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.

Footnote: I owe some of my thinking about making my life my purpose and the necessity of thinking to the philosophy of Objectivism and its founder, Ayn Rand. Rand was not a Christian, and I do not endorse the complete philosophy of Objectivism, but I have found the logical propositions helpful, and I have not found any “reason” in Objectivism to disbelieve in the resurrection.

Concretization of the Abstraction of God

Jesus concretized God. Man is supposed to concretize Jesus.

When God created the universe and the earth, he did not consider it to be complete unless he gave the creation a way to know him and what he is like. God is a real person. He is invisible, yet concrete. But to most of us he is more of an abstraction. We can’t see him. We can only see evidence of him. His kingdom, the kingdom of God, is such an abstraction that Jesus never explicitly defines it, rather saying what it is like: a mustard seed, a man on a trip, a father with two sons…

But in the days of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I can look up the word and see that the word God uses for image is the same as that of idol. The kind of thing we are not to do, make an image of God to worship it, God has already done in man, not so that we could worship it, but so that we and the rest of the creation could know something of what God is like.

In man in his unbroken, un-fallen state, we can see what God is like. He may have been only a concept before, but now he is concrete.  Righteousness is an abstraction, but the way man was called to live on the earth was concrete.  The same goes for holiness, justice, and love.  To see these abstractions in a concrete reality, one should be able to look at any human on the earth.  

But that is not what we get from looking at humans on the earth, because the image is broken.  Now, to try to see what God is like from looking at his creatures will be misleading, to say the least.  God is love; we hate all the time.  God is joyful; we are often depressed.  God is purposeful; we are purposeless much of the time.  God is selfless; we are selfish.  God is truth; we are liars.  

Because of this difficulty, humans who wanted to know God had to do the best they could by looking at the best of humans, the goodness of creation (broken though it was), and studying the law he gave to Moses with their depraved minds and experimenting with ways to keep it.  

So, understandably, by the time Jesus arrived on the earth, there was much confusion about what the Father was truly like.  But when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), the world got a clear picture.  Philip said to Jesus, “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:8-10)? Philip was a disciple of Jesus. Imagine the confusion of those who would oppose Jesus.

Nonetheless, Jesus came and restored the image of God in man, by showing the Father by his life and his own nature, which was the Father’s nature.  In 1 Corinthians 11:3 it says that the head of Christ is God, and the head of man is Christ.  

Our Part in Concretizing the Abstraction

Once again, the world is faced with the problem of abstraction.  Many things are said of Christ, and he has been portrayed in many ways, some more faithfully than others.  The Church has the responsibility of being the body of Christ, the physical expression of him in this age.  Christian men and women who make up the Church are also called to continually grow in their capacity to image Christ and so image the Father.  

I like what happens in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I pray that others could see my boldness and my actions, my commonness, and recognize that I am with Jesus!  I pray that for you too. 

Here is how Jesus said it: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Boldness and love are two of the ways in which we can demonstrate the image of Christ and his Father in us, and these we display by receiving the free gift of life in Christ on the cross, and by walking according to his Spirit that he has put in us.  

Then, when they recognize you are different, that you have “been with Jesus,” share the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Ro 1:16).

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 3, Discrimination for the Sake of Justice

I want you to discriminate.  Discrimination is good.  Discrimination becomes a bad thing when one discriminates on the basis of something dumb, like skin color.  The late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that he had a dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  I whole-heartedly agree with this dream. It is God’s dream, and if no one ever gets away with anything, then no one ever gets away with racism and discrimination based on race or anything else subjective.  

But discrimination is good.  You must discriminate. If you are ready to get married and looking for who might be a good spouse, you had better discriminate.  Take King’s advice and discriminate according to the content of a potential spouse’s character.  If you don’t, not only will you suffer, but you will commit an injustice, and no one ever gets away with injustice forever.  

How is that injustice?  Because it rewards a person of low character with the honor of becoming your closest kinship, one-fleshness.  It teaches them they can find a spouse and still be a horrible person.  If you meet this person, you should not encourage them to keep being the way they are.  God wouldn’t do that.  God is just. If he were not totally just, he would not have sent his Son to take on the sin of those to whom he intended to show mercy. We are called to be merciful, because God is just, and no one gets away with anything.  We are called to be just, because we are called to be like God.  We are called to forgive, because God reserves eternal judgment for himself alone, and he does not want us to carry that burden. 

What About Trust?

Whoever we come across should be considered a potential friend.  What do we know about them?  They are a human, so an equal in dignity. They are geographically close to us in that moment, so a potential neighbor/friend.  They are either a brother, sister, neighbor (in the biblical sense), or enemy, so they are a person we should love.  So is that enough information to know whether or not we should trust them?  No. 

No? Is that unloving?  Not at all, but trusting an untrustworthy person is unjust.  Did you know that Jesus did not trust people?  John 2:23-24 says, 

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This tells us that Jesus, though he loved everyone, did not trust them.  He did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.  Wow! Gentle Jesus was under no illusions about the heart of man.  He did not trust them, but he gave his life to them. And that is different.  Does that mean that we should not trust anyone?  No, it does not mean that, but we should trust only those who have proven trustworthy.  Honest people deserve to be trusted more than people we know to be dishonest.  This is just, and it is righteous, and breaking these basic laws will land you in trouble and enable someone else’s unethical behavior.  That would not be godly.  

And we ourselves should be trustworthy. No matter what it costs us.  The outcome of the truth is always the right outcome. First, because God says so.  

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20:16).

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Col 3:9).

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph 4:25).

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out (Prov 10:9). 

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about honesty.  Furthermore, there are countless biblical narratives about a person who lies, and it always comes back.  No one ever gets away with anything.  Bending reality is not possible.  The cost always comes. 

But even if you did not believe in God, you should be truthful for the sake of practicality.  There is a reason that all religions regard truthfulness as a virtue. There is a reason why you get upset when you feel you have been lied to. Simply, faking in any way denies what is actually real.  Just because you lie about something doesn’t mean that the real truth ceases to be true.  If you lie to your spouse about how you’re feeling about the marriage, the truth festers and keeps torturing you. If you lie on your company reports, the actual numbers are somewhere refusing to lie, and they will come back to haunt you.  If you lie to yourself about your health problems, you will die young.  

Another major cost of dishonesty is your own self esteem.  Self esteem psychology gets a bad rep because of the ill conceived efforts of the education system of the last few decades to generate self esteem out of thin air.  This phenomenon is itself a lie.  Telling someone they are good when they are not objectively good, is a lie, and they know it, even if you have taught them to repeat the lie.  This doesn’t work.  

What we should be doing instead is teaching our children that they are intrinsically valuable to God because he created them in his image. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are ways to be judged in character, and the road to actual esteem for oneself is to travel that road honestly and courageously.  Self esteem is a good thing, but free self esteem is a lie, and we all know it.  You are valuable.  God made you.  That’s no small thing, and the fact that he made you in his image is a tremendous discovery.  But, because you are an image bearer, you have to make choices concerning how to live, and you will hate yourself if you don’t choose righteousness.  

It is true that many unfortunate children are taught that they are no good intrinsically.  They had bad care-takers who tore them down.  But these were also lies from the fools who we were forced to believe.  It is this problem that the self esteem movement is seeking to correct.  It is combatting the one lie, that you are a bad boy or a bad girl fundamentally, with another, that you are a good boy or girl, apart from anything you do or any character flaws.  No, you are intrinsically valuable, but you must choose to be good or bad.  

As Christians we know that the difficulty of the choice springs from the sin in our flesh.  The first facing of the truth is to repent and turn to Jesus. He has paid for our dishonesty with his blood and made a way not only for us to be forgiven for it, but to become different. He has given us a new nature and the ability to change the habits of dishonesty that have so wrecked our self esteem.  In Christ, we can learn to be truthful, and we will strengthen as we, like true image bearers of the I AM, make righteous choices that will impact our esteem of ourselves. 

Tomorrow let’s explore further the idea that we don’t need to obsess about outcomes. Those belong to God, and as I’ll explain tomorrow, “The outcome of the truth is the right outcome.”

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 2, Justice and Value

Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people.  Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit. 

Justice (Value for Value)

After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone?  Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?”  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you.  But how should you see others?  How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”  

The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect.  A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect.  Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us.  The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect.  It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything.  This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it.  The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just.  When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.

Justice is a misunderstood term.  Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied.  When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts.  Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.  

Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.

Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love.  This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions.  You must be honest.  You must trade with them horizontally, value for value.  You must remember that God loves them more than you do.  You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved.  You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.  

Those Closest To You

Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship.  Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance.  You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices.  One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same.  Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness.  Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it.  When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).  

Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.  You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ.  You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.

With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction?  It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game.  Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others.  But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving.  Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one.  You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already.  You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill.  You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner.  Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill.  Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was.  The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was.  To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.  

This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so?  Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work.  I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship.  An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill.  How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.  

So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest.  I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her.  So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving.  I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions.  This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose.  It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way.  If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship. 

Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 1, Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships

Relating to Others

In the beginning God created a man.  He was alone. God said that it was not good that the man was alone, so he gave him a wife.  You might think that having a wife was the answer to the problem.  It was not. It was the beginning of the answer. It was step one.  But the real answer came about two hundred years later when these two had built a society.  God made man in his image to lovingly relate to other people.  Adam and Eve had to create other people, who would create other people, who would create other people. In their long lives they had time to see most of the known world populated with their family before they died.  This was God’s plan when he said in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 

Part of being human, then, is doing life with others.  God in himself is three persons, so he could not make man, who is one person, like him in his image without giving him community. So that is what he did, starting with Eve.  Then he gave him children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for many generations.  These families formed communities.  After the flood and the Tower of Babel, these communities spread over the face of the earth.  Now there are continents, countries, regions, states, cities, suburbs and villages, neighborhoods, and households.  At every level the principles of relating to one another are the same, but the distance between people is closed as you work your way inwardly, both because of the number of people at each stage, and the geographic location of people in relation to one another. Even in our modern globally connected world, this still applies.  

So it is important for the Christian, the image bearer, to learn the principles for relating at each of these levels. Psychologists have said that every emotional problem humans face is an interpersonal relationship problem. Remember my earlier post about the man who escaped his problems by hiding in the woods for over twohttps://formyownsake.com/2020/05/https://formyownsake.com/2020/05/15/manifestations-of-a-broken-image-pt-3/ decades. He knew all his problems were interpersonal relationship problems, but he just didn’t know what to do about it. God helps us if we are willing to listen and do the hard and courageous work of transformation. If we allow God into our lives in these areas, relationships will become a source of joy and a part of our abundance of life.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

In the kingdom of satan, relationships are hierarchical. Everybody knows it. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist of recent internet fame, says people are like lobsters, looking for their place in the status ladder, always challenging for a position higher. He is completely correct. In this world it is ‘dominate or be dominated.’ Human history is the history of who dominated whom. Many of us are evaluating people as soon as we meet them. Unconscious or consciously we are asking, “How do I measure up to this one? Could I win a fight with him” (Guys ask this, women might ask, “Am I prettier than her”)? Our real question is, “Am I any good?” And the vast majority of us will use the people around us to answer that question.

This is what the disciples were getting at when they argued about who was the greatest.  Yet somehow they knew Jesus wouldn’t like it (Mk 9).  This is what James and John were getting at when they had their momma come and ask Jesus to give them the two highest positions in their kingdom.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:20-28).

After telling them that they have no idea what kind of burden such a position would bring, that of drinking from the same cup of suffering as Jesus, he says to the disciples who were indignant because they didn’t think to get their own moms involved to get them a position (not really, but maybe),“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Notice he doesn’t say that they are too domineering, or that the Gentiles necessarily abuse those who they lead. What he says is they lord it over them, which means they take a position of lordship, and they “exercise authority.” They take a position of authority.  What’s so bad about that?  It sounds perfectly natural. There are leaders, and there are followers.  Don’t there have to be?  Well, yes, and no. 

Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” You will not lead that way. You are different from the world. The world does what is perfectly natural for people and lobsters, but you are not natural people, you are spiritual people, supernatural people. Your relationships will not be characterized by dominance.  Your identity will not be characterized by your place in a hierarchy.  This will have massive implications for how church should be done, but rarely is.  Jesus has made a powerful statement about the way humans are to relate to one another.  

Even in a situation where positional authority is recognized, personal authority is not proper.

In short, no man should have another man as his leader, meaning, as a person who can dominate that man with his personal power, especially not in the Church. Early twentieth century psychologist, Alfred Adler called this the difference between horizontal relationships, and vertical relationships.    

According to God, all relationships should be horizontal, except for our relationship with him.  That one is completely vertical. His ways are higher than our ways. His glory is and always will be greater than our own.  He is in charge, we are not in charge of anything except what he alone gives us charge over.   But with other people, it is a different story.  When I am face to face with another man or woman, we are equals in dignity. We are equals in intrinsic value.  Why? Because we are both created in God’s image, and that is a great honor.  We don’t share dignity with animals. They are lower than us.  Even the majestic ones who would eat us, are considered by God to be lower than us (Gen 1:26).  In a relationship with an animal, all humans rank above them.  Your dog is not your son.  He is your dog, and he will thrive if you treat him like one.  But the people in your life should be treated as humans, equals, and you should expect, demand, that they will treat you the same. 

Are their hierarchies?  Yes. Are their rulers and governments? Yes.  Does God call us to obey authority? Yes.  Ok, so how then are these people over us our equals?  

Because their authority over you is not personal, and has nothing to do with who you are intrinsically.

It has to do with what power has been vested in them by God.  If the state gives someone authority over you, like a police officer, then it is actually vested by God.   If the company gives a manager authority over you, then it is vested by God. It is true that the company CEO or board of directors is the one who gave that manager authority over you, but it is institutional, and limited in scope.  You may have to submit to him concerning the job, but only under certain moral parameters, and only according to what is reasonable under the contractual agreement that you have with the company.  Though this is your boss, you have a horizontal relationship because you are trading value for value.  You might be allowing him to direct you, but only if he (or she) keeps up his end of the bargain and pays you what he agreed to pay you, and treats you in a way that is appropriate.

Being in a horizontal relationship with this person means that he or she is not better than you just because their institutional position is higher.

Even the police man only has authority over you within certain parameters. The laws of the United States don’t give him absolute power over your life. The laws, in fact, protect the individual from the power of the state. The state, including the police officer, must be just, or they lose their authority. Your relationship with the police, the judge, or the President of the United States, is horizontal. They are not personally over you. They are not better than you intrinsically. They may be more competent, for now, or they may represent a higher institutional authority than you, and representing the institution, they represent God so long as their rules are just, which means that they are in accordance with Scripture and logic, whether they acknowledge that or not. But, they are not over you.

But why do we feel like they are? Because it is natural to feel that way. It is natural in our flesh to feel our lack in the face of a stronger personality. That is why Jesus had to teach the disciples a way of thinking about leadership that went opposite of the world’s way. Not so with you. You will not “exercise authority.” No using natural means to gain power over others. No standing between people and God, which is what happens when one lords it over another, and exercises personal authority, human, natural authority.

The head of Christ is God. The head of man is Christ. 1 Cor 11:3-13 says it is disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering, because it is a sign of authority, such as a wife would wear who has a husband, who is her “head.” But no man has another human as his head. No man is to have another human standing in between himself and God. Some of those in ministry see themselves as holding that position, we’ll discuss this more in a future post, but for now I’ll say they are sorely mistaken, and they do a great disservice to the people they serve if they think that way. Jesus said it would be different in his Church.

I will continue this series in several parts about relating to other people. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to continue the conversation. I welcome your comments.