“The Ethics of God” Christopher Neiswonger of www.apologetics.com at Azusa Pacific University

You promote by action as much as by word.

You promote by action as much as by word.

Words often say things that we do not intend but deeds are disturbingly accurate measurements of character. Sins of omission are less obvious than overt acts but cumulatively, what we chose to leave undone speaks volumes. These days it’s popular to say that it doesn’t matter what you think, but what you do. Really, what you do is what you think, just out here in the air.

There’s a lot to be said about “being conscious” of something. I know the odd sounding frame can carry all kinds of loose thinking, but if we are doing something, something that we either don’t intend or at least would not do otherwise, shouldn’t we try to see these things?

I used to know a man that would say rude things to his children. One day I asked him, “Why do you do that?” He was shocked, not that I asked, but that it was something he did. He said, “My Dad always did that. I always thought I never would.” From then on he was very conscious of that and as far as I know, never did so again. I wouldn’t have asked just anyone, but in this case the actions had such a dramatically contrary character in relation to the rest of his life that the question begged asking. There was something about it that just seemed so foreign to his general life and worldview. I started to think it was impossible that he actually knew what he was doing or that he knew and did so with conscious intent. He was not trying to produce in his children the actual effect of his words. So what then? Why do it? I don’t know, and really, it doesn’t matter as much as that he observed himself enough to guard his tongue. We can figure out why we do the things we do at a more appropriate opportunity but that we change our behaviour is an immediate need.

This is not to be confused into a runny psychologism but just to guard ourselves from being something that we would not like. We need to be careful to look for causes of our actions, because the cause is the meaning of the effect.

God’s usual method for our sanctification is not to fix us all at once. We are Justified all at once; we are Sanctified through a lifetime. He seems to do so through eras of tempering through experience, trial, ordeal, reward, and learning. Thus we do not expect a perfect Christian any more than we advance a perfect church. But the things that we can do we must do and looking at who we are is never easy.

Becoming a Christian is in some ways like coming out of the dark into a well lit room. We see all kinds of things that were heretofore hidden. Many of these things are delightful but some are disturbing. The worst, I think, are those things within ourselves that should not be so. There are things that we’ve done in the natural life that when the spiritual life begins, go from being badges of honour to hallmarks of shame. The very things in which the world finds glory, we find either morose or empty. The events themselves haven’t changed but we have changed in relation to them. The things that we once held up as the evidence of our greatness become symbols of our guilt. Our loves become embarrassments and our embarrassments joys.

All of this we need to go through in order to reach Christ more fully and in reaching Him more fully, to grow in grace and faith and the good works that flow from them.


Christopher Neiswonger Speaks at Azusa Pacific University

The Center for Research in Science cordially invites you to celebrate the start of APU’s new academic year by attending our Science, Faith, and Culture lecture series. The 2009-2010 lecture series is entitled, “The Sermon on the Mount and Contemporary Christian Ethics,” reflecting our campus-wide Matthew 5 scriptural theme. The motivation for our focus on ethics is to encourage the audience to consider the way in which we conduct our lives within our chosen disciplines – vocationally and otherwise – in a Christ-like way in our increasingly sociologically and technologically complex world.

Please join us for our inaugural lecture, “The Ethics of God: a Closer Look at Traditional Christian Ethics,” by Christopher Neiswonger from World Vision International, at 6:30pm on Wednesday, September 16th, in Perry Lecture Hall at the brand new Segerstrom Science Center on APU’s West Campus (675 E. Foothill in Azusa). http://www.apu.edu/cris/lectures/

About the topic: These days everyone is trying to reinvent the wheel. The problem is that so few in our culture remember what the wheel looked like. The old ways have not outlived their significance and Neiswonger would argue that they may be our only hope at an applied ethic that is practical, reasonable, and reconcilable with sacred scripture. Far from being a secondary source in our axiology, revelation seems primary to the very idea of practicing an ethical life. The historic framework has always held two primary commitments: the moral law of God and the cultivation of the traditional Christian virtues. This lecture will take the listener from the existence of God, through the defense of a basic orthodoxy, to the promotion of a healthy spiritual life in faith and practice.

About the speaker: Christopher Neiswonger, JD; Global Centre – World Vision International. Specializing in classical Christian ethics, Christopher Neiswonger has taught and served in many churches over the past twenty years. His personal ethics are echoed in his work on child protection, immigration, and international trademark defense for World Vision International. Neiswonger received his Juris Doctor from Trinity Law School and his Master of Arts degree in Communication and Culture from Trinity Graduate School, and is currently completing an MBA in International Development.

O How I Love Thy Law! (Closure of Legalists & Libertines)

Psalm 119:4  Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

While we can see the error of the Legalists on one hand and the Libertines on the other, we should never let such excesses paralyze our own due diligence in the pursuit of holiness. And, mind you, the pursuit of holiness cannot be rightly taken up without the Law of God, for it is the standard by which we measure our progress. Granted, we will only have gradual progress until that day the Lord returns and makes us like He is, but we are nonetheless charged to “keep [God’s] precepts diligently.”

Do we love Jesus? Then we ought keep His commandments (John 14:15). Do we hate our sin? Then we ought diligently study the Law to see our sin in light of God’s perfection (Romans 7:7b). Do we love one another? Then we ought seek their good, for Christ’s sake (Exodus 20:12-17). Do we realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin? Then we ought see that the mortification thereof is more important than life or limb (Matthew 5:29, 30).

Christians have the privilege of possessing an alien righteousness that gives us a right standing before the Holy God of Scripture. In light of such a wonderful truth, is it really so difficult to believe that God expects, nay demands, our pursuit of perfect obedience to His Law? It shouldn’t be. Romans 12 calls it out “reasonable service.” Does this mean we can merit God’s favor by keeping His Law? Of course not, because even in our greatest law-keeping we are yet deficient. We don’t keep the law to merit favor, but as a response to undeserved favor lavished upon us.

Would that we can echo the Psalmist when he says, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.”


Piper, Prophecy, and Providence

So I’ve seen a few people blog about Piper’s “take” on the Tornado hitting the meeting where the ELCA voted to allow homosexual clergy. I decided to jump on the bandwagon. Most people may think me extreme, but it’s neither our duty nor our right to read or interpret Providence. Since I’m lazy, I’m just going to copy and paste a blurb I wrote elsewhere on the matter.

We are not privy to the secret things of the Lord our God. Did he predict this event in Scripture? No. Should we dogmatically presume that what has happened was God’s response as a direct consequence of the ELCA meeting? I don’t think we should. However, here’s what we can agree upon:

1. All negative things that happen in this life (sickness, calamity, disaster, death, etc.) are a consequence of sin. Therefore, there’s at least a general way to say that this, yet another natural disaster, is ultimately due to sin. Adam brought it into the world, and we are good at carrying that torch on as well.

Might God have sent this calamity as a means of shaking up these people? Maybe. That’s not for us to proclaim, cuz we cannot know. I assure you, though, if that’s why God did it, He’ll make it known beyond a shadow of a doubt to those people. God certainly sent this act. But can we really say why? Do we need to? No.

We can rest in knowing that God was pleased to bring it. We can be satisfied with calling what the ELCA is doing as an abomination and sin. But the two do not have to be related (although they may very well be). We can pray that the whole thing be used as a means to bring these people to repentance, but not simply a calamity by itself; rather, a hearing of the Word of God, which is much more powerful than any disaster that occurs.

We needn’t speak where God hasn’t spoken.


Legalists & Libertines: Both Imbalanced – Part 3

Psalm 119:4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

Previously, we discussed the Right Group (as opposed to the Wrong Group) within the context of the Libertines. Today I’d like to explore the Right Group within the context of the Legalists. It will really be quite brief, because I’d like to simply reference some sermons from Pastor Todd Ruddell that go into detail concerning the relationship of God’s Law to the believer.

Although Legalists carry the aura about themselves as folks who love God’s Law, we must understand that such boastings are all a charade. Due to their misuse of God’s Law they may rightly be classified as antinomian, for their abuse and misuse is truly against God’s intended purpose of the Law in the life of the believer. Legalism proper can be defined in two ways:

1. Legalism: Trying to gain merit before God by keeping the Law.

2. Legalism: Requiring more of people than God requires.

Having already addressed the number 2 definition in a previous post, I’d like to hit on the first definition as it is the import of this particular series. The Law of God obeyed by the works of man cannot merit any favor from God, and that is not its purpose. While the Libertines have taken that and decided to abrogate or severely distort the purpose of God’s Law altogether, the Legalists have done quite the opposite.

The Pharisees not only thought they could merit favor before God by keeping the Law, but in order to “keep” the Law they had to change the depth and breadth of the Law altogether. Jesus called them white washed tombs because they “kept” these Laws on the outside, but they did not truly keep the Law in its fullness. Christianity is a heart religion. The Religion of Yahweh was a heart religion. It is not enough to simply keep the outward letter of the law, but we must be compelled to obey the Law in our hearts too.

This, of course, was Christ’s purpose in preaching the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). He would say to the Pharisees, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…,” and in doing so would tear down any pride the Pharisees may have had in their so-called “law keeping.” They were like white washed tombs because on the outside they looked nice and clean, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones.

The Law is not a means of salvation for anyone. The Law cannot be fully kept by any mere human born to woman. All of Adam’s posterity have broken God’s Commandments in thought, word, and deed, so to pretend that we may attain salvation by the keeping of said law is a farce. The prophet Isaiah has referenced that even the “greatest” of our “righteousness” is filthy rags in the site of the thrice Holy God of Scripture. God does demand perfect obedience to His Law to have salvation, and that is exactly why Christ had to come and obey the Law perfectly on behalf of His people so that we will be able to stand before God as pure, holy, and undefiled. And THAT’s the good news of the Gospel, Friends!

Christ paid our debt that He did not owe. But we must never see God’s Law as a means to merit favor before God or a way to salvation. No, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Rather, our obedience to God’s Law should be a loving response to the glorious truth that God, in His mercy, has saved us from ourselves, passing us from death unto life. Our love, study, half-obedience, and failure of God’s Law are to serve as a reminder that we cannot please God with our works, and a reminder of the good news that Jesus has pleased the Father on our behalf.

So, is the Law of God binding upon the believer? Absolutely. Does our half-hearted keeping of God’s Law merit us anything before the Almighty? Absolutely not. Does this fact negate our responsibility to obey God’s Law to the best of our abilities and with the utmost sincerity of our hearts and minds? Absolutely not. For God’s Law is good, perfect, holy and just. Our hearts are not. We seek to obey and uphold God’s Law because He has commanded it be so. Jesus said, “He who loves me, obeys my commands.” The following links are a sermon series that my pastor preached on Matthew 5 concerning the Law, the distinctions therein, the proper & improper uses thereof, and its relationship to the believer. I implore you to listen to them, as they are greatly edifying and helpful.

1. The Law or the Prophets: Who Are They?

2. Distinctions in the Law: How is Law Used in Scripture?

3. Distinctions in the Law, Part 2: Ceremonial, Judicial

4. Distinctions in the Law, Part 3: The Moral Law, Part 1

5. Distinctions in the Law, Part 4: The Moral Law, Part 2 – the Moral Law Abides)

6. Uses of the Law, Part 1: Unlawful Uses – As a Means of Justification

7. Uses of the Law, Part 2: Unlawful Uses (Cont.)

8. Uses of the Law, Part 3: Lawful Uses – Who’s Law Will Prevail?

9. Lawful Uses of the Law – How Do You Define Sin?

10. Preaching the Law – The Revealer of Sin

11. Uses of the Law, Part 4: Lawful Uses – The Law Binds us to Christ

12. Uses of the Law, Part 5: Lawful Uses – An Affectionate Rule of Life

13. Preaching the Law – Do You Love God’s Law?

14. Introduction – The Greatest and the Least

15. Are You Least or Greatest in the Kingdom?

16. Keeping the Least Commandments

17. Keeping the Least Commandments, Part 2

18. True Biblical Greatness

19. Doing and Teaching the Least Commandments


Legalists & Libertines: Both Imbalanced – Part 2

Psalm 119:4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

The Right Side

Considering the ending of the previous post then, we might ask, “What is the proper balance?” The Biblical understanding of God’s Law.

Let us briefly examine a role/some roles in which God’s Law ought to act in the life of a believer. I find this necessary becausethe errors of the Libertines stem from a misunderstanding of what it means to be “under the Law.” Respectfully, though I believe their intentions are sincere and positive, I fear they have fallen prey to the idea that those of us who are under grace can only be out from “under the Law” by casting it aside. Such a belief is unfounded in Scripture and, I believe, a revolt against God’s provision of goodness He has given us in the Law.

First, what does God’s Word say about God’s Law? Many things. My personal favorite follows thus from Psalm 19:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

I am certain that Biblical Christians would all agree that we can trust Scripture, no? Not only can we trust in Scripture, we can love and obey it wholeheartedly, without fear of it leading us astray. Hence, it follows we can also believe in and trust what the Psalmist says here. Let us consider a few of the Psalmist’s descriptors of the Law.

1. God’s Law is Perfect (v.7)

Hebrew: תמים –Transliteration: tamiym — which means:

1) complete, whole, entire, sound
a) complete, whole, entire
b) whole, sound, healthful
c) complete, entire (of time)
d) sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity
e) what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact

Accidental is certainly no way to characterize the Psalmist’s placing of perfect as the first descriptor of God’s Law in this passage. Rather, it lays the foundation for all those which proceed thereafter. Because God’s Law is perfect, we can be confident that to the “revived soul” it:

-is sure, bringing wisdom to the simple
-is right, rejoicing the heart
-is pure, enlightening the eyes

So not only is the Law all these perfect things, but it does and brings good things! Wisdom, Joy, Illumination, and Rewards. That doesn’t sound scary, nor is it something I mind living “under.” ;) Now, considering the given definition of perfect, I believe we are safe to proclaim that God’s Law is perpetual. If it is perfect (and it is), how could one even imply that it is bad, deficient, or whatever one wishes to say, enough that we need to be finished with it? I mean, it is complete, not lacking in anything, sound, etc., thus it has no need to be abolished. Next, allow me to quote that Esteemed Apostle, when he writes:

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. – Romans 7:12

Having briefly touched the surface, let me say that I, in no way, would think the sincere Libertines would disagree thus far with what I’ve said. “So, then, what is the purpose, Josh?” To point out that when the Apostle says “you are not under law but under grace,” he does not mean that the Law is bad, or that it is no longer in effect. Granted, there are certain Mosaic, Ceremonial, and Judicial laws which are no longer in effect, but not without reason. The ceremonial laws no longer have any typological use, having been fulfilled in Christ. The judicial laws have passed with the passing of the nation-state of OT Israel*. No, what I speak of is God’s Moral Law.

What was Paul saying, then? The same thing that is true for every believer in all times in all ages ranging from Adam to present. That, before God so graciously regenerated and justifies a sinner, he is condemned by the Law. Not because the Law is in any way deficient. NO! Because men are deficient. The Law stands as a condemnation against those who have not been saved by the Law Giver. However, once the sinner is graciously brought into the Law Giver’s family, he is no longer condemned by that Law, but saved by the Law Giver’s grace.

Therefore, since it is nothing inherent within the Law that is condemnable, deficient, etc. Paul does not mean that the Law is no longer authoritative, binding, or important for the Christian. We know that the Law is perfect, good, holy, just, rewarding, etc. How, then, could we say it is abolished? The Law, for the unbeliever, serves one of two purposes: Either, his condemnation unto everlasting hell, or his conviction unto repentance, conversion and everlasting glory.

For the Christian, though, the Law is still authoritative, binding, and important. It cannot condemn the Christian, for there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. Why is that? For Christ took the condemnation, not because of some magical pixie dust that is applied to believers when they are converted. The Law is a measure for the Christian. The Law ought to be a delight for the Christian. The Law serves as a means unto holiness (not perfectionism, mind you). Thus, it is not the Law that is bad, but men. The Law is not a Boogey-Man.

Lord willing, in a future post, we can look at the “Right Side” in the context of the Legalists. Until then, Godspeed and Grace to all of God’s People!

*Although the judicial laws have expired with the nation of OT Israel, the general equity of said laws still remains (this will be discussed and expounded upon in a future article, Lord willing).