Addiction and Grace

“To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” So says Gerald May in his book Addiction and Grace.

That’s not what May would have said in his college days. In college, he moved away from religion and, in his words, “made a god out of science” (5).

This love of science led him to study psychology and eventually to become a psychiatrist. His first job was director of a drug rehab center.

May threw himself into the work with tremendous zeal. The results . . . were disappointing. He was surprised at how often he failed, and he fell into depression.

In the midst of his depression, he met a faith healer at a conference. They had a conversation, and she told him that she believed he was meant to be a healer, too. But then she said, “I wouldn’t take my dog to you, because you think you are the one that has to do the healing” (6).

His response? “These are not the words one might expect to be helpful for a depressed person. But they struck me deep and well” (ibid.).

As he thought, he became open to new directions for helping addicts. He went to several addicts who had turned their lives around. He asked them what had helped them to do so. “All of them described some sort of spiritual experience” wrote May (ibid.).

After a long time of reflection, May was led to apply this sort of thinking to himself. It led to a very simple prayer: “Dear Jesus, help me.” This prayer began to grow within him in the months that followed and eventually he found healing through God’s grace.

He concluded that it’s not a question of whether you are an addict. The question is to what are you addicted and to what extent? He saw his depression as rooted in an addiction to success.

And how could he find healing? He found healing in the grace of God.

And the grace of God can heal us, too.

Key Biblical/Theological Distinctions for Thinking Clearly About Theology

Over the years, I have come to realize that people can be talking past each other in theology. One reason is that they do not distinguish the ways that words are used. This is not always easy to figure out. The Church spent several hundred years learning how to talk about who Jesus is and how that fits in with our understanding of God. Over the years the church has sought to clarify these matters. If we listen carefully, we might be able to avoid some of these pitfalls ourselves. Our church has a lengthy document that explains what we are understanding in the Bible called the Westminster Confession of Faith. You can ready it here. For me, I have come to realize that the key to this lengthy document is understanding about 20 theological distinctions. Here is my list.

  1. Being & Persons: God is one being, but He exists in three persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.
  2. Primary & Secondary Causes: God is the primary cause of all things, but man is a real, though secondary, cause.
  3. Decree & Providence: Both refer to God’s government of everything that happens, but the decree is God’s planning of everything while providence is when He actually brings it about.
  4. Guilt & Corruption of Sin: When we sin, we become guilty, i.e., liable to punishment, but sin also corrupts us, i.e., makes us worse people.
  5. Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace: The covenants are the terms of our relationship with God. The covenant of works required perfect obedience to have a life with God. The covenant of grace requires faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect work in order to have life with God. It is “do this and live” over against “believe, and you will be saved.”
  6. Continue reading “Key Biblical/Theological Distinctions for Thinking Clearly About Theology”

How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

If you or someone you love has questions on this issue (as most of us do!), I would encourage you to read Pastor Tim Keller’s New York Times Bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

In this post, I’d like to summarize what Keller says about this important question: how could a good God allow suffering?

Whether you are a believer or unbeliever, it’s a question you’ve likely asked at some point in your life, maybe often.

Keller says that there are two ways we can ask this question. The first is intellectual. How can we logically say that a good God could allow evil? The second is emotional. We get angry at a God who would allow such evil.

Let’s consider what Keller says about each in turn.

The Intellectual Issue
In regard to the intellectual question, Keller begins with the objection of a philosopher who states essentially: “because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist” (23). Continue reading “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”

The Unity of the Evangelical Protestant Church on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

There’s no question that the variety of churches can be a bit dizzying. How did we get so many denominations? It’s a long story!

What’s easy to miss is the amazing unity that exists on the most important doctrines of the faith. There is a surprising amount of unity on what the Bible teaches about who God is, who man is, what his problem is, and how he comes to eternal salvation.

One of the key points of agreement is in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. What this means is that whatever we have done or however much we have failed, God forgives us and accepts us a free gift received by faith alone without any of our obedience, merits, or works. We also teach that good works are the fruit of this justification, but we always emphasize that our free acceptance is the root and the good works are fruit of that acceptance.

Here are a few examples from some of the historic documents of evangelical churches for your edification:

Wesleyan: We believe that justification is the judicial act of God whereby a person is accounted righteous, granted full pardon of all sin, delivered from guilt, completely released from the penalty of sins committed, by the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith alone, not on the basis of works.

Augsburg (Lutheran): Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. . . . Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works (Art. 20). Continue reading “The Unity of the Evangelical Protestant Church on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone”

Enjoying a Relationship with God Forever – A Summary of the Christian Faith

What is Christianity all about? Why are people so interested in it? Why do people give their lives for it? Why do more than a billion people follow it? Here is my brief summary of the main points of the Christian faith and its significance.

When we talk about the Christian faith, we begin and end with God Himself. Most people of the world believe there is a God, and that is the standpoint from which we begin.

When we think about God, we know that He is far greater than us. He made the earth and the heavens in all their splendor and variety. He made the complexity of our cells and the vast expanse of the universe. He’s far greater than we could imagine.

He is also good. We see this in the beauty of the universe, in the amazing provision this world offers us, and the way we can enjoy so many good things in this world. God has made this world so we can know Him and experience good things.

God is also holy. This means that He is pure in every way. He wants us to be pure. We all have a sense of right and wrong that we did not invent and that we cannot just dismiss. This is our conscience. We all have a sense that right and wrong is not just a preference or something convenient for us. Instead, it comes from our Creator, requires us to do right, and points us to the holiness of God.

When we think about humans, one thing we know about them is that they are created for God and to connect with God. They can know who God is. Within us all is a sense that we can pray. We also have a sense of God’s commands and that we are to live before Him. We are created to connect with God. Continue reading “Enjoying a Relationship with God Forever – A Summary of the Christian Faith”