Will People Have as an Excuse Before God at the Judgment That He Did Not Open Their Minds to Their Sins?

Question:  If a man makes a mistake and commits a sin but he believes in his heart that it is not a sin and it is the will of God, then God will punish him for this error despite the fact that this man believes in his conscience that it is the will of God?  For example, Islam’s kamikazes who cause terror and death believing it is the will of God.  Why does God not clearly show the truth to people but lets them make terrible errors in His name?  I can imagine a future dialog on judgment day where a person blames God for not opening his mind to the truth. Or would God forgive him for at least seeking to honor Him even though he did it improperly?

Answer:  If I believe in my conscience that taking your life to further mine is correct, should I be given credit for killing you conscientiously?  I ask it that way because I believe we are dealing with the question of absolutes here, moral absolutes and doctrinal absolutes.

Suppose I know someone you know, let’s call him Brett, and you see Brett as a loving family man and trusted worker, but I see him as a terrorist who is only putting on a front.  Perhaps I carry out a terrorist act in Brett’s name with him as my mentor and example.  In my conscience I believe it is proper to kill innocent people for the sake of the cause we, Brett and I, espouse.  But is it ever right to kill innocent people to bolster one’s cause?  Why do some people believe it is?  Because Brett told them too?  But if you know that Brett is not a terrorist and does not approve of terrorism, should you still honor me for killing in his name because I so firmly believed he was a terrorist?  If you know Brett is a terrorist, does that cause you to honor me for doing terrorism in his name?

In Romans 1:18-26 Paul describes how everyone knows the truth about who God is because He has made it plain to everyone.  No one on earth has an excuse to say they didn’t know about God.  Paul similarly describes the role of conscience in Romans 2 and how it guides us in our decision making.  We can violate our conscience and deny God and His moral law and even find ourselves doing it in God’s name.

Paul says that we hold down the truth or suppress the truth about God and His moral law.  We do this because we don’t want to have to submit to a God whom we cannot control.  We redefine God in a way that makes Him acceptable to us.  All the religions of the world are a defining of God in a way that keeps Him manageable.  All the religions of the world, except Christianity, hold, for example, that the way to have a right relationship to God is by obeying Him and that we have the ability to do that.  Christianity, on the other hand, denies that we have the ability to obey God and so holds that a right relationship with God can only come as a gift from Him.  All the religions of the world, except Christianity, believe that God will forgive us if we are trying hard to obey Him.  Christianity, on the other hand, acknowledges that we all justly deserve eternal separation from God and He cannot forgive us unless the demands of justice are met, and He has indeed met them for us by dying in our place.  Christianity alone requires a sacrifice because Christianity alone understands how truly alienated and rebellious we are.

So we are truly culpable or blameworthy for claiming wrong things about God.  We do know better deep down but don’t want to acknowledge it.  God will not honor the terrorist for thinking he was doing God’s will.  The terrorist is in rebellion against the true God and will not be pardoned for wicked deeds done in God’s name.  He will have no excuse before the throne of judgment.

There may be areas of moral decision that are not so clear as the issue of murdering innocents.  In these areas there is room for honest differences between people and God will certainly honor the intent of the heart.  But He will not justify killing in His name for the sake of striking fear in people’s hearts to get one’s political or religious view more influence.  That young man or woman who believes he or she is getting into heaven because they blew themselves up in Allah’s name is going to be sadly disappointed.  They should have known better.  Deep down, they did know better.  They had to stifle their conscience with the false teaching of those who recruited them.

Is Listening to Secular Music Wrong?

Question:  I would like to know if it is alright for a Christian to listen to secular music. I’m not talking about that rap music or singing that degrades women or uses profanity. I’m talking about artists like Luther Vandross who sang nothing but love ballads. And other artists that are gifted who sing some really wonderful songs outside the gospel arena. My brother believes that if the music isn’t honoring God it’s wrong to listen to it. I totally disagree with that. I love the LORD and I love my brother, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. But I don’t think he is looking at the big picture. The Bible said every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from the father of lights. So whether that person chooses to honor the good LORD or not it’s still a gift from GOD. Paul said everything is lawful but not everything is expedient. If it’s something that’s going to make my brother fall I’ll take it somewhere else. But to say secular music is wrong, I beg to differ.

Answer:  I am in agreement with you on this.  God has gifted human beings with God-likeness and part of that likeness is creativity in musical expression.  I have heard some beautiful music (lyrically and in quality of music).  I can celebrate God’s greatness as I see it expressed through human giftedness.  Psalm 8 says we were created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.  That does not contradict the Biblical message of man’s sinfulness, but rather complements it with a message of man’s glorious nature.

Besides, just because something isn’t explicitly Christian does not mean it is false or evil.  Some music is simply a description of a particular struggle or a particular joy.  Otis Redding was “sittin’ on the dock of bay” wasting time because he was lonely.  He was describing a particularly low point in his life with this song.  No, he didn’t give a Christian answer to the problem, but he accurately described a common problem people suffer.

So, of course, I must be careful to evaluate the message of the music.  Most modern songs, for example, are about love relationships and commonly “teach” that a love relationship with another human being is the answer to life.  That is an ungodly message.  But I can celebrate a loving human relationship in the right way using that song.  Also, listening to the world’s music shows me what people are thinking and gives me an avenue into their thoughts and beliefs and into their lives that might help me share the gospel with them.

Martin Luther created one of his greatest hymns, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, using a tune from a bar song.  The apostle Paul adapted a Greek poet/philosopher’s saying into his sermon (Acts 17:28).  He also wrote using a lot of athletic imagery (for example, Philippians 3:12-14), signalling his familiarity with the Greek games.  Being a part of the human community includes honoring that which is positive about the human community as much as decrying what is evil.  Human beings, even unsaved one, do an incredible amount of good things.  We need to affirm this.

When we try to remain aloof from any and every human endeavor that is not specifically proclaiming the gospel, we will find ourselves very much divorced from the life of our community and also very much divorced from opportunities to proclaim the truth.  Building relationships requires common ground.  Appreciating what is good in the arts is one platform of common ground.  I must watch to be careful that I am not so influenced by that common ground that I depart from the uncommon gospel.  But given that warning I can and should learn to appreciate what is good in secular music.

Are Children Really Born Sinful?

Question:  What do you see as the implications for children of this verse:  The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. (Genesis 8:21)
Answer:  The implications of this verse are that children either learn from an early age to do evil or they are born with a natural bent toward evil.  Since it is the case that there is no one who does not need a Savior’s atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:1,2), that means everyone is sinful.  If sinfulness was just something learned, surely someone would have been taught how not to sin from childhood.  But that is not the case, so it seems there is in every human soul an incapacity to choose righteousness. 

By that Scripture does not mean humans don’t make right choices. Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11.  Rather, we may make right choices at times, and training is a crucial part of that, but our basic heart orientation is toward saving ourselves, being our own savior, being our own God.  So we are repudiating the basic truth of the universe, that God alone is Savior and Sovereign over right and wrong, and this spoils every good decision we make.  Our attitude, even in the right things we do, is ruined (Southern, “rurnt”) by our rebelliousness toward God.

Randall Johnson

Is there a difference between the soul and spirit?

Question: : What is the best way to explain the differences in our soul and spirit? And what happens eternally?

Answer:If you do a study of the use of the words “soul” (Hebrew, nephesh, Greek, psuche) and “spirit” (Hebrew, ruach, Greek, pneuma), I believe you will find that they are used interchangeably as a description of what gives life to the body and bears the aspects of personality in human beings. For example, Mary said in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul maginifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” using the typical Hebrew poetic device of parallelism, where the first phrase is repeated using different but synonymous terms in a second phrase. People who have died and gone to heaven or hell can be called either spirits (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 3:19) or souls (Revelation 6:9; 20:4).

But what then do we do with passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”? It is most likely that Paul is talking about our sanctification in more emphatic terms by adding terms to the description. When Jesus said we were to love God with our hearts, souls and minds, he did not mean that there are three distinct parts to the inner man (leaving out spirits), but that we were to love God with every aspect of our being. Since spirit and soul are two interchangeable ways of speaking about the inner man he includes both here for emphasis.

Hebrews 4:12 is another passage which seems to separate soul and spirit as different entities, saying that the Word of God is able to penetrate “even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Again, if we include heart in this discussion we end up with three inner parts to mankind. But the author of this passage is more likely speaking about how the Word of God exposes the inner workings of our motives located in various aspects, not entities, of our inner being, including even the most inner parts of our joints and marrow, viewed as seats of our emotions and thinking.

From the standpoint of what happens eternally, we know that the soul/spirit separates from the body at death (James 2:26; Philippians 1:21-26) and goes immediately to either Hades (if you do not know Christ) or heaven (if you do know Christ) and remains there until the resurrection of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) when Jesus will bring the souls of those who have died in him to earth to be reunited with perfected bodies. The resurrection, which is the joining of a perfected spirit/soul and perfected body, is one of the most important doctrines in the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15). We are not meant to be disembodied spirits for eternity.

Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology, is an excellent source for this topic and others.

Randall Johnson

Is man the only one made in God’s image?

An old man from Tajikistan.

Image via Wikipedia

Question: Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Does it say this of any other creation of God?

Answer: It only says that of humans and might lead us to conclude that only humans have a spirit that is in God’s likeness. Animals are said to have spirits (Ecclesiastes 3:21) but not spirits made in God’s image. Being made in God’s image means we have the intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacity to have intimate fellowship with God. Now, of course, that image is marred by our sinful propensity to misuse our gifts in contradiction of God’s will.

If, however, we ask ourselves if there are any other beings in the universe who have the intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacity to have intimate fellowship with God, angels would certainly be an answer. They too have among them those who marred the image and sought to live independently of God. Unlike us, they do not have a sacrifice to pay for their sin and are not said to be redeemable. We are not told all we might want to know about them.

By way of application, the question we might ask ourselves is, “How am I using the gifts God has given me for relationship with him?” I am built for relationship with God, yet I often find pulling away from God easier than drawing near him. What other passions have I let take precedence in my life? What could I do to increase my passion for God? What gifts has he given me that he would use for his glory and my joy if I submitted them to him?

Randall Johnson