Why do we want to see children color inside the lines in a coloring book? When a 2 to 3 year old first puts crayon to paper the results are a bit chaotic; a lot of scribbling and sweeping the crayon back and forth with no regard for the image printed on the paper; and, if we aren’t careful, the walls get decorated, too! But, with some guidance and practice, building hand-eye coordination, beginning to see the lines on the paper as a picture that needs color, they start putting colors in place within the framework of lines and eventually a beautiful picture emerges. It has order and symmetry. It turns out to be a work of art of which the child can be proud. The color edges are sharply defined by the black lines and there are no stray overlaps marring the work.
What has this to do with knowing the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His Son Jesus Christ?
Well, just as there are lines that are meant to bound the colors on the pages of a coloring book, there are rules established for us so we can properly interpret and come to a correct understanding of the written word. There are rules of grammar. There are rules of sentence structure. There are words whose meanings are established and given to us in dictionaries, lexicons, and thesauri. There are literary genres which, by their very structure, are meant to be understood in different ways.
These are the lines within which the purity of our understanding is meant to flourish. These are the lines within which, when all put together, form all of our understanding; the way we see the world; the way we perceive truth, know right from wrong, know who we are, know Who God is, and hopefully, what our purpose in this life is.
The written word does not have the tone, inflection, body language, facial expression, or the myriad of other tips and cues which can shade the understanding of the spoken word. We must rely on established standards; rules created specifically so a proper and correct interpretation of it can be attained. Sadly, in today’s world, many think that we can play fast and loose with the written word and still get what was meant to be conveyed to us. That is like taking crayons, sweeping them randomly across the page and expecting the intended picture to emerge pure and true.
The standard for written communication in the English language at the time the early English Bibles were produced was ‘Logic’ by Isaac Watts. It was the standard for nearly two centuries. The text has, of course, been replaced, but the rules laid down in it have not substantively changed, merely the methods of presenting them. And, as I said, it was the standard for how to express ideas in written form so the reader could get, as unambiguously as possible, what the author intended.
A second text, ‘Protestant Biblical Interpretation’ by Bernard Ramm, gives us the rules established over the millennia for properly interpreting God’s Word. Ignoring the very first rule in it has brought Christianity to the confused and impotent condition in which it is found today! What is that rule? Simply put, it is this: ‘On any given topic in Scripture, the implicit is to be understood in light of the explicit.’ That is to say that the passage which more clearly deals with a particular subject is to govern how we understand a passage that is less clear.
At this point, I am going to give examples that have very far reaching ramifications theologically. There are three passages I would like for us to consider. The first seems, on the surface, to be perfectly clear and yet, if this first rule is implemented that is absolutely not the case.
The three scriptures are from and Job 1:6-12, Jeremiah 17:9-10 and Mark 7:18-23. All are considered to point directly to the source of evil. First Job 1:6-12: * 6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. 7 And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. 8 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. 12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. *
This is one of the proof texts for the existence of Satan as the fallen angel, father of lies, Lucifer, deceiver of Eve, instigator of the Fall, etc. There is a small book called ‘Why America Is Not In the Bible’ by Glenn Dawson that lays out this most widely held doctrine of Satan. There is only one small problem with this passage used as proof text for this almost universally held doctrine. Whether Job is a real historical person or not, the book itself is written in the genre of a play. To interpret it as historical narrative, which using its passages as proof texts proving literal truths requires, is to twist the Scriptures to support an idea that may not be true!
I guess this would be a good time for a side trip into the definition of truth. Can we all agree that truth is that which accurately relates reality? When we speak truth we are either speaking or writing something that is true according to our knowledge and belief, according to our point of view. There is a problem with this definition of truth. Do you know what it is? Our knowledge and beliefs are imperfect, so that which relates truth, true truth, as Dr. Sproul put it, is that which relates what is true, relates reality, in the eyes of God, from His perfect point of view! And since the Bible is the Word of God, we should, as believers, be about seeking the truth from His point of view, revealed in it to us. I believe that is part of the reason Paul told Timothy to ‘study to show thyself approved, a workman rightly dividing the word of truth.’
Now, back on track! Since Job was written as a play, the characters in it, whether real world figures or not, are used to portray traits of character and circumstances for us to examine in ways that are otherwise difficult or impossible. Good and evil have always been grist for playwrights. Characters are created with these traits portrayed in ways that make them appear as good characters in terrible circumstances or evil, dastardly characters we love to hate. But since evil is many times visited upon the ‘undeserving’ from sources beyond control or understanding it is easy to create an evil character whose sole mission is to visit affliction on the ‘undeserving’.
Job is not written as historical narrative, that is, a telling of actual historical events, but there is much to be gleaned about God and man from Job, however, it should not be considered a proof text for the existence of a spiritual being named Satan. We should look elsewhere for the source of evil in this world. Job suffered theft, vandalism, natural disaster, death of his sons and daughters, the scorn of his wife, disease, the ridicule and misunderstanding of his friends, all of which we classify as evil and all of which are known to be part and parcel of the condition of the fallen world in which we live. He suffered and could not understand why. He hated himself and his life and even cursed the day of his birth, but not once did he blame God for his misfortune or his pain and suffering. There are lessons about character and enduring trials to be learned from Job; but as a proof text for the existence of Satan? No. It is the ideal example of an implicit text on the source of evil. It is implicit, not because it is unclear, but because it is not written as historical narrative but as a play whose characters and their interaction give us insight into the fact that there is a far deeper game afoot than we can know.
The next scripture is Jeremiah 17:9-10:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Much of the book of Jeremiah is written in the form of ‘poetic oracles’. The passage above is considered part of a sermon involving signs of the coming judgment on Israel. Jeremiah is warning the people of the true condition of man, all mankind including Israel; calling them to repentance. The people refused to accept this truth and continued to believe that they were better than others because they were chosen of God.
When God says clearly and with no equivocation at all that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things‘, there is only one way to understand what He means: First there is no greater deceiver than the heart of man, and it has no greater goal than to mislead and misdirect us; to do all in its power to turn us away from truth and righteousness. The second part is that it is desperately wicked, which means that it constantly casts about, is always trying to find a way to pervert truth and righteousness, to turn us against what is pure and right. We are forced to answer for ourselves just how much untruth does it take to create a lie. Aren’t the best lies just shading the truth enough to misdirect one from doing what is right? When faced with owning up to something we have done wrong, isn’t our first inclination to find a way to make ourselves not look so bad? Shade the truth just a bit? Share the blame just a little? The heart is the ultimate master of not only self-deceit, but of deceiving others if given the circumstances. I don’t know about you but I have known people who would lie when the truth would serve them better! And this is the literal truth of what God has revealed to us concerning who we are as unregenerate sons of Adam. The unregenerate will do anything to deny that truth. God alone knows that heart because He alone is not affected nor infected by it. He is holy, separate from all that is unrighteous and untrue. God knows our hearts and yet showed us how merciful He is through His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Didn’t Jesus say, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father?
The third passage is Mark 7:18-23:
* 14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; 19 because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? 20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 all these evil things come from within, and defile the man. *
This follows an episode with the Pharisees in which they called Him and His disciples down for eating without washing their hands. They claimed it would defile them and be sinful. Jesus made it perfectly clear (and this is written as historical narrative) that it is what comes out of the heart of man that defiles; that nothing entering into the man from outside can defile him. He goes on to give a fairly comprehensive, though not exhaustive, list of sinful thoughts and behaviors that do defile the man and again makes it clear they are not from any external source! That source according to our Lord Jesus Christ, is our own unregenerate heart. He said nothing entering in can defile… He didn’t say, ‘nothing except Satan.’ He didn’t say, ‘nothing except demons.’ He didn’t make any exceptions!
We are misled today. We work on the principle that we’re all basically good, when in Romans 3 it clearly states:
*9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10 as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. *
We have conflated doing good things with being basically good. They are not now and have never been the same. We deceive ourselves. We want to believe the best about people and have let ourselves believe the lie! It isn’t that we can’t know the truth and still be merciful! What it is, is that our nature is so in rebellion that we are willing to deny the word of God on the subject even though we know the truth. We see the character, Satan, so clearly depicted in Job and latch onto it as absolute truth when we know it isn’t. We want to blame somebody, anybody else, for our sin. What was the first thing Adam said when God said, ‘What have you done?’. He said, ‘That woman You gave me…!’. He blamed God and Eve for his crime!
For us, as Christians, to color inside the lines, we have to repent; change our minds about what really is truth and Who is in charge. There is a Calvinist doctrine; the first of the five points, called ‘Total Depravity’. It has been vilified by many in today’s church as misrepresenting man who was ‘made in God’s image’ (as if we know what that really means). Yet Jesus Himself said that all sin comes from within. Total depravity does not mean that man, or any particular man, is as evil as he can possibly be, only that all men, who are sons of Adam, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
How can we stay inside the lines? There are so many doctrines that are created by religions today! We need to repent; go back and seek true truth!
Consider the human will. Dictionary.com defines it: The ability to choose, think, and act voluntarily. For many philosophers, to believe in free will is to believe that human beings can be the authors of their own actions and to reject the idea that human actions are determined by external conditions or fate. Say what?
Human beings can choose actions that are not determined by external conditions or fate? I’m going to jump right to the ad absurdum argument here: If the action one chooses is not determined by external conditions and one chooses to live forever, what is it that eventually overwhelms the will and brings about death? And if anything does or is able to do so then by the definition above, the will is not truly free!! Yet this is the very corner stone of free will theology.
I used the example above as the ad absurdum argument. It is absurd because no son of Adam expects to live forever in this world no matter how much they might want to cheat death. Many have had their bodies frozen, placed in cryogenic stasis awaiting some hoped-for scientific break-through that will bring them back. My guess is their hope is in vain.
Now, a second ad absurdum argument can be stated: I choose Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I have cast out devils in His name and done many wonderful works in His name. He cannot and will not turn me away because I chose Him! Yet in Matthew 7 Jesus is quite clear: * ‘ 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’* It obviously cannot be my will that determines Jesus’ decision.
Yes, I generally choose my actions, but even in that my will is limited by a great many factors! My will cannot propel my body fast enough to run a 3 minute mile. My will is not subtle enough to give me the ability to produce a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa. My will is not economically savvy enough to choose a scheme, stock, bond, crypto-currency, whatever, to make me a millionaire overnight! Yes, I can make choices, but the consequences of those choices are not completely subject to my will, now, are they! There is a very old saying, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!’ It is as true now as it was for Adam. My choice to try, does not guarantee success, does it?
So, the question virtually jumps into the mind of the Christian, ‘Why have I been told all my life that I have to choose Jesus or I’m going to Hell?’ Well, given all the above, that is the question, isn’t it.
The definition above speaks of the will as being the author of our own actions. It seems obvious enough that the results of our will to do something, can be largely beyond our control which leaves the actions themselves. Choosing to live forever is a free choice. But the action-actually living forever-does not seem to be within the power of the ‘free’ will to accomplish. So at this point it is necessary to revisit the definition of ‘free will’.
Another, and I believe much more correct, definition of free will is this: Free will is the ability to choose, any at all, of the moral options offered in a given situation.
The word moral in this case means the degree to which any action in a given situation aligns with God’s revealed will concerning that action. It might also be thought of as a scale from doing that which perfectly pleases God to doing that which is perfectly abhorrent to Him. Of course, only God can choose what pleases Him and what displeases Him. No created being has that prerogative.
God is the Lawgiver! He has already determined the morality of any action we can take in any given situation. A good example is the parable of the good Samaritan. When Jesus asked who acted as the neighbor should, even the scribes and pharisees had no doubt.
We color within the lines when we ascribe the power of God to God not man! Only God has free will. That should be obvious when we profess that He is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient. God cannot be Omnipotent if our actions limit Him in any way. God cannot be Omniscient if we say or do anything that He has not already accounted for, since He perfectly knows the end from the beginning. God cannot be Omnipresent if He is not always in the right place at the right time to do what is necessary to bring His perfect plan to fruition.
We color within the lines when we ascribe the limitations of man to man not God! In our natural state as unregenerate sons of Adam, we are slaves to sin. It isn’t that we can do no civil good, but that we are not, and cannot be perfectly Holy as God is Holy. Instead of free will, we have what might be termed ‘free agency’ that is, the ability to choose our actions based upon our strongest inclinations at the time. We are responsible to God and the rest of humanity for those actions. In a manner of speaking, one who has free will is a law unto himself; while one who is a free agent can make choices according to his own lights, but he is still responsible to others for the consequences of the choices he makes.
To ascribe to man the free will many claim he has, is to usurp an attribute of God with which we were never endowed. In fact, to do so describes quite clearly the action of which Scripture says Lucifer was guilty and was cast out for it. He claimed he would sit in the throne of the Most High. God has revealed to us that such a goal will not end well!
Coloring outside the lines is easy; don’t have to be careful; neatness doesn’t count. The same is true with biblical interpretation, if you don’t really care about staying within the bounds of what reason and revelation dictates is the truth it seeks to relate, it is possible to make Scripture say virtually anything; and sound good doing it. The problem is, in the end, all you have is something that tickles the ears and there is no absolute truth to it. Isn’t that where majority Christianity stands today?
We may not like what God has to say about a lot of things. Much of what He has to say cuts right to our hearts, convicting us of the sin we own. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to admit that He is right and righteous. He calls us to know His mercy. He calls us to color within the lines. How will you answer?