Making Light of Sin: A Three-step How-to

Making Light of Sin

The three-step how-to as illustrated by Aaron the Priest

You might remember the story of the Golden Calf in the Hebrew Bible.  It is one of those passages that leave you saying, “What the…”, or something like that.  The Israelites had just been taken through a sea, and have been following a pillar of fire for quite some time now.  How on earth could they get tricked into idolatry so fast?  Well, that’s a question for tomorrow.  Today, we look at how one might make light of sin if he or she wanted to.

Moses had left to go to the top of the Mountain, and has been there nearly forty days.  That’s quite a while to be on top of a mountain.  So, the Israelites just assumed the worst.  Here is the passage:

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 32:1–6.

It’s unclear whether or not “gods” here should be translated “god.”  Aaron clearly thinks the “god” he made represents Yahweh (vs. 6).  Whichever view you land on partly determines whether you think the first or the second commandment is being violated.  Anyhow, I hope it is not too presumptive to draw attention to the first word the Israelites say to their priest who had been left in charge, “Up!”  I suppose he wasn’t doing much of anything.  It doesn’t look like he was doing priestly things like promoting religion.

We might also wonder about Aaron’s motive in making the Israelites take the gold from their family members.  Was it a poor attempt at dissuading the crowd?  Or is it just that gold makes for a more precious idol.  Anyhow, Aaron finally does rob the whole Israelite congregation of the gold they received from Egypt by the hand of the LORD (Ex. 12:35 “The people of Israel had… asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.”). Third, Aaron probably worked very hard on this.  He had to melt the gold and fashion it with a tool.

Last, we can note that Aaron decides, now, to invest a ton of time and action into foolishness.  The Israelites don’t have to prod him (Up! Up!).  He announces that a feast is going to take place the next day.  Well, anyone familiar with the Bible knows this doesn’t end well for the Israelites.  Aaron failed as a leader.  He was lazy.  He robbed the people.  He promoted Idolatry.  He spent copious amounts of time wasting their money.  But, and now to the point, if any of you should find yourself in this position then this is how you seek to escape it.  You will be confronted.  Moses was not happy with Aaron, and if you ever fail as a leader, act lazily, steal, lie, or sin some other way then you will meet someone unhappy with you.  This is one method on how to alleviate your embarrassment.

Ex. 32:21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

I.  Tell the other guy to cool off
22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.

You’re overreacting, Moses.  Don’t be so angry.  Cool off.  No. Big. Deal.

II.  Blame others
22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.

Come on Moses!  You know these people.  They just can’t get right.  How am I supposed to lead people like them?

III.  Minimize your part in it
23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

I swear, Moses!  All I did was just throw the gold in.  The calf practically made itself.  No graving tool.  No fashioning.  No smelting.  So, you see, I’m pretty innocent in the matter.

So there you have it.  You now have a way to make light of sin as illustrated by the father of all Israelite priests.  But on a serious note.  These are tendencies that I’m sure we are all prone to.  They never really fool anyone who is looking closely.  They only exhaust the interrogator.  The words of St. John shine like fashioned gold in light of this story,

1 Jn. 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Form of Post-Christian of Evangelism: Part I

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that the form of our evangelism in America will need to evolve.  As the US approaches being post-Christian (especially the more academic types), the arguments made by Christians toward those who do not believe will evolve from the types of evangelism models used in a nominal Christian society.

One of the key differences between the post-Christian and the nominal Christian is respect (or guts).  The nominal Christian still had cultural respect in regards to the bible (or lacked the guts to boldlydefy it).  Think of the bible belt, here.  The nominals did not read the Bible, but still felt guilty when someone told them that the Bible says they were sinners.  Post-Christian types just say, “Who cares?”  Nominals still had some sort of respect for the Bible.  Though they did not read it or care to obey it, they customarily acknowledged that the Text was law.

Not so in a post-Christian society.  One of the principal hallmarks of a Post-Christian society is that of autonomy.  That is, the post-Christian society makes up its own laws.  The Bible may say that premarital sex is against the law (of God), and the nominal would feel a little bad when you reminded him or her of it–if for nothing else than the sheer weight of Christian culture.  The post-Christian responds, “I don’t remember signing off on that law.”

Evangelism to Nominals

The types of methods used when approaching nominals typically proof-texted the evangelical soteriology.  Take, for example, the Roman Road.  One could, easily enough, recite the key texts from the book of Romans and the nominal would be told about sin, punishment, sacrifice, and salvation.  Other “plans of salvation” exist that follow the same format.  They quote some scriptures that claim all men are sinners.  They’ll post another that speak to the punishment that sin costs us, and another–like John 3:16–which show God’s love and condescension towards us.

Before I proceed, I want to note that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this.  In fact, I think the scripture memory required for this is commendable.  I just think times are a’changin.

The Spirit

I don’t want to be accused of neglecting the spiritual aspect of evangelism, so this needs to be stated.  The Spirit must change a person’s heart in order for them to understand and accept the authority of the bible and of Christ.

Consider, first, the disposition of those who do not believe:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

And, second, the Lord’s work which must be done for a person to hear the Word:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14 ESV).

So, for all of this talk about methods, tactics, and cultural changes that are taking place, I don’t want to misunderstood.  It is the Lord who saves, not our methods.  But, if we recall, Acts 17 shows that we are to make compelling cases for the faith, and are also to defend it when it is attacked.  We do our part to make the Gospel understandable, and leave the results to God.  There is a tension here that I’m not going to solve.  All I’m trying to do is note some changes that are taking place, and what will be required of us in the future.  And it won’t be the memorization of seven verses.

Counter-Evangelism

Atheists aren’t new.  But a new thing is happening to America because of them.  The so-called four horsemen of the New Atheism sparked a particular type of mindset among those who were suspicious of Christianity in the first place, and further hardened those who were already atheists.  Key to this movement is the attitude towards religion in general, and Christianity in particular.  Nominals, those who really aren’t serious about religion but go to church just because “it’s what you do,” are the ones who are disappearing.  Many devout Christians have stayed Christians through the attacks of Dawkins and company.  But the nominals…Well, that’s another story altogether.  The nominals are falling away.

As I mentioned earlier, the nominal still sinned and still felt guilty about it.  This is a generalization, no doubt.  But an accurate one, I would argue.  What the New Atheists have done is give the nominals a reason to not feel guilty. No need for guilt.  No need for sacrifice.  No need for blood.  Just autonomy.  And it is the liberated nominal that backlashes against all that held him in bondage these many years (Christianity).  All of those times the nominal was called a sinner!

With the help of Dawkins and the other “horsemen,” the work of counter-evangelism begun.  If you want to know what counter-evangelism is, just take what Christians have been doing for decades, twist it, and shout it in an argument with a scoff.  Some examples are in order:

 

Evangelism:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

Evangelism:  “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)

 

Counter-evangelism: “And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,” (Deuteronomy 20:13-16 ESV)

Counter-evangelism: “He (Solomon) had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines…” (1 Kings 11:3 ESV)

Counter-evangelism: ” He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” (2 Kings 2:23-24 ESV)

The claims of the counter-evangelists vary.  Some say that this shows the bible is contradictory.  Some say that if genocide is an example of God’s love, then leave them out.  What is clear is that now God sits in judgment, and not the nominal nor the post-Christian.

Many of the counter-evangelist techniques are saved for important social issues like that of homosexual marriage.  First the Christians claim that marriage is between one man and one woman, and then the counter-evangelists respond by pointing out that “biblical marriage” would involve having 700 wives like Solomon, possibly.  I’ve responded to this particular claim already, here.

What is becoming clear is that the nature of evangelism will have to go away from solely proof-texting our soteriology because there are roadblocks now.  Note, I did not say that evangelism will have to leave out our soteriology (the gospel).  I said it will not be sufficient on our part as we go forward because there are verses which appear to contradict our claims.  And these verses will need to be explained.

There are two primary problems we have now.

The first is that the response to counter-evangelism claims are necessarily more long-winded.  The claims (The bible endorses polygamous marriage, God is a ravenous genocidal murderer, if homosexuals can’t marry then you can’t wear cotton and polyester, etc) require a detailed response that takes more time than most people want to hear.  Furthermore, they don’t want to hear it because they don’t like being wrong.

Second, the detailed responses requires a working knowledge of all of scripture.  To accurately explain why the Bible is not pro-slavery and pro-polygamy requires memorization, not of 7 verses in the book of Romans, but of countless narratives throughout the scripture.  Most Christians today are not prepared for this kind of work.  But it is work that will need to be done if we are going to effectively communicate the Bible’s message to post-Christians.

 

Universal Guilt

Have you ever wondered what will happen to people who never hear the gospel? Is it fair that they are condemned when they never had a chance to believe in Jesus? This is a serious problem; if God condemns someone unjustly then He is an unjust God and should not be worshipped. How do we resolve this dilemma? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the creation of man and woman. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

Here God breathes life into the man and “God [makes] man upright…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ESV) Romans 2:15 states that “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Romans 2:15 ESV) All people all over the world show day after day they know God’s law. Every time someone tells the truth they are acknowledging that God has placed knowledge of His law in their hearts. And so what we see is that God shows day to day the sin of all people through their own actions. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” (Romans 2:14 ESV)

Now you are probably thinking, okay everyone knows what right and wrong is but we know we can’t keep the law that’s why Jesus came so how can God still condemn those people who have not heard of Jesus? What we need to realize is that along with placing knowledge of right and wrong in humans God has also placed knowledge of Himself. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV) See every single human being knows that God exists and “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)

All of humanity is guilty before God, they know when they do right and they know when they do wrong, their conscience bears witness against them that they are sinful and under condemnation. Those people who never heard the gospel are just as guilty as the rest of humanity and deserve the just condemnation of God. If those people cannot be condemned because they’ve never heard the gospel then missions is the worst thing we can do for lost people in other countries. If they can’t be condemned then we should not do missions. However, we know that’s not the case, all of humanity is under God’s condemnation and needs to hear the good news of the gospel that is why God ordained His church to do mission work and preach the gospel. This is why you reading this article should be motivated to do missions! People need to hear the good news of the gospel so that they may be saved, as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)