Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Honor of Humanity Part 6 - Holiness (Conscience)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 6 on 10th September 2006

God is a holy God. As we have been made in the image of God, God put the concept of holiness, righteousness and truth in our hearts. We have a potential for holiness.

Is holiness the mark of being saved or a goal we try to achieve? The potential of being holy is the aspect of being made in the image of God. But because we have this image of God, we should imitate the likeness of Jesus Christ. Jesus becomes an example.

Every civilization wants to find a role model. Sukarno is considered Indonesia’s model. Gandhi is India’s model. Confucius is China’s model. But every model here will show their feet of clay in their moments of human weakness. The religious leaders especially can show most hypocrisy because their lives and teaching have such a big gap. Only in Jesus Christ we see a spotless example.

When did we lose this holiness? When did we express this holiness? How do we know human beings have potential for holiness?

In every culture, there is an expression of guilt. Although nobody has known we have done the wrong thing, our conscience can accuse ourselves. This is something very real. Our conscience proves that we have the image of God. The presence of conscience is something that cannot be denied, and something that cannot be explained by the theory of evolution. It demands justice so every society has their law to administer justice.

But what is a conscience?

In China, Mencius has great discovery in this idea. Mencius categorized conscience into 4 aspects:

1. The heart of compassion. This is the ability to show empathy to others.
2. The sense of shame. Everybody can feel shameful when doing something wrong.
3. The heart of sharing. Everybody can have the heart to share what he has with others.
4. The heart of justice. Everybody knows what he should or should not do.

The Old Testament English Bible does not use the term “conscience” at all. But the Old Testament summarizes image and likeness of God, so everything is included. There are many accounts that imply the presence of conscience, e.g. Adam, when he sinned and hid in the cool of the day because of guilty conscience.

The Proverbs says that the spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord. God has placed a lantern in the heart of man so that it shines in our life. It is the representative of God who speaks for God and searches our heart. So it becomes the judge of your heart. It is also a prophet that warns us.

Someone once discuss about the three functions of conscience. The first one is to give warning. When we want to sin, it warns against the danger. In response to the warning of our conscience, we can have two reactions. If we accept the warning, we will become a friend to our conscience so it will continue to guard our ways.

But if we reject it, our conscience will respond by letting us go our way. This is the second function of conscience, i.e. sleep and let you have your ‘freedom’.

Relatively speaking, we seem to be free when we are left alone. We frequently think that we can keep sinning and make use of the loopholes of the law and get away with it, but there is ultimate judgment.

Our conscience will awake again. He will wake up when you have finished sinning. It will become your judge now.

He is God’s representative. He is not there to serve you, but to serve God. Can you remember how fast your heart beat the first time you stole, the first time you lied, the first time you committed adultery?

The Greek word for conscience means “co-knower”, i.e. the person who knows with me. When you sin, you know, the devil who tempts you to sin knows, and God who made you and would judge you also knows. And then there is your conscience who judges you.

In Arabian, the word for conscience is “Nur”, in Indonesian, “Hati Nurani”, it means a shining heart.

In Latin, the meaning is similar to the Greek language. Latin has 3 level of knowledge. The first one is “scio” (I know), the second one is “cogito” (I think) and the third one is “credo” (I believe). The word Science comes from the first level of knowledge “scio”, which refer to the things I can know. The word conscience is called “conscientia” in Latin, which also means co-knower. In English, it becomes conscience.

This is what God has given us so that we cannot escape from our responsibilities. God told Israel He demands holiness because He is the Holy God. He created us in His image and likeness so we have the potential for holiness. In our Fall He redeemed us in Jesus Christ so that we are made holy and righteous before Him. With Jesus Christ as our perfect example, through the work of the Holy Spirit we continue to sanctify ourselves so that we can live a holy life according to His original design for us.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Honor of Humanity Part 5 - Creativity

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 5 on 3rd September 2006

When God made man in His own image, He is the Creator. Man is the creature. So we have creativity. In this manner, we are like God. Our creativity is a created creativity. So there is qualitative difference between God's creativity and our creativity. We are like God but we are not God.

The existence of creativity enables us to achieve our goals. With creativity, there is progress in science and culture. We can have arts. Art is the field that needs most creativity. Many artists are remembered when they die but people do not remember rich men. The mystery lies in the creativity of those artists (like Van Gough) that have broken through their times. They have really expressed the image of God in themselves when they express their creativity.

When there is great expression of creativity, a new era would come. Before a creative person, an old era would go away and a new direction would start. A person born in between an old and new era is a very lonely person. The old generation will look at him as a destructive and rebellious person while the new generation will look at him as a great and inspiring person. Often times it is only after the person die that people begin to understand his great work and catch up with him.

Because of the existence of such geniuses, the culture of humanity progresses forward. But in the absence of such creative people, civilization can remain very backward. For example, Africa has thousand of years of stagnation because the continent lacks creative minds that would inspire humanity.

Why does God give us creativity? Is it for us to create our own little world and become our own god?

Those who are especially creative will impact history and they will either influence it positively or negatively. So they will be judged by the way they use their creativity.

If a creative person does not use it in the right way, he will be used by the devil to do a lot of destructive things. We need to search ourselves solemnly or we will be destroyed by our own creativity. How much have we thought of and how much have we helped others? Like all other attributes we have as beings made in God's image, our creativity is our privilege but is also our crisis. By the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we need to reorganize our lives and submit ourselves to God.

No matter how creative we are, we are still created beings. If we use our creativity to blaspheme God, we are committing serious offence. The first commandment says we shall have no other god before Him. The second one says we shall not make god in the image of other created things. So we will incur the wrath of the Creator when we create false gods.

Real God create men, false god is created by men. Real men are like God, false god is like men. Real God seek men and false god is sought by men. In the fall of religion, we do not understand the position of man with reference to God.

The original Creator is the true God. The created god is not created by God, but by the creature using the created material and with his creativity. This created god has never created anything. So we have situation where the created god is a tripled created creation. Ironically, one hand we create this idol, and on the other hand we kneel down and worship this idol as though it is our creator. When we create a false god, it is the greatest challenge and blasphemy as created beings towards the Creator.

Mao Zedong is a very creative person. He used his creativity to imagine that he could fight against heaven and win over it. He had joy in fighting against heaven. He wanted equality in wealth but his country ended up in equality in poverty. He did not believe in God and hence made himself the god for the people. The fall of religion and society starts from here. The Bible says if we use other gods in place of the Jehovah God we will suffer greatly. And it is attested throughout history that humanity suffers when they do not worship God.

We should pray to God to guide us in the use of our creativity so that we might glorify Him. Let our creativity be subjected under the true Creator. Only in this way we will become like our Creator and live honorably as we should as beings made in His image.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Honor of Humanity Part 4 - Freedom

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 4 on 20th August 2006

Something that can be destroyed is not very valuable because it is limited to time and space. But the thing with eternal existence needs to be viewed from eternal angle. When a person does not understand his eternal nature, he will betray himself and live a haphazard life. But when a person discovers his eternal responsibility in this temporal life, he will have a solemn response to his existence and towards all that he does in his life. This is why we are honorable and glorious beings. From eternity we can see that our spirit can look forward and backward. In the present, I can think about the past and look to the future. This is a very pragmatic expression of the eternity in us. This understanding is absent from animals. So it is impossible for animals to study history or to look forward to the future.

We should not look only from reason, justice and morality but also from implicit teaching of the entire Scriptures. Because God is Spirit, we cannot understand His image and likeness from material aspect. Because God is eternal, the image of His eternity is within us. But our eternity is a created eternity, but God is the essence of eternity itself. We are like God so we are not God. Today we will look at the image and likeness of God from another angle.

The Scriptures say that God is a sovereign God, so when God made humans in His image and likeness, we also have the potential to decide for ourselves what we want to do with our lives. Freedom therefore, is another aspect of the image of God. Freedom is not present in animals, but only present in those made in the image of God.

There are many levels of freedom. Kant said we can use our limited reason to understand the phenomena in the world but we cannot use our reason to understand that which surpasses phenomena. Things we cannot know are in essence (neumonal world). It is the realm that is beyond human reasoning.

The word “Gnostics” itself means seekers of knowledge. Gnosticism influences theology deeply since the first century. Some people use its concept to explain the Scriptures and become cults. The alphabet “A” added to Gnosticism becomes “Agnosticism”, is another concept which started in England in 19th century. Thomas Henry Huxley and Sir Herbert Spencer said that the things we do not know we should humbly just acknowledge that we do not know. Everything becomes a probability and we do not quite care since we believe we cannot know. It is a great challenge to the pious people in the 19th century.

What about Christianity? Do we know? Yes, we know what we believe. How do we know? We know from God’s own Revelation. What do we believe? The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Church and life everlasting. But to the agnostics, they would say they do not know and they do not care.

Kant is a true pioneer of agnosticism. He segregated knowledge into two areas, phenomena and essence (neumonal world). We can understand phenomena but not essence. Kant stated that 3 things, that is, God, immortality and freedom belong to the neumonal world.

Freedom is not barbarianism. Kant said the true freedom is the power not to do what we do not want to do. This is a very deep understanding of freedom. For many people, what they think is their freedom is actually their bondage. For example, before you smoke, you have the power not to smoke. But once you smoke, you think you are free but actually you lose your power to stop smoking. So you have lost your freedom. In the world, many people do not realize that they are using false freedom thinking they are very free but actually they are in bondage.

Do you not know that you have used your freedom to throw away your own freedom? Certainly freedom is not doing what we like to do, but it is when we have the power not to do things we do not want to do. When we understand freedom in this manner, we will often discover we may have the will but not the power. About 1800 years before Kant, Jesus has said in John 8:38 that all who sin are slaves to sin. When you think you have freedom to sin, you are actually a slave to sin. Only when the Son of God sets you free, you are truly free. The Bible has taught us what is true freedom and what is false freedom.

Although Kant said we do not understand freedom, we can still discuss about it. We can refuse what Kant said about the inability to understand freedom because God does reveal to us about something about freedom.

God is the Absolute and Ultimate One who is the Supreme Judge of all free beings. How do we guarantee the freedom of God is always right? God is not only free but He is also compassionate, just, holy, immutable and perfect. It is the unity of all these attributes together. He has subjected His freedom under His truth, His holiness and His eternity. So He will never change and His freedom is forever righteous.

We are not like that. When He made us in His image with a created freedom, we are in paradox in a relative world, so our freedom is in a state of crisis. We have freedom, but this freedom will be judged. It must return to the ethics of God. It is not without constraint. It is a freedom in paradoxical relativity.

Where does the Scriptures teach that? God told Adam, “You can take of the fruits of all the trees in the garden (freedom), but of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you cannot eat of it (restraint of freedom), for in the day you eat of the fruit (the potential crisis embedded in the gift of freedom) you will surely die (judgment of misuse of freedom).

In this crisis is contained the best potential and gift of God. Therefore there is also a potential for a tragic end. On one hand we receive His grace but on the other hand we must remember that we have responsibility along with the grace we receive. We receive promise but they come together with His commandments. We cannot separate grace from responsibility, promises from commandments.

Because we have received both grace and promises, we are more honorable and dangerous than all animals. If we have freedom, it is possible for us to sin. This is the crisis. But there is also possibility not to sin. This is the blessing embedded in the freedom. When I obey, I submit to the highest grace of God. But when I disobey, I enter into God's judgment. These two areas are the things that animals do not have.

When we become conscious of our existence, we can only accept it and cannot run away from it. But we live very contradictory lives because as creatures, we try to argue with God our Creator.

Our freedom is part of God's image. When we receive His grace, we are in a state of crisis. Many people always want to receive grace but do not want to take responsibility. We want to take the freedom but we want to escape eternal responsibility and judgment that come with it. But the Bible teaches that this is impossible as we will definitely face God's judgment some day. We can do and see whatever we want now, but eventually we cannot escape Him.

Ecclesiastes says that freedom is very precious but is also very dangerous. This is the paradox that comes with the grace of God.

Many young people do all they want and get into all kinds of mess, then blame God for allowing them to live on earth. These are unrighteous people judging the righteousness of God using their unrighteousness. “If you have given me freedom, why restrain me?” So we blame God in very unjust manner. On one hand we want to enjoy the freedom God gives us, but we still want to blame God for giving us freedom when we misuse it and get into trouble.

We have the image of God, but ironically through the abuse of our God-given freedom in the end we are not like God at all. Each time we use our freedom to sin, we stain the image of God. So it is very important to listen to the Word of God and preserve our life since our youth by obeying His Word.

Freedom is related time and eternity. In the process of time on earth, we can betray our eternity within short moments in ways that can never be reversed. This is a very frightening reality.

When God gives us freedom, it is not for us to become haphazard, barbaric or to be our own sovereign lord. It is to be accounted before God. If we use our freedom wrongly within time-space, we will enter into eternal regret.
Wrong use of freedom is the common element in all the drama tragedies and stories we listen to.

Moses said, “May they all know the outcome of their doing.” It is a very profound statement that teaches us to think of the consequences before you start doing something.

How do we use our freedom? When we choose, what is the principle of our choice? God has given us our freedom, so we must fear Him in our attitude, and to think carefully that one day we will be judged before Him. With Jesus Christ as our example, the Holy Spirit as our guide and the teaching of the Scriptures, we can rise above the crisis of our freedom and find our greatest blessings embedded in it. We find them when we surrender our created freedom under the sovereignty of God.

Jesus said, “Follow Me.” What is there to follow? Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, not My will, but Yours be done.”

For every moment we pass in this life, there is a progression that will move without return. When we understand this we will be very solemn before God. This is spirituality, submission and obedience. When we live this way, we will reflect the image of God and learn from the Son of God.