The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Nov 27, 2013

The Heart's Desire

Generally, I don't write blog posts based off of something else that I read online, e.g., an article that piqued my interest (else I would never get anything done!) Recently, however, I ran across a quote that I just could not pass by without some theological commentary.

In an online article [click here] in the Huffington Post entitled “Couple has open marriage so complicated, it’s hard to keep track,” author Jenny Block, when interviewed, had this to say: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others,” said Block, who has been in an open marriage for the past 10 years. “You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.” [emphasis added; online: accessed 11/27/2013, could not find the author for this particular article. Note also that Jenny Block is not part of the particular "marriage" being discussed in the article]

Keep those words in mind: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others.” Now, the sad thing is that Jenny Block is absolutely correct for those who do not have the Spirit of God. In other words, the unbeliever truly cannot control his or her own desires; he or she remains a slave to sin. Thus Scripture can describe unbelievers as “slaves . . . of/to sin” (Romans 6:16 and 17 NET Bible)  Furthermore, “. . . the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8, NET Bible). Thus Jenny Block’s words, applied to an unbeliever, are absolutely correct: “We cannot control our own desires . . . . The heart wants what it wants.” Unlike J. Block, however, this is not a cause for celebration (much less an excuse for a polyamorous lifestyle), but rather proof of how fallen the human race is, and how much in need of redemption we are.
Yet how, then, does the Christian differ? For some theologians, there really is no difference and the Christian still cannot control his or her desires. In other words, for some theologians, Christians truly have no say in the outcome when faced with temptation at a particular point in time (i.e., the result could not have gone otherwise). Yet if that is the case, then Romans 8:2 is absolutely meaningless when it states, "For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you  free from the law of sin and death” (NET Bible). How can we truly be free from sin if J. Block’s words apply equally to Christians and unbelievers alike when faced with temptation?
Furthermore, as I have argued elsewhere (see the bibliography below), 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly states that Christians have an “escape route” for each temptation they face, an escape route that is lacking in an unbeliever. In other words, when the Corinthian believers faced the temptation via social pressure of participating in idolatry, they could not say “my desires caused me to sin” or “the peer pressure was just too much for me.”

What, then, makes the difference? It is nothing less than the indwelling Spirit of God Who becomes the great Enabler to do what is right. Consequently, Galatians 4:6-7 states, "And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God" (NET). Indeed, it is this very fact that causes the Apostle Paul to soundly rebuke the Galatians in 4:9 for reverting back to their old ways! They cannot claim that they were unable to resist the siren call of temptation, for the Holy Spirit provides a powerful force that enables the Christian to pull away from beckoning temptations. [note: in a response to my JETS article, the objection was raised that this means Christians could live an absolutely perfect life, successfully rejecting every single temptation they run across [thus attaining sinless perfectionism, more or less; it was implied, though not explained, that this was theologically incoherent]. My response was to raise the analogy of a hitter in baseball. A good hitter is entirely capable of hitting every single pitch in the strike zone for a home run; in reality, however, this never happens. Potential and actuality are two different things. Yet even if a Christian could reach a point where he or she successfully resists temptation for an entire year (or two, or three), I would find that a much more theologically coherent state than positing a God who does not allow Christians to resist a particular temptation at a particular point in time, perhaps even foreordaining his own child to sin]

So what, then, is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever? The unbeliever truly cannot resist a life of sin, whatever his or her heart is bent towards. They may exercise a certain degree of restraint, of course (and I am not arguing that unbelievers are as bad as they can be!). Yet without the Holy Spirit’s influence, they remain incapable of permanently resisting sin. For the believer, however, it is the Spirit’s influence that becomes the competing force against our sinful desires. With the Spirit, we can truly chose the good and reject the evil. The heart may indeed “want what it wants,” but fortunately with the Spirit’s presence, the heart also wants to please the Lord. Thus the Christian must deal with competing sources of desire: the remnant of our sinful past vs. the new heart given to us by the Spirit’s regenerating work. In my opinion, one of the best articulations of this difference between believers and unbelievers is the following quote by Hae-Kyung Chang: “In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that ‘being free under sin’ and ‘being free from the law of sin and death’ are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true” (Chang, p. 268; emphasis added).

To return to the original article: ultimately, then, one who names the name of Christ yet lives, without chastening or remorse, in an “open marriage” such as described in the HuffPost article truly demonstrates that he is not a Christian, for clearly the Spirit has no part in him. God will not allow a Christian to consistently choose the evil and demonstrate no sign of the Spirit’s power in his or her life, for God Himself has a vested interest in us! 

[one final note: I am even OK with the idea that God can “overrule” the Christian's will in certain circumstances; simply because the Christian always has the ability to resist sin does not mean he or she always has the ability to accept sin; the converse of a law is not always true]

For further reading:

1.   Hae-Kyung Chang, “The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7–25 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum vol. 49 (2007). In my opinion, this is a fantastic article, and it has heavily influenced my views on Romans 7.
2.   Paul A. Himes “When a Christian Sins—1 Corinthians 10:13 and the Power of Contrary Choice in Relation to the Compatibilist-Libertarian Debate,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54 (July 2011).
3.   Steven Cowan, “Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply to Paul A. Himes,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).
4.   Paul Himes: “First Corinthians 10:13: A Rejoinder to Steven Cowan,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).

Nov 9, 2013

Some Thoughts on Missions

 This is a somewhat less academic post than usual, but I wanted to challenge both myself and my readers with something a bit more practical (not that there should necessarily be a dichotomy between the academic and the practical!) I grew up on the mission field, and both my parents have served the Lord in Japan for roughly the past 30 years. Recently, I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for Becky Black, the wife of my doctoral advisor. I was very touched by the fact that featuring prominently at this event was her heavy involvement in foreign missions, both proclaiming and living the Gospel in foreign countries, as well as organizing missions trips overseas when she herself could not go.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in one sense, the measure of a Christian’s life is the contribution he or she makes to the spread of the kingdom of God. This can take many forms, of course, and includes both service in the local church and involvement in missions.  Furthermore, circumstances may limit one’s contribution, though I would suggest that even those with significant health problems will still find ways to contribute. One lady who had Osteogenesis could barely leave her house, yet still prayed frequently, wrote a tract, financially supported my parents, and witnessed to the delivery boy who brought her groceries.

Thus I believe that everybody, in way or the other, can and should contribute to missions. Broadly speaking, missions could probably be defined as “the furtherance of the Gospel both in proclamation and in lifestyle, with the intent of pointing souls to Christ” (my own definition, for now; I’m positive there’s numerous better ones out there). Assumed here is the importance of both proclamation (preaching, witnessing, teaching) and living (good deeds, social action, kindness). Both go hand in hand. As defined thus, missions is the role of every Christian. In his recent booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? (Gonzalez, Florida.: Energion, 2012), Dr. Black aptly states, “Don’t think for a moment that it is more honorable to go to seminary and become a pastor than it is to serve God faithfully as a nurse or a salesperson. Missions is the intended vocation for the whole people of God, no matter what your occupation may be” (p. 2; emphasis added).

In addition, mission beyond one’s immediate environment should also be a concern for every Christian. In other words, since it is through the Offspring of Abraham that all nations are to be blessed, since the nations (plural) are to benefit from the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2), and since Christ commanded the first disciples to “make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19, my translation), this is something that all Christians should be concerned with. Thus the Apostle Paul’s cry in Romans 10:14, “But how will they believe on the one they have not heard about? And how will they hear without a preacher?” should be a rebuke to all of us.

So how, then, does one participate in missions? It is, of course, worth pointing out that somebody who shows little concern for those around them, in their present location, can hardly expect to be effectively led by the Spirit to contribute to missions anywhere else! Thus Dr. Black writes, “We need to learn to view our employees, our co-workers, and our fellow students as our mission field” (p. 5). In addition, “immigrants and international students” also provide immense opportunities (p. 5). (And, may I dare suggest, that if we Americans spend less time whining about illegal immigrants and more time learning Spanish so we can speak to them about Christ, the church would greatly benefit?)

Having demonstrated a concern for those around you, there are a number of ways you can contribute to missions elsewhere. First of all, you can simply go. Not necessarily for your lifetime (though you should definitely be willing to do so), but take a missions trip and contribute, not as an “American” (or any other citizen) helping nationals, but as a fellow brother or sister serving alongside of Christians of another race (and a lot could be said here about the need for humility and willingness to learn from others!; the “ugly American” stereotype can sometimes rear its head amongst Christian ministers as well as tourists!) May I suggest that every Christian, at least once in his or her lifetime, needs to take a trip to some other country and serve alongside Christians of another race ministering to the lost? [as an aside, nationalism is an idol that has no place in missions; there is no such thing as a “American” missionary or an “Australian” missionary or a “South Korean” missionary; we are all representatives of that “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9, the church of Jesus Christ; may I suggest that Christians should be willing to sacrifice even their native citizenship if it means one more soul overseas can hear the Gospel?].

Secondly, prayer is extremely important and spoken of often in Scripture within the context of missions (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:10-11). This assumes, of course, that one is actually paying attention to what is happening on places other than your own home country, especially to fellow believers. Sorry for the strong emphasis, but this is more of a problem that you would think. I think there’s a sad case of “missions illiteracy” among many of our churches.

Thirdly, one can give (and give sacrificially). Every little bit helps, and the Philippian church was especially commended for their sacrificial giving to Paul’s missionary work. If the widow can give her mite to the temple treasury, I think all Christians can give something to the ministry of those laboring overseas, especially when it means sacrificing a little comfort in their own home country, whether at their church building or in their local home. (see Black, pages 8-10 for more on this).

So anyways, hope that’s food for thought. This challenges me, since I know I can definitely be doing more on my end. May the Lord grant that each of us contribute better to the spread of his Kingdom in the future!