The great controversy…

Seventh-Day Adventists everywhere ought to nod knowingly when they see this title. I have woken up this morning with a blog conversation from last night fresh in my mind and I have been mulling it over for some time today. With a few differences (including the typos and paragraphing, but NOT the theology), I’d like to share with you guys what I shared with those guys.

It is another day when I am literally thunderstruck at the fact that many people do not really understand that there is major spiritual warfare going on between the forces of good and the forces of evil. And the consummate and ongoing failure of many Christians to a) comprehend this themselves; b) articulate it adequately and forcefully to others; c) actually accept in their hearts that they are really in a war; d) connect themselves – and others – to the reality that Jesus IS in fact returning to the earth for the second Advent (and Seventh-Day Adventists believe that this is going to be soon, based on an understanding of Bible prophecy that follows directly in the pathway of what the Reformers believed – although we also acknowledge that we have NO idea exactly when and we recognise the Biblical admonition to leave speculation about that well alone) is one of the most savage indictments on Christianity.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I was able to hear Elder Kevin Bond (one of the pre-eminent gospel musicians in modern times) preach one evening. And I was surprised at how biblical his sermon was! Not only did he avoid several minefields while handling John 3 – he ended up taking us to Matthew 24 and talking about the end time events that Jesus spoke about, making it clear that he believed that Jesus was coming back – and not a million years from now either! One has not always heard that biblical focus in Sunday-keeping churches, so it was extremely refreshing to be there to witness that for myself.

It reminded me that in the opening to the track “Days of Elijah” Pastor Donnie McClurkin actually exhorts the audience by asking them “how many of you know [Jesus] is coming soon?” There are some Seventh-Day Adventists who think that SDAs are the only Christians who are actively looking for the return of Jesus. Not so! Bible believers and Bible students are everywhere! But I know that from what I have understood and continue to understand as I grow in faith and knowledge (and virtue), it is the Seventh-Day Adventist Church that teaches a message that has connected both my heart and my mind to the word of God – and the Sabbath is one of the most crucial elements of that. Much as I enjoy and continue to enjoy my fellowship and interactions with various types of Sunday-keeping Christian believers, my colours are pinned to the mast – and by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit alone I will remain faithful to this message.

This was the question:

“I have to ask [how] a mere finite being like Satan can be outscoring God on scoring homeruns in the soul-winning contest. God has infinite knowlege and power and a zillion paid preachers working for him. Satan has finite resources and volunteers. Yet Satan is winning more souls?”

Wowee!

The ways in which Christian faith is articulated vary from place to place as well as from denomination to denomination, but this matter of what I guess we can call ‘spiritual warfare’ is an ongoing source of confusion for many Christians, who have – and it is not always their own fault – not developed a serious handle on the reality that is the ongoing controversy between good and evil.

One way to separate categories of Christian goes back to the Bible: is it of God, or not? And if so, how much of it? And not all, how do we know what is and is not?

I speak for myself and those who I believe as I do. But for what it is worth, I tell you straight that only the Bible can provide an adequate framework for this thing called ‘theodicy’ – the theological framework for understanding that God is still an all-good, all-loving and all-powerful deity despite the real and actual presence of evil – and sin – in the world. If one rejects that Book on any level, one then has to find another authority to describe the characteristics of God and to explain how He works in this world.

I know that many Christians have a standard line to this question: “yeah, yeah. But God loves us, so He’s given us a choice!” But then a skeptic probes further and too often, the Christian can’t keep the answers coming, so the skeptic thinks – “there goes another one.” But we’re not all like that, praise God! Free will is one of the most hotly-debated areas in both philosophy itself and in the philosophy of religion. What does it mean to have ‘free will?’ Does free will even exist? Some, like US atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett even think that free will itself has evolved. How I wish this was a Skype conversation, but anyway: The fact is that in theological terms, we understand that Satan is indeed a mere finite being compared to God, but compared to us, he is the second most powerful creature in the universe – and sin has all the power of its author! Because the first two people in the human family tree sinned by rebelling against God, all humans come hardwired with a capacity to rebel against God. This does not mean that they are actively choosing Satan (although some do) – but the problem is that by not choosing God, they choose a path which is much more in line with Satan’s agenda – the result being that they are indeed following Satan, whether they know it or not, and whether anyone likes it or not.

The controversy between good and evil can be seen in the book of Job. Satan stopped being Lucifer and became Satan because he questioned the goodness and the faithfulness of God. This resulted in his expulsion from heaven – an expulsion that became rubber-stamped and unchangeable when he led Eve to disobey God. Remember Genesis 3:15?
15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.”

This is what theologians call the “proto-evangelium” – the first gospel. God Himself has put emnity between the Satan and the ‘woman’ – which in biblical typology is the Church! And given that the Church is no ordinary woman, but will one day become the “bride of Christ” this is the end of any chance of redemption for Satan – and from that point the war will play out to its conclusion. The message of the gospel is more far-reaching than merely that of sin, grace and salvation. The message of the gospel includes the literal reality of the END of sin itself!

Going back to the book of Job: Satan claimed that Job was only serving God because he was more blessed than anyone in his entire region. Satan claimed that if God took all his blessings away, Job would curse God. This is the heart of Satan’s lie – God is not a good God, and his law cannot be kept and would not be kept out of choice by an agent who possessed free will. Satan was attacking Job’s piety and his relationship with God at the deepest possible level. It was a gamble that Satan would lose.

As the Bible records, God gave Satan permission to directly attack Job up to a point – that of taking his life. And Job responded – and some of those responses are captured for us. And Scripture records that Job refused to give up on his basic faith in not only the existence of God, but the GOODness of God – despite his own wife telling him to ‘curse God and die.’ And God came through for Job in a spectacular way – but He didn’t explain to Job why what happened happened!

Satan offers a non-religion where there is no morality. Many people want morality without God, but fail to understand that if there is no God , then there is no author of morality! How do we know what is right and wrong without a Biblical framework? I see that there is a US TV show called Dexter that is about a serial killer who kills other killers. Dexter is now advertised as “America’s favourite serial killer…” What kind of world is this where a serial killer becomes a hero? I used to be addicted to watching crime dramas, but God convicted me a long time ago that this was doing NOTHING for my spiritual life. Since then I lapsed back for a short period – but then I had the conviction a second time and I could see how it was hurting my prayer life – and also hurting my ability to witness to others. In fact, I will go further in the hope that someone will be helped by this – it was when one of my secular housemates at that time, knowing how serious I am about my faith found me watching something on TV and expressed their surprise that I was watching that kind of thing that I realised what had happened and how I’d slipped back into something I had already given up. That’s the kind of wake-up call we all need sometimes!

But I NEVER watched anything like Dexter – that was a step too far.  Yes, Dexter supposedly kills bad people, but who gives one human being the moral authority to take the life of another? If you kill another, I kill you and in killing you I feel that I have done the world a service, some might agree! BUT I may have done a worse thing in killing you because if I had let you live (but imprisoned you, for example) you might have come to your senses and repented and then you could have been forgiven – both in heaven and on earth. But by acting as your judge and executioner, I am saying that I know what is best for you – death for what you did – but actually, I too might have done what you did if provoked by whatever the circumstances and if I thought I would get away scot-free. So how am I as a fellow flawed human being morally equipped to judge you to the extent of taking your life?

God loves us – enough to give us the capacity to choose and the scope to live outside of fellowship with Him on our own terms. He wants to have us be His children and He wants to be our God and Father but if he coerces us, then we have no scope to exercise free will – and therefore we would never be free and Satan’s accusation would be vindicated!

So, there is no real “soul-winning contest” as such – God is looking for those who have taken on the message of the Gospel as the literal truth and are willing to be His children.  Satan wants anyone who will not say ‘yes’ to God. As human beings, we have the freedom to choose. Our salvation is free to us – but the cost of our discipleship is everything. How does hat work? Because our salvation itself cost the Son of God everything. He risked His very divinity to redeem humankind!!! This us a mystery that is beyond our comprehension as finite human beings, but the Apostle Paul does his best to give us a road map to understanding how it worked then and works now.

Jesus Himself said, “they worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” So yes, it looks like God has a “zillion paid preachers” – yeah yeah. Groovy.  But are all of them actually in tune with God in their hearts?

There is SO much more to say, but with another high word count, I need to wind down. I appreciate sincerely those of you who have hit upon this post and made it to this point. I thank you for your time. If you don’t know Jesus for yourself, or you have issues with what has been said here, or you’d like someone to pray for you, please leave a comment, or if you know me personally and want to contact me some other way as folk have been doing, then do feel free. But please don’t ignore what you’ve read today. This is too important. Please go on to your next destination online with my best wishes and prayers and God bless you!

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One comment on “The great controversy…

  1. The problem of sin and evil is indeed a pressing question, and I agree that Christians often forget that we’re in a spiritual battle.

    But I also think that looking at how down the years the Gospel has grown and continues to grow globally is matter for great encouragement and praise of God’s saving power. The decline of Christianity in the secularised West is very much the exception, globally speaking.

    Also, we don’t know what time-span God is working on. One-third of the world is nominally Christian after 2000 years – if Jesus comes back tomorrow, then perhaps the score-card doesn’t look that impressive. But if the Gospel continues to grow and flourish for another 2000 years… or another 10,000 or 1,000,000, who knows how many more souls might be saved than damned in the end?

    But whenever Jesus chooses to return, I think the issue of freewill is vitally important. I was preaching on Hebrews 10:26-39 on Sunday, and it’s a sobering warning of the necessity of persevering. The Bible is clear that God is sovereign, but also that our choices matter – we really can choose to accept or reject the Gospel, with eternal consequences.

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