- 2016Jul 23
Continuing from yesterday's post, I'd like us to think for a few more moments about what the Puritans taught concerning the conscience. In this post, consider a summary of six kinds of evil consciences which, again, are drawn from A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.
- The Trembling or Doubting Conscience: The Puritans included this conscience in their "list of evil consciences as long as it does not drive its owner to Jesus Christ for salvation. The trembling or troubled conscience accuses the soul of sin and threatens the soul with God's wrath and the expectation of death and judgment. The doubting soul hangs in suspense, scarcely knowing whether it is more sinful to believe or to doubt and not presume." Though this conscience is closest to salvation, "it is still evil because it cannot give its owner peace and assurance until it finds rest in Christ."
- The Moralist Conscience: "This conscience has some good elements, for it is grounded upon God's law....Despite its admirable qualities, a moralist conscience is substantially different from the good conscience of the regenerate....Bernard said, 'A moralist may lift up himself, as the young rich man in the Gospel did, yet can it not give him assurance of eternal life.'"
- The Scrupulous Conscience: "The scrupulous conscience is in many ways a counterfeit form of the good conscience, make much out of religious duties and moral trifles. It is scrupulously religious but does not look to Christ alone for salvation nor find peace in Christ....[it] is so afraid of sinning that it avoids even doing what is right and good."
- The Erring Conscience: "This conscience includes various forms of ignorance and misperception because it wrongly applies God's Word....Conscience, evil informed, takes human traditions and false doctrines, proposed under the show of Divine authority to be the will of God."
- The Drowsy Conscience: "Based on Romans 11:8, which speaks of God giving sinners over to 'the spirit of slumber,' the Puritans had numerous names for a drowsy conscience, including a sleepy, stumbling, or benumbed conscience....The drowsy conscience makes sinners indifferent tot he reality of Scripture's truths. Such sinners live in a fog, unaware of impending death and judgment and unmoved by the horrors of hell."
- The Seared Conscience: "This is the worst of all consciences because it puts people almost beyond the hope of salvation....The seared conscience belongs to those whose destiny is determined by their hardness. It often belongs to people who have sinned against the Holy Spirit and are irrevocably lost already in this life."
As we concluded yesterday, the place where our guilty consciences must always turn is to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose shed blood cleanses us from sin, and to a life of ongoing repentance. As we confess our sins to the Lord and to those whom we sin against, our consciences are set free from condemnation (Heb. 10:19-25; 1 John 1:5-2:1; James 5:16). When examining ourselves, the Puritans would counsel us this way: "for every look you take to yourself, take ten looks to Christ, for Christ alone can be the object of true faith." The Word of God instructs our conscience to think rightly, according to the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit speaks to our inner man as we submit our mind and heart to His revelation in Scripture.
- 2016Jul 14
This has been an awful week for you, I know. Learning about the abuse that your friend has endured for well over a decade (which you also suspected for just as long, but could never prove) is a burden you feel you cannot bear. Your heart is so heavy; it feels like it's being crushed under the weight of the load. At the same time, you feel relieved and grateful that God has finally given your friend the courage to seek refuge for herself and her children. With such a mixture of anger and grief, gratitude and relief, you’re not sure what to think or say. But you do know you should pray, and pray you will. For domestic abuse is so ugly in all its depraved forms, but the Lord of mercy stands ready to intercede—to help the victim, and to save or judge the abuser...eventually.
Abuse in families who profess Christ is grievously more prevalent than most church-goers know, or admit. Therefore, I want to introduce you to a little book that will help you minister to your friend. It’s called HELP! Someone I Love Has Been Abused, written by my friend and fellow minister of the gospel, Jim Newheiser. Here’s a brief summary of the second chapter, A Biblical Understanding of Abuse.
While the word “abuse” is rarely used in the Bible, Scripture contains examples of victims of abuse and thoroughly addresses the spiritual issues behind abuse. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was physically and emotionally abused by his brothers, who threw him into a pit to starve to death and then sold him as a slave (Genesis 37:18–28). In the days of the judges, the sexual assault and murder of a woman led to a civil war in Israel (Judges 19:25–ch. 20). Jesus was the victim of horrible verbal and physical abuse leading up to his death (Matthew 27:39), which is one reason why he is able to sympathize with all who have been abused (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). It is important that we define “abuse” biblically. Not everything which the world labels “abusive” is evil. For example, some so-called parenting experts claim that all spanking of children is abusive, but the Bible authorizes parents to physically chastise their children. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). However, spanking can become abusive when an out-of-control parent punishes in vengeful anger and causes injury to the child (Proverbs 25:28; Romans 12:19). [You will find two resources at the end of this blog post.]
Abuse Can Be Hard to Prove
While all claims of abuse must be taken seriously, accusations of abuse can be difficult to sort out when there are no objective eyewitnesses to corroborate conflicting accounts. Alleged victims sometimes exaggerate or distort the extent of the abuse. In addition to protecting victims from abuse, we must also protect people from being falsely accused. We cannot treat someone as guilty without adequate proof (Deuteronomy 19:15; 17:6).
Don’t Rush to Judgment
Before reaching conclusions we must carefully investigate the facts and hear from all sides. "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17; see also 18:13, 15). Appearances can be deceiving.
Abuse Is Sin
It is important to use biblical language and texts as we seek to understand abuse. Abuse is sin. Jesus labels even verbal abuse as murderous: You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21–22; see also Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 11:9)
Why Do People Abuse?
The Bible also explains why people abuse: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1–2). People abuse because they want something so badly that they are willing to kill (verbally or physically) if they don’t get it. A desire becomes sinful when we want something so badly that we are willing to hurt others when we don’t get it. A biblical label for this kind of desire is “idolatry,” which means putting anything or anyone above God in our affections.
Abusers Have False Beliefs
Abusers believe that they have certain rights, including the right to be angry (and to express their anger) when those rights are violated. In the moment when they are sinfully venting their anger they believe they are acting justly, giving the victim what he or she deserves for certain wrongdoings. By doing this the abuser is (in his or her mind) playing God, taking righteous vengeance upon those who have wronged him or her (Romans 12:19). Instead the abuser should realize that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)…. Such sins, however, are not limited to those who are guilty of domestic violence. Each of us will be tempted to become angry and vengeful when others fail to meet our expectations. We may choose to express our anger in more socially acceptable ways such as silent, sullen bitterness, but the root of the sin is the same.
Characteristics of Abusers
Abusers lack the fruit of the Holy Spirit, especially self-control (see Galatians 5:22). "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls" (Proverbs 25:28). They tend to be proud and self-centered, rather than considering others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3–4) and sacrificially loving others (Ephesians 5:25–33). While abusers may profess remorse over their behavior, their sorrow is often a worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Cycles of Abuse
It has been observed that abuse typically follows a cycle:
- Build-up stage. Tension builds as the abuser becomes increasingly irritable, seething with anger.
- Blow-up stage. The abuser loses control and verbally or physically assaults his or her victim(s).
- Remorse stage. The abuser may appear to be deeply troubled by what he or she has done, even crying and pleading for forgiveness.
- Build-up stage. Once the crisis of the blowup stage has ended and life has returned to “normal,” tensions start to rise again.
By God’s grace the cycle of abuse can be broken, either as the abuser is humbled and broken before God, or as the victim is helped to find safety.
[The above post is excerpted from HELP! Someone I Love Has Been Abused by Jim Newheiser. For instruction on the difference between abuse and appropriate child discipline, see HELP! My Toddler Rules the House and Shepherding a Child’s Heart.]
[This post was originally published at Counseling One Another.]
- 2016Jun 16
Evangelical Christians continue to be obsessed with political activism as the answer to the problems of our nation. "If we can only get the right people into the right positions who can then make the right laws we can turn our nation back to God," many argue. As optimistic as this may be, it does not fit the biblical pattern of how God works in nations and, particularly, through His people by calling them to personal repentance. Throughout world history, God has judged nations for their disobedience to His commands. At the same time, however, He has had His faithful remnant of believers who place their personal faith and obedience to His Word as a higher priority than making noise in high places. This, they rightly believe, is the most powerful influence they may have for the sake of righteousness and the prosperity of the gospel.
Recently, I was reminded of this priority in my daily reading of Isaiah by the Day, which I purchased for myself at last month’s Basic Conference and am thoroughly enjoying. In this new devotional translation by Alec Motyer, I am growing to appreciate the book of Isaiah through learning to understand its message. The following words from Day 15 shine piercingly clear light into our foggy minds.
“National, political, social and governmental disasters and misdemeanors can all be traced to this one source: the Word of God has been sidelined. Isaiah saw it in his day and, with our eyes opened by him, we see it in ours. The beginning of the remedy lies in our individual hands: our greatest contribution to the good of our nation, to political stability and wholesomeness, to social standards and decency and to proper and just government, in our individual devotion and obedience to God’s Word. Recovery starts with me. Isn’t this what the Lord Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount? When he has set out the basic principles of kingdom-life (in the blessedness/happiness sayings, Matt. 5:2-10, which we put away in the deep-freeze by calling them ‘Beatitudes’) he immediately transposes the ‘they’ of general principle into the ‘you’ of personal discipleship (Matt. 5:11). This blessedness is for you when this is your life-style. But more: when this is your life-style you become the salt of purification and the darkness-dispelling light the world so desperately needs. Not by what we say but by what we are when his Word fashions our lives. The alternative way of life, when we set aside his Word, invites the Lord’s displeasure and leaves the world around without any bar to its inevitable corruption, or light to dispel its native darkness.”
Personal obedience to the Lord, along with prayer for our government leaders, and the spread of the gospel, comprise the key means by which we influence our nation for the good (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is not that there are no other responsibilities we have as salt-and-light citizens, but we must continually remind ourselves that our citizenship is first and foremost in heaven, not earth.