Innocent

What do the news anchors mean when we hear, over and over: “More innocents were… today in…?” One definition of the word ‘innocent’ is:

In·no·cent

adjective

Not guilty of a crime or offense.

“the arbitrary execution of an innocent man”

Synonyms: guiltless, blameless, in the clear, unimpeachable, irreproachable, above suspicion, faultless; honorable, honest, upright, law-abiding; informal: squeaky clean

“he was entirely innocent”

Antonyms: guilty

Turns out, this is almost the same as the third definition for the word ‘good:’

Good

adjective

Possessing or displaying moral virtue.

“I’ve met many good people who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings”

Synonyms: virtuous, righteous, upright, upstanding, moral, ethical, high-minded, principled; exemplary, law-abiding, irreproachable, blameless, guiltless, unimpeachable, honorable, scrupulous, reputable, decent, respectable, noble, trustworthy; meritorious, praiseworthy, admirable; whiter than white, saintly, saint-like, angelic; informal: squeaky clean

“a good person”

Antonyms: wicked

The similarity is especially noticeable when we compare the synonyms. However, over the millennia, there has been only One among us that’s been unqualifiedly good. Speaking with the rich young ruler:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Recounted again:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 (ESV)

And, getting to the core of the matter:

…He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 (ESV)

The last remark seems outrageous, especially to our modern ears. How can we do such a thing as keep the commandments blamelessly (i.e., in innocence)? Concerning this very question:

[Jesus]…told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”

Luke 18:9-12 (ESV)

The Pharisee claimed to practice the Law and thought himself righteous before God and better than his fellow-men.

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:13-14 (ESV)

The tax collector, on the other hand, fully expecting his due punishment, confessed his unworthiness under the Law and received mercy.

So we see it is by God’s mercy and unmerited favor, alone, that we can be justified (i.e., made right) before a holy and righteous God.

Who then is this holy and righteous one? To that, the scriptures attest:

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.

Luke 23:46-48 (ESV)

Calvin and Spurgeon both comment on these verses. Let us look at what Calvin said:

Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld.

This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble.

And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshipers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.

Examining the confession, he said:

When Luke represents [the centurion] as saying no more than “certainly this was a righteous man,” the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God.

Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.

Calvin then clarifies our understanding of the Centurion’s confession:

The words, he feared God, must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.

And, finally, he explains the multitudes’ reaction and gives us warning:

As to the multitudes, by [beating] their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance.

And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.

Therefore, be not amazed at these things, but truly repent and believe.

Jesus and His Active Obedience, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on January 17, 2013

Tolerance – Based on What Standard?

We all think we know what’s right and wrong. It’s in the air; self–evident. But we hold ourselves and others to lax standards. We say: do not kill. That’s all well and good. But when the living God visited us He said:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt. 5:22 (ESV)

Check out the Greek if you doubt the translation.

He also spoke on lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and loving your enemies.

But, how does what He said line up with the Ten Commandments? Many today will grudgingly concede that these encompass much to which a progressive society should aspire.

We find He did not itemize how His statements lined up, but His intent was evident throughout the scriptures. Wiser folk than me searched these manuscripts. Highly analytic statesmen convened to discuss and codify the ramifications of the Ten Commandments and the Old and New Testaments. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q.91-150, is a good place to start to investigate His standards.

Here’s a table that touches only a few of the seemingly minor offenses “worthy of hell fire.” The reference to the Catechism, above, is comprehensive. I must warn, however, I have a problem with summarization.

Commandment (abridged) Our Duties (abridged) Sins Forbidden (abridged)
Thou shall have no other gods before me. Honoring, adoring, loving, desiring, fearing, believing him Self-love, self-seeking, unbelief, heresy, misbelief, hardness of heart, pride, presumption
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… Thou shalt not bow down   thyself to them, nor serve them… Reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; church government and discipline; opposing all false worship Devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord   will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain. The name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, …and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, …word, and writing Not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious …or any way perverting the Word, …or the maintaining of false doctrines
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. …Resting all the day, …and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship All omissions of the duties required… all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land   which the Lord thy God gives thee. Honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence…, prayer and   thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing   obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; …bearing with their   infirmities, and covering them in love… Sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them… commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; …correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath…
Thou shalt not kill. …Preserve the life of ourselves and others…patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; …mild and courteous   speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent. …Taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency…; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto. …Adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, and immodest apparel; …and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
Thou shalt not steal. …Truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; …and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own. …Theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving any thing that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, …injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts…, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, …and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; …envying the prosperity of others…
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence;  a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report. All prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; …forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; …misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; …hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession;  unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy…
Thou shalt not covet …anything that is thy neighbor’s. …Full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his. …Discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

Lest anyone think I, or those like me, are any better than anyone else, I like to recall this event:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]] John 8:3-11 (ESV)

Some say He was writing out the names of the guilty in the crowd. Others say He was writing out the Ten Commandments. Perhaps it was both, cross referenced. And, where was the man if the woman was caught in the act? I would have been one of the last to have walked away, I think, not because I measured up, but because I didn’t.

Some hold this passage in doubt, but it rings true and many quote excerpts of it often. Never–the–less, our toleration must be based on the fact that everyone, Christian and non-Christian, is guilty of violating the Ten Commandments daily, if not minute by minute.

And we need to realize we’re hurting one another and our nation when we pull away into our huddles, holy or secular. Of harmful words and deeds, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

…The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

And, as Mr. Taunton recently wrote:

Speaking on the issue of tolerance, mega-church pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren observed:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies.  The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them.  The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.  Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement…We stand at a crossroads. The country must decide. Is the endgame here to be that orthodox Christians will henceforth have no voice within their own culture? If so, does this mean we have become a nation of bullies, forcing conformity while calling it tolerance? [early version (12-22-13, 10:55 pm) of Atlantic Magazine article]

If today’s target for intolerance is Christians, ask yourself, who’s next?

Patriot Day

As an expat New Yorker, I have to say something to commemorate this day. I no longer have family ties to the city; but I just learned that a faithful friend has taken a job with the City in emergency communications. His role is vital and he’s doing something for the City that was lacking in 2001.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Image: US National Park Service ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can still hear the firemen’s communications that day (we’ve all heard the tapes). How heroic they all were. Because of those firemen’s efforts, relatively few people perished in the Tower collapses. However, as with all the crises ongoing around the world today, a few is too many.

Will we let this tragedy fade into our collective memory of wars past (and this was war)? I’m afraid the answer is yes. Our country is too good at letting its memories fade. Distracted by the latest gadget or game, movie or spectacle, we neglect the important things.

What important things do we neglect? Things like judging each other by the content of our characters and not by the color of our skin (or any other wrong distinctions). Or is our country saying that Malcolm, Martin, and Medgar died in vain? Character takes the right stuff. Stuff we don’t seem to have any more.

We are all broken in some way. Some count just seven: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Some cite the Ten Commandments. However, God said: “…Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

If everything we do is suspect, then we need a Savior that is greater than we are to save us from our neglectfulness, lack of character, and brokenness. We need Him to build in us heroic character or else we perish.