Thursday, April 28, 2016

Age of Accountability?

Many of us have been raised being taught about the "age of accountability."  The challenge is that Scripture says very little about this and I believe we are guilty of developing a theology that God has not truly given us.  In fact, these words are not even used in Scripture.  So what hope or assurance could we gain from Scripture concerning infants, children, or the mentally challenged, and where they spend eternity when they die?

Allow me to define this term for some who may wonder what the issue is all about.  The "age of accountability" is the idea that there is an age where an individual becomes responsible for being able to distinguish between right and wrong.  It suggests that until that point in time, children cannot be held accountable for their actions that would condemn them to Hell.  Please know that there are overwhelming emotions that can get stirred in talking about this issue, but please allow me to pull some ideas from Scripture in order to help develop our theology. 

What we do know:
  1. It cannot be refuted that everyone has a sin nature.  David says, "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5).  In another place he says, "The wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth," (Ps. 58:3).  "For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God" (Ro. 3:23; 3:10).
  2. No one is saved on their own merits--it is entirely on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ It is the through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit within them.  Paul says, "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ even said, "Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3).
  3. Everyone's sins must be forgiven (even infants) since no unclean thing can stand in the presence of a holy God (Ro. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 21:27). 
  4. There are glimpses in Scripture where infants and children are shown special grace.  
    • John the Baptist.  The Angel Gabriel said, before John the Baptist was born, "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15).  In some sense God brought about regeneration prior to John's birth.
    • The Psalmist David.  He said in Psalm 22:10, "since my mother bore me you have been my God."  There is some sense where God is at work prior to an infant's ability to even reason.  
    • David when he sinned with Bathsheba.  When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and the infant died, he said, "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:23).  The assumption could be made that David believed he would see his son again in the presence of the Lord.
    • David as King.  David reflects back on his relationship with God and says in Psalm 22:9, "Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts."
    •  We can also observe that there are frequent patterns throughout Scripture where God saved the entire household of a believing family.  I want to be very careful not to imply salvation to the entire household because one parent believes. In fact, some believing parents have children who walk away from the Lord and reject Him.  When Scripture is silent, it is unwise for us to make definitive statements.  However, this can be seen in some of these passages:  Gen. 7:1; Josh. 2:18; Ps. 103:17; John 4:53; Acts 2:39; and Acts 16:31.
    • Lastly, who could ever measure the superseding act of the grace of God?  Romans chapter 5 paints a beautiful picture of the depths of His love and kindness despite our sinful condition. We can trust God to be God.
I will conclude with this thought.  God is just in all matters and He shows more mercy, love, and grace than I could ever imagine.  I trust Him in these matters and I personally believe that infants who have died and those who are mentally challenged will be shown a special salvific grace.  I don't promote the term or thought of "age of accountability," because it is not what is taught in Scripture.  I want to be clear of this one thing, that even if God chooses to save infants in this usual way, it still does not happen apart from the redemptive work of Christ and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit within them.  Remember, we are not told everything we want to know from Scripture, but God tells us everything we need to know and we can trust Him with the unknown things because He is God.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Does the Image of God Mean?

Since childhood I have been told that I was made in the image of God and I accepted it as a fact and I've even taught this to others.  But in what ways are we like God and how has the fall of man affected the image of God in us?  How has the image of God been marred?  Will we ever have that original image back?

First, I think it is important to define the image of God.  Because man bears the image of God it means that man is like God and represents Him.  We are not told of any other creature that God created that bears His image--only mankind.  When God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26), the Hebrew word refers to something that is similar but not identical.  It can also mean something that represents something else. 

Because we currently bear the image of God, we are creatures who can make moral choices and we will be held morally accountable to God for our actions.  It means that we have a spiritual life that allows us to relate to God and we will live forever.  It means that we have the ability to reason, think, and create.  It means we have a vast degree of emotions that allow us to relate to God, others, and the world around us.  It means that we were created to relate to others and to God's creation. 

However, since man has sinned, he is no longer as fully like God as he was before sin.  Man's moral purity has been lost and his current sinful character certainly does not reflect the holiness of God.  Even though sin has come upon man, we are still in God's image--we are still like God and we still reflect the image of God.  We be restored to the full measure of excellence in our humanity but not until Christ returns, then we will obtain all of the benefits of our salvation that Christ earned for us (1 John 3:2). 

Because of sin, we do not love the way that God intended us to love.  We are prone to fulfill the evil desires of our flesh.  Our selfish pride gets in the way of God's work.  Our sinfulness makes us dull towards the things of God.  We do not naturally thirst or hunger after the things of God.  However, the work of  Christ has changed how man now relates to God.  Because of the redemption found only in Christ we can (in this life) progressively grow into more and more likeness to God.  Paul says that as Christians we have a new nature that is "being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10).  Paul also says that we "are being changed into his likeness (literally, 'image') from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).  At Christ's return we will finally experience the full measure of the image of God that He originally intended for us (1 John 3:2).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Are Demons Active in the World Today?

As with angels, demons are evil angels who sinned against God and who now continually work evil in the world around us.  The tactics of Satan and his demons are to blind the minds of unbelievers in order that they might not see the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).  They do this through lies, deception, and many other destructive attempts to cause people to turn away from God.  We must understand that they are not all-powerful and that they are restricted by God's permission to do what they do.  This can be seen in the life of Job (Job 1:12).  They can also be successfully resisted by Christians, which is why James tells us to "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).

Demons are not all-knowing; however, they can observe what goes on in the world and probably learn how to tempt us.  Jude 6 indicates that many demons are bound in chains, meaning that not all demons are active and free to roam the earth.  Although we cannot see demons, since they are evil spirits we must not fail to acknowledge that they exist.  There is also no reason to believe that there are fewer demons active today than in the times of the New Testament.  Not all evil and sin is from Satan and demons, but some is.  Christians are fully responsible for their choices because God has never allowed any believer to be tempted beyond what he is able (1 Cor. 10:13).  However, it is important that believers in Christ understand that sinning does give a foothold for some kind of demonic influence in our lives.  The Apostle Paul said, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Eph. 4:26)."

So can a Christian be demon possessed?  The word possessed suggests that a Christian is unable any longer to exercise his or her will and is completely under the domination of the evil spirit.  Scripture tells us that when a believer comes to Jesus Christ, sin shall have no dominion over them since they have been raised with Christ (Romans 6:14).  The biblical answer to this question is certainly "no".  However, demons can tempt and taunt believers, but only with God's permission.  It is important for Christians to remember that "you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).  God gives Christians a different spirit to reside within.  "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7)."  We know that the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God brings defeat to Satan (Eph. 6:17).  If we fail to know the truth in God's Word then we can expect to be defeated by the evil one.  The use of God's Word to defeat Satan can be seen by Christ as He used it against him in the wilderness--and Satan eventually departed (Mt. 4).  The power to cast out demons also comes not from our own strength but from the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28).  We can certainly, in the name of Jesus Christ, pray for demons to be removed from us and others.

Satan longs to destroy the message of the Gospel that turns sinners to Christ.  We can expect that when the Gospel is proclaimed, his demonic forces will be enraged and do all they can to stop the blinders from being lifted off the eyes of those who don't know Christ.  This world is Satan's domain and he should be threatened by us if we are doing our jobs and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Let's be that "City on the Hill" that leads people to Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Do We All Have a Guardian Angel?

Our culture may not embrace God and His church but there is a fascination with the spirit world, including angels.  Angels are very peaceful, pleasant, and great gifts to give to others.  Most angels I've ever seen have wings and most are singing or playing an instrument.  I've enjoyed the TV series "Highway to Heaven" with Michael Landon.  There still seems to be a great fascination with angels, but I wonder at times if we have the best Biblical understanding concerning angels.  Here are a few things to consider about angels from Scripture.

Angels are created, spiritual beings (Heb. 1:14) with moral judgement and intelligence but without physical bodies.  They have not always existed, but they were created by God like the universe (Col. 1:16).  They do not reproduce like humans (Mt. 22:30). We know that they have moral judgement as some of them fell from their positions with Satan (2 Peter 2:4).  They also have high intelligence as they interact and speak with people (Mt. 28:5; Acts 12:6-11).  In Scripture they often serve as messengers, guardians, and worshipers of God.  As spirit beings they are typically invisible, but at various times they take on bodily form (Mt. 28:5; Heb. 13:2).  When the Lord returns, we will be raised to a position higher than that of angels (1 Cor. 6:3). 

We don't know how many angels there are, but there appear to be some classes of angels in Scripture.  Cherubims (angels w/ wings) that guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden after the fall of man and also seen as figures over the ark of God (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:22).  Seraphims are identified only by the prophet Isaiah as those who call out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Is. 6:3).  They are identified as "living creatures" who shout praise to the Lord (Rev. 4:8).  Most of us are aware of Michael and Gabriel, the archangels who oversee other angels.  Angels always receive their orders from God and are empowered for tasks for the glory of God.  Angels rejoiced in the birth of Christ (Lk. 2:14) and they rejoice in our salvation (Lk. 15:10).  Angels are active in worshiping and glorifying God (Ps. 103:20).  They are often identified as shouting praise to the Lord and not really singing.

Am I promised my own guardian angel for my protection?  Not at all.  God chooses how He may protect us and it may be through an angel and it could be through other means.  Angels should not be worshiped or prayed to--only God.  Caution should be made not to worship the created in place of the Creator.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."  Angels are around us on this earth but we are often unaware of it.  Wayne Grudem says, "This should make us eager to minister to the needs of others whom we do not know, all the while wondering if someday we will reach heaven and meet the angel whom we helped when he appeared temporarily as a human being in distress here on earth."  Angels do minister to us and accounts have been given of unexplained happenings through strangers that seem to point back to some angel activity.  I don't necessarily discount these testimonies.

Once again, we are NOT to worship angels, pray to angels, or seek angels.  Our role is to seek the Lord who is in charge of all of the angelic forces.  We can learn things from them in Scripture, particularly how they minister to us and serve to worship God.