being a purveyor of unreality, making the world a worse place because of your existence and your lies. This is the opposite of what we are called to do as humans, and especially as God-fearing humans.

One way to look at this is to be ruthless on yourself to represent your opponents accurately. Why? Because the truth matters, even when it hurts your cause. There is no true conflict of your interests if you are telling the truth. Don’t shortcut the argument of who is right and who is wrong in a dispute by misrepresentation of the other side. A basic example would be a the common practice of making a straw man out of your opponent. If you cannot beat them with an accurate representation, you are not having a fight worth winning. Your win will be a lie, and the ends don’t justify the means.

Be a person who loves the truth on principle, even if it wrecks your world. If your world can be wrecked by the truth, then you are living the wrong kind of existence. It may be brutal and painful to clean up a life of contradictions, lies, evasions, and false witnessing about the other side, but if you have the heart for it, keeping this command along with all the commands against lying, will change your life. You will become a whole person; stronger, more confident, with more self-esteem and yet humility at the same time. Submission to truth is submission to God, and submission to God and his laws is humble.

Principles are Better than Laws Part 12 Don’t Take People’s Stuff

Besides part ten, “thou shalt not murder,” I’ve most been looking forward to this post. When I write anything, often my goal is to flesh out thoughts. This will be that, and if you are reading it, that is a bonus for me.

The seventh commandment says you cannot take other people’s stuff. “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15).

Once again, I start out wondering how there could be a principle behind such a straightforward law. Shouldn’t this be one where God the Father gets to say, “Because I said so!”? It seems like that’s what he wants to do, since this is one of the commandments with zero explanation. 

God should get to say whatever he wants, and we should listen. But I am committed to this project of considering his laws as principles, so how is the law of keeping our hands off someone else’s stuff to be applied as a principle to live by? In other words, what does this commandment say about God and about the way he has created the world to work? What does is say about how he has created mankind to relate to one another?

This commandment is tied closely to all the others, especially the commandment prohibiting murder. God does not want us to murder, becuase life is precious. Life is precious because God created it. Existence exists, and the way we must live springs from this fact. A person is a created thing. A created thing has a right to be. And humans especially have a right to be. Continuing to “be” is a key purpose for our efforts in life, and the most fundamental way we glorify our Maker. 

This requires us to have the stuff we need to exist. 

There is something profound about possessions. Jesus said a man does not get his identity from his possessions. He said it this way, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). Then he told the parable of the rich fool whose land produced abundantly, so he tore down his old barns, built bigger barns, and relaxed. This was foolish, because he died the next day. 

Whatever else this means, it means that “life” does not consist in what we have. “Life” is something else. But then, who cares if someone steals our abundance of possessions? 

This apparent contradiction is why Christians are confused enough on this point to never save enough, AND/OR never give enough.

A man does not get his identity from his possessions, but possessions do get (part of) their identity from the man or woman who owns them.

This is tied to the principle of stewardship. God stated it again when he told Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen 9:3).

Everything in the world belonged to the man who lived on it alone with his family. What was the purpose? To live. It was God’s stuff that he gave to Noah to use for life. This is what he gives us our stuff for. When we possess it, we become stewards of it. This means that we become responsible for it. We own it. Our name is on it, but it is for God that our name is on it, because his name is on US. We belong to him.

I believe that this is profound. I own something. My life does not consist of that thing. My life owns that thing. That possession does not own me, but I have put my name on it. I don’t get identity from it, but it gets identity from me. It is not just a car. It is Jeff’s car. It is not just money. It is Jeff’s money to use for Jeff’s life for the glory of God (because Jeff’s money is God’s money, because Jeff belongs to God). If it is going to be given away in generosity, it is going to be given away by me, because I am generous. If it is going to be hoarded, it is because I am stingy, and I am hoarding it.

God will and does hold me accountable for that. And possession and identity are important to God. Stewardship and responsibility are fundamental biblical principles. He does not want someone else to take what belongs to me for the same reason he does not want someone to kill me. This is a part of my life once I put my name on it. I am using it to further my life. Whether it is food for my physical sustenance, or even if it is something for my “spiritual” sustenance, like a piece of art. If it furthers my life according to my biblical values, to take it, is to violate my life as you would by any use of force and violence against me.

We are not to steal, because to steal is to subtract from life, it is to kill. Sometimes it looks explicitly like that. If you took the last scraps from a starving man, he would die because you stole his property. 

This still does not mean a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions. His life is still something separate and spiritual. Jesus told his parable and made the comment because two brothers were fighting over their parents’ estate. Jesus saw they were greedy for the possessions. He saw that they thought “things” were the key to their value, their identity. The opposite is true. 

Now, I think Christ would say, “Do not steal other people’s stuff.” But I also think he would say, “Let them steal yours if they are going to do that, because my Father in heaven will take care of you.” I believe he wants us to trust God that much.

Why? Because there is a fine line between knowing you have responsibility for your stuff, which is to further your life, and being fearful that God will not take care of you, or just plain old loving money and possessions more than God. 

Jesus and his Father want us to be free. Money is important, especially if you are trying to raise a family. And I imagine that most Christians feel some guilt about making very much of it, but we shouldn’t. We should make the most we can if we can do it without compromising biblical values and our Christian character. We should live in such a way and think of it in such a way that we could still be happy in God if we lost it all and were made to start again. 

We should not be like the man with the bigger barns. What is the point of relaxing for the rest of your life and not being productive? Have you ever seen anyone who did that? I’m thinking of what happened to George Foreman when he first won his title. He retired young to go fishing and hang around drinking beer and spending his money. He nearly died until he became productive again, even gloriously coming out of retirement to box professionally again and sell grills. 

Humans aren’t made to be unproductive, even when it seems they no longer need to be. 

So What Does This Mean for How We Relate to One Another?

Everyone has a God-given right to his or her life, and they have a God-given right to what possessions they have their name on. It is theirs to dispense with, whether it is sold, or given away. When we relate to others, we relate as traders, value for value. We seek win-win arrangements with everyone from our boss, to our customers, employees, spouses, children, neighbors, and even our rivals. Life is truly not meant to be a zero sum game. The seeming inequalities that exist are an illusion, because abundant life means there is enough for everyone who uses their God given capacity to produce and stewards it appropriately. In our trades we create value and should both win. 

When this is not happening, it is because someone is violating reality and righteousness. But for those people, there are ways that God ultimately deals with them and evens the score. 

Theft comes down to force, just like murder, and they are in the same category of taking away from a person’s life. I know there is more to say. Feel free to comment if you want to continue the conversation.

Principles are Better than Laws Part 11, No Adultery

God gave his people hundreds of laws and commandments in Scripture, and while as Christians we don’t observe as many as the Jews did under Mosaic law, we still have plenty. We’ve been discussing the major ones in this series, and today we’ll continue through the Ten Commandments with Exodus 20:14.

“You shall not commit adultery.” 

This is fairly straightforward: there is someone who is not your husband or your wife… don’t sleep with them. But Jesus already came and made this more complicated in his Sermon on the Mount when he said,

“27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).

I said that he made it more complicated, but perhaps he actually simplified it. Is it easier to avoid adultery when you allow yourself to lust at your leisure, or is it actually easier if you don’t even toe the line? The very next thing he says is radical: 

“29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

How could your eye cause you to sin? If he is still talking about adultery, and he must be, then surely the action begins with looking. After that, the hands get involved. 

There is one way to look at this. Traditionally, you might say that Jesus is saying, “if you commit adultery, you will go to hell. If you even look lustfully at a woman, you will go to hell. In order to avoid going to hell, you must do whatever you can to avoid these two things.”

I suppose this is all true in some sense, but the reality is more complicated than that. The speaker here will at some point die for those who commit adultery and for those who lust. They will not be able to save themselves. Even if they cut out their eyes and cut off their hands, it won’t make them good enough to stay out of hell. We need Christ’s atoning sacrifice for that. So why all the bother with commands and rules?

Why does Jesus give them so much instruction for living? Why does he take rules that are already kind of hard to follow and make them impossible by saying that even if you imagine sexual sin, you are committing sexual sin, because it is about the heart? Why not just get to the punch line and tell us that he is going to atone for our sin with his own blood?

There are a lot of reasons that have been fleshed out by theologians. An important one is that we need to know the extent of our sin, or at least some extent of our sin, before we can understand that we are desperate for a savior. Why would we turn to Jesus if we think we are good enough already? There is nothing wrong with thinking you are good enough if you actually are, but reading the Bible and getting into the presence of the perfect God will cure that.

But the reason I want to chew on here is that there is a principle at play. Jesus is not simply talking about the place we will go to pay for our own sins when we die if we don’t believe. He is also talking about the place we are already in on this earth if we walk in that kind of darkness, hell on earth. Let’s consider adultery more carefully.

What is the big deal about it? Why include it in the commandments? Why should God care if we commit adultery? We have to start with the question: what is marriage? The Bible tells us that God invented the institution of marriage for the sake of multiplying his image-bearers on the earth and for the sake of showing the eventual relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church (Eph 5:22-33). This is known by sociologists as the conjugal view of marriage. Along with the conjugal view of marriage came laws about divorce. At one time, you could not seek a divorce except on the grounds of adultery, because the state thought your marriage was in the best interest of society, because society, and particularly the next generation, was dependent on the stability of the family.

While I believe there are problems with civil governments legislating morality, the fact is that marriage was redefined by no-fault divorce laws (and probably birth control). With no-fault divorce laws, the conjugal view was replaced by the revisionist view. This view says that the goal of marriage is happiness. People get married and stay married because it makes them happy. This is shaky ground for a marriage, because it means that if for some reason your marriage is not making you happy, you can quit. If happiness is the main priority, then you should quit if it’s not making you happy.

Again, Jesus said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, so I don’t believe in secular state governments legislating morality (there is a difference between fundamental laws like murder and property rights versus laws about non fundamental reality, like decency laws, marriage laws, etc. I’ll talk more about this in the next post about stealing stuff). That said, for a serious Christian, and I would counsel a non-Christian the same way, there should be a higher goal than happiness if you want your marriage to work out in the long run, and if you want your life to be great…which should make you happy.

I’m all for happiness. I just know it doesn’t come by pursuing it directly. What’s more, I fear God, and he said that marriage is to be permanent in this life. What God has joined, let not man separate (Mk 10:9). So what happens when we commit to the conjugal/biblical view of marriage? Why is this a helpful principle for living?

First, I can make a right decision before I am able to understand it. The prohibition against adultery comes with the prohibition against most divorce. If I have locked the door and thrown away the key on my marriage, and if I am committed to no one but my wife, then I don’t have much to consider when facing the choices. If I subscribe to this as a principle, then it orients me as a person who fears God enough to do what he says. I become a man who fears God and lives as though I do.

The impact of that decision on my marriage over time will be positive, because if I don’t have any option to quit, I might as well try to learn how to make it work. If my marriage is hard at anytime, then it will build my character and teach me powerful things about myself, about God, and about life. And what’s more important to me as a Christian is that it shows the world around me the commitment of Jesus to his own bride, the Church. 

Second, if I not only obey this commandment but also go as far as Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, I will constantly direct my mind towards God, truth, and purpose. How else does one live the Sermon on the Mount? Doing this is the key to an amazing and abundant life in God. Other than putting my faith in Jesus, putting my mind on Christ, reality, and his Word is the most powerful thing I can do to live well.

Be committed to the wife or the husband that you have on principle, and of course, out of obedience to God. Go even further and follow Jesus’ standard in the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the most counter cultural practices that Christians are called to, and one of the most powerful principles for the abundant life.

Principles are Better than Laws Part 6

I’ve been discussing God’s laws as principles for how he would have us live on the earth.  I have posited that God designed us to have magnificent (abundant), eternal life that starts now, even here on earth.  I mean that even if we suffer, which we will, or even suffer a lot, we can still see it that way, because our experience of life in God is, in some ways, relative.  

By that I mean that you may be poor, or you may be rich. There are certain feelings associated with those two states, but joy is relative in that sometimes poor people have joy, and often, rich people are in misery. The same principle can be applied to sick versus healthy, romantically fulfilled versus being alone, autonomy at work versus micro managed. All of the standards people usually use to evaluate joy or suffering are less relevant to the follower of Jesus.

Even to the most committed Christian, I would assume that plenty is preferable to poverty, health is preferable to sickness, and loving relationships are preferable to loneliness. Still, the wonderful fact of the matter is, for eternal beings like us, circumstances and outcomes are only of secondary importance. If they become primary, you are in for some hurt. But if kept in their proper place as gifts from God, undeserved in an ultimate, cosmic way, but earned in a “God’s created laws of cause and effect” way, they are icing on the amazing cake of eternal, abundant life in Christ.

In this light, we are looking at the Ten Commandments and considering them as principles. I’ll say again that I don’t mean to reduce them from the important and serious laws of God that we should approach reverently and obediently. I only mean to point out that they also work well as principles for an incredible life, revealing the way God originally created his image bearers, you and me, to function in this world and the next.

All of this, of course, assumes that you have put your faith in Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive you for breaking these laws all along.

In part 5 we considered the first commandment, now let’s look at the second: Exodus 20:4-6 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love and keep my commandments.”

This commandment is not prohibiting the creation of a carved image, but it prohibits creating a carved image in order to bow down to it as your god. It is very similar to the first commandment to have no other gods. The principle is pretty much the same. Idolatry is an offense to God, and he created us to worship him. That is enough to know. But if we want to go further and consider it as a principle, idolatry is a competing principle that doesn’t work. Worshiping an idol or anything else as a god is an evasion of reality. Evading reality will always end in a bad outcome.

Much has been written about idols of the heart; money, sex, power, comfort, the approval of man. These are the false gods of our culture that do not deliver what they promise, leaving us anxious, ashamed, fearful, envious, and unbalanced. To obey the second commandment (along with the first) would be to avoid all these traps. If money is not an idol, it is a neutral tool that represents your labor. If sex is not an idol, then it is an amazing gift of God to share with your wife or husband for fun and connection, and to create new people. If power is not an idol, then it is power over earth and elements, NEVER men. If comfort is not an idol it is a Sabbath rest, or a reflection of it. If the approval of man is not an idol, then it will not rule you and drive your actions. It may or may not be a nice encouragement, but will never get in the way of truth and meaning in your life, and the pursuit of your purposes.

To break this commandment is to incur the wrath of God. Mans’ breaking this commandment is what caused Jesus to have to come and die for us. God is a jealous God, because he loves us and longs to see us do well. These verses indicate that our willingness to heed this law and principle will have an impact for good or ill on our children’s children for years to come (Ex 20:5-6).

Principles Are Better Than Laws – Part 5

So far in this series I’ve been thinking about God’s laws, that is, the way God designed things to work properly. This includes the best behavior for us to achieve abundant life as he originally intended it to be when he invented life and existence.

I’m thinking about this, because I’ve developed more and more of a sense that God actually intended for us to have a magnificent life on earth as his image bearers, even going so far as to send his Son to forgive us for our failure to have such a life. This is another way of saying what we are used to hearing: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Why did we choose to fall short (first Adam, and then the rest of us)? That’s a good question, but at least part of the answer is confusion. God is not the author of confusion, but satan is, ergo, we are confused. We are so confused that we think obeying God is about earning his favor so he will bless us. If that is true it is a primitive way of putting it, and one which leads to failure.

If you think that God has given us rules to follow so that we can earn his blessing, then you will be a legalist.  You will assume you ought to follow those rules, but you will constantly battle the desires to do something else instead, and you will constantly feel guilty.  Driven by guilt, you will obey the rules sometimes, leading to pride, and disobey them other times, leading to shame.  

But there is a better way to think about it. This is why I say principles are better than laws. God’s laws are nothing less than principles for living according to the objective reality that he has caused the world to be subject to. God’s rules are simply the principles of reality by which we function best in this world. They are the means whereby we will experience life as abundant. They are the means whereby we will achieve the most ethical success possible and the greatest joy possible. They are the means whereby we can achieve something closer to Jesus’ standard, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” (Mt 5:20), and “you must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

God has given us grace in that he sent his Son to take our sin, and give us his righteousness, but most people fail to make use of that righteousness to achieve joy and the glory of God (the same glory that we had previously fallen short of).  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is its own reward. This is what I meant. But because we fail to see God’s ways as the honest and true ways to live in creation for the greatest life possible, we fail. We don’t have to.

In part 4 of this series I was looking at the first commandment as the first principle.  I wrote about what God does not mean when he tells us to have no other gods before him.  Now, I want to consider what it DOES mean.  I can be brief.  

When God gives the law that he is to be our only God and the most important thing in our lives, he is saying that he is the source of all truth and goodness. Everything that is true emanates from him, from his nature. All the other laws, or principles, flow from who and what he is. He is love, he is truth, he is goodness, and he is all the fruit of the Spirit. To bow down to God is to bow down to reality, to the way things are, and, of course, to the author of all of it.

To bow down to any other is to put something before God. As a person, he deserves our highest praise and allegiance because he is truly the highest and greatest. But it also means putting his ways above all other philosophies, and his morals, including the rest of the commandments, above all other systems of morality or philosophy. The rest of the posts in this series will continue to look at several of those, but for now, we start with the first and best, to love and honor the first and best, God, as the first and best. We honor God and all his ways. Everything else is a derivative of that.

Self Esteem for Christians

I was talking to a pastor friend today. I mentioned that the problem with collectivist ways of feeling good about yourself, e.g. identifying with your whiteness, blackness, ancestry, nationalism, or any other kind of tribe or group, even your sect of Christianity, is the absolute wrong way to achieve self-esteem.

Instead, I said, you have to do something if you want to feel good about yourself. If you believe that honesty is important, then you have to DO the truth. If you believe that courage is important, then you have to DO courageous things. If you don’t live up to what you actually think is right, then you probably should feel bad. If you do what you know you ought to do based on the realities of life and the values you cherish (really cherish, not just say you cherish), then you will feel and should feel esteem for yourself. Would you feel esteem for someone who lived that way? Of course you would, unless you don’t actually value those things.

My friend was quick to point out, “Well, we should esteem ourselves based on God’s acceptance of us.”  

Yes, that is true.  We get our identity from the gospel.  God made us in his image, and furthermore, he loves us even though we have really messed some things up.  He sent his Son to die for us so that he could justify us and adopt us as his own children.  There is esteem there to be accepted as a gift.  

But…

I still think that if you believe what you say you believe about what is good, especially assuming you derived those opinions from your good Father in heaven, that you won’t, and probably shouldn’t feel esteem for yourself if you do not live up to them. You might protest that what I am asking is too difficult, that I am asking you to be perfect (Although it was Jesus, not me who said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”). You might protest that you wouldn’t need a Savior if you could do all that. Maybe so, but I’m not wrong, and millions of unhappy, self-loathing Christians know it.

Without diving too deep right here, I’ll say that I think that God actually means for us to be like Jesus.  He wants us to know who we are, to live according to the principles he has given us in Scripture, and in what is obvious in creation.  As humans, let alone Christians, we are always given the choice between moving towards life, and moving towards death.  Humans have to choose to live, or they choose to die.  Choosing to live means to accept the reality of the Logos, the reason, the substance, the laws with which God created the universe.  Man was made in the image of God to live.  In fact he said that we should “produce, multiply, subdue earth, and rule over it.”  I believe he built us to get a kick out of living, to find joy in, not merely surviving, but constantly choosing to rise higher. 

We must choose what promotes our lives and leaves our death behind, starting with a relationship with God through Christ, but also seeking our good and the good of others. Taking responsibility for the talents, resources, gifts, and chances that we are given, and building upon them according to the laws of truth, justice, mercy, love, and industry, is how we act like the God who put us here to rule in his image as his delegates. All this we do for our own sakes, for HIS sake, and for his glory.

If we learn to live in the way he created us to live, no one will have to convince us to esteem ourselves. Our esteem will have nothing to do with comparison to others, or power over others, or association with a group (American, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Southern Baptists, Antifa, LGBTQ+, White, Black, Brown, Asian, Southern, Northern, Atheist, white collar, blue collar, or any kind of group imaginable). Rather it will be the just evaluation of righteousness and human being. That is, being human.

Brainstorming on Parenting (after five kids)

I have five children. Their current ages are nine to eighteen.  I love being a dad.  It is one of my very favorite things.  I think I have become a good one. How do I know? I really like all my kids, and they seem to like me too.  Of course, I also love them.  I would love them even if I didn’t like them, but I do like them.  

Here is some brainstorming on how this came about: 

  1. I see myself as an image bearer of God.  Furthermore, I am a redeemed image bearer because Jesus saved me and gave me his Spirit.  This has many implications, but importantly for this topic, it has caused me to like myself a lot.  Why wouldn’t I?  God does.  He has made me, and made me clean.  I am so thankful.  I’m not perfect, but I seek to grow, and will seek to grow until I’m out of time for growing—either dead, or with Jesus at the judgment.  
  1. I see everyone else around me as image bearers.  This impresses me to no end.  This means I will not be justified to dominate any of my fellow image bearers.  This means that all my relationships are horizontal, not vertical (except the one with God.  He is higher than us. He created us out of nothing). But other humans are my impressive equals.  If they are messed up, they could begin growing by the grace of God and by concrete biblical principles applied with power through the help of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God in Christ.  It also means, btw, that I would not allow a fellow image-bearer to assume any power over me personally.  If he or she is a vested authority from God, such as the cop who pulls me over for speeding (right?  —- because he represents the state, who in a sense represents the God who has empowered them to make and keep laws, and protect his people (Romans 13)) I will obey them because I obey God. So there is no one to fear, and there is no one to dominate us, or be dominated by us.  
  1. Therefore, I also see my kids as impressive fellow image bearers.  I am in awe of them because I am in awe of the God who created them.  And therefore, I will not dominate my kids.  I will, however, wield my vested authority as God’s servant (Ro 13:4-5).  I will make rules and enforce them as God’s agent.  But, that doesn’t leave room for anger or insecurity on my part to get in the way of my job.  It’s not personal.  
  1. This means that I can focus on what is most important and that is building our loving relationship. If I don’t have to personally dominate them, then they don’t have to feel that they were dominated, and they don’t have to rebel. Do you think your kids won’t rebel if they feel dominated by you? Think again. They will definitely rebel, and you will start to dislike them as much as they dislike you.
  1. Another way to say this is that I respect my kids, and I make sure they respect me and their mother. I don’t do this by dominating them, but by personally not putting up with any, at all, of any kind, words, tone, body language, disrespect. I say, “hey bud, I respect you, you need to respect me, especially because God says your life will be awful if you dishonor your parents. So, I love you, I’m not personally threatened (this is important, although I don’t actually say that part), but you are going to have a consequence for the disrespect (or disobedience). And then I give them one. It is how I can respect them, teaching them that consequences have actions, even for saved Christians.
  1. I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching them to think in principles, have courage, love the truth, and make their own choices whenever possible.  If I have to pull rank on them, I say, “I’m only going to tell you what to do until you are eighteen, so I’m going to take advantage of that while I can.”  
  1. I never ever take our disagreement personally, and I pastor them to do the same.  I have no problem with them disagreeing with me.  We’ll talk, and then if I have to pull rank, they understand that I would not do that if I didn’t have to, and if they don’t like it, just wait until they are grown and they will no longer have to deal with it. 
  1. It also means that I hold my kids with an open hand.  They don’t belong to me, but to God.  My job is to teach them the truth by instruction and example.  This means I am responsible TO them, but not FOR them.  I’m sure this is where most of us screw up in our responsibility of leadership in any sphere (I am also a pastor in a church).  I’ve heard it said it’s like that old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  I think it’s better said, “You can lead a horse to water but IF YOU MAKE HIM DRINK IT YOU ARE COMMITTING EVIL AGAINST HIM.”  When you force personal will and power on another human, you dehumanize them.  I’m not talking about the consequences from breaking rules.  I’m talking about any yelling, manipulating, rewarding behavior that makes a kid behave the way you want them to. Instead, teach them to make their own choice whether-or-not to obey and avoid the consequences or disobey and face them.  That preserves both their dignity and your relationship with them. Isn’t this the way God Fathers us? 

Bonus: Consider never saying, “Good job (or especially good boy or good girl)” to your kids. It sets you over them in a dominating way that makes you the judge of their personally. They will learn to love pleasing you, instead of loving to do a job well done for the sake of it. It also creates a fixed mindset. I want them to have growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).

If I can think of anything else to say, I’ll post a part 2. Feel free to comment if you disagree. We can sharpen each other.

The Is-Ought Dichotomy

Can we know what we should do by observing facts?  Hume was the philosopher that asked this question.  

Can what “is” tell us what we “ought” to do?  

Hume saw a gap between facts and morality.  In other words, there is no way to know what to do by what we see to be the knowable facts of the world around us.  

Poison will kill you or the person to whom to sneak it.  So does that mean you should not give poison to someone?  Hume said we would have to know more, and what we could know would not be a fact, but an intuition.  

But I disagree with that.  

I agree that we have to have a moral code.  But I don’t agree that it must be based on intuition (or even faith).  When people intuitively know that they should not kill someone, I think there is actually a fact hidden in there somewhere.  We are being driven by facts as we see them.  But for most people, we are not aware enough of what our “facts” are, and so we don’t put them in the proper order.  Some facts are more important than others.  Getting this right will bring order and peace to your life. 

Fact: Poison is dangerous to your body and can kill it. 

Is this the most important fact in the situation of whether to eat poison, or even give it to someone else?  No, it isn’t. 

Fact: Staying alive is good.  

Is this the most important fact? It is a more important fact that the first one, but it is not the most important fact, because, why is it good to stay alive?

Fact: My life is my goal. 

Is this the most important fact? No, but is it the highest so far? It is not the most important fact because it sounds more like a value. It is only a fact (and a value) if it is a derivative of a hard fact. Here it is that hard fact.

Fact: I exist. 

This is almost the most important fact, and it is extremely important.  The fact that I exist means that I must value my existence.  But here is an even greater and higher fact.

Fact: God exists.

This is the highest fact and it gives meaning to the second highest fact (for me) that I exist. My life is a reality in God. He has given it to me. He has called me to live. I must live for him, because he is the highest fact. The Bible calls this his glory. My life is also my glory. Christians believe our sin at the beginning was to fall short of glory, God’s glory; which was our glory as his created image bearers.

You would be fair to ask me why I believe God exists. I’ll post that another time, but I think it is rational to believe it, especially the Trinitarian God of the bible. I have looked at the preponderance of evidence for the existence of Christ, the resurrection, and his claims to be God in the flesh. I think there is enough evidence to take it seriously. I also believe that Christianity as the Bible actually teaches it lines up with the facts of reality and the way things truly are. Then, without being able to see Jesus in person, I admit that here I go on rational faith. I should also mention that I have witnessed many miracles. This is also for another post.

So the fact that God exists (I AM), and has made possible the fact of my own existence (i am), means that there is no is-ought dichotomy. There is no gap. A fact of existence comes with a built in purpose. Everything that has life “works” for its own flourishing. Why? Because it must. Why must it? Because it exists. Does any living thing not work for it’s flourishing? None, except man, of course.

We are so confused that we often work toward our death.  This is to fall short of the glory of God.  This is to be subhuman (not animal-an animal would not work for its death).  This is evil.  

All humans naturally work to live, but since the vast majority do it unconsciously, they except false facts, which lead to false values that lead to death. However, since they also know on a deeper level that they must work to live, they walk in constant contradictions: anxious, confused, fearful, depressed, falling way short of the glory of God.

Even Christians get this wrong. We are thankfully saved by grace for “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). Jesus got this right, and he passed on to us the benefit, or the imputed righteousness. Jesus truly lived so that his death actually paid for our sin of never truly living, which is an affront to the Creator, and earns us his right wrath. This is why Jesus came. Put your faith in him. Close the is-ought gap and derive your moral ethical code from the facts (try these on for size).

You will truly begin to live when you start knocking down the contradicdtions, when you start aligning your goals with your abundant life, and stop all the sin. That is, stop all that leads to death. You were made to live forever, but most will die forever.

If this is your first time to my blog, I highly recommend starting with my two oldest posts and reading them from oldest to newest.

How Not to Glorify Yourself

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

    lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;

5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,

    and God has remembered her iniquities.

6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,

    and repay her double for her deeds;

    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,

    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,

since in her heart she says,

    ‘I sit as a queen,

I am no widow,

    and mourning I shall never see.’

8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,

    death and mourning and famine,

and she will be burned up with fire;

for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” — Revelation 18:4-8

Part of my message to Christians and everyone else is that you were made in the image of God.  That means something philosophical about how you should see yourself and everyone else.  An image bearer is an amazing thing.  All image bearers are amazing because of the God whose image we bear.  

God made you.

He made you in his image.

You exist. 

God does everything for his own sake.  

This is logical.  Who else is going to do things for God’s own sake?

He does everything in for his own sake because he exists.  He is a fact.  When he acts, he must act to do what he wants to do, and what he feels he must do according to his nature and his purposes. 

This is to his glory that he does that.

You, bearing his image, must act the very same way if you are going to be philosophically honest. If you don’t acknowledge this, you will still act as though you believe up to a point.

Why?  Because you must.  You are not an organism that instinctively cares for its needs.  Amoebas do. Plants do.  When the resources are there, plants reach out their roots and leaves and take what they need.  Animals are higher order and more complex.  They do the same thing by instinct.  They get hungry, so they get hunting.  Their sensory perceptions move them according to their impulses.  

But people are different. Because we are image bearers of God, we think and reason like God. Being a human is a burden. It requires logical thinking. We feel impulses toward pleasure seeking and the avoidance of pain.

But we, unlike animals, cannot trust that those impulses are telling us the truth about what is important.

On top of that, we have sin in our flesh.  As mysterious as it all is, there is something to the idea that our first parents achieved in their rebellion a dark “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 3).

In order for us to know which impulses to follow, and which to ignore for the sake of something better for us, we must think (See footnote). This is how we are like God. We have to have a way to know how to make decisions. God makes decisions in alignment with his nature, and his purposes. Every single solitary thing he does and says falls into line with who he is. Even his purposes are subordinate to his nature, or his being.

What I mean is, he does nothing illogical. He does nothing imperfect. Everything about him, even though “his ways are higher than our ways” (Isa 55:8-9) makes sense from this perspective. Consider that he loves justice, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and perfection. We are not perfect like him, but because he is perfect, he cannot sit by and allow us to continue in injustice, lying, hatred, cruelty, badness, and impurity. If you went somewhere and saw someone doing something awful to someone else, and you did nothing about it, you would be wrong. You would be showing a weakness of character. Perhaps it would be cowardice, or you know you do the same things, or you just don’t want to care about other people.

Imagine that God sees all of our sin, because he does.  He must respond rightly to it because his character is completely good, and perfect.  He cannot NOT respond.  So there is wrath for sin combined with his perfect love for the sinner.  What did he do in order to forgive sinners, while maintaining the standards of his character?  The answer is that God the Son, Jesus Christ, came and lived perfectly, then died for the sins of the world.  Anyone who believes in him and repents will be forgiven for their sins, no matter how grievous.  

That is totally logical.  Most forgiveness is painful, the cross showed exactly that.  

The cross happened because God makes decisions in alignment with his purposes. His purposes fall underneath the reality of his nature, his character, the facts of his personality. This is also called his glory (Isa 45).

You should live the same way.  In fact, you will.  In sin you fell short of the glory of God (Ro 3).  Jesus died to restore you to glory.  Glorification is your destiny in heaven.  Does this mean you will ever eclipse God’s glory?  Not remotely.  No matter how high we could rise, the Creator always is more glorious than what he has created.  Michelangelo is more glorious than the Sistine Chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright is more glorious than Fallingwater, and God is more glorious than the Grand Canyon, the Aurora Borealis, or you.  

So because we exist, and because we must act according to our purposes, which must line up and fall under our nature and character, we must work hard to know what is true and what is right.  Our purposes will become evident as we make decisions about who to be.  This is what it means to act like God.  God is perfect and doesn’t need to work on it.  We are imperfect and must first put some serious thought into the matter, and then we must learn to take control over our impulses.  

This is what it means to be an image bearer of God. The name of this blog is For My Own Sake. Let me be clear: I believe in doing everything for God’s sake ultimately. His glory is my chief end. The pursuit of my own “glory” is merely my attempt to come to terms with the reality, or the facts of reality. I exist. I must live. God has appointed me to live, and so that is my job. My life is my penultimate purpose, God being my ultimate purpose.

This has major implications. In my decision making, I must think of this. What does it mean to make my life one of my highest purposes? It means seek out the truth, and come under it. Believe what is true on every level that there is, starting with God, all the way down to the truth about what is going on in my life. For instance, last week I noticed a soft spot on my roof under the shingles. I would have enjoyed evading that truth. I would have liked to keep pretending there was no problem. But instead I spent a few brutal days racing against the coming rainstorm, pulling up shingles, replacing boards, and reshingling. I am not handy, but I had to do it. It was 90 degrees and very humid. I hated every minute of it, but since I didn’t want to pay someone else to do it, I had to. Because the truth was that my roof was rotting under there. To pretend it wasn’t happening would not change the fact.

You can think of a million examples. You evade the truth about your marriage until it is too late. You evade the truth about your rebellious tween, until it is too late. You evade the truth about your high blood pressure, until it is too late. You evade the truth about the shady business practices of your employer, until it is too late and you are in trouble with him. But God never evades the truth. He is unable. Your job is to learn to become unable to evade the truth.

Image bearing also means becoming unable to:

  • Hate
  • Be anxious
  • Avoid responsibility
  • Deny forgiveness
  • Hoard wealth
  • Steal
  • Shun Christian community
  • Seek the praise of men, doing things to be seen
  • Exasperate your children
  • Dishonor your parents
  • Kick the dog

This list is unending.  

This is how we should seek our own glory, by being like God in that we know we must choose to do things to promote our own life, because God has assigned us to do that, for his glory. So, this is why I say I do things for my own sake, for his sake. I do things for my own glory for his glory. But the Bible is clear about what that does not look like. Look up at Revelation 18:4-8. This is a personification of Babylon, a great, yet evil city we may be seeing now, but most likely is yet to come.

Verse 7 says, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says,  ‘I sit as a queen…’”

There is clearly a wrong way to glorify yourself.  It has to do with seeking the praise of others, and seeking power over others.  It is seen as an affront to God, and a challenge to his position at the top of creation. Why is this bad?  Aside from the fact that the queen, the city, was full of evil and depraved behavior, it defies logic and truth for someone to set themselves up higher than God.  You cannot be higher than your maker.  It warps the structure of reality to pretend so.  In the Bible, God is offended by that sort of thing, because he cannot be otherwise.  He is the most glorious thing, so he must sit at the top.  To do any less would be dishonest of him, and he cannot be dishonest, because he cannot go against his own nature.  

Most people seek glory by showing off, by controlling others, and by trying to feel important. That way is bankrupt and will lead to judgment and also will come with a fair amount of misery in this life.

But God would have you seek glory by learning what is true, and applying the truth to your purpose of living your abundant life in God. Use your brain every day to make decisions about what is best considering the truth of reality. What are the facts? How should those facts be considered as you prayerfully plan your course? This is good stewardship, and according to the Bible, God loves it, and loves to bless those who practice it. I feel compelled here to end with a prayer:

Father in heaven, I pray for anyone who has read this far that you will teach them to be like you, to be glorified in the right way, by trusting Jesus for salvation, and then taking responsibility for their life as an image bearer of you. Help us all to live according to your ways, and that our nature would become more and more like yours. Teach us to do everything for the sake of our abundant life, and to do nothing to be seen by others, or to take power over others. Amen.