Friday, February 25, 2011

The Natural Man and Understanding the Gospel




When the varying schools of theology discuss the element of the human condition as it relates to spiritual apprehension and specifically understanding the gospel, many issues emerge in the examination and debate. One such issue that arises is the depravity of man and its implications. And subsequent to that you will find popularly (and rightly) introduced in this consideration is a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

            1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Those that refer to this passage normally do so from a position that is reflected in ARC (Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist) doctrine which holds to a view that man’s depravity results in his inability to understand spiritual matters apart from God’s Spirit. And they are right! In fact this view is what one would consider non-proprietary or almost universal within theology. That is, many schools hold to this position which may hold to very opposing views on related matters.

However, it is not the matter of what is true in this passage that is problematic, rather how it is applied specifically when it comes to the point of regeneration. You see most ARC proponents further their use of this passage with regard to regeneration. For them because a person is born spiritually dead they need to be aided by God’s Spirit, seeing they are dead or incapacitated spiritually, in order to be able to comprehend spiritual phenomenon, namely the gospel. Again they are right and so far so good. But then classic ARC rationalism sets in and they extend this beyond its context and rationalize that “if a person is unable to understand the gospel due to their being spiritually dead and in order for one to understand the gospel they must be spiritual capacitive, then clearly they are regenerated before they can believe the gospel”.

What is missing? For one, the surrounding text is absent in their consideration of the isolated text. Let’s take a look at what precedes this passage and see if we can discover a more contextual understanding of what Paul is saying:

1 Corinthians 2:1-13 (ESV)
And I, when I came to you, brothers did not come proclaiming to you  the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom…but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God…So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The point Paul was making in this passage really has nothing to do with either the necessity or timing of regeneration, rather that it is not by human genius or persuasion (or any other human mechanism) that one comes to understand that which is truly spiritual but only by the power of God’s Spirit which enlightens does this occur. In fact John 16:7-9 gives a clear description of the enlightening work of God’s Spirit:

7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;

And John MacArthur ably comments on this passage:

John 15:26 says that the Holy Spirit would testify to the world about Christ. But now we see another aspect of the Spirit's ministry: bringing conviction of sin. He reveals man's sin and that compels man to seek God's mercy through the work of Christ on the cross. Therefore, we know that no man will come to Christ until he recognizes his sinfulness.

The Holy Spirit condemns men and He convinces them that they need Jesus Christ. The convincing ministry of the Holy Spirit precedes the condemning ministry--if we do not respond to convincing we will be condemned.
We are convinced by the Holy Spirit when we have a subjective realization of guilt. But why does the Holy Spirit want us to grasp the full realization of our sinfulness? Because an awareness of our sinfulness bring us to an understanding of our need for a Savior.

As Paul wrote, “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” and this remains true today  Without the presence of God’s Spirit to illuminate the mind of the unbeliever he remains in his natural state, unable to understand what he must believe to be saved. But supernaturally God’s Spirit intervenes and enlightens the mind of those who are unregenerate that they may understand and believe the gospel.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Characteristics of a Great Woman


In a discussion a year or two ago the question arose as to the characteristics of a great woman. I was prompted to respond with the following:

1. Orientation to self. When a woman is oriented to self she accepts responsibility for her own life and her decisions. The result of self-orientation is that she will live life from a position of strength and contribute not only to her own welfare but its by-products will be the welfare of others. She will recognize and accept the consequences of both good and bad decisions and not seek to burden others with blaming nor demand solutions for her self-inflicted dilemmas. As well she rejects offers to be falsely elevated based on the merits of others or through social flattery which leads to arrogance and vanity. Instead she will rise and fall on her own merit.

Secondly, a woman oriented to self comprehends her unique and distinctive feature as a woman. She understands and accepts all realities regarding the nature of her feminine identity and embraces it with vigor. She seeks to align herself with morality and social customs that reflect feminine honor and excellence. She is neither a libertine nor prudish, both representing forms of a rejection of the feminine identity.

2. Orientation to the truth/honesty. When a woman is oriented to the truth, when she prefers honesty over deception, she is able to properly assess herself, her condition, others and the world around her. She possesses capacity to admit her weaknesses while identifying her strengths. She has come to terms with her self. As well, a woman who is oriented to the truth appropriately views others and the world around her. She does not place distorted expectations on others and the world to fit her ill-conceived notions and is able to appreciate the greatness of others while graciously perceiving their inevitable foibles.

On the other hand, a woman who is disoriented to the truth, who is not given to honest evaluations will constantly be dissatisfied with herself, others and the world around her. She will not have come to terms with herself and will live life in a constant state of flux, regularly embarking on campaigns of a "new self" through impractical programs and gimmicks which promise to transform her from the person she is. She will have failed to identify and accept both her weakness and strengths and will live life from a position of weakness, never grasping both her limits and gifts which open the door for accelerated self-expression. As well, her perspective of others and the world around her will be maladjusted. She will fail to acknowledge and benefit from the greatness and gifts of others. Any social advances that come her way will be ill-received and bathed in skepticism and suspicion. Her view of the world will eventually be clothed in conspiratorial ideology.

Hence, much of what she does will center on her constant interest in changing and manipulating others and her environment. She will become an expert in the faults and flaws of others to the point of denying even their most basic gifts and contributions. Her's is a life of redundant criticism or at best always lending a word of criticism in reluctantly acknowledging the good postures of others. She is a prisoner of flattery and vain endeavors and daily yields herself, fully, to such.

3. Orientation to authority. A woman who is oriented to authority positions herself to be of greatest contribution both in serving and leading. Understanding the nature and function of authority enables a woman to accept and excel in personal, marital, familial, institutional and all other social contexts because she distinguishes the structure and boundaries of each. She understands and accepts, without resentment or personal challenge, those to whom she is subordinate, as well as identifying her peers and those over whom she is placed in in authority. Such hierarchical realities are viewed as benefits, necessities and divinely ordained schematics. At every point on any organizational or social grid she seeks to discover her place and excel in that role whether the most subordinate or most superior.

In contrast, a woman disoriented to authority begins with a deficit and continues on an inevitable slide downward. Failing to understand the nature, function and purpose of authority and its legitimacy, such a woman will always find herself dissatisfied with subordinate roles, believing instead that she truly should be the person in charge. She will find any role in which she must take directives and carry them out demeaning and disgraceful, never understanding the essential role of the subordinate and failing to respect and accept its necessity. Further, much of her time will be spent seeking to thwart, confront and disrupt the authority of others. They will be viewed as a threat to her person. Such a woman fails to be an asset to herself and others, rather she is disruptive, contrary and misaligned. And if a woman, disoriented to authority, finds herself in a position of authority, the execution of her role will be marked by blaming others when failure occurs, taking greater credit than due in the event of organizational success and an abuse of power through personalizing policies and procedures that are designed for her benefit and not the benefit of the organization or person(s) over whom she is in authority. She also will regularly engage in the manipulation and control of others through sabotage, gossip and the promotion of disloyalty to others and preference to her.
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Summation

A woman who is fully oriented to self, truth and authority is poised to live life from the position of greatest strength. Subsequently, a woman with these characteristics will properly assign values to priorities in life and structure her life in that manner. She will have an appropriate perspective as to the order of her loyalties and make the necessary investment in each. A great woman understands herself and accepts her strengths and weaknesses. She does not pretend to have capacities that she does not have. She does not seek to compensate for weaknesses through exaggeration, rather she guards her weaknesses from manipulation and attack and focuses on her strengths, making the most effort to enhance them and benefit from them.

Some might wonder, what about her spiritual orientation? If a woman is disoriented to the realities of herself, truth and authority, her spiritual orientation will be rendered impotent, by default. No matter how much it appears such a woman is engaged in spiritual activity, by rejecting the above she is automatically misaligned and rendered impotent whether she or others recognize this. This does not mean she cannot be saved but it does mean she will not advance in her spiritual walk. Before a woman can successfully involve herself in any endeavor she must fully accept all that encompasses orientation to self, truth and authority. It is through these mechanisms that personal greatness is achieved and is carried over into any context in which a woman may find herself.