26 November 2007

A Reason to Hate Sin

by Phil Johnson

friend of mine learned on Thanksgiving Day that he has terminal cancer. I visited him in the hospital that afternoon, and he was devastated. Doctors had discovered an inoperable tumor during surgery, and they simply stitched him back up. He now has all the pain and none of the benefit from that surgical procedure, which was extremely invasive. He was not much improved when I saw him again a couple of days later—after I had been to a memorial service for another friend's father.

So I've been thinking a lot recently about the frailty and the shortness of our human existence—and how sad death is, even for the Christian.

Of course, Christians understand that death is a consequence of sin, and death's sorrow ought to be a universal reminder of how evil sin is. The fruits of humanity's rebellion against God are invariably bitter, tragic, painful, and ugly—and death is the culmination of it all: sin's wages. We all know the pain of loss from death, or we will at some time in our lives. It is simply impossible to live a long life in a sin-cursed world without being assaulted with the sorrow and tragedy of human loss. Even Jesus felt that pain, and He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35).

Have you ever wondered why He was weeping? It could not be just grief over the loss of Lazarus, because He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. Yet it's clear from Scripture that His tears signified real sorrow.

So what was He mourning about?

Surely He was grieving over the effects of sin on people He loved. He was sorrowing over the ravages of evil on His creation. He was thus identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And at Lazarus's grave He felt the full weight of anguish over the sinfulness of the human condition. He was deeply and sincerely moved by it.

Death is a horrible enemy. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is "The last enemy that shall be destroyed." And when you sit with someone who is dying slowly, you come face to face with the fact that death is a formidable, tyrannical, universal foe. The searing pain and sadness of death seem almost unbearable at times. If we thought about it in merely human, earthly terms, we might be tempted to become chronically melancholy and despondent.

But Scripture gives us both hope and a reason to rejoice, even in the midst of the gloom of death. Remember: it was in this very same context that Jesus made one of His most glorious promises about His victory over death and hell. He told Lazarus's devastated sister Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). He meant, of course, that believers can never die spiritually, and that even their physical death is only a temporary condition.

But that promise, glorious as it is, does not erase death's temporal sorrows. It did not even keep Jesus Himself from weeping. The short verse that records His sorrow over Lazarus's death comes just ten verses after He made that promise. We who cling to that promise likewise still have profound sorrows, but thankfully, our sorrow is not a hopeless sorrow (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Pondering the universality of death and the inevitability of it, I have to wonder what certain Emergent leaders could possibly be thinking when they systematically try to downplay the hope of heaven and urge Christians to be more concerned with earthly matters.

Indeed, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Phil's signature


SolaMeanie said...

Amen and glorious amen. Before I got to your punchline at the end, that was already the direction my mind was headed.

One can only hope that some of the Emergent "teachers" who have waxed so eloquent in dismissing eternal concerns will not have to face this kind of tragedy themselves. Knowing that the sands of the hourglass are running out, and for some of us visibly so, ought to check the temptation to make light of eternity.

I am praying that beyond hope, your friend will be healed in a Hezekiah-type manner.

Scott Head said...


Thanks for the post. I watched my mother die slowly of cancer, it was excruciating and yes, death's temporal sorrows are very real. I remember thinking to myself that "I have seen the hideous ugliness of sin" like I never had considered it before. You said "But that promise, glorious as it is, does not erase death's temporal sorrows." This is true, and your reason given is true. Thanks you, I had never really looked at it like that. I often felt like I wasn't SUPPOSED to see it as particularly sorrowful for the believer, beyond the sorrow for the immediate suffering and pain. But I felt it no less, and didn't quite know what to do with that sorrow. But now, knowing that the root of the sorrow is particularly appropriate for one who knows the gravity of sin and the glory of God's great mercy and grace, the sorrow of our present state is certainly more piercing.

Thanks for the good post.

Strong Tower said...

Jesus did not go to the house of mourning but straight to the tomb. His tears were like his mournful lament over over his bride, Jerusalem. They were tears of a broken heart, broken over unfaithfulness, unbelief. "Did I not tell you, that if you believe in me you shall not die, but live" (my paraphrase). But, she did not believe. His love was shown to the world this way, that he said the Father gave him that she would have life. When we doubt, we doubt his faithfulness, his promise, his wedding vow, and he weeps.

Sin devastates, corrupts totally, and we mourn that loss. Not the loss of a loved one, though we miss them dearly, we mourn the loss of hope in the faithfulness of God. At least for the Christian, we see death now for what it is, foe not friend, not the bridge to a better life, but the justice and judgement of sin and the means to convey the guilty to execution. Therefore, we mourn for a world that does not know that another has died in our place.

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

And a somewhat related question Phil, is the one asked of Andrew Jones, about the martyrs of Queen Mary. We posed the question to his ecumenical Emerging Church group (which aims for unity with Roman Catholics who remain within their churches) - did the martyrs have to die? Did the ones we read about in Foxes Book have to make such a strong stand on protestant distinctives? The answers that came back were very interesting to say the least. If McLaren and others like him are right, we can only conclude that these old protestants died in vain. After all they didn't die over creedal "essentials"; they died over issues that would be considered secondary today.

PS: Sorry to hear about your friend Phil; glad you were there for him.

Anonymous said...

Phil said "I have to wonder what certain Emergent leaders could possibly be thinking when they systematically try to downplay the hope of heaven and urge Christians to be more concerned with earthly matters."

As concerned, not more concerned.

Yes, we are all going to die. Why not try and make a difference while we are here?

If not, let's encourage suicide after conversion. After all there is no more meaning and purpose in life.......just hanging out until we die.Waiting for our ride to the sweet bye and bye.

Or is our whole purpose to evangelize? If so, why have sites like Pyromaniac? Perhaps, you have a message, an agenda that affects the "here and now" (with certain after life outcomes also)

Our final destiny is not heaven. It is God's eternal Kingdom. A literal, real kingdom. We are to pray that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God is concerned about the here and now and we should be too. This does not mean we ignore the reality of death, but we also must accept the reality that we might be on this earth for 70-100 years and we might as well do some good while we are here.

Doug McMasters said...

Re 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Anonymous said...

and that was written 2000 yrs ago.

We can do both

Theophilus said...

Phil: Grace and peace to you and your friend.

I have seen God's faithfulness in turning back Cancer, and I have seen God's faithfulness in granting the Christian to 'die well' (to use an unhappy phrase). Although I do not know which outcome God will grant your friend, I am confidant that God is well able to sustain him in either event.

Theophilus said...

Bruce: It's about priorites.

Those who live with an eye to temporal life primarily, quickly adopt false standards of measuring success. Satisfying temporal goals often results in worldly, people-pleasing approaches, or adapting the interpretation of the Word to allow for this worldview. It is easy for such an approach to devolve to works.

It will, because of wrong priorities, inevitably lead to a watering-down of the Gospel.

Contrast this to having, principally, an eye to eternity.

This will elevate God, His name, His Word, His holiness, and our proper responses to each. It will stand agianst the expecation of earthly comforts, or praise of men, or the many other temptations awaiting those who love this life a little too well.

Those who genuinely meet God, and are made alive by Him, and sanctified by Him, will inevitably leave their corner of the world a better place as a BYPRODUCT of this eye to eternity.

Additionally, Jesus himself had an eye to eternity: (Heb 12:2)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Somewhere, someone said that we are to be Heavenly-minded so that we do earthly-good.

The eternal perspective frames the temporal ministry that we do.

Doug McMasters said...


I stepped away from the computer for a moment to brew myself and my lovely wife a cup of Peets (Anyone coming to London, ever, for any reason, please stash for me a couple pounds, whole bean, into your luggage. I'll love you forever.) and when I returned, noted your and theophilus's comments.

Certainly no one is advocating non-action. Theophilus first words about priority are spot on. For instance, in one of the many sections of Scripture detailing the necessity for engaged holiness, Paul reminds us that we are doing so with an eye turned toward eternity:

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.(Titus 2:6-15)

That passage of Scripture tells us we worship in work while we wait the Lord's return. The daily responsibilities carried out with eternal gaze is what sanctifies the behaviour.

Perhaps in this, it is good to remember that the Christian life is filled with ironies:

The weak are strengthened, foolishness of the cross demonstrates God's wisdom, taking up a cross and dying saves the life.

And earthly good is best done by those with heavenly-mindedness.

centuri0n said...


I agree with the fact that one's sanctification follows one's salvation -- and I think that's Phil's point here as well. But I think your "better place" theology leaves something to be desired.

Here's what I'm thinking: let's consider, as other posters here have already done, the martyrs in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. How many of these people left the world a "better place" in the sense you mean it -- that is, how many of them were really engaged in social justice issues as they are represented today by EC folks?

The world is still not yet worthy of these people. I suggest that is would do us all a large part of good to consider why.

Doug McMasters said...

Cent, thanks for the turn toward church history. Church history provides a standard of comparison for what we hear and read today. C. S. Lewis said it well:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”

- C. S. Lewis, from “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory

FishHawk said...

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. {Isaiah 45:7 KJV}

pastorbrianculver said...

As a pastor of a small church, I had one week in particular where this was all too evident. In a 7 day span, I had to officiate at 7 different funerals. This is from a church of 75 people. There was definitely a time of sorrow and a time of weeping. But we must remember it is only for a "time." We cannot get so bogged down with death that we let us consume us and we offer no vital signs of our own. We weep and we console each other and we take comfort in the fact that Jesus died for our sins. He took our place when it comes time for judgment! Those who have gone on to be with the Lord would not want us to mourn extensively, but rather, they would want us to be out reaching the lost before it is too late. For those headed to hell, we have to try to reach them with God's Word. Thank for you for this post. I love reading your comments as well as the comments of your readers! God bless, Brian

Doug McMasters said...

The following second-century account provides us with a double-edged challenge to better understand how (and why--thanks, Cent.) earlier believers' lifestyles were shaped by eternity:

“For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practice a peculiar life. This knowledge of theirs has not been proclaimed by the thought and effort of restless men; they are not champions of a human doctrine, as some men are. But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange. They live in countries of their own, but simply as sojourners. They share the life of citizens; they endure the lot of foreigners. Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. They marry like the rest of the world. They breed children, but they do not discard their children as some do. They offer a common table, but not a common bed. They exist in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They spend their existence upon earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and in their own lives they surpass the laws. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and they are condemned.
They are put to death, and they gain new life. They are poor, and make many rich. They lack everything, and in everything they abound. They are dishonored, and their dishonor becomes their glory. They are reviled, and are justified. They are abused, and they bless. They are insulted, and repay insult with honor. They do good, and are punished as evildoers; and in their punishment they rejoice as gaining new life therein. The Jews war against them as aliens, and the Greeks persecute them; and they that hate them can state no grounds for their enmity. “In a word, what the soul is in the body Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body. Christians dwell in the world, but they are not of the world.”

Letter to Diognetus, 5:1-17, 6:1-4

Theophilus said...

Cent: I don't mean the Peace Corps, neutered puppies and global warming, sort of "better place." I think the 20th Century put the lie to utopian thinking.

Still, you need not be a socialist to recognize the Apostles' concern for widows and orphans. These are real and meaningful expressions of Christian charity which are a natural outflowing of the recipiants of divine grace. They can have a genuine positive impact.

(Church, not gov't responsibility. That's a whole other rant.)

At the same time, sometimes a generation (not a nation) returns to God wholesale, as occasionally happened in Israel, and under some reformers in Christian history.

--This is not expected to be the norm, as you have indicated. --

Righteousness would "exalt" such a nation, until their eventual apostasy.

I am open to re-thinking my postion, but I don't think I understand your objection correctly.

Libbie said...

Surely this is not about what we can 'do' while we are here. It's about how we keep on keeping on when the weight of sin and it's consequences bear down on us every day.

No-one who holds out the hope of the eternal reward is doing so to encourage inertia. The realities of sin (Oh, and how much do I hate cancer) mean that we frail humans need the constant encouragement of eternity.

If you don't need that encouragement, well, you're a more focused individual than I.

I am terribly sorry about your friend, Phil.

DJP said...

Very sorry, Phil; your poor friend. I think his scenario is one of the most dreadful, the sew-them-back-up/nothing-we-can-do scenario. Good he has you for a friend, but dark realities looming.

Dark realities. Have you all noticed how hard the world has been working to make death our friend, nothing to be feared, natural, wonderful, sweet? The world -- those who have the most to fear from death. Death -- the one reality that should cast a shadow over all they do and are, and turn them Godward. Yet they labor to take the fear out of it, so that its alarm-clock whine doesn't even tug their attention away momentarily from the amusements and distractions of Vanity Fair.

It's not for nothing that Scripture calls death an "enemy," and speaks of its need to be "defeated."

It is hard to see any efforts to focus attention away from the eternal perspective as other than friendly to this whole whistling past the graveyard campaign.

Benjamin Nitu said...

Great insight Phil!

I never really understood why Jesus wept on that occasion. Your explanation makes perfect sense. I loved it!

donsands said...

"He was thus identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. ... He was deeply and sincerely moved by it."

"We have an Advocate with the Father, who, when He was upon the earth, could weep. ... Let us never be ashamed to weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that rejoice. Well would it be for the Church and the world if there were more Christians of this stamp and character!" JC Ryle

"There are times to mourn, and a time to dance."

And the mourning times will be from one degree to another; from a heaviness of the soul, to a toatla and utter despair at times.
But Jesus cares, and He wept.

Good post. Thanks for sharing about your friend and this hard subject.

candyinsierras said...

I just learned yesterday that a friend I had not seen for awhile, a Christian brother, died early last year from painful cancer of the spine. This is a timely post for me too. God grant you good fellowship with your friend Phil. We will pray for him.

stratagem said...

Phil, you left out the rest of the verse in John 11 25-26, a very important question: "Do you believe this?"

"25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. [1] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

The way Jesus ended this paragraph says a lot about how He wasn't just proclaiming a truth, he was also looking for our response to it (or actually, to Him). It takes a lot of belief to get past the pain of losing someone in this world.

stratagem said...


Your post is confusing. I don't think anyone would disagree with the usefulness of doing good works. But, why do we do them? To the extent we are doing good works here, it with the end purpose in mind of bringing people to Christ. Some (Emergents and other liberal theologians) have said that we are supposed to do it just purely out of love with no other agenda, as if bringing someone to Christ isn't loving them.

You seem to be implying, as the Emergents do, that there is some class of good works that doesn't have winning converts, in mind.

God's will is that people follow him - that is the will that we want to see on Earth, as in Heaven.

It's hard to tell just exactly what you are saying. Thanks.

Benjamin Nitu said...

Bruce said:
"Our final destiny is not heaven. It is God's eternal Kingdom. A literal, real kingdom. We are to pray that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

All our good works are for the glory of God. That is our purpose. Even winning converts is for the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria!

Bruce, destiny is defined as something to which a person or thing is destined.
God created us to have fellowship with Him, and heaven is the place where our fellowship with Him would be complete.

Kingdom of God is the having fellowship with God. And that's why the greatest problem is SIN, not global warming. Solve the root of all problems and move from there. If someone needs a heart surgery and you give him a nice make up how is that going to help?

Phil Johnson said...

Bruce: "As concerned, not more concerned"

As I reminded another commenter in a different thread, the word instead was McLaren's word, not mine. He says the gospel is all about God's will being done here on earth "instead" of being about the hope of heaven.

In practice, certain leading Friends of Emergent often seem to scoff at the promise of heaven and the resurrection of the body while strongly advocating a more earth-bound focus. Listen to Todd Friel's interview of Pagitt if you haven't heard it. Much as these guys want to be postmodern, they seem to have retained a tremendous amount of Modern utopian thinking.

DJP said...

But Phil! Don't you know that all Emerg***s are different? They have that in common. They defend each other, while at the same time disowning each other.

DJP said...

Or perhaps a better way to put it: they defend the movement, while declining to defend its highest-profile advocates.

stratagem said...

Here, from Christian Research Net, are the five Emergent Solas. They probably go a long way toward explaining some of the discussions here re: heaven or earthly focus.

1. Sola Effutio (Only Dialogue) vs. Sola Scriptura (Only Scripure)

2. Sola Tolero (Only Tolerance) vs. Sola Gratia (Only Grace)

3. Sola Voco in Dubium (Only Calling into Question) vs. Sola Fide (Only Faith)

4. Solas Humanitas (Only Culture) vs. Solus Christus (Only Christ)

5. Solas Deo Amor (Only God’s Love) vs. Soli Deo Gloria (Only God’s Glory)

Anonymous said...

The EC simply try to [copy] the life of the historical Jesus and disregard bowing a knee to Jesus the Savior. They spend a great deal of time labeling others as Pharisee's and legalist, not realizing their "missional" movement is simply the other side of that same coin.

~Mark said...


I'm really sorry about your (thankfully temporary) loss of fellowship with your friend. A friend of mine is losing her mother to cancer and her day is very near, and I have seen it's ravages far too many times in my circle of loved ones.

Yeah, our time is short, the Curse is real, and Sin brings death.

I have prayed for your friend, all those who love him and you as well. I'll do so again brother.

Benjamin Nitu said...

D.A. Carson on the emergent movement:

"But there is a danger in constantly exploding the certainties of the past: if we are not careful, we may be left with nothing to hang on to at all."

Read this great article by him:

The Emerging Church

Hadassah said...

Phil, so sorry about both of your friends. May they know the comfort of the Lord, and the ministering of those who love the Lord.

May all of us be driven to hunger and thirst for righteousness when we are confronted with the horrible reality of sin and it's cost.

SolaMeanie said...


A friend of mine tipped me off to a Spanish Emergent sola:

"Sola Loco."

Fitting, isn't it?

Anonymous said...


You defend your doctrinal rut without defending all the adherents, yes?

Why can't Emergents go the same?

Think of all the Calvinists you surely don't want to own. I can provide a list if you can't come up with any :)

I can buy into the general emerging Church philosophy without buying into everything that is said within the movement.

Every viewpoint has its excesses and those who speak loudly on those excesses.

Strong Tower said...

I wonder what excesses there were in Jesus' viewpoint?

Anonymous said...


I buy what you are saying in "theory" and even doctrinally you are right on the money.

Now..........show me where I can see it in practice? Is it an Emerging Church problem? Hardly. It existed long before the Emerging Church.

We say "Heaven" is our home. We say "we are ready to go". Then our reality shows a far different picture.

DJP said...

Sure, I'm responsible for all the misbehaviors of people who share my Biblical convictions.

If you can demonstrate that the misbehaviors flow from those convictions, and are not perversions of them.

Anonymous said...

statagem wrote: "you seem to be implying, as the Emergents do, that there is some class of good works that doesn't have winning converts, in mind."

Yes, precisely. I can think of no verse in Scripture that tells me the goal of my good works is the saving of souls. The goal of my good works is the glory of God.

In that light, I do good works because it is the right thing to do. When I stop and let someone out into traffic I do not have their soul in mind. My motive is to treat the driver the same way I would want to be treated.

What a poor world we would live in if the only motive and reason for good works is to convert people to Christianity.

Anonymous said...


Of course they are perversions. All error is a perversion of truth. But, that doesn't mean they are still a part of "your" family. Ben Phelps is a Calvinists. William (?)Best, who distributed free books by the thousands was a Calvinist. Many a Homosexual ordaining, abortion loving Anglican priest are Calvinists. Take a quick tour around the internet and see all the Calvinistic sites that consign all non-five point calvinists to the lake of fire.

All of the above are in your family. Shall we judge you based on your family or on who you are?

All I am saying is every position has its excesses. I buy into the emerging philosophy in general but I don't have to buy into everything others say.

In my Fundy days, I made it clear Falwell, Hyles, etal didn't speak for me. I was a Fundy to be sure, but I'll stand on my own record.

So it is now,

Wes said...

"Wages of sin is death" How I wish it was so different. I know I deserve death for my rebellion against God but I just wish it wasn't this way. I find myself frustrated at the consequences of sin that I desire not to do but I still do it anyways.

Granted Christ has stripped so many grievous sins from my life that I am a new creation but how fast does my heart desire to do wicked and have wicked thoughts?

I remember doing a Bible study and there was a question in the study that asked what is the one thing you would like to ask God. At first I couldn't think of anything. Who am I to question God about anything. Then the thought came to me. God, I want to submit my life to you, I want to be holy like You are holy, I want deny myself and follow you, how come you allow me to still sin when I hate my sin? I know the reasons why but I wish I could be sin free now. To think about never having a wicked thought, to serve my Savior and Lord perfectly, to love my wife and sons perfectly, to live perfectly is something so foreign I don't even understand how it is going to be accomplished for sure.

I am overwhelmingly grateful for the hope I have in Christ. Seriously, could you imagine how bad the situation with Phil's friend is with Christ think about how much worse it is without Christ. Devastating.

This post makes me thankful for our God and for what Christ was willing to do in spite of our rebellion.

Anonymous said...

Strong tower,

There are no excesses in Jesus. You knew that right?

But how about the next group that followed after him? Any excessed there? The entire NT illustrates the excesses of everyone from Peter to the Church in Corinth.

Jesus is the perfect standard, the perfect example and No one has measured up since.

Being a follower of Jesus is far different from being Jesus himself. But you knew that, right?

DJP said...

Already answered you, Bruce. Read slower, please.

centuri0n said...

< -- DJP

BRUCE ----- >

I have to admit I think Bruce tried to miss harder than Dan did, though. I sorta seemed like Dan was actually trying to -engage- Bruce.

stratagem said...

Bruce, you wrote:
I can think of no verse in Scripture that tells me the goal of my good works is the saving of souls. The goal of my good works is the glory of God.

Yes, and God is glorified in the eyes of unbelievers and believers, correct? As Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." So the goal of the good works is to get unbelievers to see the glory of God.

What a poor world we would live in if the only motive and reason for good works is to convert people to Christianity.

Why would that be such a poor world, exactly?

Strong Tower said...

"What a poor world we would live in if the only motive and reason for good works is to convert people to Christianity."

We are to do all things to the Glory of God. Jesus did, and his was they only calling, to glorify his Father, and the means to that end was the proclamation of the Gospel. Our vocation, no matter the works that proceed from it, is to proclaim the Gospel, to convert the uncoverted, to call the lost sheep home.

There is another motivation than Christ? Hmm

wordsmith said...

2 Cor 4:16-18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Sorry to hear of your friend's condition; may the Lord grant you wisdom as you minister to him and his family during this difficult season. Seventeen years ago I cared for my mother while she wasted away from renal cancer. It is shocking to watch the outward man perish, but thank God He has given us His promise that the inward man is being renewed daily. May your friend cling to the promises of Christ as he prepares for eternity.

Strong Tower said...

Yes, I knew that. That is why I would not say that everyview point has its excesses. Jesus' didn't and that is the one that I must look to, not mine. But, that is what EC'ers do not want to do, is it?

Anonymous said...


OK, really slow tell me what I missed :)


It is a poor world where we only see our neighbors as souls needing to be won. It is Ok to do good works for good works sake. Think of how many good works you do every day that have no connection to evangelizing a lost person. Are works are to glorify God. In that context, we share our faith. It is not "all" we do.

Strong tower,

I simply disagree with you here. I am writing on this computer right now and I do not have your conversion in mind. I just want to show you I am right :)Not everything we do is about the gospel. My wife would love it if I left the toilet seat down. It would be a good work if I did but I don't think it has any gospel implications.

Anonymous said...

I take great comfort in our Savior dying because of Bruce's inability to put the toilet seat down.

Strong Tower said...

Benjamin Nitu- that was a good read.

It reminds me that by clearing a field walls are built which keep the harvest safe. And the EC view of it is: "Leave no turn unstoned, plow ahead, plant away and see what comes of it. And, if nothing, what the heck, we're foragers anyway."

Strong Tower said...

It is not me that you are arguing against:

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him...So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God...Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."

stratagem said...

Bruce, you wrote:
It is a poor world where we only see our neighbors as souls needing to be won. It is Ok to do good works for good works sake. Think of how many good works you do every day that have no connection to evangelizing a lost person. Are works are to glorify God. In that context, we share our faith. It is not "all" we do.

Here, you are merely repeating what you said before, demonstrating that you may be simply parroting popular Emergent proclamations, without having really questioned them yourself.

Can you tell me why it is more admirable to do good works for someone "just because", than it is to do good works as a stepping-stone to seeing the recipient saved for eternity? That seems to be the underlying theme of what you've been saying. Maybe you view converting people to Christianity as being unnecessary, perhaps even unethical?

Jay said...

My dad lost his short battle to cancer in February of this year.

In the aftermath of that event I realized that for the first time in a long time I was longing for Christ to return to put an end to the frustration and futility we contend with. I don't want to go through that again. Not with my mom, my close friends, my wife's family...nor do I desire anyone else to have to go through it. I could try and describe it, but I would probably slip in an expletive or two, and nobody wants that to happen.

I had so many tell me, "He's in a better place..." etc. My response to that was, "His place is here." Death is our enemy. It is not natural, and this is why it causes so much pain and confusion. Which is why the title of your post is so appropriate.

Regarding the angle on the emergent squad...their notions that having wishy washy, non-authoritative conversations over coffee somehow making the world a place where sin and death are somehow any less painful, confusing and harsh are pie in the sky. To deal with the effects of the fall, you have to have a theology that actually addresses sin. Do they...?

I do, and it begins with an sanctified hatred toward its actions and its effects.

Hating Sin With You...Maranatha!

Benjamin Nitu said...

strong tower, you're right

That old saying rings true once again: Don't tear down the walls until you understand why they were there in the first place.

SolaMeanie said...


Your point aside, it seems to me that someone being rescued from a Christless eternity in Hell is actually a pretty good motivation. Is that not love in action? Would it be loving of me to see a Humvee barrelling straight at you, but do nothing and say nothing?

So much of this discussion to me gets pointless after a while. We do good works to glorify our Father, and the ripple effects of those good works do good in society. If someone genuinely belongs to the Lord and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, good works ought to be a given.

As far as evangelising the lost, we have the Lord Jesus' marching orders on that score. It is my responsibility to share the Gospel through the foolishness of preaching. It is up to God who gets saved, isn't it?

A good example of good works that missed the boat were those of Mother Teresa. By her own admission, she left people in the spiritual state they were in and made no effort to convert them to the Lord. So they had a nice, warm, comfortable bed to die in, and end up in Hell. She should have given them the warm bed for the temporal, and the Gospel for the eternal.

Anonymous said...

Phil, this was a great post; timely as well.

I just lost my father-in-law last week. It's true that the holidays are a particularly sad time to lose a loved one.

Thank you for recognizing and expressing the fact that it IS sad to lose someone we love. Yes, we have hope as believers in Christ, but sadness, loss, and grief still accompany it. Yes, we can rejoice that our believing loved ones are in the presence of the Lord (as is my father-in-law), but the pain is still very real, very deep. The fact of the matter is that we will miss them! My own mother died a year and a half ago, and quite frankly, I miss her and long for her all the time.

I think sometimes we Christians sort of 'gloss over' this. In an attempt to 'cheer someone up' with the fact that their loved one is no longer suffering and that they're with the Lord, we forget to mourn and grieve with them.

Anyway, thanks again for such a great post. Think I'll email it to the hubby.

DJP said...

Bruce, I did a slow Find, then I clicked and dragged really slowly, then I pressed Control-C really slowly.

Now I'll press Control-V really slowly.

Then you please read slowly, because I already anticipated and responded to your answer.

So, second time:

Sure, I'm responsible for all the misbehaviors of people who share my Biblical convictions.

If you can demonstrate that the misbehaviors flow from those convictions, and are not perversions of them.

Anonymous said...



And people wonder why discussions end so abruptly.

I have a brain and a Bible and I use both.

I do good works because they bring glory to God.I do good works because it is the right thing to do. I even do good works because I gain something from it.

Witnessing, evangelizing, sharing the gospel, proclaiming the good news,etc, is certainly s good work, but it is not the fount from which all good works flow. I can do a good work without it being directly connected to the salvation of the specific person I am doing the good towards.

Anonymous said...


You very slowly said "Sure, I'm responsible for all the misbehaviors of people who share my Biblical convictions.

If you can demonstrate that the misbehaviors flow from those convictions, and are not perversions of them."

So I didn't miss your point. You missed mine or refuse to accept it.

If we accept that the Biblical convictions are true then we are doing to believe all misbehaviors are perversions.

But, I would say, it is inherent in the doctrine of election (for example and not wanting to debate election)and its contingent doctrine of double predestination for people like Fred Phelps to come to the conclusions they do.The flaw is in the notion that God chooses some and *amns others. The natural outworking of that is that the chosen are a "special group. In your case it is a large group, in Phelp's case it is a much smaller group (only him and his family?)

I emphatically believe the Bible teaches truth. I also emphatically believe that most of us don't have as much truth as we think we do. As such we misbehave and pervert the truth.

Thus my original premise. Every doctrinal rut has those who pervert the basic doctrinal tenets of the group. The emerging Church is not alone in this. I can accept the basic foundational truths of the emerging Church without buying everything said by those of emerging Church persuasion.

stratagem said...

If all you can say is "squawk", then you probably don't have a very logical answer for my simple question of why it's bad to do good works with peoples' conversion in mind. But, I state the obvious.

Daryl said...

Bruce & Stratagem...

If ever two people wrote so completely past each other...this is it.

Stratagem: While I don't agree with everything Bruce is saying, I think what he is saying is that we do good to people because of what God has done for us. Now if that leads to their salvation, GREAT!! If not, I still do it. I still help my atheist neighbour out, even if there is no hope for his salvation. I still hold a door for someone even if I will never be able to share the gospel with them because of it.

Bruce: I think Stratagem is reacting against Brian McLaren's assertion that we should try and improve the world INSTEAD of trying to direct people towards salvation because the now is what's really important. I think he's also reacting against Doug Paggit's assertion that preaching the gospel is an act of violence against the listener.

Talk amongst yourselves...

Anonymous said...


I disagree with McClaren on this issue and I am generally no fan of Doug Paggit.

Paggit seems way out there and unfortunately far too many people equate Paggit with emerging.

Paggit's recent comments concerning John Piper were scandalous.

Strong Tower said...


I was just reading over at PM and found this in today's post, "And that made perfect sense to me. I figured “the quick” were those who made it through the crosswalk, and “the dead” were those who didn’t."

That's funny!

Since this thread has degraded into a discussion of works vs grace, I thought that this would lighten things up.

Okay, enough.

The word of God is active. We also must consider that every word will come into judgement. Idle words, that is those that do not work will be judged. It is not funny- business, that when we speak, even causally to a friend and never touch upon the Gospel proper, that those words for believers are working to further the kingdom. We do not have a secular life, and a religious life, but one life to live for Christ. In all that we do, or say, it must be considered by us to be for the edification of the other. All that we say and do should be out of a sincere heart with the motive of being used as a vessel by the Lord to conform others to the image of the Son.

Oh how miserably I fail this task given to me to be kept perfectly. And how often I fail to keep a guard on my own lips. What a solemn warning when the Lord said: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."

Daryl said...


I'm glad to hear/read that. Perhaps (as has been posted here before) if some higher profile types within the Emerg*** movement would call those guys out, something good could happen.

steve said...

Phil wrote: I have to wonder what certain Emergent leaders could possibly be thinking when they systematically try to downplay the hope of heaven and urge Christians to be more concerned with earthly matters.

Bruce, when Phil made reference to "certain" Emergent leaders, he was clearly targeting McLaren and those of like mind.

Given Phil's very clear context, your response of "As concerned, not more concerned" could only be interpreted as a defense of these "certain" Emergent leaders.

Then, in your most recent post, you distanced yourself from McLaren on on the very issue on which you came to his defense.

Why did you bother to "correct" Phil in the first place if you're distanced from McLaren on this very matter?

Yet another example of why conversing with Emergents is a challenge.

* * *

Phil, that was a poignant and heartmoving post. Your friend is being kept in fervent prayer.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps because Emerging, Emergent is the favorite whipping boy these days.

I also was not aware of the actual word usage by McClaren until after I responded and Phil responded way down the thread. It was an unwise on McClaren's part.

I am still convinced (in general) that McClaren is trying to bring a correction to a ship that has drifted to far the other way. That he offers corrections that are too far I will grant.

To ignore his attempt at correction leaves the Church in the same sorry mess it is currently in.

I am curious as to how everyone thinks this is going to all wash out? Where will we be 20 years down the road?

stratagem said...


It may well be that we are talking past each other, but I would have liked to have heard Bruce say it himself.

Do you realize that in simply asking the question of whether we do good works only because we want people to become Christian, we are implying that there's something wrong with that? I believe that was my point.

separateunion said...

I'm just wondering where we are Scripturally called to do good works for the sake of doing good works. I know we are called to preach The Gospel to all nations, but I've never heard of the Commission to Do Good Works.

centuri0n said...


Because I believe in a sovereign God whose plan in creation cannot be thwarted, I have unbridled enthusiasm for the faith and the church in general.

Because history and the Bible prove that those who abandon God's word and water down the faith have, as they say, the lampstand removed, I have passionate worry over the American church, and the English-speaking church in general.

Lane Chaplin said...

I'm thankful that God put it on your heart to write this, Phil.

Daryl said...


You said "Do you realize that in simply asking the question of whether we do good works only because we want people to become Christian, we are implying that there's something wrong with that? I believe that was my point."

I don't think it's implying anything of the sort. What I do think is that, because various Emerg*** leaders really have said that there is something wrong with that, you're assuming Bruce is saying that. He may be, but he's not said that here.

I'm not arguing your point, that we need to do "good works" because we want people to become believers, I'm only agreeing with Bruce (on this one little thing) that not every "good work" is motivated by a conscious hope that the good work will lead to their salvation.

I think you're right about the need for that to be a primary motivation but I think your arguement with Bruce was a weak arguement over something he never said.

The only reason I interjected (knowing full well it was a dangerous proposition) was that you were clearly not reading Bruce's posts.

Butting back out...

Daryl said...

Separate Union.

How about "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

Nothing there about spreading the gospel, just a solid verse about living well for the sake of improving the lot of those around us.

stratagem said...


Could be that your theory is true, that Bruce doesn't think there is anything wrong with doing good works with the agenda of getting people saved.

But, let's consider the evidence:

1) By his own admission, he identifies with the high-profile Emergents (even though he doesn't know how to spell their names) ;-)

2)He says that it is a sorry thing when people only do good works out of a desire to evangelize. If there is nothing wrong with wanting to convert people to Christianity, then why is it a sorry thing to have this motive? He can't seem to answer that question.

Bottom-line: Yes, we can never know for certain what someone is thinking when they write. But, if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a fair bet it's a duck. Hence, if Bruce identifies with the Emergents, implies that there is something wrong with evangelism as a motive, and the Emergents are saying the same thing, then it's not that much of a stretch to connect the dots, in my opinion.

Daryl said...


I agree completely. Bruce needed to specifically break from what those guys teach and stop calling himself Emerg*** or call himself Emerg*** with thousand qualifications.

My only (and I really mean only, as a whole I have issues with most of what Bruce contends in his posts) bone of contention is the use of the word "only". I also have an issue with the idea that we ONLY do good things in order to evangelize.
I would say the it's a sad thing when people do good things ONLY out of a desire to evangelize simply because I've seen people (and been tempted myself) pretty much drop friendships when it became apparent that there would be no movement towards God on the part of the non-believing individual. I have a problem with that.

I do agree, however, that there can be no higher motivation than to see said person come to the knowledge of the truth.

Seems to me that the balance we need to strike is that of doing things purely out of love for God and people regardless of the apparent likelihood of someone becoming converted, all the while praying and hoping to see that very thing happen. And I agree, the EC spokemen don't seem to much care if that ever happens at all.

stratagem said...

I would say the it's a sad thing when people do good things ONLY out of a desire to evangelize simply because I've seen people (and been tempted myself) pretty much drop friendships when it became apparent that there would be no movement towards God on the part of the non-believing individual.

Yes, we should not stop doing good works toward people after they become a Christian - the Bible itself says just the opposite. As to when to 'throw in the towel' on non-believers, wow, that is a tough call. I would suggest a person keep on doing good works, but discern when the Spirit may tell them to stop (if He does). No matter what a person professes, we don't know what the Spirit may actually be working within them as a result of our good works and prayers.

As for Bruce, I suppose the difference in my approach from yours is that I don't believe in taking people at their word, when I smell a rat; I believe in smoking them out on what they really believe.

Daryl said...

No arguement there...

Brendt said...

A man is dying and all you guys can do is argue over the Emergent church.