Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Proper Distinction Between Sanctification and Justification

Talked with Matthew Garnett about a great Ash Wednesday sermon from Pastor David Petersen.

In podcast form:

On You Tube:

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Posted by on March 27, 2021 in Uncategorized


Flee Corrupt “Authenticity” and Come Into the Light!

Rousseau: the individual is good ; society corrupt…


“…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”

– John 3:21a



In the book of I John, the Apostle John says

“…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

And in today’s reading from John we also hear this:

“…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”

So, how do you live by the truth?

How do you come into the light?

You might be thinking: “Well, just look at the Gospel for today!” It contains, after all, the most well-known and perhaps greatest Bible verse ever – which has to be relevant!: John 3:16, what some people call “the Gospel in a nutshell”:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And we know from elsewhere in the Bible what the Apostle Paul says about the Gospel:

It is the power of God.

…so let the lion loose!

Amen to all this!

Over the years the verse John 3:16 has always been very special to me… In my church growing up, we chose our own confirmation verse, and John 3:16 was my confirmation verse.

When a person hears and receives the Gospel of Jesus Christ, everything changes. He now identifies with Him….

As Jesus’ little lamb, wanting to sidle up to his Shepherd and stick close, he begins to understand words like these from the Apostle Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

All this said, what might be some reasons why people don’t hear and begin to understand the significance of these Bible verses for themselves personally?

Our reading from this morning’s Gospel admittedly seems to give a clear answer here:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil…”


How do we see this today?

Well, in our own context, here in early 21st century America, it helps to keep in mind that the Bible is still difficult to completely ignore here, and there are in fact a lot of liberal theologians…

These are people who don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God – and yet many find a lot that they like in a Gospel like John’s…

They just interpret it differently they say!

So for them, in the Gospel of John for example, it is not so much that God is saying that when we believe in Jesus we receive salvation from sin, death, and the devil…

Rather, believing and our own actions go hand in hand, as we try to be good, as we choose to be good…salvation comes… As one puts it, “To love God is to be saved. To love anybody is a significant step along the way…” (Frederick Buechner)

If grace comes into the picture here, it is not about God’s radical action which is received in faith, like the child with the trick or treat bag who simply receives the goods… (as they are by that gift transferred from the Kingdom of darkness to the His own Kingdom…)

Rather, it is about how we cooperate with grace, which is like a fuel, by our own choices and our own power…unto salvation.

So, when they hear that “…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”, ultimately, for them, things will go something like this:

“It is by the power of human beings that they are able to choose the light like Jesus chose the light… and reveal themselves to be the truly good ones, the children of the light…”

So, they would say, in this text from John this morning, God is, in part, saying that He is showing us to be the good people…

The people who have exercised the divine spark from within them… the ones who God helps, saves, are those who have helped themselves and others as well….


How might these folks look at Christians who trust that the Bible is the Word of God?

Well, they might have some real sympathies for these hopeless traditionalists… Some might even wistfully say that they wish they could have their simple faith.

Others, of course, would be less well-inclined…

…others among us who, for example, have very, very little knowledge of the Word of God…

…even if they certainly have formed their own very firm views about what it means to be a good persons and to live righteously in the world… ideas which clash with the Lord’s…

To be sure, they have heard some things about Jesus that they can’t not be impressed with. But what they have heard only makes them think more and more that it is not they, but traditional Christians, who, in a sense, “love[] darkness”…

Why might some think this?

Because, at bottom, they have a different story than the one we find, for example, in the Nicene Creed.

They believe folks like traditional Christian believers have simply not been true to themselves… and have not began to reach their full potential…

…because they are under the sway of, and are even being controlled by violent patriarchal systems…

…they are immature and lack real courage because this kind of external power, and not something like the good “inner child” within, is what shapes them and forms them.

Misshapes and deforms them, they say…

Finally, in the end, Bible-believers are certainly a problem because – ever fearful as they face the challenges of the world – they will lash out and try to control others – at the very least implying that the Bible should apply to everyone!

…that things like the 10 commandments should apply to everyone…

…or, even worse, think that it is good that “Christmas and Easter are national Holidays in America and why shouldn’t it have a privileged place?”, etc.!

These traditionalist Christians don’t understand that fear is what drives them, but that is certainly the real explanation.

They hold these violent views because they too have been formed by violence!

And violent oppressors all, it is now how they keep their privilege, their status, their power, their control… and their own external practices which comfort them…

“These are not children of the light,” they say, “but those who are mired in fear and darkness…”

And as society continues to change, and those on the “right side of history” rejoice in such changes, these children of darkness – if they refuse to be awakened and converted – will get exactly what they deserve, what the writer Rod Dreher has called “the law of merited impossibility”:

“[The kinds of persecution you are concerned could happen] will never happen, and when [they do], you bigots will deserve it.”

And many of those who feel these things, being Americans, would no doubt consider themselves to be some kind of Christian as well!

Who are “progressing”…

In truth however, their “becoming more Christian” actually means becoming less Christian….


How did we get to this point?

Where Christianity could conceivably be understood in this way?

A lot of this has to do with the idea of authenticity…

The word “authentic” is used a lot today.

We have a sense of what people mean by it.[i] Authentic people are interesting, creative, and their outer life and inner life are one… “If you’re gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk…”

I remember that during the days of my confirmation, in the late 1980s, the influence of punk music was huge. And these folks placed a heavy emphasis on authenticity… with those who were deemed insufficiently authentic called “posers”….

Getting caught up for today, one of my teenage sons explained to me that to be authentic is to be original, real, and to show “legitness”…

Sometimes, the idea of being authentic might not seem terribly complicated, but there is a lot to it really…

There is, for example, a certain philosophical understanding here that often comes into play: being authentic finally means being free from the influence of external authorities – who so often are unreliable – and being true to one’s self…

And how did we get to this point?

Let’s do a short history: there was a shift from the importance of a notion like “sincerity” to this “authenticity”….

The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us the following:

“In earlier times[, maybe up to a couple hundred years ago in the Western world at least,] a sincere person was seen as someone who honestly attempts to neither violate the expectations that follow from the position he holds in society, nor to strive to appear otherwise than he ought to.”[ii]

For the early-nineteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel though, “[i]n the condition of sincerity, the individual is uncritically obedient to the power of society—a conformity that for Hegel leads to subjugation and a deterioration of the individual…”

One way that modern notions of “authenticity” are unlike the old ideas of sincerity, then, is that within authenticity there is, at the very least, the implicit idea of challenging the practices of one’s wider society or perhaps even one’s social circles, being true to who you are within – and what you feel is right….

And that, of course, is not all bad… We do need people who believe that they are called to effect good change in the world, to not simply “go with the flow,” but to sometimes call into question the “status quo,” as they say, and to try to, at the very least, work to make course adjustments here and there in “the system”.

That said, this view, arguably, is not only very widespread today, but it often is deeply misled, not being held in check with God’s Word in any sense.

And revolution, not reformation, is the cry…


So how did all of that happen? I think the author Meic Pearse gives us a nice summary.

2003 book.


First, he tells us why obedience is the cardinal virtue among “premodern” societies:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

Next, we hear about how the Western world and beyond has, in fact, come to be under Christian influence:

“….what the [Lutheran and then Protestant] Reformation did achieve was a long-term stress on the idea of integrity and inwardness that has become a leading feature of Western culture and which remains long after the religious motives which thrust it into prominence have been discarded by an ever-more-secular society. Its diffused, secularized form has become the inheritance even of the historically Catholic regions of the West so that it is today a key differentiation between “the West and the rest.” (54)

As early as the beginnings of the 1600s, he says we detect the shift to the secularized form he mentions: “The first shift had[, in the wider society,] radicalized traditional morality by internalizing it; the second shift radicalizes interiority and discards traditional morality…”: “The psalmist’s ‘truth in the inner parts / …wisdom in the inmost place’ (Ps 51:6) gave way to Shakespeare’s ‘To thine own self be true.’” (57)

One last shocking paragraph:

“Because stress on interiority had long been part and parcel of moral discourse under the first shift[, popularized by the Reformation], it was possible for advocates of the second shift to borrow its language and to sound more ‘moral’ than those who opposed them (because they were [the ones who] were more ‘honest,’ less ‘hypocritical’ and so on)—even as they cut loose from morality as traditionally understood. In the Romantic worldview of Rousseau, the individual is intrinsically good, while society is evil. For him, there is no question of people needing to put ‘chains on their own appetites’ but rather to break the shackles that society imposes on individuals: ‘Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.’ It is society that drags people down into badness; so the way to a better individual is by freeing them from the ‘chains’ of social constraints—and letting them be ‘true to themselves.’ By the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such thinking had spread beyond the narrow circle of intellectuals and been absorbed by the wider middle classes; it was beginning to affect popular thinking about morality….” (58)

Now, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day – people like Nicodemus – believed in traditional moral codes in their full rigor.

And so, when Jesus talked to him about coming into the light and not hiding in darkness: the idea was twofold:

Not only will God’s children embrace me, God’s Gospel incarnate in human flesh, but they will embrace me as I fully am, as the One who fulfills God’s Perfect Law, that is, who is the embodiment and fulfillment of traditional morality

…living life as it is meant to be lived to the full.


Again, we find ideas that intellectuals came up with to help us get away from this kind of thinking… like Jean-Jacques Rousseau did in the mid-18th century…

Those ideas have basically come down to us today, further mutated…

And so, the world has more ammunition in their war against teachings like this:

“…Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Now, don’t misunderstand: even if it is fought against, deep down, this knowledge about our accountability before God is inside each person.

And even from a purely worldly perspective, people very much grasp the idea that evil is often done in darkness… when no one else is watching. And that we often want that darkness to be made known…

And then, of course, it gets personal, for all people… when we are involved.

“Why do people point out these hard and inconvenient truths to me? Is it, at some level, a real attempt at tough love, to correct me in love? Or is it all about ‘owning me’ and stroking their own egos?”

All of us, including the non-Christians, have had these kinds of experiences…

But the unbelievers will basically go on to reason in this kind of way:

“Yes, I am not perfect, but why should I ever think for a minute that I am really a bad person in any sense? That there is any real ugliness to me? That I am not good enough? That I am not enjoyable or a burden to be around? That I have habits that really warrant such abuse from others? Whatever wrongs I have done, after all, are outweighed by the good I seek, do…”

I mean, how much, they reason, should any innately good person, any good-hearted person, be expected to take?

After all, we all know that all it can take is just one insensitive comment from the past, brought to remembrance, that was made to us…and we are liable to be filled with anger, wrath, or maybe, even, fall into despair…

And we human beings do then become fearful… And want to lash out at the evil oppressors who do not see how attractive and good we are, how excellent out potential is….

Because you see, for them and their reasoning, human nature is basically good!

Their Gospel is this:

“You are basically good! – it’s only society that keeps you in its chains through its tendency to not only not appreciate you, but to abuse you in subtle ways. So resist its norms and values – the external authorities who cling to the importance of notions like tradition, hierarchy… their beloved “status quo”….

…and embrace your inner self, your inner child! Be who you are!

And if we all come together as equals and just bring our true, authentic selves, we can make this work! We can enter into a social contract, and agree….

Because we are good persons….”

This is what our “Old Adam, ” when he’s not living in the sewer at least (which he also does), wants to believe.

But the hard truth, again, is that we are most definitely not good…

We are not those, who, by nature, reach for what is good.

For the light…

No. Because “Only One is good… God alone.”


Does it matter how much I or you say that though? It seems, after all, that this Kool-Aid has been consumed by one and all!

We are Americans after all!

And so, in general, we all of course want people to be free: politically and otherwise! We like the idea of the 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself…”[iii]

But let’s look at our text yet again this morning, with what we just learned in mind…

“…Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God….”

In John 3, Jesus is telling us that we are flesh but that we must be born of the Spirit. This is really just another way of saying what Paul said in Ephesians 2:3: Before the grace of God, we were, by *nature*, “children of wrath…”

This is why we must be born again, or, perhaps better, “born from above” by the One who is from above, through water and the Spirit…

And then we see that…:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved….”


Those whose eyes are opened to see what the Bible is saying here realize that it is saying that human nature has been corrupted. We, by nature, in our deepest parts, have become evil!

Adam and Eve were created very good. Then, however, they partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God told them not to do… and they realized that they were naked.

That they had cut off God.

They ran.

They hid.

They covered themselves.

This is what we do from the true God as well…

The Lutherans, following St. Augustine, realized that if we were to truly understand and live by the Word of God this could not be ignored. And hence, as we read in the 1580 Book of Concord…

“Reason and free will are able to live an outwardly decent life to a certain extent. But only the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born anew [John 3:5] and to have inwardly another heart, mind, and natural desire.” (FC SD II 26).

In the 16th century, when the notion of sincerity still held sway, people knew of the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reasons…

Now however, when modern notions of authenticity hold sway, more and more people are doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Again, this is because, deep down, regarding human nature, sins attract man more than Christ. “In truth, they hate him because he opposes what they love…” (Baumler, 56)

Oh, they might convince themselves, lie to themselves, that they love Jesus…

But what they are really clinging to is a Christ of their own imagination… who is more in line with their “authentic” selves… (see 2 Cor. 11:4).


And so, because of this, to come into the light means to seek heaven on earth.

Glory now.

Utopia now.

“We can do it. We are the change we are looking for…”

And really, they are left with nothing else. This is the only hope they have…

They are the ones who are good, who fight the evil… the one’s oppressing themselves and others…

They were born free, and they will not be put in chains!

They will reach for the light!

Not even the limits of God’s creation itself will oppose them! Keep them down…

It’s just a matter of good people who can lead and do perhaps a bit of social engineering…

Why all this?

Well, there is a reason people reach for Utopia, and its important for us to realize this…

It is good to think about people from the world over – men and women – living in harmony with one another. After all, what did we also hear Paul say today?:

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

It is good to dream of a time where we work with the creation, and do not need to ever be fearful about losing what we have, what we know, what we love.

When swords are beaten into plowshares, justice flows like a river, we join in joyous song and dance, and blessing and bounty are known by all, in the Light of the Lamb that reigns upon His throne!

Remember, those in your lives you might think about as sappy or bleeding hearts are longing for something what we should see the wisdom and value in as well!



And so, even as we warn others of Utopian thinking, we must also recognize the very human desires that many have – and assert, that it is indeed good when we can make improvements!

After all, as Paul says today:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These acts testify to God’s love in Christ, because, really and truly, they are God’s love in Christ…

And we must know and remember always that our Lord is the best Person available to both break down the wrong thoughts and desires we have and to bring us healing…

Again we are not good…

He is the only One who can break us down and put us back together, so that our truth and light seeking really are this, and not deception…

We all need to take to heart our Psalm for this morning:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Do not embrace the one who masquerades as an Angel of Light…

In other words, do not flee the Real Light, but repent!

Brothers and sisters, may you be never fleeing from that Light, hating that Light

…but always living in repentant trust.

Walking in the light, as He is in the Light…











[i] It seems to have originally been used to describe a real, original document – and not a forgery, for example – but now the range of meanings has expanded.

More quotes on the topic of “Authenticity” (also note the Wikipedia article on the topic, and especially the summary there of the views of Sartre):

“The concept of authenticity has been explored throughout history by many writers, from ancient Greek philosophers to Enlightenment authors, to existentialists and contemporary social theorists. The social barrier to achieving authenticity (or self-realization) was emphasized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), who argued that personal authenticity is diminished by the need for the esteem of others in societies characterized by hierarchy, inequality, and interdependence. According to Rousseau, authenticity is derived from the natural self, whereas inauthenticity is a result of external influences.

The existential philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) said that authenticity is choosing the nature of one’s existence and identity.”

From here:


“Another decisive factor in the development of the ideal of authenticity was that it emerged together with a distinctively modern conception of the self. This is visible in the work of Rousseau, who argues that the orientation toward life that should guide the conduct one chooses should come from a source within. This led to questions about inwardness, self-reflection and introspection, many of them addressed in his Confessions (1770). When the space of interiority becomes a guiding authority, the individual must detect and distinguish central impulses, feelings and wishes from ones that are less central or conflict with one’s central motives. In other words, interiority must be divided into what is at the core and what is peripheral. In this picture, the measure of one’s actions is whether they spring from and express essential aspects of one’s identity or whether they come from a peripheral place.

Such a conception of the self exhibits decisive parallels to the tradition of “religious individualism” that centers religious life on the individual and stresses the importance of inwardness and the introspective examination of one’s inner motives, intentions and conscience. Investigating the characteristics of the modern subject of inwardness, Foucault (1980: 58–60) suggests that “it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface.” For Foucault, confession—the look inward to monitor one’s interior life and to tell certain “truths” about oneself—has become a part of a cultural life, reaching from religious contexts to psychological therapy. The radicalization of the distinction between true and false interiority has led to new possibilities; inner states, motivations and feelings are now increasingly thought of as objectifiable and malleable in different contexts.

Rousseau also adds that acting on motives that spring from the periphery of the self, while ignoring or denying essential aspects of one’s self, simply amounts to self-betrayal and annihilation of the self. Rousseau’s The New Heloise (1997 [1761]) emphasizes this aspect by showing how the novel accentuates the significant costs and the potential self-alienation involved in suppressing one’s deepest motivations. But, in addition, in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau argues that, with the emergence of a competitive public sphere, the ability to turn inward is increasingly compromised, because competitive relations require intense role-playing, which Rousseau calls an “excessive labor” (Rousseau 1992 [1754]: 22). The ongoing instrumental role-playing not only causes alienation, but ultimately inequality and injustice, since it destroys the immanent moral understanding with which, according to Rousseau, humans are hard-wired. Social life requires identification with social roles, but because role identity is determined by other people’s normative expectations, role-playing leads to a tension that might be understood as a matter of politics more than anything else (Schmid 2017).”

“Whereas sincerity generally seems to accept a given social order, authenticity becomes an implicitly critical concept, often calling into question the reigning social order and public opinion. In Rousseau’s optic, one of our most important projects is to avert from the social sphere and to unearth what is truly us underneath the ‘masks’ that society forces on us. But when authenticity comes to be regarded as something like sincerity for its own sake (Ferrara 1993: 86), it becomes increasingly hard to see what the moral good is that it is supposed to bring into being.”

“…Feldman (2014) argues in favor of abandoning the ideal of authenticity because it builds on confused assumptions about the self, the value of one’s “gut feelings” in revealing one’s values, and the supposedly corrupting influence of the “external” social realm (for a critique of this position, see Bauer 2017; Ferrara 2009)

However, one might argue that this only becomes a problem if one thinks of authenticity as entirely a personal virtue. In other words, there is only a clash between morality and social life and being authentic if the “true” self is regarded as fundamentally prone to anti-social behaviour. But many thinkers at this time understood human nature as fundamentally disposed toward beneficence, so that evil was seen as arising from socialization and upbringing rather than from deep drives within the human being. For instance, Rousseau holds that certain immoral characteristics are immanent in man but were produced by the dynamics of modern society, which is characterized by a competitive way of relating to others and striving for acknowledgement in the public sphere. Rousseau thus externalizes the origins of societal evil and alienation from the original nature of man. The undistorted self-relation of natural man inspires sympathy and considerate relations with others, sensitive to “seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow-man, perish or suffer, principally those like ourselves” (Rousseau 1992 [1754]: 14). In somewhat the same way, economic theorists of the time supposed that unregulated markets are self-correcting, as human beings are naturally inclined to engage in mutually advantageous commercial activities (Taylor 2007: 221–269). On this view, authenticity does not amount to egoism or self-absorption. On the contrary, the prevailing view seems to have been that, by turning inward and accessing the “true” self, one is simultaneously led towards a deeper engagement with the social world. This is why Taylor (1989: 419–455) describes the trajectory of the project of authenticity is “inward and upward”.”

“Yet others have based their criticism of authenticity especially on the emergence of a pervasive “culture of authenticity”. Cultural critics have argued that the ostensible “decline” of modern society might not primarily be a result of economical or structural transformations, but as the outcome of an increasingly ubiquitous ideal of authenticity. Before we turn to these critiques, it is helpful to understand how the ideal of authenticity became so widespread. First, we should mention that Rousseau’s work, made a significant contribution to the popularization of authenticity. Indeed, some argue that authenticity can be seen as a “keystone” in Rousseau’s work, giving unity to his reflections on sociality, political order, and education (Ferrara 2017: 2). Particularly The New Heloise (1997 [1761]) was enormously influential, with at least 70 editions in print before 1800 (Darnton 1984: 242). This dispersion of the ideal of authenticity into popular culture was further strengthened by several factors. For instance, a wide array of intellectuals of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century had embraced the idea of authenticity, and even radicalized it by resisting established codes and publicly defending alternative, “artistic” or “bohemian” modes of life.”

Both J. Farrell (1997) and Rossinow argue that the New Left emerged partly as a reaction to traditional American liberalism and Christian existentialism, replacing the negative concept of “sin” with “alienation” and the positive goal of “salvation” with that of “authenticity”. Confronted with what they understood as alienation that “isn’t restricted to the poor” (Rossinow 1998: 194), New Left activism reached beyond civil rights to moral rights and attempted to bring about a recovery of a sense of personal wholeness and authenticity by curing the institutions of American society.

To be authentic is to be clear about one’s own most basic feelings, desires and convictions, and to openly express one’s stance in the public arena. But that capacity is precisely the character trait that is needed in order to be an effective member of a democratic society (Guignon 2008: 288).

From here:


“To understand Kant’s significance as a precursor of postmodernism, Hicks looks at Kant’s prominence on the broad horizon of the Enlightenment, whose most influential thinkers were sustained by the rationalist hope that the use of reason would be transformative of life. The advancement of science and the growth of knowledge were to lead to progress, prosperity, and perfectibility. Nowhere is this eighteenth century optimism more dramatically shown to be problematic than in the writings of Rousseau. Hostile to the very science with which most of his contemporaries were infatuated, Rousseau challenged the faith in this wonderful engine of progress in a “Counter-Enlightenment” critique of reason that had an important influence on Kant (24ff.). Not only do we not need all that we can obtain by dint of our reason; but the multiplication of wants in the wake of the application of our inventiveness leaves us dissatisfied and dependent, at odds with ourselves and incapacitated for living well. “As the conveniences of life increase and luxury spreads the virtues disappear; and all this is an effect of the sciences and the arts.” Thus was Rousseau intent on showing the problematic features of living with the strategy of progress.  It is a measure of his importance that this attitude remains with us today in that blend of influences from which postmodernism derives its peculiar appeal: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.”

From here:


It continues: “However, by the time of Hegel, the ideal of sincerity had lost its normative appeal. Hegel polemically refers to sincerity as “the heroism of dumb service” (Hegel 2002 [1807]: 515) and launches an attack on the bourgeois “honest man,” who passively internalizes a particular conventional social ethos. In the condition of sincerity, the individual is uncritically obedient to the power of society—a conformity that for Hegel leads to subjugation and a deterioration of the individual (Hegel 2002 [1807]; Golomb 1995: 9; Trilling 1972). For Hegel, in the progress of “spirit”, the individual consciousness will eventually move from this condition of sincerity to a condition of baseness, in which the individual becomes antagonistic to external societal powers and achieves a measure of autonomy. Hegel shows this clearly in a comment on Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, a story in….”

[iii] As I wrote a couple years ago:

“We… appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?…”




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Posted by on March 15, 2021 in Uncategorized


Were the Freedoms Americans Sought Always Only a Pipe Dream?

We can put it in a biblical context, but what happens next, outside of that?: “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself…” (Kierkegaard)



As I was thinking about the topic of authenticity this morning (for some real rides, read this, this, and this), I thought about the old article that follows about Christian colleges wanting to welcome all, and realized that I never put the content up on this blog, but had only alluded to my posting it elsewhere.

So below I am re-posting that article: Facing Hostility, Can Some Christian Colleges Boldly Continue to Welcome All?

Here are the lines I was thinking about, which is are really giving me pause now:

1)      As traditional Christian thought and practice loses hold in Western culture, [the Christian] college/university will nevertheless hold to its right to “self-determine” (actually, the right to be who it, by God’s truth and grace, knows itself to be – along with the church of which it is a part).*

2)      To this island in the storm of a fallen world, it a good and noble desire to say “all are welcome” – and the true, pure and lovely hope is that all persons, in line with common Western and American sentiment, would be able to freely express themselves and become the selves they wish to be – even as this hope cannot be fulfilled in all situations.**

You might in particular wonder about that second part — what I mean is that we, ideally, as American Christians in particular, want people’s consciences to be well-formed and to be free to do the right thing without having to stand up to the government to do so on the one hand and without being coerced by the government to do so on the other hand….

That is why I wrote, in this more recent post

We… appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?

A bit naive? Perhaps yes… One need only consider this paragraph from Meic Pearse:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

So… keep the above in mind as you read the re-published article below…


How Christian colleges and universities in America can continue to be faithful to their calling – and continue to influence our society – is a very interesting question and will be more so in the years to come.

Traditionally, many Christian colleges were founded in large part explicitly to serve the purpose of Christian education.  This describes the colleges and universities of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, of which I am a part.  Initially, the primary purpose and goal of these schools was to prepare pastors and Christian educators, and this goal was not realized apart from a liberal arts education.  Others not pursuing those vocations could attend, but the schools were not geared towards them.

In the later years of those schools, the mission became more general (we won’t go into the details about the various reasons given for this): provide a good education for the broader church (and beyond, if others would like to come) with the goal being a good Christian liberal arts education.  In even more recent years, the emphasis has shifted yet again to more vocationally-based education, with, for many, a corresponding effort to attract non-Christians into the schools.

Of course there are some in the secular world, the truly “liberal-minded” (historically labeled affectionately as “noble pagans”), who see the great value of these institutions.  Lutheran cultural guru Gene Veith recently writes that “A major secular educator, David Coleman, spent some time at Wheaton College, which taught him that Christian colleges have an important part to play in American higher education.” Veith then points to Michael Gerson’s article on Coleman, quoting the following:

The point, [Coleman] told me, is not “merely their right to exist.” It is their “animating values that are precious to higher education, and inescapably so.” The first he describes as “productive solitude,” which is both characteristic of the spiritual life and “important for academic growth.” The second he calls the “reverent reading” of shared texts, which allows “different minds to act on the same problems.” Many modern academic settings, in his view, “now don’t share a single text” studied across disciplines. And this is a problem, because learning “relates to powerful, haunting language held in common.” The third comparative advantage of religious education, according to Coleman, is the determination to be a “safe haven for body and spirit.” Modern student life often involves “abuse of alcohol” and “premature, reckless sexual encounters.” Noting Dartmouth’s recent campus ban on hard liquor, Coleman offered: “Maybe it is time to construct stronger norms.”

And yet despite Coleman’s encouraging words, Gerson’s article also does talk about the moves of several institutions – “called to serious ethical reflection and capable of serious moral preening” – who have moved to deny recognition to student groups “that use conservative religious beliefs on sexuality (and other issues) as a criterion in choosing officers”.  Of course, on the opposite side of the fence, many Christian colleges and universities are being asked – or pressured to – allow for groups where LGBTQ[….] causes could be advocated.

Serious ethical – and yes, political – reflection is certainly needed here, and this is something that I, as a servant of a Christian university, have had to do myself.  It is with this in mind, that I offer for consideration the following theses for Christian colleges and universities who want to both honor Christ and welcome all.  I think that is extremely important that they boldly advocate for the rights they should have in their own homes, as genuinely private institutions. 

Students who have choose to attend distinctly Christian colleges and universities have a right to hear it emphasized that…

1)      As traditional Christian thought and practice loses hold in Western culture, their college/university will nevertheless hold to its right to “self-determine” (actually, the right to be who it, by God’s truth and grace, knows itself to be – along with the church of which it is a part).*

2)      To this island in the storm of a fallen world, it a good and noble desire to say “all are welcome” – and the true, pure and lovely hope is that all persons, in line with common Western and American sentiment, would be able to freely express themselves and become the selves they wish to be – even as this hope cannot be fulfilled in all situations.**

3)      It is a fact that all colleges and universities – not just private or religious ones – are more or less consciously taking deliberate steps to indoctrinate students into a specific and limited range of acceptable ways of understanding the world.

4)      Therefore, in spite of any claims to the contrary, academic and intellectual freedom are never absolute things regardless of whether one is in a secular, private, or religious setting.

5)      Speaking sociologically, whatever one’s beliefs about the world, it is human nature to either directly or indirectly shun and stigmatize contemporary voices who promote certain views that one and one’s community determine to be “out of bounds”.

6)      Traditionally, private or religious schools have had the freedom to teach and practice their beliefs as they saw fit – their belief and practice have not been considered “out of bounds” but within the bounds of the law, itself admittedly influenced by Christian notions.***

7)      In their efforts to take a stand, make their voices heard, and influence the culture that they inhabit, private or religious schools have the freedom to directly or indirectly – through artistic, didactic, or political means – confront contemporary voices that promote certain views determined to be “out of bounds” – for their community, and beyond, as determined necessary.

8)      Because the form of toleration that some Christians in leadership positions have practiced can be interpreted as capitulation, a lack of courage, or inconsistency, the reasons for this tolerance should be made explicit and explained.

9)      “If you love something, you let it be free”.  Unlike other religions, our Kingdom is “not of this world”, and therefore Christian love – the Church’s love – as it is expressed in the world, begets a political tolerance which bestows “the right to be wrong”: in one’s heart of hearts, the beloved is absolutely free to reject the Lover.

10)   On earth this means Christians, while still holding to critical norms in their churches and other institutions, should not only eschew physical force and practice forbearance, but can seek to understand – and sympathize with insofar as possible for them (i.e. without sin) – the unbelieving beloved in her search for identity, security and meaning.****

11)   Ideally, Christians gain and share knowledge about the cosmos not only because they are curious or gain control by doing so, but also because knowing, teaching, and living in accordance with what is true, pure, just, lovely, commendable, etc. is one way to serve one’s neighbor in love.

12)   Their Christian college/university desires that all would know Jesus Christ and His love and can only continue in this mission if it sees itself more as an extension of the church, or, one hopes, holds firm to what it might currently be: a mild expression of an earthly kingdom of sorts, ruled by Christians as best they can in fallen world.

13)   Their Christian college/university must be vigilant about running its household, in accordance with who they are.  Neither can the “spirit of the age” nor the “customer” always be right for them – open and collegial conversation must always exist in a context where kind but forceful intellectual opposition and attempts to gently correct can be provided.

Please let me know what you think.



* When it comes to how we see political matters today I think we can say, among other things, that “a good society is a society that makes it easier to choose to be good.”  Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable.

**For “true, pure, and lovely” see Philippians 4:8.  The concepts of ”individualism” or “autonomy” do not necessarily need to be understood in a secular way, but in fact can be argued to have Christian origins (see p. 9 of this paper:  It is a particular feature of contemporary Western nations, i.e. liberal democracies, that, all things being equal, most desire that persons should be allowed to freely express themselves and become the types of selves they wish to become.  That said, all should recognize that they also believe there are things that are better left unexpressed and selves better left unwished.  Therefore, realistically, given the realities of human nature, this hope is an ideal that in many particular cases will be unattainable.

*** The freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and religion, for example, have been widely allowed in the West and particularly in America (even as there are limits on behavior and certain activities that cannot be participated in, or that are circumscribed only to particular times and places)

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Posted by on March 12, 2021 in Uncategorized


Can Jesus Believe in Us?


“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”

– John 2:24-25


When it comes to believing in Jesus, man or mankind is, as we say, a “mixed bag”.

We see this in today’s text: On the one hand, people see Jesus’ signs and believe in His Name![i]

And yet, we are told, knowing what was in “man,” Jesus does not “entrust Himself to them,” or perhaps better (going by the original Greek text), Jesus “was not entrusting Himself to them…”

What does that mean?

One commentator, well-known among conservative Lutherans, tells us that the faith we see here among the crowds is one “which Jesus could not accept…” (Fraanzman, CSSC, 89).

That sounds quite worrisome. Is that the best way of putting the matter?

Another solid Lutheran expositor, after stating that here in this passage we see “weak faith, fickle faith, misapplied faith…” goes on to state the matter rather starkly:“There are hypocrites in our churches” (Baumler).

Maybe we start to feel a bit like the disciples at the Last Supper… “Lord, is it I?”

Finally, one commentator (Pate) confirms our worst fears, explicitly stating that we are not dealing with true believers here in any sense…

“…in John’s gospel, belief in Jesus based merely on signs is not genuine faith (cf. v. 18). Consequently, in a play on words, the text says that Jesus did not believe in the crowds because he knew their hearts were fickle (vv. 22-25).”

Maybe he is right?

Maybe these people aren’t even real Christians in any sense?

Well, one thing is for sure: our text for today certainly makes clear that Jesus knew what was in man. “Jesus… could read people more accurately than a doctor can read physical symptoms in diagnosing an illness,” as one puts it (Tenney).[ii]

That said, if that is a good way of looking at the matter, what kind of an illness are we dealing with here more specifically?

Sin in general to be sure, but what else can we learn?


Sometimes, when you are reading the Bible, you can pick just a sentence or two out of the text and the meaning will still be pretty clear to everyone who has even the most basic background knowledge about human life….

For example, the gist of John 3:16 is not very hard to understand:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…”

But what about our text for this morning?

Well, here is some good advice: what do or did your teacher tell you about reading more difficult passages of text? Well, if you are confused by a word or sentence, sometimes a dictionary might help but sometimes you can just keep reading on…and it might make more sense…

And if you can’t readily read the rest of the Bible in a timely fashion to help you put this in a wider context, you can at least read the rest of the book of John!

So let us consider some more of the words from the Gospel of John for a moment…

In chapter 6, after Jesus feeds the five thousand, we read this:

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (6)

These people rightly made the connection between Jesus and the predicted Prophet (big P) from the Old Testament! And on the one hand, it sounds like these folks were putting their trust, their confidence, in Jesus, doesn’t it?

And yet, for what end? They wanted Him to fit their own earthly-minded expectations and agendas… Their hearts were set upon the things of this world, earthly politics in fact… More specifically, they wanted Jesus to act on earth to make their lives easier and more pleasant!  

If we read on, it gets even clearer a few verses later when Jesus explains why the crowd continued to seek Him out:

 When [the crowd] found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval….”

We see what is going on here. While many of these people want to follow Him, they would do so in accordance with their own reasons and purposes, with their own primary concerns in mind… not Jesus’s…[iii]

Why is this the case? In chapter 3, through His conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, we get a clue as to just why Jesus’ goals are so different from ours and what this means:  

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.”

The one who comes from above, from heaven, is above all.

He certainly is above us fickle men and women. Contrast that statement I just read with this rather arresting one, which I recently saw in an opinion piece:

“When lawless actors set fire to a courthouse or vandalize a national monument in the name of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, it doesn’t differ much from a rioter wielding a cross and a Bible as he storms the Capitol. Both could be considered religious extremists; they just worship different gods — neither one the true God. Violence and tribalism are the natural result of false religions that prize the temporal over the eternal.”[iv]

Now… maybe the woman who wrote this is right about all of these people and their “God”? That the people involved in things like this must not have faith, in any sense, in the true God?

This brings us back to our original question then, doesn’t it? Is the text we are looking at – “but Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them” – saying that none of these people have true faith?

“Maybe…” some of us might feel inclined to say…

After all, what kind of person believes that God might come to earth and just make everything easy for them?

Perhaps giving them land blessed with all manner of bounty and prosperity? Flowing with “milk and honey” like the Promised Land of the Old Testament?

And perhaps even being willing to fight with them against their opponents en route to, of course, establishing a more just and peaceful society?

God on their side!

Who’d believe this?

I’ll tell you who – Jesus’ own disciples.

Remember when the opponents of the Jews, the Samaritans, would not welcome Jesus into their village because he was going to Jerusalem? And James and John said “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

Do you recall that right before Jesus ascends into heaven – after He has defeated all of our most important enemies (sin, death, and the devil) through His death and resurrection – his disciples all gather around him and ask him:

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

So perhaps, after all, some of the people from these crowds discussed in our text today really did believe Jesus was the Son of God

…and yet also believed that He was the One come from God who would restore the Kingdom of Israel and make everything awesome on earth now….

Meanwhile, the One who is above all is talking about carrying crosses…


Some today seem to be missing the boat as well, don’t they?

One might think about those who, believing that America is basically a Christian nation – something I certainly do not think they are wrong for thinking – nevertheless go on to not only imagine “taking the country back for Jesus” through political means…[v]

…but also insists that America in particular – and Israel to a lesser extent – are the main characters right now in God’s purposes for the world… and that one should find one’s own place and ultimate meaning in just this story of American destiny…

Here, perhaps, God and country become fused in a sense, as one’s identity as an American becomes just as important or even more important than their identity as one who is saved by the blood of the Lamb.

And here, America – not the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures!becomes the central locus of God’s plan!

We don’t want “Nationalist Christianity” as my friend Matt Cochran puts it, which would be a form of Christianity modified by nationalism.[vi]

Patriotic as we should be, we should never want, as one has put it, “Christianity wrapped in an American flag”….

Our real citizenship, after all, is in heaven, through God’s most-favored nation! That is, His trans-historical and trans-geographical church, both militant (we on earth) and victorious (those in heaven)!

Truly, the Bible is directly opposed to any form of Christianity which basically puts words in God’s mouth that are not there. Listen to what Jesus says in John chapter 7:

My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

When people assert that God says He has a special plan for their own nation or political program… it is not hard to see how it might be a little bit difficult for them to be able to hear Jesus say these kinds of challenging things!

And even more challenging I think for all Christians is this: the Greek philosopher Aristotle was not wrong to say that man is a political animal, but none of that means that the act of passing laws – and making sure that those laws are enforced – should ever become our main focus…

Even for the person who is called to deeply enter into the political arena – and perhaps some of you are – the proclamation of the Gospel, John 3:16 stuff, should always still be our main focus…[vii]


Now please don’t misunderstand what I just said here…. In spite of all the ways that the idea of “God and country” can go wrong, Christians in American do need to be more courageous in their political involvement!

…that is, in strongly loving their nation, their people. Politics should be one way this is done!

But as we know, many in the secular world today would seek to leave the impression that not only “Nationalist Christians” but all Christians are dangerous religious extremists – obsessed with oppressive “power” and “dominion”.

These people should be kept away from school boards, newsrooms, college campuses, political offices, or even just political conversations.[viii]

But we can’t do this, flee responsibility like this!…[ix]

After all, even as we expect to be “strangers and exiles,” regardless of what kind of government we live under (democracy or otherwise)!

  • We also must know we should always uphold the notion of objective truth, knowing that there are things that are intrinsically good and beautiful…
  • And while we know that a non-Christian nation or state is also legitimate and to be respected, God nevertheless desires all men, even kings, to come to faith….
  • And so of course we also desire more and more to bring “society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love,” as one church body puts it![x]
  • And yet, we also know that ultimately only God will deliver on true justice, when He comes again to judge the living and the dead…

So, it seems Christians, even those least inclined to political activism, will always have some impact on culture and politics… As one cultural commentator, Kylee Zemple, wisely put it:

“If we love God, love our neighbor, and wish to steward our resources and lead our families well, sitting on the sidelines of the political and culture wars is really not an option. Contrary to [the] assessment [of some], [this] isn’t about making ourselves more culturally comfortable; it’s about being consistent in our beliefs and doing what’s right.”[xi]


So, indeed…

Like John the Baptist did with Herod who unlawfully married his brother’s wife – we should be more than ready to speak to the world not only about God’s Gospel, but God’s Law as well…[xii]

Again, while it might be true that the devil ultimately wants to destroy the Gospel above all things, not allow it to be preached….

…do you think the devil would really lead people in earthly government – at least these days – to do a full-frontal assault on the Gospel… the message that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come to earth to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil by His glorious cross and resurrection?

Why would he not rather try through earthly powers to undermine God’s law, without which the Gospel makes no sense? For it is the law that shows us our need for the Gospel![xiii]

The devil ultimately wants the Word of God to make no sense, at least when it hits everyone on the surface and produces an initial reaction…

He wants them to say:

“Christianity says you need forgiveness for what?! For that?! Are you kidding me?! Why would I even listen to anything they have to say then?….”

So we must keep speaking the truth, both God’s law and His gospel

…to remind people of the truth of God as their Creator and Redeemer.[xiv]

You may have heard the phrases “you can’t legislate morality” or “politics is downstream from culture”. Whatever truth there may be to these statements, it is certainly more true to say “the law always teaches….”

And going along with this, and tying it in with the concerns many are expressing today, I read this the other day:

As long we remain on this Earth, Christians will be assailed as bigots and nationalists. This evergreen dynamic of Christians being not “of the world,” but striving to be faithful while they’re “in it,” is way bigger than… America. Don’t confuse true believers who rightly fight for both faith and freedom as Christian nationalists. They’re just Christians.”[xv]

Speaking specifically to our context I’d disagree slightly, and insist that because they are “just Christians” – and because they are Christians first and Americans second…

they can’t not be Christian nationalists (not Nationalist Christians where the word “Nationalist” modifies the word “Christians”!) in some sense!

determined as they are to love God and neighbor in all places…

and starting first at home…[xvi]


And yes, we should always remember that even though life is not about less than this, it is also about more than protecting and treasuring the earthly gifts that God has given us…

Our greatest treasure is the Gospel, and so let’s flee back to the book of John.

Again, the text we have been discussing has to do with people believing in Jesus’ Name but Him not entrusting Himself to them.

And as we’ve already looked at the problems with the faith of many in the book of John, there is one more case we should look at where things really go sour…

In John 8 we read this:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

And it all goes downhill from there! Amazingly, these people believe in Jesus in one moment, and turn on him in the next!

See that not God’s grace but their nation… their national identity…. their genetic heritage… all of a sudden took center stage… (note John 1:12-13)

Those were the kind of roots they ended up being devoted to above everything elsenot the critical Gracious Promise of God’s Messiah, passed down through their fathers[!] in the Scriptures!

They had faith in Jesus for an instant – and then it was gone![xvii]

And we should realize here that because of this, not only their own souls would be lost! Men and women such as these would take others with them to hell as well…

And more… it is not only those who totally lose faith who cause the little ones to stumble and cause others to blaspheme the word of God!

It can be us who believe too!

We believe but how important is it to us that our faith be strong?

We know God but how important is it to us to know Him more, and above all others?

Our Lord, after all, is the One who desires that all persons – those from all nations – be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth!

Do we believe this? Does it make us care?

How can it not?

For when people the world over – from all tongues, tribes and nations! – hear the Word, in the right times and places, the Lord is determined to – and will – bring people to Himself!

Do we, deep down, want to find ourselves in those plans… to know that He is the One indeed “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will?”[xviii]



If you are feeling rather discouraged… maybe even disobedient… rather disappointed with yourself this morning, don’t despair…

I’m sure the disciples may have been feeling pretty glum also when Jesus, almost as a casual statement, said to these no doubt believing men:

…You then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…”


A lot of people have what we might call superficial, inadequate, undependable, problematic, fickle, misapplied, and downright weak faith….

Oh, they believe, but to a very strong degree they believe in Jesus for their own purposes… not for His purposes…

Well, welcome to the club!

But what an excellent Savior we have…

Even if Jesus has not entrusted Himself to you, given Himself more fully to you, none of that means you do not have forgiveness, life, and salvation to the full.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us “He is faithful when we are faithless”. His determined loyalty to us and His love for us through thick and thin is not fickle like mans’!

And we can also be thankful that Jesus does not depend on human approval – especially ours!

He certainly won’t be shy about confronting us and taking us on… just like He did in many of those texts we saw in John’s Gospel today. (John 6 and 8) We have His attention and are in His sights![xix]

Finally, even as He might not have much to work with… even as so much of our sin chokes out the faith that God gives and intends to give… He does indeed continually choose to depend on untrustworthy people to get the job done…[xx]

Just ask Saint Peter!

Here is the one guy who gets things right vs. the crowds and their fickle faith (see John 2 and 6) – “Lord, to Whom shall we go – you have the words of eternal life” – and yet, Jesus still can’t even trust him to stick with Him!

Denial three times…

Even Peter… weak faith…


Our problems, no doubt, will continue.

Christians will probably even continue to fight one another on opposite sides in wars, as “nation [rises up] against nation” …

But those who know their Lord well will also learn to appreciate the answer that the O.T. saint Joshua was given when he asked God’s messenger: “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

…he was told: “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”

This is a lesson it seems it is very, very hard for us to learn on earth.

Would Jesus side with a Russian?

A Chinaman?

A globalist?

Someone from that race?

A communist?


An American?

Or a white supremacist?


The One from above will forgive them…

…and raise them above…

…and entrust Himself to them, as He will us

Let our faith grow! Let our usefulness increase!

Let Jesus believe even in us!

And come quickly Prince of Peace – and save us from ourselves!






[i] Lenski says that the real issue here is that the only basis for faith that those believing in Him had were the signs, or miracles, that he had performed. While “faith may well begin by first trusting in the signs,” he says (see, he says John 5:36; 10:37, 38; and 14:11), “the signs and the Word belong together like a document and the seals attached to it… the seals alone eventually amount to nothing…”

He says “The signs so establish the Word that all who began and who now begin with the Word and then accept the signs attain true and abiding faith. The ‘many’ in Jerusalem still hung in the balance with such inadequate faith as they had” (223).

He also points out that while the Gospel of John talks about signs “which he was doing” or “kept on doing” we are to understand “that Jesus wrought a goodly number of such signs” and yet John only relates certain select miracles… (224)

Fraanzman’s take is interesting, and worth considering: “Believing is more than seeing signs and being somehow drawn to Him who performs them. Jesus knows what is in man and knows that the stance of the sympathetic spectator is not the stance of faith…” (89, CSSC) I do not take this to mean that the sympathetic spectator is less likely to find himself getting active and involved in some way though than a strong believer in God’s Word.

Maybe the crowds reasoned like the man born blind that we learn about in John 9:

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

[ii] And “the prelude of these verses (23-25) is introductory to the three typical interviews in chs. 3 and 4: Nicodemus the Pharisee, the Samaritan woman, and the royal officer at Cana.” (46)

[iii] Not much later, we read this too:

“…the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

[iv] From:

Certainly sometimes the more vigorous political activist types of people who also claim faith in Christ almost seem to be using God as a pretense for their own goals… their own politics…

And they are intense and wonder why you aren’t as intense. They might even question the Christian faith of those not so intense in their convictions about matters like race or nationalism… and their confidence that their own takes on current world events and happenings are true. That, no doubt, is unsettling.

And when you see people attacking shop owners and burning down buildings, or you see a man raid the nation’s capital wearing a furry hat with Viking horns…You certainly might be one of the persons inclined to question the faith involved here!

At the same time, perhaps things are often not quite what we think they are either. Here is one rather arresting example:

[v] This quote comes to mind: “Where Christianity is used as a cudgel to claim legal, political, or cultural privilege over other memberships in society, rebuke is necessary…” At the same time, is it wrong to hope that Christian holidays would be recognized nationwide? On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with one religion in America holding pride of place. See this other message I gave:


[vii] At the same time what this means is that, ideally, laws should indeed facilitate this preaching…

[viii] See

[ix] As far as American Christians go these days at least, I think we can really say – perhaps somewhat indicating our naivety about all of these matters* – that “Christians [just] want to be free to follow their own [beliefs]”** as much as “followers of secular religion want their beliefs written into law” (Zemple).

Even as we also rightly don’t feel we can just be content to keep things to ourselves….

*It is hard to think critically about the past and present significance of something like “blasphemy laws” for instance, when we are occupied with the attacks at the Christian way of life which come at us fast and furiously:

“Oh, you Christians don’t want gender propaganda forced on your kids in schools? You’re a bigot who wants religion written into law. You want Supreme Court justices who value life even in the womb? You’re a hateful theocrat. You think Big Tech and bureaucrats rigged an election that will result in your rights being infringed, so you fly to D.C. with your family and your flags? You’re a Christian nationalist.”

We are always thinking defensively in our current context, thinking about how we can avoid being hated by the world.

**I think it is more appropriate for nations to have this kind of attitude. As C.S. Lewis, also quoted in this article by Zempel, puts it: “[The right kind of] patriotism… is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.



[xii] Of John the Baptist, one Roman Catholic writer points out:

“St. John the Baptist…. stands as somewhat of an oddity among Christian martyrs in that he preceded Christ in death. He also didn’t die as a direct result of his faith in Christ, nor was he asked to deny Christ. Yet he is reckoned as a Christian martyr by the Church. Why should this be?

St. John the Baptist died not because he refused to deny Christ but because he refused to deny the truth, and ultimately this boils down to the same thing. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Anyone who proclaims truth proclaims Christ. Anyone who denies the truth denies Christ.”

I’d add that we don’t know how John confronted Herod about marrying his brother’s wife. He very well may have done in privately, and not thundered specifically against Herod in public. In any case, fat amount of good it did him here!

[xiii] Sometimes people think that if Christians tone it down a little bit… the world will be more likely to listen to them.

Now, one should always certainly be wise about how one seasons one’s conversations with salt, but I believe this view, at its core, is very misled – at least, insofar as it is saying that we should not be eager for circumstances to arise where we can “get to the meat”.

I think this view is misled.

[xiv] And as one writes: “From the Prophet Jeremiah’s insistence to ‘seek the welfare of the city,’ to an insistence on natural law morality that serves the common good of all, to Martin Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology, Christian political theology is inextricably bound up with the development of the separation of powers, the rule of law, constitutionalism, and human rights….”


[xvi] As Matt Cochran puts it:

“At it’s core, Christian nationalism is a political philosophy that involves putting your own nation ahead of others—just as any other brand of nationalism is. However, because it is informed by Christianity, it changes many of the how’s and why’s behind that priority.

For example: Whereas some forms of nationalism have people putting their nation first because they believe it superior to every other nation on Earth, Christian nationalism has people putting their nation first because it’s the specific nation into which God has placed them. Effectively, it’s the same reason we prioritize our own children over others–because they’re ours and we have a special responsibility to them. As Jesus told the Canaanite woman who beseeched him as king of Israel, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.”

And this kind of modified priority brings another important implication along for the ride: Whereas some forms of nationalism view other nations as consumable resources for one’s own, Christian nationalism does not–anymore than caring for your own children means a freedom to exploit other children. We know that citizens of other nations have been called to serve their own country ahead of others just as we have, and we ought to respect that calling. Simple adjustments like this can make a huge difference to one’s national priorities—and limitations.”

More, from another post of his:

“Christian nationalism is merely men who are both Christian and American rejecting the religious neutrality of the 20th century and acting according to both of those identities at the same time in the public square.”

More: “[Will] Christian nationalism will end up resulting in some degree of national Christianity? This may come as a surprise, but yes; I think it will. Does this therefore mean we must avoid it at all costs? No; absolutely not.

If you’re looking for an invincible political ideology that will never fall to corruption, your only option is to wait for the eschaton. Politics corrupts. Always. There is no nation that will last forever. There is no political ideology that fits all circumstances. There is no earthly authority that will not be abused and misused. As life changes, Christian nationalism in America will fail–just as it already failed once in the past, resulting in today’s multiculturalism and globalism…”

[xvii] Their faith should have been like a seed planted firmly in good soil – or, if you will, like a nail driven into a board – but this seed or nail of their faith was quite easily uprooted by Satan…

[xviii] Jesus has told us the world is going to hate us for the right reasons… let’s not give them wrong reasons to hate us as well!

This said, given Jesus’ words here, I am perpetually surprised at how much so many seem interested to hear what Christian have to say….

[xix] This kind of a thought makes me think about what a student recently wrote in a paper about her re-ignited faith:

“In the new testament I enjoyed that the class went into more depth into the followers of Jesus Christ. I learned some new information about who Silas was, and what a loyal and helpful person he was. I learned that John was the only disciple who was not murdered for his faith. I like to think about how one day in heaven we will get to meet these followers and hear their stories firsthand. I want to know it all their stories, for even the ones we may not know about.”

How blessed are we to know God?  Why me God indeed?

[xx] Lenski: “He says that to the six disciples Jesus had already selected He had “fully entrusted himself; from the many at the festival he held aloof, formed no closer union with them as being people who were really committed to him.”

The verb is imperfect and so “was not trusting himself,” “i.e., waiting to see what the faith of the ‘many’ would prove to be…”

“All”: “This is a sad word… for it means that among the ‘many’ Jesus found not one with whom it would have been safe to form closer contact…”


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Posted by on March 7, 2021 in Uncategorized