If we have no hunger for the word of God, and when we try to feed upon it, it is like ashes in our mouths, we are in trouble. If we can find more joy in an obscene Netflix series than a time of prayer and Bible reading, something is seriously amiss with our spiritual condition.
Many people think they have peace with God. Instead, their inner peace flows from a deceptive heart. There is a peace that passes all understanding, and it is one of the most blessed aspects of the Christian life. The foundation of this peace is the cross of Jesus, where our sins find forgiveness, and the wrath of God is satisfied. The moment we trust in the atoning work of Christ, we are at peace with God objectively. From there, that truth begins to give us peace subjectively as God sheds his love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
The problem is many people believe they are at peace with God, but because of their sins, they are still at enmity with him. Though they experience no distress at the thought of God, it is not the peace of Christ they are experiencing. Scripture tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Here are six telltale signs of a deceptive inner peace.
1. Peace Without Joy in Jesus
If you find yourself at peace about your spiritual state before the Lord, but there is no joy in Christ Jesus, you are experiencing the ease of a deceitful heart. Jesus is the only source of peace with God. Our enmity with God is the result of our sinfulness, and only Jesus and his work on the cross can save us. Jesus is the only source of peace with God, and if we think we have peace but do not rejoice in him, we are deceiving ourselves.
2. Trusting in our Own Merit
We do not have peace with God when we think God approves of us because of our character or good deeds. This confidence in our goodness is a sure sign that we are experiencing the calm of a spiritually dead soul. Even if we claim the merits of the blood of Jesus but believe our justification in Christ is a mixture of his death and our works, scripture says we are lost.
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By Stephane Simonnin — 4 months ago
Those who think they can “connect” with God walking in the woods on Sunday are wrong. While God is essentially present in the woods, He is not graciously present as He is among His people when they gather around His Word. God is present in His church through Christ. He is the One who walks “in the midst of his candlesticks.” The incommunicable attribute of omnipresence is clearly attributed to Christ.
“Mom, where is God?”
“Well, He’s everywhere sweetheart!”
That answer frequently given by mothers to their children is true, but what does that mean?
We do not give much thought to God’s omnipresence, do we? We take it for granted that God is “everywhere,” though we do not really understand what that means. Does omnipresence mean occupying all the space that exists, or is there more to it? Is God everywhere present in the same way? For example, how is He present when the church gathers? This can be a very practical question when we think about Sunday worship. It has become increasingly common for professing Christians in our Western world to neglect church meetings. Perhaps you have heard people reason along these lines: “I believe in God, but church isn’t really my thing. I’m not interested in singing, and I find sermons boring. Besides, I can connect with God just as well when I walk in the woods, in the mountains, or on the beach as I can in a church service. After all, God is everywhere.” How do we respond to that?
The issue of omnipresence also arises when we engage oriental spiritualities and their pantheistic vision of God. They claim that God is “everywhere,” but they mean something very different from what Christians mean. How is the biblical and Christian notion of divine omnipresence different from theirs?
When we try to answer these questions, we find that seventeenth-century Reformed theologians are very helpful because they drew careful distinctions that we often fail to draw, and they used helpful philosophical categories, while always subordinating them to Scripture. No one among them is more helpful than the English Puritan Stephen Charnock (1632–80) in his famous treatise on the existence and attributes of God.
Several biblical texts are traditionally used by orthodox theologians to argue for God’s omnipresence, in particular 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139; and Jeremiah 23:23–24. Charnock chose Jeremiah 23:23–24 as a starting point: “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” Charnock helpfully set the text in its context (see vv. 16ff), namely, the denunciation of false prophets who prophesied to Israel when the Lord had not sent them. That allowed him to make an important distinction between God’s omniscience and His omnipresence. God knows and sees everything (“Can a man hide himself?”) because He is immediately present everywhere (“Do I not fill heaven and earth?”), so His omniscience can be inferred from His omnipresence. The verb “to fill” is key because it cannot properly refer to understanding, knowledge, or will. It must refer to what Charnock called the “essential presence” of God: “By filling heaven and earth is meant therefore a filling it with his essence. No place can be imagined that is deprived of the presence of God and therefore when the Scripture anywhere speaks of the presence of God, it joins heaven and earth together.”1
Charnock’s exegesis of these verses is significant for a number of reasons: it shows that God is essentially present everywhere, not only in heaven, as unorthodox teachers argued at that time.2 As Charnock said, “Heaven is the court of his majestical presence, but not the prison of his essence.”3 It is also very helpful to refute the pantheistic notion that God is identified with nature that Baruch Spinoza, the influential Dutch philosopher, famously expounded at that time4 and that is so prevalent today. God does “fill heaven and earth,” but, as a consequence, He is “at hand” and He “sees” us so that no one can hide from Him. He is therefore personal and distinct from nature.
By Bill Melone — 2 years ago
Christianity has been through many conflicts throughout the centuries, some of which have been far more challenging and destructive than the current debates about justice. Being in the midst of a conflict is very hard, but God has always brought his church through those conflicts. And reorienting ourselves to the more complex world we live in is an important step in that direction.
We live in a time of division, as many of us can wearily testify, but we also live in a time of disorientation. Navigating divisions can be challenging, but the challenge multiplies when we are disoriented, and that is a less recognized element of the times we live in.
That we are disoriented and not just divided is evidenced by the numerous and diverse attempts to frame the disagreements among American Christians. Kevin DeYoung’s framing points towards postures, tendencies and fears; Karen Swallow Prior finds helpful framing in the exposure of syncretism in Tara Isabella Burton’s Strange Rites; Voddie Baucham’s book is titled Faultlines, and identifies the problem as ideological; Timothy Dalrymple diagnoses three areas of fracturing: media, authority and information among communities; Michael Graham and Skylar Flowers frame the primary conflicts between Neo-Fundamentalists and Neo-Evangelicals, and between Mainstream Evangelicals and Post-Evangelicals; and denominationally speaking, Ross Douthat sees the liberal and conservative wings of Catholicism as misdiagnosing each other, while Trevin Wax says of problems facing the SBC, “Dig below the topics of debate and you’ll find different postures, competing visions, and broken trust.”
These attempts at framing are significant for how they indicate a heightened sense among American Christians that we are in a truly significant period of time for the Church in America. It also indicates that we are aware of a deeper root to our disagreements, but that we aren’t sure what that root is exactly. It’s a feeling that Brian Fikkert captures in the intro to his book, Becoming Whole:
Life feels unstable and uncertain, as if the foundations are shifting. But it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s changing, why it’s changing, and where it’s all heading. All we know is there’s a gnawing sense of anxiety that wasn’t there before.
That gnawing sense of anxiety comes from disorientation, and it’s important to find where that disorientation is coming from. We know the key issues: race, Trump, gender roles, gay marriage etc., but the attempts at framing are seeking something deeper, as well they should. For decades, we have imagined American spirituality in a simplistic, linear way, but the events of recent years have proven that framing to be outmoded and inadequate.
The Simplistic Linear Imagination of American Spirituality
Picturing various modes of thought along a spectrum can be a helpful way of organizing ideas within culture. It simplifies and organizes perspectives in a way that can be easily taught. Tim Keller – to use one example among many possible examples – uses a ‘Spectrum of Justice Theories’ to picture the different ways of understanding justice that are common in Western Culture.
It is common to imagine various strains of Christian belief in a similar linear way. The particular labels can differ, but the vision is essentially this: Fundamentalism is at one end of the spectrum, and unbelief is at the other, with evangelicals and Mainline/Liberal Christians in between:
This spectrum maps fairly directly onto Kevin DeYoung’s 4 Approaches to Race, Politics and Gender, and is a simpler version of Michael Graham’s 6 Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism, but what’s particularly important about the spectrum is not just that it is a common way of imagining American spirituality, but also that it informs what a friend of mine has called ‘Slippery Slope Discipleship.’ That is, to imagine a linear spectrum of Fundamentalism to Secularism is to imagine a spiritual world where some modes of belief are considered safe, and others are thought to be dangerous, slippery slopes that lead out of Christianity altogether.
Thaddeus Williams, in Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth speaks this way of Christians who embrace a particular type of social justice: “There is… a predictable pattern: one [secular] doctrine tends to lead to another, then another, until many Christians end up abandoning their faith” (p164).
Al Mohler also speaks this way in The Gathering Storm:
Liberal Protestantism and secularization have merged, creating a new and dangerous context for biblically committed Christians… because of secularization’s effect, liberal theology sometimes even infiltrates churches that think themselves to be committed to theological orthodoxy. Secularism has desensitized many people sitting in the pews of faithful, gospel-preaching churches, leading them to unwittingly hold even heretical doctrines.
This way of thinking is common among the Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelicals and the Mainstream Evangelicals (to use Michael Graham’s terminology) who are concerned about the Church drifting into and assimilating with secularism. And many Liberal Protestants would proudly see themselves as occupying a third way between the extremes of fundamentalism on one side and unbelief on the other. But the Fundamentalism-Secularism spectrum is failing as a way to understand American Christianity, and we need to understand why.
In one sense, it should not be surprising that a linear spectrum is failing as a way to frame anything today. A significant part of Charles Taylor’s analysis of secularism in A Secular Age was to describe our contemporary age as a supernova of options for belief. Taylor has outlined many of the reasons for this, but there are particular changes that in very recent years have catalyzed the shift to the supernova in American evangelicalism, and I would argue that these changes are responsible for much of our disorientation.
Conservative and Progressive Secularism
Two of these changes deserve extended attention, but it is necessary to preface them by briefly addressing one particular issue: the increasing utilization of non-Christian thinkers by Neo-Fundamentalists. Voddie Baucham, for example, in Faultlines, heavily utilizes the work of James Lindsay, and Thaddeus Williams utilizes Andrew Sullivan, Jordan Peterson, and especially Thomas Sowell (whom he calls “the second Saint Thomas”). Many other examples could be given.
The significance of this is that it disrupts the way that Mohler, Williams, and other Neo-Fundamentalists often speak of secularism, when, as quoted earlier, they describe secularism as if it was inherently aligned with progressive politics. With popular unbelieving conservatives like Ben Shapiro, James Lindsay, and Jordan Peterson, we must understand that secularism very much exists today in both left-leaning and right-leaning forms, such that if there is a ‘slippery slope’, it does not descend in only one direction. For any framing to be useful for understanding our divided times it must account for Neo-Fundamentalism being flanked by a conservative form of secularism. A slightly more accurate (but still flawed) version of the Fundamentalism-Secularism spectrum would distinguish between ‘Conservative Secularism’ (represented by Andrew Sullivan, Jordan Peterson, Thomas Sowell and others) and ‘Progressive Secularism’ (represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and others) and might look like this:
With this clarification, we can consider the two significant disruptions to this spectrum. I would identify those two key changes as:
1) the on-going development of what could be called a ‘Second Fundamentalism’ (especially involving the topic of social justice)
2) the delegitimizing of evangelical moderacy by conflicts over racism and abuse (which plays out even more broadly through the conflict between emotional health and stoicism)
It’s important to consider each one of these changes, and then seek to re-form our imagination of how American spirituality is playing out.
The Proliferation of a ‘Second Fundamentalism’ with Theological Concerns
The Fundamentalism-Secularism imagination is being disrupted in large part through a new kind of fundamentalism which has proliferated among evangelicals oriented to justice, particularly those who would identify as Neo-Evangelical or Post-Evangelical in Michael Graham’s formulation. These concerns about justice are not simply social in nature, but they are also very much theological, and this means that this ‘Second Fundamentalism’ cannot be simply viewed as one step away from secularism and unbelief.
Using the term ‘fundamentalism’ in any identifier can sound like a back-handed way to mark advocates of justice with disparaging terminology, but it is precisely their similarity to the original fundamentalism of the early 1900s that is important for understanding how they disrupt the simplistic linear imagination.
Consider some well-known quotes of J. Gresham Machen, which I have lightly edited to show how much Christian advocates of social justice today sound like him (with substituted words in italics):
“It is impossible to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and not fight for justice.”
“I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of earth, but neglects the children next door.”
“Christianity is not engrossed by this transitory America, but measures all things by the thought of love.”
“Patriotism is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel.”
Or compare Machen’s rousing call to stand strong against opposition to the gospel to Beth Moore’s call to do the same in the face of White supremacy:
Let us not fear the opposition of men; every great movement in the Church from Paul down to modern times has been criticized on the ground that it promoted censoriousness and intolerance and disputing. Of course the gospel of Christ, in a world of sin and doubt will cause disputing; and if it does not cause disputing and arouse bitter opposition, that is a fairly sure sign that it is not being faithfully proclaimed.
If you’re gonna let a little name-calling keep you from standing up for what you believe according to the Word of God… you ain’t ready. White supremacy has held tight in much of the church for so long because the racists outlasted the anti racists. Outlast THEM.
They’re going to call you a Marxist, a liberal (their worst possible derision) & a leftist. They’re going to make fun of your “wokeness” & they’re going to say you’ve departed all faithfulness to the Scriptures. If you teach or preach, they’ll say you are a false teacher/prophet.
Just as Tom Holland has argued in Dominion that secularism is an expected and unsurprising product of Christianity, so we might also say that the Second Fundamentalism is an unsurprising way to follow the lead of Machen.
By Jim Elliff — 2 years ago
It would be a mercy of God to take a man’s mind away in hell, but that surely is the agony of hell. Mercy was for another time, now so long ago. A man must live with himself, without the dignities of feigned kindness and pretended beauty. His mind is the most tortured part of him, regardless of what pains he is afflicted within the body.
At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a black room, so dark that my eyes could not see even one inch away, much less to the other side. The simple room in a Romanian home in Brasov had one of those metal external shades that are lowered over the window, capable of completely deleting light. I was in the darkest place I had been in perhaps for years. And, since it was night and I was alone in the house, I thought.
“Outer darkness.” I’ve been troubled by those words before—not blindness in this world where others may help, but “outer,” away from all others, forever. I do not understand why hell is described as both “outer darkness” and a place of fire, for where there is fire there is light. Perhaps these are only feeble descriptors meant to approximate the reality, the best that words can do. Perhaps the darkness of “outer darkness” and the fire of “the lake of fire” cannot perfectly convey the emptiness and pain of that future place, but are only signposts to something worse. The signpost isn’t the city itself. What if the worst we can think about hell would one day seem pleasant by comparison to the one experiencing it? What if the true hell can only be experienced, and not described?
What does a man think about in outer darkness? Could he think of, say, a day at the beach with his family? Impossible. For if he were to think of a day at the beach with his family he would immediately moan in agony for he will never see his family nor a day at the beach again, ever. If a man has no hope, nor any prospect of arriving at a place where the slightest wisp of hope could blow like a gentle breeze over him, how could he ever be happy again? Every joy is an eternal pain—a reminder of what will never be.