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Is It Wrong For Christians to Defend their Rights?

Oct 24, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Christians in the West are familiar with apologetics as an intellectual or worldview exercise. We are less familiar with apologetics as a legal defense. This is an unfamiliarity that needs to be quickly remedied.

With pastors facing subpoenas for their sermons and wedding chapels being forced to conduct same-sex services under threat of imprisonment, Christians need a theology of defending themselves in the courts. While we certainly must turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love our enemies when faced with personal offenses (Matt. 5:38-48), we must not assume that defending ourselves—strenuously and sometimes even defiantly—before the governing authorities is inconsistent with being a follower of Jesus or antithetical to the propagation of the gospel.

We think of Acts as the great missionary book of the Bible. And it is: from Pentecost to persecution to Paul’s missionary journeys, we see the word of God go forth from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. But in addition to being a narrative of great missionary advance, Acts was written as a legal defense. Luke was at pains to demonstrate to most excellent Theophilus (likely a Roman official or a member of the societal elite) that Christianity was not hellbent on overthrowing Roman rule and was not in violation of the religious provisions of Roman law. Five times in the last main section of the book (chapters 21-28) we see Paul defending the spiritual and legal legitimacy of his gospel and his ministry: before the mob in Jerusalem (22:1-21), before the council (23:1-10), before Felix (24:1-27), before Festus (25:1-12), and before Agrippa (26:1-32). In these chapters we repeatedly find the word (or some variation of the word) apologia as Paul makes his apology or defense (22:1; 24:10; 25:8; 26:1ff., 24; cf. 19:33). The Apostle Paul in Acts is a missionary, a pastor, and a cultural apologist.

We should note four things about Paul’s defense, in particular about his first defense in Jerusalem (21:27-22:21).

First, Paul had reason to give a defense.

There was strong opposition to the Apostle Paul and his ministry. Part of this was owing to the serious theological differences between the Jews and the Jewish Christians. Part of the opposition was due to personal animus against Paul and part was owing to slander and misinformation. People were ready to believe the worst about Paul (or ready to make up the worst about him). They thought he had brought a Greek into the temple (21:27-29). They thought he belonged to a revolutionary guerrilla group called the Assassins (21:38). It was a perfect recipe for hatred and violent attack.

You can see why Paul was so thankful for those who were not ashamed of his chains (2 Tim. 1:16) and why it was such consolation to the persecuted Christians in Hebrews that Jesus was not ashamed to call them his brothers (Hebrews 2:11; cf. 10:33). There was a cost to associating with people like Paul. Like Jesus, he was controversial, embattled, and embroiled in legal wrangling. Paul did not float above the fray. He never found a way to be so comprehensively nice and invested in social justice (Gal. 2:10) that his enemies patted him on the back, or even left him alone.

Second, Paul was eager to give a defense.

There are times in the epistles where Paul refuses to defend himself (and then goes on to defend himself anyway). He understands that sometimes we get into more trouble by trying to respond to every accusation thrown our way. Jesus didn’t do much to defend himself. But that may not be the best example because his specific mission was to die an atoning death for our sins. The point is: no one should (or even can) defend himself against every opponent, every injustice, or every hurt.

But every is not the same as none. In fact, in the final chapters of Acts, providing a defense for his gospel ministry is Paul’s singular concern. When dealing with the Romans, he does not hesitate to claim his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29) or to let people know he hails from the impressive city of Tarsus (21:39). And when dealing with the Jews, he makes no qualms about emphasizing his Jewish credentials—that they are his brothers and fathers (22:1), that he can speak their language (v. 2), that he was trained by the most influential rabbi of his time (v. 3), that he was full of zeal (v. 4), that his conversion was attested by a devout and well respected man (v. 12), that like the prophet Samuel he was praying in the temple and received a vision (v. 17).

In his first defense in Jerusalem before the Jews, just like in his subsequent defenses before Roman magistrates, Paul is keen to show not only that his message is consistent with the Jewish religion and by divine commission, but that he has not broken any laws and does not deserve the mistreatment he is receiving. The same Paul who was not afraid to suffer in Jerusalem and did not count his life worth anything so long as he could preach the gospel (Acts 20:22-24), was not about to let his legal rights be abridged and the harshest allegations against him go unanswered. Paul understood that to quietly accept injustice could have been simpler and perhaps even personally satisfying (Acts 5:41), but in his case (as in an increasing number of our cases), an unwillingness to defend himself would not have served the cause of the gospel. His silence would not have strengthened Theophilus in the faith and it would not have helped the fledgling church. Paul wanted to show that this new faith was not anti-Jewish and was not inciting rebellion against Rome. Paul claimed his citizenship and challenged the likes of Felix, Festus, and Agrippa so that he might finish his course and bring the gospel to the heart of the Roman Empire. He knew that at times defending the faith means defending your rights.

Third, Paul’s defense was often ineffective.

In Acts 22 we see how monumentally unsuccessful Paul’s brilliant speeches could be. Paul can’t even finish his defense without the crowd crying out for his death (v. 22). He had truth on his side, but truth doesn’t always win out in a court of law, let alone in mob rule. True, Paul had more success making his case to the Romans than before his own countrymen, but even then he never received the strong vindication he deserved. His defense may have been convincing to the Roman magistrates, but they were still content to put political expediency above personal integrity. Acts 28 ends triumphantly with the gospel going forth (v. 31). And yet Paul is still under house arrest (v. 30) and will eventually be killed a few years later under Nero (2 Tim. 4:6).

Fourth, Paul used his defense as an opportunity to preach Christ.

It may look like Paul is obsessed with giving his testimony in the last chapters of Acts. But the only reason he wants to give his testimony is so he can testify to Christ. Time after time, when put on trial, Paul found a way to talk about the resurrection of Christ, about faith and repentance, and about the Messianic identity of Jesus. We can be quick to say “Let’s stop all this fighting, all this controversy, all this culture war stuff, and get on with the work of evangelism” as if Paul’s defense was not also evangelism! More than ever, we must be ready for someone to ask us a reason for the hope that we have–even if they mistakenly believe our hope to be hate.

For Paul, defending the faith was just as important as preaching the faith because he did not see the two as different tasks. He was a missionary at heart. His passion was the proclamation of the gospel. If that meant death, he was ready to die, so long as it was his death and not the death of freedom for the gospel to go out boldly and without hindrance.

Paul was willing for his life to be cut short if the work of the gospel could go on. But so long as the gospel itself was maligned, misrepresented, and unfairly marginalized, he wasn’t about to submit himself to slander or surrender a single civic right. He would keep preaching the Christian gospel. He would keep on defending the religious and legal legitimacy of the Christian faith. And he would not believe for a moment that the two tasks were aimed at different ends.

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Some Uncomfortable Questions

Oct 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Would you like others to remember your failings as long as you remember theirs?

Do you like it when people assume the worst about you? Put the worst possible construct on your motives? Never give you the benefit of the doubt? Size you up and figure you out 140 characters at a time?

Do you like it when others are quick to speak, quick to anger, and slow to forgive? How does it feel when others speak about you instead of to you?

What if the measure you used with others was the measure used with you? What if everyone else took things personally? What if tearing you down became someone else’s personal mission in life? Have you ever tried to see things their way?

Have you ever been mistaken for a son of encouragement like Barnabas or a great refresher like Onesiphorus?

Are people more surprised when you are outraged and offended or when you are tender and compassionate?

How would I answer these questions? How am I doing? Every “you” in the questions above is also for me.

Have mercy on stupid and sinful people. You and I will be one of them soon enough.

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A Few Reflections on My Trip to Brazil

Oct 21, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I spent last week in Brazil speaking at the Fiel Conference in Aguas de Lindoia, a small resort town 100 miles outside of Sao Paulo, and in Salvador, a seaside city in the northeast. Spending seven days in a massive country of 200 million people hardly makes one qualified to pontificate about the “state of the church” there, let alone the nation as a whole. But hopefully a few reflections are still permissible—both for the benefit of those who have asked for my thoughts, and (more helpfully) for my own benefit as I think about what I saw and learned.

Let me summarize my (still forming) thoughts with four words.

1. Encouraging. Of course, the weather was sunny, the terrain beautiful, and the people warm and friendly. But in addition to these delights, I was very encouraged by the health and maturity of the church I encountered in Brazil. True, most of the country is still Roman Catholic (and often syncretistic) and health-wealth hocus pocus is running rampant in too many places. And yet, the church is growing in Brazil. Good evangelical, strongly biblical, Calvinistic churches and ministries are growing. If we run low on vibrant, conservative Presbyterians in the United States, we’ll be able to find scores of new ones in Brazil.

One person I talked to remarked that he thought the indigenous church in Brazil was as strong as anywhere else in the non-English speaking world (I imagine the Koreans might disagree). There are good seminaries with good scholars training good pastors to shepherd good and growing churches. From what I heard, more pastors are needed along with more confessionally orthodox professors trained at the highest levels of the academy. But I saw first hand, and learned first hand, from top notch Brazilian pastors and scholars. The conference was run by Brazilians. The first Brazilian systematic theology book has just been written. Brazil is a strong missions-sending country. The church has a growing appetite for good teaching and good books. I thank God for the work of the gospel in Brazil.

2. Faithfulness. I also thank God for missionaries and local leaders who sowed the seeds for the gospel harvest now growing in Brazil. Fiel Ministries is just one story, but it’s one worth noting. This was the 30th anniversary of the Fiel Conference. Over the past several decades Fiel has published good books, invested in new technologies (videos, blogs, social media), established good partnerships with ministries in the States, and helped support local pastors. And there are other ministries, publishing houses, seminaries, and denominations doing similar things. Will God allow you to see the same results in the little town or among the unreached or barely reached people you’re now serving? Only God knows. But if we stick around and if we keep sowing and if we keep our hand to the plow, God will certainly do more than we have eyes to see.

3. Evangelism. Speaking of sowing, whenever I get the privilege of rubbing shoulders with brothers and sisters from around the world, I’m inevitably impressed by their commitment to evangelism and a bit embarrassed by my own. What a joy it was to hear about the tens of thousands of R.C. Sproul books that were distributed by Brazilian Christians during the World Cup. And what a greater joy to hear one pastor speak of the more than a dozen new believers he was baptizing into his church as a result of this evangelistic outreach. Is a large scale book giveaway the best way to reach the lost in this country? Maybe, maybe not. But I can think of worse ways. Like not dreaming, planning, strategizing, or sharing anything at all.

4. Resources. If there is one thing I am always reminded of when I speak in another country it’s the importance of good training and good resources. What a gift theologically sound, pastorally wise, devotionally rich Christian publishing is to the world. Never underestimate the power of the printed word. And don’t underestimate the growing influence of the internet. Through the translation of good English materials and through the increasing production of their own online resources, the Brazilian church seems ahead of the curve when it comes to utilizing the web for the cause of Christ and the health of the church.

Which leads me to one final caution. While it’s certainly appropriate that those of us in America would tweet and blog and author books about issues affecting our immediate context, let us labor to think broadly and biblically about what we write. General works of theology, accessible commentaries, basic stuff on Christian discipleship, thoughtful pieces on pastoral ministry–these are the sorts of blogs and books that may not make you a bestseller or king of the clicks in America, but they will make you relevant to Christians twenty years from now and to Christians all over the world right now. Let’s keep the main things the main thing.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 20, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Bad idea, Canadian version.

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20 Ways to be Refreshing in the Local Church

Oct 16, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

There are few epitaphs I would rather have engraved on my tombstone than Paul’s words of commendation to Philemon, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7). Oh, how I love Philemons and want to consistently be one!

It has been my pleasure to serve in the local church with some individuals that are truly “refreshing” to the saints. When you meet them, you know it! They are like an oasis in the midst of a desert. I walk away feeling encouraged, joyful, and spiritually stimulated. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species and much harder to find than should be the case.

I routinely examine myself by asking, “Do others consider me refreshing?” I wish that I could more routinely answer, “Yes.” I challenge you to ask yourself that same question and answer it honestly. I wonder, what would it be like if even one in ten of us were striving to be a refreshment to others in the local church? If that was part of our ministry aim, what kind of significant impact could that have upon our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

How do you refresh the hearts of the saints? It is only possible by one who knows the love and grace of Christ in such a way that it overflows to those around them. It is consistently present and abundantly evident. As I have inquired of those who I find to be such a refreshment to my own soul, they almost always testify that this gift, which they manifest, is something that they have deliberately sought to develop and nurture. Here are twenty practical ways that you can seek to nurture this refreshing gift in the midst of your own local church.

  • Greet people on Sunday mornings with a smile. It is o.k. to let your face say that you are “happy” to be at church. Go out of your way to say, “Hi,” ask questions about the lives of others, and listen attentively.
  • Visit the widows and shut-ins of your church. Take an afternoon and visit three or four. Sit, talk, listen, and be willing to look at their photo albums—all of them (1 Timothy 5:3)!
  • Have a mouth that is overflowing with grace (Ephesians 4:29) and is slow to wander down any other road.
  • Show up each Sunday morning with a mental list of three or four people that you are going to find and minister to (Philippians 2:4). Many of us walk into church with an attitude of, “I wonder who will minister to me today.” Nothing can be as drastically encouraging to a local church’s membership than a people united in the understanding that they are there to serve and love one another.
  • Be a Monday morning encourager instead of a Monday morning critic by sending your pastor an email detailing what you appreciated about his Sunday sermon.
  • Don’t rush out of church on Sunday mornings. Be one of the last to leave because you are taking the time to talk with everyone you can (this will be hard for the introvert—but some of the most engaging and refreshing people I have served with are introverts. They wear themselves out on Sunday morning). The football games and lunch will be there fifteen or thirty minutes later.
  • Often remind others of the benefits of salvation and the graces that flow from union with Christ. Let it season your conversations.
  • Routinely have a crock-pot meal or roast cooking on Sundays and spontaneously invite a visiting family or family-in-need for supper following the service.
  • Seek out those visiting the church, get to know them, and introduce them to others. Find connections and be a networker to the glory of God.
  • Aim to remember peoples’ names and greet them by name each Sunday (I wish I was better at this, because it means so much to people). The Cheers’ theme song had a point, we all feel loved when our name is known (Isaiah 49:16).
  • Refuse to speak ill of others in the congregation (Ephesians 4:31).
  • Get to know the children of the congregation and seek to talk to five different children each Sunday morning (Matthew 19:14).
  • Know the Word and season your conversations with it. This isn’t to impress others, but rather to encourage them in the faith. The Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
  • Write and mail anonymous encouragement notes to members of the congregation. Why are we so hesitant to pass out encouragement? We can never encourage others too much (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Always speak the truth with others (Ephesians 4:25). “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” (James 5:12).
  • Ask the pastor if there is anything you can do to help him during the week and be willing to do it.
  • Refuse to listen to gossip or be a purveyor of it (2 Corinthians 12:20).
  • Willingly bear the burdens of others in the congregation (Galatians 6:2). This means praying for them, serving them, giving financially to help those in need, loving when love is not returned, and being quick to forgive.
  • Write thank you notes to volunteers in the church.
  • Rejoice in the Lord and lead others to do the same by your example (Philippians 4:4). Don’t be an agitator, complainer, or “negative-Nelly.” This doesn’t mean we are seeking to be Pollyannish, but rather simply rejoicing in the many benefits we have as those united with the Living God by the blood of the Son.

Don’t you love spiritually refreshing people? When we find them, we tend not to let them go—and for good reason. If we value this trait so much in others, is it not worth nurturing and encouraging in ourselves? It takes a little effort, a little self-denial, and a little grace, but all those around you will say it was well worth it. Dare to be a Philemon!

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Is Glorification Conditional?

Oct 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It is not uncommon for me to find theological questions in my inbox from brothers and sisters outside my own church. Unfortunately, I’m rarely able to respond directly to such queries. But some questioners are persistent enough, and some questions seem broadly relevant enough that I figure a brief blog post is in order.

Like this question: is glorification conditional?

The question was prompted by something John Piper said on a panel to the effect that glorification was conditional. The other panelists, of whom I was one, didn’t seem bothered by Piper’s statement. So this brother who emailed me is wondering why not. How can we say that the believer’s future and final glorification is in any sense conditional?

As often happens in theological discussion, we have to start by saying that in one sense glorification is not conditional, if by condition we mean we must earn our place in heaven or that the final salvation of those regenerated and justified hangs in the balance. The golden chain of Romans 8:30 cannot be broken: those whom God predestined will be called and those called will be justified and those justified will be glorified.

But the word “conditional” does not have to carry the sense of merit or uncertainty. A condition is simply a requirement that must be met or a state of affairs that must come to pass if a certain event or outcome is to be realized. To say something is “conditional” is to say nothing about how the condition is met or whether there is any doubt the condition will be fulfilled. I can see how the word “conditional” throws people off, but we must affirm from Scripture that without certain evidences made manifest in our lives, we will not be glorified.

  • Without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
  • Those marked by patterns of willful sin and disobedience will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-10).
  • God will present us before him holy and blameless if we continue in the faith and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23).

We must not ignore these warnings and promises. We cannot live like the devil and expect to meet God. This is not because God demands a set number of holiness points before we can enter heaven. We are justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. And this grace that grants us faith will invariably be a grace that causes us to change and keeps us in the love of God. To ignore the second half of the previous sentence is to prove the first half never happened.

This is the point Piper makes in Part VI of Future Grace, a section entitled “Unmerited, Conditional Future Grace”:

By its nature, saving faith loves God and delights in God as the sum of all that could ever satisfy the soul. Saving faith is humble because by nature it despairs of self and looks to God. Saving faith draws near to God and cries out to God and waits for God and takes refuge in God and trusts in God and hopes in God, because the essence of faith is to see and embrace God, and God alone, as the sum of all it will ever need. And saving faith trembles at the thought of offending such a great God through disbelief in his promises. All the conditions of future grace that we have looked at are not additions to faith, but expressions of faith. (252-253)

If the language of conditions trips you up, think about what Piper is saying using the more familiar language of “perseverance.” Glorification is the promised reward for those persevere to the end. The fact that our perseverance is a gift from God which is infallibly given to the elect, born again, justified believer does not remove from us the requirement to preserve.

John Murray explains:

The very, expression, “The Perseverance of the Saints” in itself guards against every notion or suggestion to the effect that a believer is secure, that is to say, secure as to his eternal salvation, quite irrespective of the extent to which he may fall into sin and backslide from faith and holiness. It guards against any such way of construing the status of the believer because that way of stating the doctrine is pernicious and perverse.

It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits in faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness.

The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere unto the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 154-155)

So is glorification conditional? Not if that means we can earn heaven or that those declared righteous before God are in danger of being declared unrighteous on the day of judgment. But will we be glorified irrespective of the kind of life we live? The testimony of the New Testament everywhere states just the opposite. As Murray says, “Perseverance means the engagement of our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose. The scripture doctrine of perseverance has no affinity with the quietism and antinomianism which are so prevalent in evangelical circles” (155). Or to put it another way, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13).

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 13, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

You have to love kids…

 

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The Solemnization of Matrimony

Oct 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

If Christians are to accept gay so-called marriage, they must accept that our liturgies and our services, our pastors and priests, our forefathers and foremothers have been for centuries wrong about the meaning of marriage. What they heard, what the pastor read, what their grandparents knew to be true was wrong as rain. And not just a little wrong, but fundamentally mistaken about the most essential elements of marriage. If gay marriage is right, then there is almost nothing in the old Book of Common Prayer that is right.

  • Marriage is not the joining together of a man and a woman uniquely, naturally, biologically, and by divine design fit one for the other, but the joining together of any persons who wish to commit themselves to each other in a state sanctioned ceremony.
  • Marriage is not a pre-political entity instituted by God, but a social construction which can be defined by personal desire and judicial mandate.
  • Marriage does not signify the mystical union of Christ and the church, which requires the differentiation of male and female, but a commemoration of professed commitment and modern notions of equality.
  • Marriage was not ordained for the procreation of children and therefore does not require two persons whose one flesh union can, by the nature of the differentiated sexes becoming one, produce offspring unless age or infirmity prohibit.

We are often told that we are only being asked to make little a tweak here or there to the Christian understanding of marriage, that gay marriage is just about more marriage for more people. But if the wisdom of the church through the ages tells us anything, it’s that the only way the Christian can accept gay marriage is by believing something different about marriage altogether.

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What We Won’t Regret

Oct 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

After writing yesterday’s post on God’s “regret” and then reading R.C. Sproul Jr. write poignantly about how he regrets not holding his wife’s hand more, I got to thinking about all the things we are likely not to regret when we get to the end of our days.

We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children.

We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.

We won’t regret that one night (or week, or even season of life) we let the kids get happy meals just so they would be happy and we could survive.

We won’t regret singing the same hymns over and over until they became familiar enough to sing with the saints around a hospital bed.

We won’t regret the time we spent hiding the word in our hearts.

We won’t regret jumping in a pile of leaves every fall.

We won’t regret overlooking a lot of little things that bother us about our spouses.

We won’t regret kissing our spouse in front of the kids.

We won’t regret going to bed with a messy house if that meant we had time to chase the kids around in the backyard.

We won’t regret all the wasted time with friends.

We won’t regret laughing often and laughing loudly.

We won’t regret hugging our kids whenever they’ll let us.

We won’t regret the times the kids slept in our beds and the times in the middle of the night we had to carry them softly back to theirs.

We won’t regret being a little bit goofy.

We won’t regret asking for forgiveness, and we won’t regret forgiving those who ask.

We won’t regret dancing at weddings–fast and silly with our kids, slow and sweet with our spouse.

We won’t regret giving most people the benefit of the doubt.

We won’t regret commiting to a good church and sticking around.

We won’t regret learning to play the piano, read music, or sing in parts.

We won’t regret reading to our children.

We won’t regret time spent in prayer.

We won’t regret going on long road trips filled with frustrations, but full with memories.

We won’t regret letting our kids be kids.

We won’t regret walking with people through suffering.

We won’t regret trusting Jesus.

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Does God Have Regret?

Oct 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Israel wasn’t supposed to want a king, but they asked anyway. So God gave them what they wanted—an impressive human king, just like the other nations had. His name was Saul, and he didn’t last long. He disobeyed the divine command, infuriating the prophet-judge Samuel and upsetting the Lord God.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Samuel 15:10-11)

In 1 Samuel 15:35, we see a similar statement:

And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Strong words. And surprising too. What does it mean for God to say “I regret”? Can God change his mind? Can we thwart God’s plans? Is God ignorant about the future? Is God just like us in that he makes honest mistakes and sometimes look back at his decisions and says, “Golly, I wish I could do that one over again”? It seems like our God makes mistakes and is forced to change course.

And yet, we know this is not the right way to understand God’s regret because of what we read a few verses earlier in 1 Samuel 15:

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (28-29)

We must keep in mind one of the great principles of biblical interpretation: the author was not completely stupid. We have no reason (other than our own biases) to think verse 29 was inserted by a later scribe and no reason to think verse 29 cannot cohere with verses 11 and 35. Clearly, if we are going to be wise, consistent students of Scripture we have to allow that in some sense God can regret, while in another sense God would not be God if he did regret.

The author of 1 Samuel–not to the mention the Author behind 1 Samuel–is trying to teach us something about God. On the one hand, our God is not static, monotonous, and lifeless. As a personal, relational Being, God’s activity in the world is subject to change and allows for all the dynamism we have in our personal relationships. There was always bound to be conflict in covenantal history between God and human beings, but this does not mean there is conflict within God’s inner being (see Horton, The Christian Faith, 240-241). As God’s ways appear to us, there will be change and variation, but as God is in his character and essence there can be no variation of shadow due to change (James 1:17; cf. Mal.3:6; Heb. 13:8; 2 Tim. 2:13).

When God reflects on the disobedience of Saul, he uses a word that makes sense to us: the word “regret.” But this doesn’t mean God was ignorant about Saul’s sin or caught off guard by his rebellion. As John Piper points out, God is quite capable of lamenting a state of affairs he himself foreknew and brought about. In other words, God’s regret is not analogous in every way to our regret. This seems to be the point verse 29 is explicitly making. God can look back at Saul and say “I’m grieved that he sinned; it’s time to find another king” while still maintaining, “I never change my mind.”

It is the nature of our covenantal relationship with God to know God as one who responds and reacts, which ought to appear to us all the more amazing because it is the nature of our covenant keeping God never to lie, repent, or change his mind (Num. 23:19).

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